Christmas in Prague, from "Prague for Beginners" by Sara Tusek

For the rest of the day I pack for my trip and tidy up the flat. I turn on the radio for Czech Christmas music; my favorites are “Narodil se Kristus Pán” (Christ is born) and “Nesem Vám noviny” (We bring you good news, hark!). The time passes pleasantly as I bustle around, my mind occupied with the here and now of fitting everything into my suitcase and cleaning out the perishables in the kitchen.

Soon enough, the light begins to fade. I decide it’s time for me to get out of my flat and see what Prague is up to today. I dress warmly and descend once again to the street, this time turning left as I leave the apartment house. In a few minutes I’m at náměstí Republiky. There are tasteful Christmas decorations on the lampposts and doors, greenery and red, shiny balls mostly. The cold, crisp air encourages people to hurry as they walk, giving the scene a busy, happy mood. I go down crooked streets through the intimate square behind Týn Cathedral that Marek tells me it was a dump, a literal dump, under Communism, as so many courtyards and passages were; it’s now full of interesting shops and restaurants.

I emerge at the Old Town Square, where the Christmas market is going full blast. At the first stall I come to there is hot spiced wine for sale by the cup; this is called glühwein in German and svařák in Czech. I stroll the market, sipping from my plastic cup, taking in the atmosphere of ease on the part of the customers and cheery hard work on the part of the stall proprietors. 

There are párek (hot dog) and Pražská Klobása (sausage) stalls, trdelník' (hot sugar-coated pastry) stalls, medovina (honey wine) stalls, and gingerbread cookie stalls. 

There are stalls selling hand-crafted wooden toys and utensils, those ubiquitous Peruvian hats and Norwegian gloves, hand-made jewelry, small ceramic knick-knacks, and hand-knitted acrylic scarves in stalls manned by little old ladies. The square, full of people and kiosks, is brightly lit by hanging lights and the enormous decorated Christmas tree. On the stage by the tree is a group of teenagers singing traditional carols, probably a high school choir from some tiny village come to the glamorous big city for Christmas. For an hour or so, I am lost in the smells, noises, and sights of my adopted city celebrating Christmas.

Then I begin to get cold, so I walk through the crowded streets to Charles Bridge. 

From its origins in 1357, replacing an even older bridge, this wide stone bridge has felt the weight of the staked heads of Bohemian nobles executed by the Hapsburg conquerors in 1621, the shaking of weaponry as invading Swedish armies fought here in 1648, the rushing waters of many floods that damaged the supporting piers over the centuries, the clopping of horses’ hooves pulling wagons and trams over its stones, the rumble of an electric tram beginning in 1905, the burden of Russian tanks during the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Prague, and millions of footsteps by visitors, tourists, and Prague-dwellers over more than 600 years. 
East tower, Charles Bridg
The bridge still stands, in spite of all that man and nature have done to it. The famous statues were added in the 17th and 18th centuries, though what you see now are copies, not the originals, which have been put indoors away from the destruction of the elements. I can never get enough of this bridge, with its looming towers at either end, joining the spiritual and political power of Hradčany with the economic and educational energy of the Old and New Towns.

View of Hradcany from Charles Bridge
After a few minutes of lingering on the bridge, I get cold again and head for home.


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