Elena, Ellen and I took a bus to Prague from Italy, which sped through Germany in the middle of the night. Glimpses of the landscape were dark and dreary, and the night crawled with agonizing slowness. Finally we arrived, driving through an empty city where the very buildings seemed to hint at some sad history.
Our hostel was spacious and clean, though the reek of weed and body odor emanated from the bathrooms. The first order of business was a walking tour, which started with a trip on the subway system with the longest escalator in the world.
We had bundled up for the trip, and I’d taken special delight in my new Italian earmuffs. But as we emerged into the winter air it became apparent that no clothes could keep away the chill, which was bone deep and brought tears to my eyes.
Cold is my own special hell, and as the guide talked I shifted from side to side, trying to stay warm. I must admit that I didn’t catch a word she said, except for a story of a man who’d had his hand cut off for fondling a statue of the Virgin Mary. I snapped pictures as we walked through the city, taking in architecture that was unlike anything I’d ever seen.
Once of my most haunting memory was born in Prague, when I saw a homeless man laying on the streets with his arms outstretched. It was the coldest winter Prague had seen for 10 years, and the tour guide informed us that several homeless people had died in the chill. I turned away from him, not wanting to see. But I can picture him still, his rags providing no protection for his skin, which was smudged with dirt.
Once the tour had ended we escaped the winter and returned to the hostel bar, which served beer that was thick, sweet and syrupy.
And, in a decision that I later regretted, I refused to leave the hostel until the bus pulled up to take us back to Italy. My friends went out that night, returning with tales of a three-story nightclub and men who knew how to dance. The next day they went to the Lenin wall, inscribing their names among a million others who’d celebrated freedom. I did some yoga and drank some beer at the bar, smiling all along. I’d only had a few hours in Prague, but I was warm.