Wrapped Around the Vltava

In The Art of Travel, 2. Getting oriented, Prague by NatashaLeave a Comment

I hate writing about getting lost. My whole life, my family has made fun of me for being “directionally challenged.” Really, among my worst flaws is that I just rarely pay attention to landmarks and directions. I got lost often in the monotonous fields of southern New Jersey when I first got my driver’s license, and could often be seen pulled over on a small sand road trying to load Google Maps on my phone.

A year and a half in the big apple has made me far more conscientious of my surroundings than I once was, but my understandings usually lay underground. I find myself a bit entangled, ensnared in the tram cables that dissect my views of the diverse facades here. Once on the trams, I am struck by the similarities to New York’s infamous subway system; the jolting, the excruciatingly slow stops that somehow still end in an abrupt shudder almost rock me back to a Manhattan-esque dream. And then I am struck by something else: the fact that I am on the wrong tram, again. Idiot.

The city is indeed a temporal art, as Lynch puts it, but so is my morning routine. The route I take to class most days is heavily dependent on the level of panic that my demanding sleep schedule racks me up to. Three out of four times this week, I have Ubered, which makes me feel like an idiot. I get in, duck my backpack around me, sliding carefully behind the driver while trying to remember a Czech greeting before breathing it out, Dobry den.

I have red hair and the kind of body that looks like it is built from potatoes and beef; I think everyone here thinks I’m Czech. So then once I have tucked myself into the Uber and cursed myself for being so late and also for not going around to the other side where my chest would be able to heave with panic without hitting the driver’s seat, the driver turns down 2007 Jay-Z and begins speaking comfortably in Czech. When I speak, the language sounds like it, too, is ensnared in the tram cables inside my mouth but when my Czech driver speaks, there come no pauses for minutes before I can interject a feeble, Anglicky? and push the car into silence as it skids over cobblestones and careens around swinging trams.

The drive to campus is breathtaking, and I no longer care about being late and almost think the fare to an evil company is worth it. The sun hangs peacefully in the air, clouds frame it and shield my eyes from its glare as I look over the river. Red-orange roofs are laid across buildings of bright pastel, white, orange, pink, yellow. A castle is a speck on the hill, dark and gothic in contrast with the buildings, its spires reaching toward the bright grey sky.

The way home is by tram, even when I am running late. The tram cuts through the city instead of wrapping along the river like my Ubers. It is two cars long, with a flexible center that cuts the tram in half around every turn before swinging the back car back into the line of the track again. It is full of people who have bodies like mine and dark eyeliner lining their lashes, but are not as tangled up in the tram wires.

Stepping off the tram brings me onto a textured sidewalk that I can feel through the soles of my shoes. My feet wrap around the uneven cobblestones, rounded on the top, as I walk toward my dorm. Sometimes I get so distracted by the sensations under my feet, to which I am completely unfamiliar, that I get lost again.

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(Image: The wild bus Harry Potter took in the third movie reminds me of the way these trams swing around turns. It seems distorted, magical, contorted. ; Source: YouTube)

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