Monday, 7 October 2013

Czech Republic – Falling leaves and famous faces

October 6

Hello everyone!

The last place I lived didn’t really have what we define as ‘seasons’. Kazakhstan possessed a short hot period, a much longer and harsher winter, and not much inbetween. It has thus been a joy to witness something as simple as leaves changing colour and dew lightly dripping down blades of grass. Autumn.

Prague is bursting with picturesque neighbourhoods and suburbs which are enhanced by flame-licked leaves, but arguably the best place to enjoy this season of change is also the highest in the city. Petrin Hill, a large, sloping park, proudly sits above the city on its western side. The park is relatively close to our current apartment, so is an easy bus ride.

Before entering the serenity and beauty of the park we seemed to take a trip back through the Iron Curtain. A block of dilapidated apartments strewn amongst graffiti and Skoda’s from the time when they were most unfashionable. The Czech Republic has grown economically and in stature since the fall of communism, but it was a stark reminder of the wealth gap that exists here and in many major cities.

A brisk walk along some meandering paths uncovered fantastic foliage as trees turn from summery green to fiery autumnal oranges, reds and yellows. It was quite early in the morning, but the area was eerily quiet, which added to the peaceful ambiance.

Following a short descent we found ourselves in the new town. Walking down one of the innumerable back alleys that are dotted around this city we came across a rather unique wall. A wall covered top to bottom in graffiti.

Like the graffiti up near Petrin, this bohemian art dates back to communist times. However, this ‘John Lennon’ wall is much more famous – even infamous. It was a place of protest and resistance. The Red regime would paint over the graffiti, but each time the people of Prague would respond with more art of their own.

The long walk ended at Prague’s most popular tourist destination – Charles Bridge. Quite why the bridge is so famous that it is swarming with globetrotters was unknown to me, so I did some research. It’s still fairly innocuous, but the bridge was the only means of crossing the Vltava River without a boat until 1841, by which time the bridge was close to 400 years old. There are many other reasons for its fame, but I will have plenty more time to introduce them to you.

I have mentioned that it’s quite busy on the bridge. Added to the throngs of tourists are stall sellers and artists of varying quality. It was the latter that Hannah and I were interested in, having decided to get a caricature drawn at the beginning and end of our time in Prague.

The man with the pencil took approximately four minutes to draw each of us, and was fascinating to talk to in the meantime. Originally from Bulgaria, he has been drawing for almost 40 years, half of which has been on the Charles Bridge each summer. In what could prove to be epic foreshadowing, he warned us that he doesn’t stick around for the winter, instead upping easels and flying to Malta.

You can decide upon the quality of the picture yourself. Even though the drawing is grayscale, whenever I look at it I will remember the vibrant colours of Prague. From the flaming leaves to the multi-coloured wall of free expression, this city has a colourful heartbeat to it, and one that I am thoroughly enjoying.

Love you all,


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