Unexpected Czech Sights

Thinking of it, the Czech Republic was also full of weird things.

One unusual landmark in Prague was the TV tower.

I lived by Petrin Hill in Prague 6, so I was able to take a walk to a lookout point in this park, and see the Prague Castle to the left, followed by a sea of red rooftops flowing downhill to the Vltava River, crossed by old bridges, followed on the opposite banks by Old Town and pointy Gothic towers and historic sites, later engulfed by another sea of red rooftops, all eventually making their collective way under the giant, grey, modern structure of the TV tower on the opposite end of the city.

This tower would have a blinking red light at the top, and I remember taking cabs around that part of the city at strange hours of the night, and always looking upward out my car window, to notice the everlasting, consistent off-and-on glow brought on by the tip TV tower.

I went up close to it once, and it was all covered by sculptures of crawling babies. I thought this was rather appropriate.

Another weird part of Prague was the Museum of Communism. I don’t know what it’s history was, but it was somehow located across the way from a casino and a McDonald’s, in an area that had been apparently very capitalized. Within such an ironic location, it looked like a makeshift gallery that some people had thrown together by searching through their grandparents’ attics for some old propaganda material to throw together.

A bit outside of Prague was Kutna Hora, which had the famous bone church. This structure was hundreds of skulls, topped off by hip bones and femur surprises, arranged in the most beautiful way possible.

Individual human beings probably think of their own skeletons with a lot of regard. I had never seen a display where so many of them were just arranged all together, a bunch of passed human bodies from centuries ago actually having a physical presence in front of me. I hear of historic figures by means of literature or story, and maybe see some of their possessions in a museum, but here were a bunch of nameless humans from history actually present in front of my eyes, reduced down to their inner physical beings.

Riding the trains through the Czech countryside was also an interesting thing to do. The trains looked and acted like they had not been updated since the 1950s, so it felt like I was time traveling. I watched the movie, Closely Watched Trains, about a year ago, and it reminded me of these times.

I went the Czech at this time of year, almost exactly three years ago. My experience in this city and this country, and my nostalgia, would never be the same if it were not for all of these strange things.

PDX International Rose Test Garden

After living in Portland for a year and a half, I finally made it to the International Rose Test Garden.

I have to say that I never thought it was necessary because Portland is already called the “City or Roses” or “Rose City,” or whatever, all the time. They’re everywhere! There’s a medium-sized rose garden near my house at Peninsula Park, and every residential block you walk through is bound to have at least two rose bushes growing in front lawns.

However, I was impressed with this International Rose Garden. It is situated on top of a hill in a wooded area and manicured almost perfectly.

Each bush has a different type of rose displaying its particular color to the world, whether white or red or white with red tips, or small purple ones or huge pink ones. It was an interesting experience to get up and personal with the roses and examine their lovely form and sniff what they have to offer, and compare it to other smells I have come across in my life, whether sweet tarts or lavender or perfume or sugar or cucumbers or the other rose I had just smelled.

I think the best way to experience this place is to get really close with the specific batches of roses with all of your senses and display their unique differences, and then step back a bit, walk around, gaze over some new bushes from a distance and see and smell and hear their collective make-up.

This place also made me nostalgic for a small rose garden I would frequent in Prague. This one was up a hill in a big park near where I was living, behind that psuedo Eifel Tower and before some other strange-looking socialist dormitories. I would walk through it almost daily when the weather was nice or almost nice, and do what I did at the new rose garden, by touching and smelling and observing their individual characteristics and collective whole. Gardeners would often trim this garden to keep it neat, so I would pick up the expired flowers and their thorns from their piles on the ground so that I could bring them back to my tiny, spartan dormitory for subtle decoration. I think all rose gardens in the future will always remind me of this one…

Remaining Issues

Now and then, I think of this time I was interviewed on the streets in Prague during a protest:


It was for the Prague Post, an English-printed newspaper, but I am not sure if this is around any more.

It was a fairly rainy, dismal day, like many in Prague. The clouds and the moisture reflected on the grey cobblestones.

This day had a particularly odd feel because a few groups of neo-Nazi protesters were coming in from Germany and Poland into Prague. A few of them were held up at the borders of the country, but in this buffer time, hundreds of people gathered to come guard the Old Jewish Quarter against their unwelcome presence. The protesters did succeed, as according the article, none did make it into the Jewish Quarter, and many were arrested.

We were told to go by our old professor, Jan Wiener, in our European History class. This was quite likely the most bizarre class I’ve ever taken during my four years in college. It was held in our decrepit communist dormitory in a very institutional room with fluorescent lights at 8 in the morning on Tuesdays. Most of us were still dressed in our pajamas, as we got up from down the hall and walked into the room and listened to the short old man with white hair tell us about old history and his personal war stories. He never brought any notes, nor seemed to prepare much for the class, but would endlessly lecture for three hours about political relations and occupations and battles from World War I and World War II from his Jewish and Czech perspective, fermented from his 80-plus years of experience.

This was quite the strange contrast for someone coming from my generation, being in Prague as an enjoyable state and escaping from the confines of the formations of the New World across the Atlantic, now enjoying the beauty and the freedom that this city granted me and fulfilled my dreams. Those from two generations ago had quite a different story, and somehow history and its consequences brought us together in that room in that time.

Jan told us that the neo-Nazis were coming to town one day, and encouraged us to join him at the protest and blockade them out. His personal favorite way of conducting class was to tell us of old stories when he would be at a beer hall, and get up to punch out Nazis that would harass him, then sit down and finish his drink. He said he would not be afraid to throw out a few punches when they came around. It was quite interesting to imagine, as I saw him entering through the blockade, walking with his cane, held up by his wife, ready as ever to face his enemies.

Though there was confusion with the mixture of languages and different humans, and not everyone completely knew what was going on until later, it was quite an impressive site to see the turn-out. Around the break out of WWII, some people in Prague had tried to protest against the former Nazi occupation by assassinating an officer, only to have a suburban town destroyed and leveled. A concentration camp, Terezin, was also developed in this era. There seems to be no Jews currently living in the Jewish quarter, as it is an upscale area full of expensive cafes and galleries and avant-garde statues of Franz Kafka. However, it is still important that people feel the need to stand up to it as an effort against residual effects of the dark history that Europe has faced.


I think Prague was my favorite place I’ve traveled. I feel very fortunate that I was able to live there a few months, my perspective definitely would not have been the same had I just passed there on a greater trip.

Of course my home, New York, will always have a special place in my heart, and I will probably always think of other places in reference to it. But going to Prague really puts things into perspective of why I’ve had a wanderer’s syndrome, and why I have the desire to depart from a standardized lifestyle. I really like Portland, where I currently live, and the nature of Oregon is really special. But not a day passes where I do not reflect upon my references on the Czech Republic.

I’ll always remember my flight to Prague from JFK, through Czech Airlines, a surreal airline with planes and stuartists that seemed stuck in a time capsule from the 1970s. I remember sitting next to an elderly Slovakian woman who took full advantage of her complimentary Becherovka shots (which I later learned the most popular Czech liquor) and going through some non-lingual conversations about the reasons for our shared flight experience, despite her lack of English and my lack of Slovak. Though it seems an expensive journey back, I’ll hopefully one day find a cheap flight to Prague again.

The food there was not my favorite, and the weather was not great, but once you can get over little discomforts, this city really has a lot to offer.

I do not know exactly what it was about Prague, I think it was just the little things, as cliche as that sounds. For instance, I loved living in some old Yugoslavian dormitory with walls that would brush white dust all over all of our belongings and clothing. We would get breakfast in the basement, prepared by these decrepit old ladies who were certainly a product of harder times. They would feed us things like chocolate Santas around Christmas time, and daily juice that tasted like really watered down gatorade. And yogurts that were flavored like liqueur or like aloe vera, or sometimes pomegranates, which none of us really knew how to gracefully disect and would often stain ourselves and the tables red.

Riding the tram was also one of my favorite parts. I lived in a buffer zone between Prague Castle, a really touristy part, and then Prague 6, a residential area, so it was a pleasant balance. I’d get on the 22 tram from the Pohojelec stop to head down the hill into Old Town every day. The tram would stop at Prague Castle, and then continue to swirl down the hill into the city center, moving from the tired Socialist architecture, downhill towards the picturesque gothic and medieval area, before dropping us off right before the river. The late-night trams were also a trip, full of drunk people and other interesting characters yelling or dancing or bouncing around, or just passing out on the chairs.

Prague was also a fabulous place to go on random walks. It is a small enough city to always have an idea of where you are, but a big enough city to run into unknown little neighborhoods that all have something to display without trying to. It was nice to finally learn enough Czech to order a tea or a glass or wine at some small cafe I would stumble upon, and then sit in the background to observe the people and the surroundings.

I also was fortunate to teach English at a local high school. The students there taught me so much more about Prague and Czech culture than I would get out of reading some ethnographical book.

I think I liked Prague for the overall feeling I had there. Of course the standard things were great; beautiful architecture, happening nightlife, good museums, interesting history. But just the way I felt, whether walking around the streets alone or passing through a daily commute, when none of these standard topics were distracting me and absorbing all my attention, was my favorite part.