Almost exactly three years after my first visit to Prague, I found myself back in the Paris of Eastern Europe, attending the same conference that I attended the last time, staying at the same hotel as the previous time. But, I was here without Shanthala and the weather was spring. “Spring in Prague” was a damp squib the last time. But this time, it was the magic the words conjured. A historical aside. Prague Spring refers to the events of the spring of 1968, when the newly elected Communist Party President, Alexander Dubcek, instituted a series of reforms to turn Czechoslovakia into a socialist democracy. The euphoria ended in the summer when Soviet tanks rolled into Prague and put an end to the whole thing. Back to the spring of 2011, the temperatures were mild during the day and skies were azure. I had to run outside. The cobblestones beckoned.
The jetlag had me out of bed by 3.30 or 4 in the morning. After some fitful attempts to fall back asleep, I’d awake and go down to the 24 hour bistro for my morning jolt of caffeine. After some googling and talking to the concierge, I thought of running along the Vlatva river bank, along the path that seemed to hug it. The morning still had a bite of bitter winter left in it. I had forgotten my long pants, but decided to go for a run anyway, thinking that I’d feel warm once I was a few minutes into the run.
The track started off looking serene in the early morning light. My heart warmed to the prospect of running along the river for 4 miles.
But pretty quickly, the track veered off the river and into a jumble of derelict and dilapidated buildings. It was like running in some industrial wasteland. I read that Czechoslovakia was an industrial powerhouse, starting in the early days of the 20th century as a vassal of tthe Austro-Hungarian empire and continuing on to the post-WWII era. Many industries located themselves along the river for easy access to transport. This lead to a heavily polluted river that has started to recover only after the Velvet Revolution, when the heavy industries made way for a lighter service sector. That explained the buildings and their location.
But the history and the scenery didn’t help the chill eating through my thin shirt and exposed legs. My legs and chest were warm, but my fingers and toes were becoming numb rather quickly. I saw two other runners, both of whom were suitable covered in warm clothing. I hit the main road in about 10 minutes or so and rather than continue, I decided to head back.
I was disappointed. Was this the beautiful track that some of the sites described ? Why didn’t the concierge say anything ? At breakfast, I ran into one of the two runners I had seen in the morning. She was attending the same conference. She said that she had gotten scared looking at the decrepit buildings, fearful that she may be dragged into one of them and assaulted. Her fears may have been misplaced. Prague is a city with almost zero violent crime according to the residents and tourist books. One of the locals told me that the Czech are fairly peaceful, as evinced by the overthrow of Communism, dubbed the Velvet Revolution for the smooth transition, and the peaceful split with Slovakia, dubbed the Velvet Divorce. According to the Prague Monitor, a newspaper, while violent crime in all of the Czech Republic rose by 7 percent in 2010, the overall crime rate is the lowest in the past ten years and especially low in Prague. But, what seems non-threatening to a man can be a fairly threatening place for a lone woman.
The woman told me that running in the opposite direction from the one I had chosen to go that morning would be more promising. You can even get to the Charles Bridge running that way, she said. I resolved to run the next day, but much later in the day, when the temperatures were far more suitable.
That evening, eschewing the conference social event, I took a tram, number 3, and headed to the outskirts of the city. I wanted to see what the city was like outside the historical and tourist-filled quarters. The tram crosses Wenceslas Square, the square where the Velvet Revolution began, and soon travels along the river Vlatva, the river that bisects the city. I saw a walkway that paralleled the river, for quite a distance. I saw people jogging, walking home from work, parents strolling with their infants and roller skating. Bikers shared the path with the pedestrians and it was a peaceful sight.
The next day, I set off on my run around noon, headed in the opposite direction from the one I had taken the previous morning. The weather was perfect, not too hot and not too cold. The skies were clear. From the very start, the walkway was set in much more pleasing surroundings. It paralleled the river on one side and a modestly busy boulevard on the other.
Prague has some 20 odd bridges across the river, connecting the old city with the new, the east with the west. Across one of them, called Cechuv Most (or Cech Bridge), I crossed over the river, heading up a stairway and path towards the Prague castle, Hradcany.
The path up led to glorious views of the city, looking south and north.
The track meandered amongst the hillocks above the city, weaving its way up and down towards Hradcany. Along the way, I decided to also head down and touch the famous Charles Bridge (Karluv Most) and maybe head back to the hotel from there. The day was beautiful and I stopped to take many pictures. It was unfortunate that I only had an iPhone to capture most of the pictures.
Instead of crossing the Charles Bridge which was crowded as always, I ran back up the way I came and continued north on the hill paralleling the river, going towards Stefanikuv Most, another of the bridges across the Vlatva. People were relaxing in the post lunch hour along the myriad benches.
The run was over sooner than I wanted. I had a meeting that I wanted to go to, a meeting that was already half over by the time I finished my run. As I sat through the latter part of the meeting, I regretted not going on. I don’t know when I’ll be back and if I’m back, I’ll have the time to run and explore the city as much detail as I could have.
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