I’m in love with many cities, including the ones I haven’t visited yet. I fall for cities more often than I do for guys. My maps, especially my map of Europe, are full of soft spots.
That said, I’m never in doubt when asked what is my favorite city in the world. I might not be monogamous here in travel but I’m loyal.
It’s always Prague.
I visited Prague for the first time when I was twelve or so. It was cold and pretty. Charles Bridge was crowded and the castle was huge and the city was full of monuments of men whose names didn’t mean anything to me. I had no idea how much this would change in several years.
Several years later, I was nineteen and, as the nineteen year olds in Poland do, I was supposed to enter university and study something. I had a very vague concept of this something. Well, humanities. Well, I liked languages and books. I was into contemporary poetry. I liked galleries. I liked the world and I was sure the world liked me back but anyway, this choice was making me nervous.
All the things I wanted, stood for and fancied seemed incredibly unproductive. They don’t lead to steady paychecks, they said. You won’t feed yourself with books, they said. They annoyed me so I ignored them. I chose books. I chose to study Slavic Studies with Czech as a major.
It was Prague calling. And Hrabal’s books that wanted me to stop reading them in Polish translation.
I spent five years studying Czech language and literature in Warsaw, Brno and well, Prague.
I never got bored. I never got enough.
While in Warsaw, I took night buses and trains to Prague so many times I stopped counting. I stopped counting because somehow I’m always there.
Charles Bridge is still crowded but I don’t care much because I won’t go there anyway. The castle is still huge, I think, but I haven’t visited it for years. As for the monuments, I can recite the bios of the man they were built for. In at least three languages. Anytime.
I have my bookstores, my cafes, my sweet shops, my pubs, my parks. I also have my trams and my metro stops. I have my drinks and my foods. My newspaper I always buy when I get off whatever transport that brings me to the city. Or the city to me, depending on how you look at it.
When I moved to Armenia I couldn’t visit Prague that frequently. I didn’t manage to drop by when I went home for Christmas. Not enough time. Or perhaps a bad choice. I missed this place as you miss a living person. A friend. A lover. A relative. All of them. I was restless.
I went to Prague ten days ago. I spent three days wandering the streets, doing nothing and looking around. I went to the theatre. I spend money in my favorite bookstore. I went to my favorite sweet shop. I caught up with friends. I didn’t take a single picture.
The camera was in my bag all this time but somehow I was too focused on little things. I wanted all of this to feel like routine. This was the taste of returning. Of making sure that the city I love, still loves me back.
There was only this one afternoon when I took the camera out of my purse. We were on Petřín with one of my closest friends I have in this world. We went through this whole Czech affair together. I’m pretty sure that if anyone knows how I feel about Prague, she is this person.
This time, we played tourists and took a cable car to the top to look at the skyline and gossip. To talk about how everything in our lives has changed and how nothing has changed.
To look at the skyline that will never cease to amaze me.
I will visit Prague many times in the future.
Everything will change and nothing will change.
This is what this love is about.