There he is, the one and only Jan Hus, overlooking Prague's Old Town Square on a brisk October weekend morning. Last night's throngs of beer-thirsty young men and the women who love them are back at their hostels and Airbnb couches, sleeping it off while crews clean the square and multi-lingual hawkers of walking tours and Segway tours and bus tours warm up their pitches for the new throngs of daytime tourists, ready to take in all that Prague offers outside of a pint glass.
Prague is beautiful. One of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to. It is also packed with tourists.
They come to see the miraculously preserved architecture - a mini history lesson of several centuries of European style, from Medieval to Art Nouveau - to eat Bavarian food and, of course, to drink lots of beer.
Anything you read about Prague here will probably not do the city any justice. It is picturesque and historical and an all around great place to be. Throw in the fact that it is less expensive than most European destinations and you have a winning combination. No wonder so many people visit.
But Jesus, all those people.
From the time we got off the train from Berlin until we boarded the bus to Munich, we were surrounded by all manner of humanity. It was like Saturday afternoon at Uniqlo, dubbed in Czech. Instead of smartly designed basics in multiple colors, however, we had gorgeous facades and intricate ironwork and spires upon spires upon spires, all to gaze at in wonder.
Here are some of our new friends now, waiting for the 600 year old astronomical clock to do its morning routine. It still puts on an intricate show (involving the sun, the moon, several apostles and even death) for interlopers like myself to gawk at, six whole centuries after it was made. It is a marvel, and I should be showing a picture of it, but I was so mesmerized by the ever present crowd.
There is a part of me that loves crowds. I can watch them for hours. Just now I find myself looking at the people in the picture above and wondering what each of their stories are. I remember the lady in the foreground. She had a child with her, a girl, who regarded me with a bit of suspicion. And who is that young man looking at me? What's up with him?
Clock? What clock?
But there was a clock, and there were ancient snaking alleyways, and dramatic towers where one could imagine damsels releasing their long locks to the good knights below. There was the Grand Cafe Orient, in the House of the Black Madonna, one of the few standing examples of Czech cubist architecture, and pubs like Lokal, with plates of fried cheese and pilsner served according to how much foam you like on top.
And there was Trdlenik - dough wrapped around a stick, grilled over hot goals and coated in sugar and ground nuts. On a cold night in October, when you are wearing all of the clothes you packed because you did not pack enough clothes that are actually warm, Trdlenik is so good you almost cry hot tears of joy.
So my first memories of Prague are always of the crowds, and they did wear on my nerves. But then come the memories of the things that draw the crowds, like the sun going down over the Vltava, and the statues of saints on the Charles bridge taking on a life of their own, seeming to bless the crowds as they shuffle by.
Or maybe I'm not the only one who likes to people watch?