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New Year’s Eve, Prague Style

Now that I’m on my way back home and my suitcase is with me, I decided to rewrite some of what I had written before about New Year’s Eve in Prague and instead focus on the positive about having had my suitcase misplaced for a day and a half.

I had to wear my heavy boots to the New Year’s Eve celebration.

This turned out to be a wise decision-even if I really didn’t have a choice in the matter since the shoes I’d previously wanted to wear were in Amsterdam.

I’d spent the afternoon of New Year’s Eve shopping for clothing (suddenly needed), shopping for food (since many stores were going to be closed on New Year’s Day), and napping (I’d gotten about 3 or 4 hours of sleep on the plane and needed more).

I woke up for good at 8:30 or so and surfed the net at the Arco Pension for awhile before catching a tram to the city center. Along the way I was privileged enough to see the Charles Bridge with the Prague Castle in the background. It was splendid with all the lights turned on and I was admired the view. Unfortunately the tram kept moving and the view was brief.

I decided at that moment that it was the single most beautiful thing I had seen all year.

There’s something about it that I cannot put my finger on, but it was incredible. I should have gotten off the tram and walked back to the middle of the bridge and admired the view and taken some photographs. Too bad I had a plan.

Instead I got off the tram at the “Quarter Square” pausing in my walk as I passed the McDonald’s that marks where the author of “For the Love of Prague” lives (or lived, but I assume he is still alive) (blog entry on book). I didn’t go in, I just stopped and looked at the building and thought to myself that he and his wife were very lucky to get to live in such a fantastic location. This was very much in the back of my mind as I continued down the street and onto the Charles Bridge.

The bridge was beautiful, and crowded, but without vendors (the first time I have ever seen the bridge devoid of vendors). The bridge was filled with people celebrating the pending New Year, and the first thing I noticed was the omnipresence of fireworks. People were setting off fireworks all over the bridge and I quickly observed that if there was a gap in the crowd, it was probably better to stay within the crowd rather than walk through the open spaces lest I get my foot blown off.

After awhile, I finished crossing the bridge where I looked back. The bridge was beautiful and the splendid backdrop of the castle was imposing. It reminded me of my first visit to Prague in 2003, where I was walking around in the evening with no plans and came upon the bridge at dusk. I still remember being stuck dumb at the sight of the bridge and the castle at night. It remains one of my most vivid memories.

I continued down the street making my way to the Old Town Square. Along the way I ignored a couple women who looked like they were either begging or selling themselves. The narrow back streets of Prague are fun to travel with lots of interesting little shops-none of which were open on New Year’s Eve.

Upon arrival in the Old Town Square, I joined the crowd at the stage. Through careful movement I was able to go from not being able to see the stage to being within a reasonable distance. I didn’t do anything but share glances with a couple but we worked our way forward. I was envious of the girl-she had a very cute boyfriend-and I carefully positioned myself to help ensure that they had a decent view of the stage.

On the stage there were alternating bands-one of which was very much into dressing up. We had guest “appearances” from the likes of George Michael, Elton John, Tarzan, and other notable celebrities. Every half hour the bands rotated.

The other constant were the fireworks. Fortunately not many were set off within the large crowd I was hanging out in, but in the larger square plenty of fireworks were being set off at ground level or shooting up into the air only 15 or 20 feet.

As we approached midnight people broke out bottles of Champaign and the anticipation mounted. About a minute before midnight a guy behind me decided it was time to open his bottle of Champaign. Much of it poured onto the guy next to me, although I got fairly well drenched. At midnight I was soaked. And then I crouched down. Fireworks were everywhere. The Square became foggy-it was hard to see more than a few feet and the odor of gunpowder permeated everything-including several brightly burning red fire sticks that cast their glow across the crowd.

A few minutes after midnight I realized that jet lag was setting in and that although I could force myself to stay up all night, I probably should consider go to bed.

I slowly made my way out of the central stage area and into the grander square-where my rule for avoiding wide open spaces proved to be a wise one. People were setting off fireworks everywhere-many of them surprisingly grand-the kind that would probably need a professional license in the United States just to consider buying.

The next step was to head toward the pension. My boots, which had been protecting me from fireworks on the ground now protected me from the ever present broken glass-after opening bottles of Champaign, people had dropped the bottles on the ground-the same with empty bottles of beer.

It was truly “walking on broken glass.

I also got to experience something I’d never actually experienced before! I was in a crowd of people where if I’d wanted to stop walking forward, I couldn’t have. I was being pushed rather rapidly down the street.

Eventually the momentum of the crowd slowed and I made my way to the edge-it was at this point that I noticed that some brave, yet foolish, person was attempting to drive their car into this mass of humanity. In their defense it was the car of a security firm, so they were probably obligated to make their way somewhere-I am still wondering if they had an undamaged car when they returned.

When I got to Wenceslas Square, I suddenly realized that I was hungry, so I grabbed, for 65 CKK (2.17€ or $2.83) a bratwurst and coke. It was a great post-midnight snack.

I continued to be happy I was wearing boots as I walked most of the way back to my pension for the fireworks and general chaos continued as I made my way down the square and into the neighborhoods.

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