I recall stepping out into a Prague street.
I recall lying on my back, staring up into the underside of a tram as pain seared through my body.
I just don’t recall what happened in between.
It turns out that just before strolling out onto Vyšehradská Street, a one-way thoroughfare near our hotel, I looked right, into traffic, to ensure the way was clear. Being a one-way street I didn’t look left. An unfortunate oversight since next to the four one-way lanes there was a tram lane, heading the opposite direction, with a huge tram bearing down on me at full speed. I stepped into its path.
My wife, Soo, barely heard my barked expletive before seeing my body catapulted into the air and hurled several meters down the road. I landed with, I’m told, a sickening splat, and lay unmoving on the tracks as the tram’s brakes squealed in protest.
The violence of the collision probably saved my life. Had I not been thrown so far, the tram would not have had time to stop before crushing me under its steel wheels. Soo arrived at my side just ahead of the tram’s shaken and horrified conductor, who assumed he was approaching a corpse.
The butcher’s bill was a fractured hip, a couple of broken ribs, a bruised lung, other assorted broken and bruised parts and more blood than Soo ever hoped to see covering bits of her husband.
And I was lucky. Oh, so very lucky. My body will heal. I’ll be fine.
My pride, I fear, was fatally wounded.
I’m quite certain that at some point during my formative years my parents mentioned to me that looking both ways before crossing the road was a good idea. They may also have cautioned that it was unwise to step in front of moving trams. And had they failed to impart that nugget of wisdom, one would have thought I could have come up with it myself. This ain’t my first time in the big bad city.
Sadly, because it did not occur to me, I’ll be walking with a limp for some time.
I’ve also given Soo a lifetime of ammunition anytime I start to scold her about something. I can already hear the “Hmmm . . . you think forgetting to close the garage door is addlebrained? Remember that time in Prague . . . ?”
Our time in what was once one of my favorite cities began almost as conspicuously as it ended. We opted to take the train up from Vienna, both because it’s a grand adventure and because it’s half the price of air travel. This wasn’t one of the flashy high-speed trains crisscrossing Europe, but it was comfortable and a great way to see the countryside.
After a five-hour, trip we arrived in Prague, shuffled out of the train with our heavy, over-sized suitcases and made our way to the taxi stand at the other end of the station. Once there Soo discovered that she’d left her phone on the train and raced back to retrieve it. I waited with the luggage.
Sometime later — and with no sign of Soo — I was beginning to get worried. It was around then that I received a text saying, “I found my phone, but the train left. I’ll get off at the next stop and come back.” My wife, it turned out, had accidentally launched herself on an independent (although blessedly brief) tour of the Czech countryside.
That should have clued me in that this would be an interesting trip.
After Soo’s train adventure, and before I chose to play chicken with a tram, we had a little time to explore this glorious, 1,100-year-old city. Prague is pronounced “Pra-ha” by locals and most of Europe (no clue where the American pronunciation came from. Almost as bad as calling someone named Karluv “Larry” or “Charles.”) It has been said of Prague, “If European cities were a necklace, Prague would be a diamond among the pearls.” It was once the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, has been the capital of countless principalities and empires, is the only Europe capital never to have been attacked and invaded, and features one of the world’s oldest Astronomical clocks, called the Orloj.
This fascinating clock has an equally fascinating history, and its true origin was shrouded in legend for most of the last 600 years. It was believed that it was built by the clock master Hanus, who refused to share construction plans with anyone. The legend goes that when city counselors found out that he was going to make another, even more spectacular clock, they became jealous and blinded him so he could not finish it. Hanus allegedly struck back at his tormentors by damaging the Orloj beyond anyone’s ability to repair it.
Whatever the real story (it’s now believed it was made by Mikuláš of Kadan in 1410,) Prague’s magnificent Astronomical Clock is the third-oldest in the world and the only one still functioning. We couldn’t wait to see it, and explore the medieval Old Town surrounding it.
Though the moat that once protected the city has been covered over by streets, the historic Old Town still feels very much like a gothic fortress. Its cobblestone streets, imposing towers and multi-pointed spires adorning centuries-old cathedrals give Prague an almost sinister feel at night. And since I face-planted into those self-same cobblestones during what was supposed to be our daylight tour, at-night was the only way I saw the city.
For our only hospital-free night in Prague, we took a friend’s advice and dined at Restaurante Ambiente Brasileiro, a superb Brazilian place in the historic Old Town. 700-year-old catacombs house this spectacular eatery, and we savored great food, French wine and a Cuban cigar while drinking in the dizzying concept of dining in a place almost three times as old as our home country!
We were strolling across the magnificent Karluv Bridge (Charles Bridge, to Americans) which looks like something Disney created for Beauty & the Beast, when they turned the lights off for the night. We didn’t mind, assuming we had all the time in the world to explore the next day, or the day after.
Then I picked a fight with a tram, and lost.
There’s a lesson here, one I’m surprised I must re-learn. It’s one we’ve all heard a million times, one we’ve all probably admonished others to do, yet one so easy for us to forget ourselves.
The lesson is this: Live.
The Romans said “Carpe diem!” In Isaiah 22:13 the Bible says, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die!” An endless stream of modern pop singers advise us to live like it’s our last day. Whoever the messenger, the message is clear: Appreciate every day, every moment of your life. Don’t put off adventures. Live!
Dorothy Parker once wrote a poem that seems very real to me right now. She wrote:
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
Dorothy Parker was right. Live!
Especially if you’re fond of swan dives into moving trams.