Canned Air from New York City – on sale on Etsy for $10 (by photographer Kirill Rudenko)
With all the talk of the guy selling rocks from Brooklyn, we were reminded of this Etsy listing by Prague-based photographer Kirill Rudenko selling Canned Air from various cities. These $10 cans of air have various positive effects, as the listing describes, each can “relieves stress, cures homesickness and helps fighting nostalgia.”
After having such an amazing time in Budapest, Vienna, and my impromptu detour to Bratislava, I was ready for Prague – the last stop on my Central Europe trip. And after hearing raging reviews from friends about the Czech capital, the city had big shoes to fill.
Prague wowed me with its stunning architecture and natural beauty. From the Atomic Clock to the Prague castle, the Lennon Wall to the Jewish synagogues, the city offers a variety of different districts and sceneries, all against the backdrop of the beautiful Vltava River. Between drinking cheap Czech beer and enjoying the panorama view from the top of the Charles Bridge Tower, my stay in Prague felt far too short.
Prague is distinctly different from Western European countries; in fact, it is probably where most of Western Europe was 20 years ago. Although the Communist Era ended around the same time in both the Czech Republic and Hungary, it surprised me how different the two have become. In contrast with Budapest, Prague is a capital thriving on its new-found freedom. Even in the middle of winter, Prague is full of energy and life.
The original portrait of John Lennon that began it all is long lost under the layers of paint, marker, and found objects that now cover the John Lennon Wall in Prague. But inspirational lyrics from popular Beatles songs such as “the sun is up, the sky is blue, it’s beautiful and so are you,” connect the present day wall to its original incarnation: a place to honor the message of love and peace shared by John Lennon in his work and music.
At a first glance, the wall is overwhelming to take in. Colors, images, pieces of found objects, and words in a multitude of languages cover every available surface. At any given time of day, at least one passerby can be seen adding her handiwork to that of the many artists and visitors to have already left their mark. That is perhaps part of the appeal of the Lennon Wall: in a city filled with ancient treasures and old-world charm, the Lennon Wall is consistently new and current. Its faà§ade is always changing and no visit to the wall is ever like the last. This what makes the wall a curious mix of transience and permanence, at once capturing the impermanence of street art and the tourist experience while also providing a simple subversive message as old as time:
No matter the social or political climate, there will also be a counter culture of idealists and dreamers defying the status quo.
It is from this spirit of idealism and defiance that the Lennon Wall originally came to be. John Lennon served as a symbol of resistance and hope to Czechs under socialist rule. In the 1980s, young Czechs ascribing to a movement called “Lennonism” used the wall as a space to publicly voice grievances and disillusionment with the communist regime. As much as the government tried to censor their words, the wall continued to function as a space of anti-authoritarianism. No matter how often the wall was bleached to rid it of the artwork, graffiti and proclamations would soon cover it once again. Today the wall is owned by the Knights of Malta, who have given up trying to cover the graffiti and have turned it over to the public to function as a living and changing work of art.
One of the most alluring aspects of the Lennon Wall is that it’s not the kind of installation art that only allows the spectator to watch from a distance. There are no admission fees and no ropes keeping idling hands and curious fingers from palpitating the surface. Or from picking up a paintbrush and adding to the existing artwork, their presence woven into the history and story of the wall.
It is a space where visitors of all ages and from all walks of life can leave their mark, if only for a moment, before it inevitably sinks below the surface of fresh layers of images and words. It is a space where the narrative thread is buried underneath blistering and peeling paint with no clear beginning or ending and no monolithic vision or unified voice. A space as bright, colorful, and eclectic as the hands that have added their contributions to it, teasing passersby with the invitation to come out and play. After all, the saying’s on the wall: “The sun is up, the sky is blue, ” ¨it’s beautiful and so are you.”
Prague certainly doesn’t hold a reputation for being the most bike-friendly city in Europe. But since its launch in 2001, City Bike Prague (the city’s first bike tour company), has increasingly grown its business of showing tourists the city by bike. Now, with several tour packages, a variety of bike styles (including tandems), and a team of well-informed and enthusiastic tour guides at its disposal, City Bike has become a staple in Prague’s tourism industry. Located just minutes on foot from the Old Town Square, the bike rental company is easy to find and perfectly positioned for a guided tour that starts with a bang. First up: Prague’s most famed historical and cultural artifact, the Astronomical Clock.
Prague’s Astronomical Clock dates back to 1410, making it the world’s third oldest astronomical clock and the only one still running today. Crowds of visitors gather daily beneath it to watch the dials turn and the figures move at the strike of the hour. The first stop on the tour allows cyclists to pause for a look at the clock and a glimpse at the Old Town Square, with its magnificently painted house facades.
Prague is the fourteenth largest city in the European Union with over two million inhabitants making up its urban zone. The city suffered considerably less damage during World War II as compared to European capitals such as Berlin and Paris, meaning that untarnished and exquisite examples of Art Nouveau, Baroque, Renaissance, and Modernist architecture fill the streets and offer insight into the past. Originals, rather than reconstructed doubles, allow for a view of what Europe might have looked like were it not for the overwhelming damage done by the Second World War. Every quarter boasts unique and elaborately decorated buildings. The only trouble? Keeping your bike moving forward while resisting the temptation to only look up.
Although cars and pedestrians do not defer to cyclists as they might in more bike-friendly cities such as Amsterdam, being part of a group allows for added visibility and comfort. A knowledgeable tour guide also knows to lead the group through the more traffic-light parts of the city, avoiding large intersections and more heavily populated streets. Our tour guide, an Irish native, had been living in Prague for over a decade and knew the city as well as any local. Providing us with a narrative informed by both his status as permanent resident and his experience as an outsider, he showed us a Prague both rich in cultural history and fraught with the demands of a changing European landscape. And at the end of the tour, he left us with a cold beer in hand (courtesy of every City Bike tour package), and a host of information to be processed. The tour offered the perfect introduction to a city brimming with sights, giving us a general overview to help us answer the inevitable tourist question of, “now what?”
Having taken the tour on day one of our trip, we gained a better understanding of the city’s layout and were able to commit to memory routes that most closely resembled the walks we would later do on foot. The advantages of biking is that it makes possible to meander through alleys and parks that are inaccessible to automotive traffic, mirroring how one would experience a city as a pedestrian. Added bonus: one moves at a faster pace and covers greater distances, seeing much more of a given place than one would on foot. And with the promise of beautiful sights and a cold beer at one’s destination, it’s easy to see why touring Prague by bike has become an increasingly popular way to discover city of a hundred spires.