Crossing the Charles Bridge

Trip Start Jul 15, 2007
Trip End Jul 16, 2008

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Sunday, September 2, 2007


We making a slow beginning to our fourth day in Prague.  We've taken to heart a Strategic Coach fellow's advice, and begun to allow the kids some downtime, just playing in the apartment, reading, fooling around on the computer or watching TV, instead of constantly running about European cities snapping pictures and seeing sights.

We are enjoying Prague more as we go farther afield from our nice apartment in the Smichov sector of the city.  (We've figured that Smichov must be Czech for "bad food", a theory confirmed by seeing a T. G. I. Fridays just two blocks away.) 

Yesterday we walked across one of the bridges to St. Wenceslas Square, and went to a British pub called The Lions to watch football (that's soccer to those of you in Rio Linda).  Amy was the only woman there, and our three the only children.  It was pretty crowded, and we were seated at a table with two quiet guys, who turned out to be Americans Mike and Patrick on a weekend visit from Germany.  The one guy next to me, Mike, was a huge Eagles fan, and Amy and I enjoyed discussing the latest on the Birds.  Mike was disappointed with the recent cut of Jeremiah Trotter, though we both agreed that coach Andy Reid has a history of being able to identify when formerly superior players are done.  Omar Gaither at middle linebacker?  I guess we'll see.

When we ordered lunch, I was reminded of why British food enjoys the worldwide reputation it does.  Two kids had tuna mayo on baguette, which is basically a lake of tuna-flavored mayo on bread, with a side of cole slaw (a few strands of cabbage and carrot swimming in another lake of mayo).  At least nobody ordered the bangers and mash, or beans on toast.

The games were good.  Liverpool won big over Derby.  We left before the evening entertainment arrived (see the picture), which would have made Amy and kids appear really out of place.

We then walked into Stare Miasto (the Old City) and through to the Charles Bridge, the famous pedestrian bridge over the Vltava River. 

Several things strike me strongly about Prague.  First, this city has more bars per square block than any place I have ever seen in my life.  More than Acapulco, Mexico, more than New York City's Broadway, where each bar is supported by five forty-story high rises.  There are literally four bars per block, block after block.  When I went to do laundry at one of the two self-service laundromats in the city, it had an attached bar.  Put the clothes in the washer, have a $1.20 22-ounce beer.  Dryer, same.  Throw them in the bag and walk two miles back to the apartment.

Second are the casinos.  They range from the size of a small department store down to the size of a 7-11.  Some are fairly fancy, but many look like dives.  I did not see anyone going into or out of any of them our whole time in Prague. 

The city is also largely covered with graffiti.  Very fancy international-brand stores next to ugly boarded up Soviet-era buildings with empty windows.  Last night as we were shopping at the Tesco in the large shopping mall across the street, I was struck by the realization that less than twenty years ago this city was still Communist, with lines a mile long to buy ration-limited food and gasoline.  Less than forty years ago the Prague Spring was crushed by Soviet tanks.

This is why my oldest son is named John Reagan Hemphill, after the Great Liberator who freed this nation and many others from the half-century burden of Communist oppression. 

Tomorrow it is off to Germany.
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