For me, Prague meant Rockstar. Prague spelled theatre, culture, arts, opera and ballet. Prague reminded me of Ranbir Kapoor and the song Aur Ho. But it is so much more. It is said to be the cultural capital of Europe that is host to several Czech and English language plays and theatrical performances. Unfortunately, I did not have the money to afford a ticket to any of these but there is theatre, drama and music on the streets. I found people from different backgrounds and knowledges producing music out of sheer wood. Or a cane. Or a rod. Anything that produces sound was wonderfully converted into soulful music. It’s amazing to witness musicians on the street playing for people, hoping for money and entertaining anyone who lends them an ear.
In many ways, Prague reminded me of India. Mumbai, to be more specific. It had been a while since I saw a definite crowd gathered on the street in Europe. It had been a while since I saw a street performer entertaining an audience with his tricks and treats. It was also quite relieving and satisfying to see people not obeying the traffic light when crossing the road. Mumbai just came flying back to me as I ran across the street while it was still red. Prague also gave me an ‘Indian’ feel (whatever that means) as I passed by streets of flea markets that sold stuff at a reasonable rate that was subject to bargaining. This was the first time in Europe that I got a chance to negotiate on the price with the seller.
The much-talked about and popular Charles Bridge was an experience in itself. I went there in the night, which makes it twice as colder and thrice as awesomer, with all the lights. The cool breeze on the bridge can make a chill run down your spine, both literally and figuratively. It’s a must-visit and represents Old City in the best way possible. The best part is that this beauty is for free. There is no entry fee and it’s a public bridge open to all pedestrians. Old City is full of music and merriment. There are people everywhere. Gathered for a wedding ceremony or to hear out a musician or to skeptically look at a street performer’s magic tricks. A better view of this cosmopolitan crowd is wonderfully captured from the astronomical tower that allows a bird’s-eye view of the entire city.
With Prague becoming my first out-of-Deutschland experience, I headed to another neighbouring country: Austria. As a kid, I always confused Austria with Australia owing to the missing ‘l’. I remember realizing the difference of not just culture but also geographical location between the two countries. As I learned that Austria is a separate European country, I mulled over its European connection and dismissed it instantly. Who would have thought that someday, I would get to visit its capital city Vienna, touted as one of the most romantic cities of the world (closely following Paris and Venice). I am not a romantic and I don’t understand romance the way it is conventionally spoon-fed to us via media images and literature. In fact, I have consciously stayed away from reading anything that belongs to the romantic/love story genre. But Vienna, as a city, will probably make the unromantic appreciate romance in a way he/she never fathomed.
Romance and the idea of romantic is as subjective as the idea of love. Vienna is a land of classicism and perfection: verbs one would normally not associate with romance. But there is love and romance in music that the Viennese have produced. There is romance in their orchestra. In its harmony. In its choice of violins and the cello and their jugalbandi. In the way the trumpet complements the saxophone in a well-conducted musical symphony. In its disciplined music that demands perfection from each of the musicians who never fail to deliver. It’s the land that Beethoven and Mozart spent many of their years in. And you can’t dismiss them, even if you’d want to.
Vienna is also the place where much of the movie Before Sunrise is set. But more than just its Hollywood and filmy connection, the city enamours you with its epicness. The streets are wide and long. The people are many and multi. The transport is varied and crowded. The city speaks in many languages, German being the official one. Despite its Deutsche-speaking population, it does not feel like Germany at all. It’s like Austria is trying to niche its own identity, and successfully so, while sticking to the common language. I think I would have felt the same after living in Spain, learning Spanish and then heading to Mexico.
Next up: France, Italy and Spain
Read Part 1 here