In Riyadh, it’s the call to prayer that wakes me each morning at about 4.00. It’s disconcertingly loud and comes from a tall minaret only a dozen or so steps away from our villa. But last week in Prague, it was the chimes of the astronomical clock in the Old Town Square that were a much gentler wake up.
There were other sounds too that were comforting in their familiarity. We crossed the Charles Bridge on our first day and walked through a tangle of narrow cobbled streets until we found ourselves in a small Square. While we took up the quintessential tourist pose - looking at a map and considering which way to go - the sound of a trumpet drifted down from a nearby upstairs window. Scales. Ascending and descending melodic minors, but with just the odd wrong note. It made me think of my son’s trumpet practice and the last minute rush to get scales learned and perfected before an exam.
As we continued our walk, the sun was shining. But the following day dawned cold and gray, and we knew we’d have to bundle up before leaving our apartment. It was yet another time when I’ve been very grateful for the fine woollen warmth of New Zealand merino that I can layer to keep out the cold. Thus bundled up, and with the baby wearing his buttoned-up pixie hat, (since nowadays little hands like to pull hats off), we set out. We crossed the bridge and walked up the street to Prague Castle and St Vitus Cathedral.
Back outside, the city of Prague lay in front of us with its terracotta roofs and blue domed spires. We meandered back to our apartment, through the Old Town and past an array of shops. Some were full of tourist tack and blared loud music onto the footpath. I quickened my pace and remembered almost fondly the quiet of Riyadh’s malls. I'd never have thought there’d be an occasion to be glad of Riyadh’s ‘no music’ ban. Life, it seems, can be a very funny thing.
We were not tempted by the ubiquitous Prague mole fridge magnets, the Italian handbags with Made in Florence on them, wooden marionettes or Bohemian crystal. Our only stop was a little patisserie, right beside the entry to our apartment. We ordered coffee and a range of pastries and then took them upstairs. With the little one asleep in his cot, we enjoyed their sticky sweetness and chatted about what we’d do next.
Dinner was a process of eating while trying not to be distracted by the changing Prague skyline.
We came down to a night-time Square and wandered around stalls selling local food. We stopped to try a Prague speciality, a cylindrical pastry called a trdelnik that came with a dusting of cinnamon and sugar. It was sweet, delicious and warm in our hands. My husband took a photo of my daughter and me laughing as we ripped pieces off and shared it, while the baby, warmly cocooned in the front pack, stared wide-eyed and oblivious at the camera. I have no idea what we were laughing at. It may have been the crowds around us, the occasion, or even just Prague itself. But perhaps it's also why my daughter said to me later, “That evening in the Square, that was the most fun of all. ”