Boots on the Ground

I’m a big believer in using foot power to get around when I travel. Some of the best experiences I’ve had haven’t been at my planned destination for the day, but on my way there, as I’ve gotten distracted by shiny things I’d never have seen if I’d been driving, or in a taxi, or on public transit.

That’s not to say motorized transport isn’t a valid way to get around, of course. Time constraints, health constraints, excessive walking distance to a destination – I get how those things can drive one to … well, to drive. But I admit, I don’t understand people without such restrictions who travel with an, “I am going to see that thing, and there is nothing of any possible interest between here and there,” single mindedness.

My favourite example of the benefits of the We’ll Get There Eventually Meander is from my first day in Prague. Ron and I decided we’d go to Prague Castle, which the almighty Google tells me is handy five kilometers from the hotel where we stayed. So, say an hour’s walk.

Took us six-and-a-half.

We set out on a route that would take us past a church we’d driven by on the way from the airport to the hotel when we arrived in the city the day before. The church itself was a lovely structure, and there was a particular window we wanted to get a closer look at.

It would have been worth the slight detour just for that, but already our ramble was paying off in extra dividends, as we also got treated to this sweet sight – the groundskeeper’s flower-bedecked lawn tractor.

I so wanted to take it for a spin.

From there we made a quick detour into Wenceslas Square. This was a planned stop, as we needed to exchange some currency and the hotel had suggested the best place to do so. But instead of the quick in-and-out we’d intended, we took in some of the beautiful architecture.

It was only because we decided to explore a bit in Wenceslas Square that we stumbled across one of the most haunting memorials I have seen in all my travels. In honour of Jan Palach, a 20-year-old student activist who died from self-immolation in 1969, in protest of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the simple, unlabelled cross in the ground is eerie and unforgettable.

And I do mean unlabelled. There’s nothing to indicate its significance. I had to research it online to find out what it was for – which somehow made it even more powerful.

Our currency exchanged, we set off in the general direction of the Vltava River, which we had to cross to get to Prague Castle.

But then I simply had to stop and get my picture taken with this King and his parrots.

Because of course I did.

And how could we not duck down a side street to follow this thing and get a picture?

Completely off-route at this point, we came around a corner only to find ourselves in the Old Town Square, home of the world famous Astronomical Clock. We had intended to visit this area on a different day, and as we’d just missed the hour, when the clock chimes, we did end up coming back. But since we were there anyway, and there was a tower to climb, climb it is exactly what we did.

We’d been on the go for about three hours at this point. The photos below, taken from the top of the tower, give an idea of how far we’d gotten. The tower to the left of centre in the left-hand photo? Our hotel was very near there. In the photo on the right, Prague Castle looms over the city skyline. So we’ve come about halfway, maybe?

But we couldn’t continue on without taking a break. It was beer o’clock, after all.

Oh, and also lunchtime.

Bellies full, we made our way into the Jewish Quarter. Here we stumbled across an outdoor dance demonstration, with a traditional group onstage, and belly dancers waiting in the wings.

We actually backtracked after this interlude, as we realized we were quite close to Prague’s Old Jewish Cemetery. It was on our Places To See list, and we figured we might as well take a peek while we were nearby.

And what a peek it was!

Deciding that maybe, perhaps, we should at least get onto the right side of the river, we made our way to the King Charles Bridge, taking time to admire the sculptures and rub the shiny brass bits for luck.

Determined to pick up the pace once we crossed, we struck out at as much speed as the insanely hot day would allow – so not much, if I’m honest. We also got sidelined first by a lemonade shop, then by an untied shoe. As Ron retied it, I wandered over to a doorway to see what was on the other side, and was struck dumb, for I’d stumbled across the Paradise Garden.

Paradise, indeed!

This wasn’t the route we’d intended to take to get to Prague Castle, but it was simply too beautiful to resist. It was also too beautiful to walk through quickly. “Meander” continued to be the theme for the day. We explored the vegetation, watched the guards pacing out their routes, and even sat in the shade to cool off while watching one of those automatic lawn mowers – like a Roomba, but for the outside – zip its way back and forth around a patch of grass.

I even came across another sculpture with a bit of brass to rub.

For … um. For luck. Yeah, that’s it.

We did eventually make it to Prague Castle, nearly seven hours after we’d set out. We ended up not going inside, content simply to have reached our end point after one of the more satisfying days of exploration we’ve had.

As is so often the case in life, it’s about the journey, not the destination.

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