The Diplomat is serenely sailing towards a key birthday so I decide to scrabble inside her bucket list, eyes tightly closed as one hand roots around the scraps of paper until a single piece flutters then glues with fierce determinism between my fingertips.
Meant to be then….
Scrawled on the torn scrap of a Thai napkin were two words: “Orient Express”. Yaaa…ha….haaaa…hmm. Not cheap. Still a bucket list is meant to be for those spectacular memories so I find myself escorting the Diplomat on a flight to Praha – or Prague, as it is known for the majority of Westerners.
I have no expectations of this Bohemian urbanity. Indeed most of my knowledge of the city is derived from Graham Norton’s finest interview with Matt Damon, Hugh Bonneville and the mercurial Bill Murray which descended into inebriated farce and hilarity; of which the most memorable tale was Murray’s 1am train ride from Berlin to Prague to see the astronomical clock in the Old Town Square. One single chime later and he was back in Berlin for press interviews about “The Monument Men”. Check out the clip on Youtube. It’s a fine moment from an actor that the Diplomat has a severely soft spot for.
I have decided to spend a full day in Prague; enough time to hit the obvious tourist spots, to have our obvious spots pummelled in a 5-star Spa hotel – the Alchymist Grand Hotel and Spa – and generally wallow in louche luxury. So, it’s with a flutter of a smile we pull up from the airport to our temporal pad right outside the U.S. Embassy.
Can’t ever quite escape the diplomats…
Turns out there’s been a bit of a scare in Prague that week what with someone claiming to have planted bombs around the place, so our taxi is halted before the US Embassy for an under car mirror check etc.. The strangeness of this is that the checkpoint is directly opposite the entrance of the Irish Embassy so if anyone was going to carry out a checkpoint attack, the Irish would get it simply by unfortunate proximity. Still…
We’re here to indulge in 5-star Spa luxury and opulence and, by Jove, this hotel delivers it in operatic bucketloads. But enough of that for now. I am going to skip onto our final morning in this blog to showcase Petřín Park, Prague.
It is right next to us, an acclivity of blissful serenity on a Sunday morning, being far enough away from the drunken snoring of young Western backpackers and stag parties to deliver on an introvert’s sweet need for golden silence, verdant nature, and effortless exercise. Unlike the sempiternal Jewish Cemetery (another blog) which has fallen into tourist desuetude this place is full of swaying, lissome trees, redolent of petrichor. It is a place the travelswithadiplomat could spend a few hours; trekking through the alpine, dark canopy punctured with shafts of sharp sunlight that burst on the barked forest path. There is such opportunity for games in this place, darting between trees, alternatively hiding and leaping out with friends and family, breathless running and exuberance.
The Diplomat and I wander up from our hotel and turn left into the western side of the Park; we are ambling on a lonely path between the forested border of the park and several embassies. The most opulently prominent is the German Residence…eventually we are forced to turn away and follow a 300m switchback up to a break in the low stone wall that contains the park. The path inside becomes newly cobbled, the trees are arranged as though a scattered orchard, a man is cutting the long grass, filling the air with the scents of Prague’s botanical gifts. At the bottom of the hill we eke past two Americans: women, one ungainly in her determined effort to climb onto a wall, cling with grim limpet-like tenacity to a perpendicular railing and squeeze off her iPhone shot down the sweeping vista towards the river Vltava. Behind, her companion grunts encouraging noises, pretends to be able to catch her friend should she slip and fall.
She does not.
Even this human venture does nothing to alter the equanimity of the place with its inchoate rupture of floral plenty.
The Diplomat is sweeping onwards, following the cobbles which give me a chance to recall an older path in this ancient land, to envisage what is could have been like to traipse through two millennia ago. Such is the nostalgia of our European past…who, what, when. Everything becomes a safe memory of wonder in these moments; a blissful utopia reached by our ancestors that we try to retread.
All too soon we leave this place, people are starting to arrive and we don’t want our memories of this place cluttered by the sweat of others. This is a moment to appreciate the topology and landscape of Prague without any human interference.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?