You know that question, “If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?” For years my answer was prompt and final: Prague. I suppose this unfailing need to see golden Prague — zlata Praha, or so I read somewhere — started when I was watching the Travel Channel many moons ago. In this particular show, Samantha Brown visits a restaurant in Prague called, Cafe Imperial. According to Zdeněk Jirotka, a Czech writer and humorist, there are three kinds of people in the world, easily classified by how they behave when confronted by a plate stacked high with day-old doughnuts. The first kind of person will simply stare at the doughnuts, the second will see the stale pastries and secretly imagine how it would feel to throw them about, and the third will be the sort “for whom the idea of a doughnut whistling through the air is such an enticement that they get up and actually make it happen.” Don’t we all sort of wish we had that sort of gall? Well, Cafe Imperial used to make such dreams come true, and in this episode, Samantha Brown was there to investigate. At the time it was possible for one to buy a stack of stale doughnuts and throw them around the restaurant at one’s fellow patrons with nary a consequence. And when I witnessed this act of culinary cheekiness, I remember thinking that if such a magical place existed in the world, I had to see it.
In November we had the opportunity to travel across the grand old pond to Europe. (Hey, if the Atlantic gets to the be “the pond,” what does the Pacific get as a nifty nickname? The puddle. The pool. The lagoon? Someone get on this please.) We spent a week traveling through the wilds of Berlin and Prague. Dan flew out to Germany before I did for a workshop, so I made the jump myself a week later. We technically spent that first night in Berlin, but we got up on the early side, lifted a copy of the International New York Times, ate some fancy breakfast buffet items and hopped a train to Prague. Which is where this tale shall truly begin.
Above /// on the train from Berlin to Prague
Below /// a tram in Prague that will run you over, so pay attention
Above /// the John Lennon wall
Below /// my travel companion looking impish; Prague Castle looming in the distance
Above /// scenes from the Charles Bridge; tradition says that if you touch the plaque and make a wish, you will be granted good luck and guarantee your one-day return to Prague
Above /// an astronomical clock dating to the 1400s
In the end, we never did throw stale doughnuts at anyone. The Cafe Imperial eventually did away with the option altogether. I imagine locals and tourists alike were not terribly thrilled with airborne pastries flying about haphazardly (as if there’s any other way for a doughnut to fly). But magic still existed within this golden, medieval city that I had so frequently imagined. It felt untouched, preserved. Escaping utter destruction during World War II, it’s a city that carries its centuries between every brick and red-roofed tile. In visiting this place, you feel that it isn’t so much a part of your story, but rather that you are but a footnote to its own.
You’re beautiful, Prague. Never change.