Being lost requires kind of a different brain set. I don't care about my very tentative list of things to do on a particular day or evening. I find that I see more and learn more when I have no schedule and am free to do what I want. I may not go to a particular monument or cathedral, or museum, but I may see something that I find much more interesting, which makes it more important to me. That day, March 22nd, turned out to be a day of learning for me. It was very good day, indeed.
When it comes to tourism, Prague can rival any of the major cities in Europe especially considering the size of the population. It is a beautiful and lively city. The Communists did some reconstruction following WWII, and the past 20 years has seen major restoration. There is much left to do, but it will happen (to the chagrin of some of the citizens who believe that more money should be spent on services for the citizens of Prague than for promoting tourism). If I knew that a future European trip was to be my last (which may happen), one of the places I would visit would be Prague.
When it comes to beauty, almost every street in the Staré Mĕsto (Old Town) and Josefov (Jewish Quarter) has something striking, but you have to go slow and really look at the beauty of the street. When including Malá Strana (Lesser Quarter or Lesser Town) and Hradčany (Palace and St. Vitus’s Cathedral) the visit can fill three or four days easily. For me to really see Prague will easily take a week when I next return (as slow as I am when traveling in Europe).
Returning to being lost, as I usually do in that circumstance, I just started wandering. I took photographs of windows, and people, and buildings that I found interesting. I passed by several signs that had arrows pointing to the direction of Staré Mĕsto so I figured that meant that there were some tourists in the area. I stopped at a small butcher shop and got some ham and rolls and a Coke Zero and had lunch on a street side bench with a couple of girls that I would guess were early teens. I asked if they could help me find where I was on a map I had. (I assume that everyone under the age of twenty probably can speak at least a little English.) We figured out that the street that I was on wasn’t on the map (I had been wandering for about four hours by that time) so I realized that I was quite far afield. So I did what I did to put me in the position I found myself, and turned around and headed back in the direction I had come. I’d know that I was going in the right direction as soon as I passed the butcher shop. I never found it either.
Eventually I came to a park with lots of children playing and chasing pigeons while mothers were close at hand. It is also a "off leash" park for dogs, a number of which were romping about playing catch me if you can. Being a dog lover, I was petting one of the dogs (a beautiful Leonberger) when it's owner and her friends came over and we started a conversation. Instead of talking about how I was going to get back to the Old Town, we talked about dogs, theirs and mine. A couple of the women needed translations, but I was surprised at the amount of English known by three of them.
They all wanted to know about safety in the US, especially in parks. As much as possible I reassured them that our parks are pretty safe, but parents in the US are more watchful of their children when in large parks, especially if their kids are approached by strangers. They pointed out to me the different groups of mothers and said that the mothers watch all of the kids. They meet after work (if they do work) at the park with their kids and stand around and talk, but always watching all the kids. I asked if anything bad had ever happened in the park and they said there hadn't, but a couple of years in the past they noticed a young man talking to their children. They confronted the stranger and were ready to do physical harm to him until he showed them his badge. He was an undercover policeman. Apparently there are several who patrol the parks.
Parenthetically, if anyone was watching that part of our conversation, it must have been hilarious. We looked like we were playing Charades for the word "badge."
Eventually the all started heading home to make supper. One invited me to join her and her family, but declined as the sun was starting to set and I still had to find my way back. We all said good-bye and they pointed me in the right direction.
As the sun set and the lights came on, there were a number of well-lit areas in view. I picked the one that looked the most promising and walked in the general direction. It turned out to be a recreation area but one of the people there spoke very good English and wrote down the names of the streets that I should follow. That worked for a little while, but there are few straight streets in Prague and I must have missed one. By this time it was dark and I was past "tired" so I picked the brightest area in the sky and headed in that direction. This time I picked right and eventually got back to Old Town alive and unhurt.
The lighting in Prague is spectacular. The city fathers spent much money in the lighting design. I started to take some photographs, but I was pretty unsteady and needed food (where was that butcher shop when I needed it?). I stopped for some soup and bread and headed back to the Little Town Budget Hotel. On the way across the Charles Bridge, I met some of my room and hostel mates and we sat around and talked for over an hour. They were curious as to why I hadn't taken a taxi back or at least hopped a bus. The answers that I gave convinced no one, but they were the truth. First, I was having too much fun just wandering, and second, I had walked out without my travel wallet with my passport, ID, debit card, and money. Another reason that I thought of later was that I write about how safe European cities are and I was testing the theory. If had thought of it, I can imagine the looks on the faces and the rolling eyes of my stablemates after I trotted that one out. Being lost is still informative and fun. A little lunacy helps.
Note: Most of the photographs are identified on the lower part of the image, but it is necessary to view them in "Full" mode.