The last time I was in Prague I was, as usual, traveling alone. Spring was budding and when the sun was out, you could pretend you didn’t need that sweater. Lovers were everywhere--young couples holding hands as they walked through the old town square and kissing in the feigned privacy of a shaded park bench.
And though I loved being a solo traveler, in complete tyrannical control of my itinerary and with no one to judge if I chose to eat cake for lunch again, I also noticed how much more I might enjoy the view of the Vltava river and Stare Mesto from the grounds of the castle if I had my tongue down someone’s throat.
So I was excited to return to Prague, this time with Flounder, whose hand I could hold as we walked down cobblestone streets (very picturesque but damn hard on your feet) and whom I could kiss on a park bench overlooking the gothic Tyn Church.
You can’t step in the same river twice and it turns out that Prague in the full swing of tourist season is not as romantic as I remember. Unless swarms of tourists following their umbrella-wielding guide and touts handing you yet another flyer for a black light puppet show Mozart concert in a haunted sex museum give you the warm and fuzzies.
|Can you spot the umbrella-ed tour guide?|
Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t find a couchsurfing host in Prague, so we stayed in a hostel. In quite comfortable bunk beds. It turns out that sleeping in a room full of (delightful and interesting) travelers is also not conducive to romance.
But these are less issues with Prague and more with me, with my memories, hopes, expectations. Because Prague is simply a beautiful and interesting city with the architecture of a Disney wet dream, a historical penchant for defenestration, and a storied literary tradition (Kafka and Kundera among others).
And though I like to participate in the beloved traveler pastime of complaining about how touristy a place has become, I at least am aware of my own contribution to this situation.
Imagine: You see a group of elderly ladies in near-matching sweater sets and slacks as they follow their umbrella-ed tour guide, listening as he repeats the same dates, numbers, and anecdotes at every historical monument in their path. Well, it’s easy to feel a delicious superiority, a tantalizing smugness. ‘God, they’re such tourists,’ you might think. But, wait. What’s that? Is that a map in your hand, a camera in your bag? Aren’t you craning your neck to look at the same impressive buildings as the sweater-set-ladies tour group? ‘The old town is so crowded,’ you think. But isn’t your wide posterior and your walking pace, as you gape around you like a drunken elephant, making that situation worse?
So what did I learn from Prague? Make reservations for that vegetarian restaurant you want to eat at, even if it’s a Monday night. If you carry an umbrella and hold it above your head, a tour group will form around you. Flounder won’t rock the bunk bed in a dorm full of people, no matter how quiet you promise to be. Always check ingredients, lest that tomato dip turn out to be beef tartar. As the conversation of the college-age travelers around you makes clear (‘Dude. I was so drunk last night.’), you are not that young anymore.