STROLLING THROUGH PRAGUE: ONE FINE DAY–PART I

Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it –Roald Dahl

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1. CROSSING CHARLES BRIDGE

 LET’S IMAGINE YOU WAKE UP ONE MORNING AND DISCOVER FAIRIES have magically transported you to Prague. And they will grant you one fine day to visit the city—until Mickey’s big hand and little hand on your watch both point to 12 midnight. Continue reading

TEREZIN: PRISONERS IN PARADISE or EDGE OF DECENCY–PART I

CLOSE YOUR EYES. IMAGINE A BEAUTIFUL, ROLLING VALLEY: TWO RIVERS converging on its floor. Miles of tall grasses wandering in the wind. The valley slopes are wooded with flowering linden trees, oak, fir, spruce. Maybe you see a wild hare darting behind a white beech. Wild boar, red deer, and pheasants graze in the shade of the forest. Brown bears and wolves hunt these woods, but you will not see them today. High above the treetops, you spot a short-toed snake eagle bothering a Black-winged kite away from her territory. Slow moving water murmurs nearby in the moat of an ancient stone fortress. You might imagine you have discovered quite a slice of paradise right here on Earth. Open your eyes: you are standing in the Czech Republic, 37 miles and 43 minutes north of Prague, just outside the dilapidated, almost-ghost town of Terezin.

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ANOTHER SIDE OF MALTA: DAY ONE

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AT TWO MINUTES BEFORE SIX IN THE MORNING, the steeple bells on the Lunzjata Parish Church chime ten times. I make a mental note: “What the…?” I am holed up in a 500-year-old house with stone walls two feet thick, tiny windows to contain the weather outside, an arched vaulted ceiling 25 feet high, and staircases chiseled by hand from massive slabs of stone. The double front doors, a thick wooden affair meant to keep out more than merely weather, seals itself with a massive steel rod which holds the door shut, that no SWAT team could ever penetrate (without using C-4). And just inside those doors is another set of glass doors: these, meant to allow light when the wooden doors are left ajar, and also to contain the weather—heat in winter, a cool breeze in summer. All the windows, as well as other doors that lead to outside areas, like the walled courtyard or the rooftop terraces, have wooden shutters on the inside. It can get pretty dark in here.

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PRAGUE: UP CLOSE & PERSONAL

1 ASTRO CLOCK 2814 E1.jpgTHE TRUE ORIGIN OF PRAGUE’S ASTRONOMICAL CLOCK HAS BEEN SHROUDED for centuries. No one knew or remembered who had created the thing, and many myths about the clock abound. The most famous legend is that it was built in the first decade of the 1400’s by a master clockmaker named Hanus. The city councilors loved the clock so much that when they feared Hanus intended to build another clock for a nearby town, they had him blinded, so he couldn’t. Apparently, humans have always been so very human. You simply just don’t get to sit at the top of the food chain by being a pussy is the obvious lesson we keep handing down to the next generation.

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13 GEMS OF PRAGUE: LOOK UP

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A WHITENESS OF SWANS (the actual venery term for a “group” of them) wings its way in silhouette downriver at sunset. When you roam around Prague, it’s a good idea to glance down and watch where you place your feet on the awkward and possibly dangerous cobblestone streets and walkways. But if you lift your head and look up, incredibly beautiful scenery abounds.

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10 FUN WINDOWS in BLARICUM: PART I

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YOU MIGHT WONDER JUST WHY THERE IS NO STARBUCKS IN BLARICUM. And no other franchised eateries. And no hotel chains. The busiest place in town, and favorite local gathering spot, is Ijssalon de Hoop, a family-run, home-made ice cream parlor, operated in the same location for generations. People line up all the way around the corner sometimes and cordially wait their turn to buy a cone and top it with real whipped cream; then they sit outside—in sun, in rain, in snow—at the over-sized picnic table or atop antique, metal milk churns and discuss the daily news, or the weather, which constantly changes from blistering sun to cloudy to chilly to monsoon downpour and back to sun in one afternoon. Or, they debate just how their garbage truck works, and they wonder if their glass actually gets recycled into three different colors—um…I made that last part up. Continue reading