It’s a bit later than I’d like it to be and there isn’t much light.
A Sunday afternoon in Prague that, for many, seems like it could be the last day of summer.
Which is an odd thing to admit in the middle of August. But we kept running into friends and colleagues that were out and about, in the same parks and avenues, expressing the same notion. Enjoy it now, because this may be it for August.
In Prague the summer is not in June, July, or August. For some reason, at least this year, it insists on making its presence felt in April, May, and (allegedly) September, though obviously this last one has yet to be confirmed.
I can recall walking to work on afternoons in the middle of April, just sweating from the sweltering thirty degree heat. It was like this for days on end and it worried me that the summer would just be one crushing and scorching day of defeat after another. But that’s being raised in Hamilton for you. When it’s hot, it’s hot; it’s too hot.
It mellowed out a bit as the month went on, never inflating the reported temperatures with that hell-hound known as humidity. That bastard isn’t present in Prague, and if it is, it’s very much a castrated version of the summer weather I’ve grown up with. April gave way to a pleasant on all accounts May, which led into the odd June, July, and now August that’s hit the city.
It’s rained a lot. Not all day, but most days at some point, for at least a few minutes. It’s not uncommon to wake up and walk through damp streets, or simply jump into a pub for a pivo and emerge two beers later having missed the brief rain for the day. In between it’s more-or-less mild all day long. Not too hot, not too cold. My only issue is the occasional lack of sunshine.
That is not to say that sunshine is non-existent in a Prague summer. It simply comes and goes with a reckless abandon towards your plans for that afternoon. It’s not rare to walk outside in the blistering sun – shorts, sunnies, and a few bottles of wine, naturally – only to be caught in a momentary downpour by the time you’ve reached the park. It won’t last more than a few breathtakingly serine minutes, but it leaves the grass wet and the sun hiding for the rest of the afternoon. Conversely, it’s not uncommon to hear me cursing wildly and with equal abandon when I decide to stay in on account of the grey skies, only to see them clear up an hour later.
That said, we’ve stood, heads out the window, and watched some of the most beautiful thunderstorms this summer. The skies open up with a heinous fury, as if someone was escaping from Shawshank. Rain so furious it could strip the paint from your car and thunder so almighty it makes even the toughest knees buckle. All of this is punctuated by lighting that streaks across the sky and branches out atop the city. We’ve watched some beautiful storms this summer.
So this brings me to today: The Last Day of Summer. Or so it seems.
In an ongoing effort to check off a whole heap of Prague things we still have yet to do (in spite of almost half a year here) we took a tram to Náměstí Republiky, walked over the bridge, and up the hill to Letná Park to see the gigantic orange metronome at the top. I’d only been to Letná once before for some pre-game pivos before a football match between two of the Prague clubs. The walk up the hill that day was rushed and hurried, while the walk back was hazy at best. A good game though.
On a Sunday afternoon – the last Sunday afternoon of the summer, no less – Letná turns into the equivalent of Prague’s Central Park. There are hundreds of people walking, talking, skating, sunbathing, taking pictures of the entire city from the near-perfect hilltop view, drinking, laughing, smoking all manner of cigarettes, biking, skateboarding, and just hanging around. Perhaps Letná is like this throughout August, but I doubt it. With the occasional and spontaneous dreariness of the latter-half of this summer, there is no way the park puts out this kind of vibe on a damp day.
Today we sat in the sun and read for a while … then people watched from below the metronome when we got bored. While there’s an eternally long list of the things I dig about this city (especially compared to say Hamilton or Vancouver) one in particular stood out this afternoon. There are a few beer gardens on top of the hill, which allow you to sit down with your friends and your dogs and drink in the sun until someone says uncle. And while these places are nice, what’s even better at times are the beer shacks. While less frilly than the gardens themselves, they allow you to continue your pleasant afternoon walk in the park while conveniently sipping on a half-litre Pilsner in a plastic cup. No illegality, no hiding it when the police drive by, no stress… Sitting on a bench and seeing every fifteenth person cruise by with one of those plastic cups is beautiful. Especially if you’re anything like me and place a great deal of importance on personal liberty.
I also have some special love for those Praguers who have somehow mastered the art of drinking a beer in a plastic cup while simultaneously riding a bike and having a smoke. There’s a synchronized beauty to it that must have taken more than a few attempts to figure out properly.
And that (perhaps) will close out the summer here. I had no idea that this was it, until we kept running into people we knew, locals, who seemed to confirm as much. It gave a nice atmosphere to the entire park and if this is the way it goes out, so be it. I won’t moan, September is alleged to be insanely gorgeous, beautiful, and all other manner of positive adjectives. But September isn’t summer, so in a sense it doesn’t truly cut the mustard – no matter how awesome its potential. At least we, along with seemingly the entire city, had this last afternoon in Letná.
As a postscript – I wrote this around 7 pm and by 9 it was pouring rain. See what I mean?