So, this is not the best start ever, but the truth is that I was always more of a country girl than a town person. I’d always choose walking in the deepest countryside over a trip to an art exhibition or a museum. Prague was always part of my life, but I only started to appreciate what an amazing town it is when I moved away.
I lived in Prague until I was about 9 years old and then moved to a little town just outside Prague. We were newcomers, which I only bitterly realised when a boy in my new class, said that he didn’t like Prague people because he got his bike stolen in Prague. Even as a nine-year old, although I didn’t quite follow his logic, I tried to explain, that it definitely wasn’t me who stole his bike and I sadly didn’t see the person who did. Apologising on behalf of all people from Prague (and the person who did steal his bike), didn’t make any difference.
So, you can see that I was quite happy to forget that I was from Prague and try to fit in, which eventually I did. I somehow got accepted by my peers, when just before the first school trip to Prague, the teacher asked who had been on the underground before and I was the only one who put a hand up. Suddenly I was the cool kid!
Prague became the slightly distant place, where you only went for a special occasion or a school trip. Each year at the end of a school term we went to Prague to celebrate in an ice cream parlour called Svetozor. It’s right in the centre of Prague, close to Wenceslas Square and it’s still going strong, practically unchanged. The original shop is in a shopping arcade close to a cinema by the same name. They had (and still have!) the most amazing ice creams with lots of different toppings and even then (this was well before the Velvet Revolution in 1989) had the most brilliant icecream names for their Icecream Sundaes, like Charlotte or Margaret.
But Prague wasn’t just a place where they had the best ice cream. I remember that when I was about 10 years old, my grandmother decided that I was old enough to start learning more about art, theatre and culture.
My grandmother was of the opinion that every Czech person should visit the National Theatre at least once in their life. I have no idea how she swayed this with my mum (she probably didn’t tell her what exactly we were going to see!), but one school night I ended up all dressed up, in a pretty coat, with polished shoes and a little handbag ready to go to the theatre!
As you can imagine, the evening didn’t start well. First of all I was dressed up in a pretty girls clothes, which is never a good idea in a Czech winter, as it’s so cold! Secondly, we had to go on a train, underground and a short tram ride to get to the theatre. I was cold and tired by the time we got there, but worse was still to come. The theatre programme my grandmother had chosen was ‘Prodana Nevesta’ ‘The Bartered Bride’ by Bedrich Smetana, which of course is a total classic, but it’s also an opera and it’s very, very long! And as I realised soon enough, you can’t understand people singing in opera, not when you are 10 years old anyway!
I have returned back to the National Theatre, this time voluntarily when I was studying psychology at Charles University and would frequently buy 5 crowns standing ticket for any show that was available. The theatre ushers were always very nice and just before the show started (and if they were any seats left) they would let us sit down. I’ve always loved going back, but I’ve never ever been to another opera!
Another annual festival that we always visited was ‘Matejska Pout’ – Matthew’s Fair, which was a traditional fairground in a large park called Stromovka. The festival started on St. Matthew Day 24th of February and it was always bitterly cold! But it was a great day out, full of excitement, rides, sweets and we always took home a helium balloon each.
Over the years, I have had the chance to experience Prague from different angles. Walking up to Prague Golden Lane every morning to open up a little shop with traditional crafts, where I worked whilst I was studying at Charles University. Going to visit my brother in an old convent hospital on top of Prague Castle Hill where he was for a few months or going to my first night club called Roxy, which even then was a pretty alternative place.
And then in 1998, I decided that my English could do with a bit of polishing as part of my psychology degree was taught in English and I wasn’t particularly great at it. I had the opportunity to take a gap year in London. The plan was to improve my English and come back to finish my degree, but somehow I’m still here! (in London, that is…).
Over the last twenty years, I’ve had (finally!) the chance to visit Prague without having to rush anywhere or catch another lecture or make sure I’m at work on time. Suddenly I had the time to really appreciate what an amazing place Prague can be. I had the time to sit in the park and watch people go by, explore all the different museums and go to the theatre or a cinema.
And this is where I am at the moment. I sometimes feel like a tourist, where I get confused about which tram ticket to buy, but then the comforting ‘Oh, yes, I know where I am and I can actually ask if I don’t, because I understand the language’ comes back and I really feel like on a holiday, that I can actually enjoy!