26 May 2011

Prague Trolleys

We drove straight from Vienna to Prague, stopping only to eat the sandwiches we'd packed. The quick transition put us in a comparative mood. When the streets of Praha didn't feel quite as Bohemian as they did well-trodden, I began to miss Vienna. A truth: the city of Kafka, Mucha, Kundera and Havel is touristy. Perhaps, though, it is also more accessible than Vienna - a thought that surprised me. Vienna was more closed to outsiders, except for the artifice of museums and chain stores. One got the feeling that the people there maintained some distance, that they kept a certain identity separate from the grand facades and Hapsburg finery.
Maybe because its tourist industry came of age more recently, Prague doesn't feel quite the same. There is more of a feeling - probably false - that the life of a citizen isn't quite so distant. It's been easy to find atmosphere (doesn't that word seem like the currency of this city?) and feel that the revolution is still echoing in the streets. It's an idea that is grounded, of course, in the mirage of Prague as wilderness, outside the bounds of travel normalcy. Sometimes that idea is all it takes to make a place feel more immediate, even when American and German voices fill the air.
The pictures are almost an illustrative aside at this point, but they do serve a purpose here. We've been so impressed by the trolleys, cruising the streets quietly and smoothly, making up the bulk of the excellent public transportation system. Politely, the drivers ring a little bell if they perceive that a pedestrian might be stepping into harms way - it's less bullying than the blast of a bus horn, I think. The routes run everywhere and trolleys are omnipresent - two things everyone wants from their trains.
There's something so much nicer about standing in the sun, waiting for a trolley, than entering into a subway warren. It has a democratizing effect, I think - with clear vision and a more accurate sense of direction, moving about in the streets is much easier than it is in a subterranean system, and it makes novices feel more at home amongst the commuters.
Of course, I'm sure it's not as nice if it's raining.

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