In the list of iconic places to photograph across Europe, the Charles Bridge in Prague clearly ranks in the Top 10. And justifiably so, since it is a sight that one cannot forget, with its statues of saints rising impressively above you and the 1000 spires of the city silhouetted against the morning sky, especially knowing the fact that most of the structures in Prague are originals – never having been destroyed in any war since they were built. But just like any other iconic place, this tourist hot-spot is packed heel-to-toe during the day, with a better view of your neighbors hairdo than the saintly statues.
We landed in Prague in the middle of scathingly freezing winter (or as scathing as it gets for a California-native family), hitting 26F max and near 18F in the mornings. With sunrise happening at 7:15 am (thankfully not 4.30 am), I shivered my way on to the bridge where a gust of icy breeze from the Vltava hit my face. Was I the only ridiculous soul leaving the comfort of a warm hotel room that morning for a few random bytes on flash memory?
All of life’s choices floated right before me. What is this all worth? These cliched banal photographs are not going to make me a Michael Kenna or a David Duchemin. They are not even going to earn me a decent living. Heck, they wouldn’t even solicit more than a few loyal likes on Facebook or Instagram. It’s wondrous what a little biting cold can do to your prioritizations in life.
And then I saw the only other beings on the Bridge – 2 cleaners in orange jumpsuits operating their electro-mechanical mop, cleaning up the Bridge off every little scrap of junk that tourists like us had left behind the previous night, only to repeat the same pattern again tomorrow. So I trudged along to the center of the Bridge – the only other soul around.
I subsequently turn around to face the old city, and suddenly everything was worth it.
For the next 2 hours, as we went from near-darkness, to dawn, to sunrise to daylight, I watched the play of colors, light and shadow, transfixed.
First, the photographers started strolling in, near sunrise. One woman, half Russian, but from Napa Valley. Another one from Bratislava. He was the chattier kind. Even after having lived so close, this was his second visit to Prague. We chatted about the charming Bratislava old town, the unique UFO restaurant, and the 30 min speedboat ride along the Danube between Vienna and Bratislava. All this while our tripods fixed and long exposures counting away.
When it was clear that the cloud cover wasn’t going to break, leading to a somewhat meh sunrise, the photographers dispersed as quickly as they had appeared. I am sure they are all foodies too, and it was almost breakfast time.
The morning walkers, sprinters, runners, mix-fitness-with-sightseeing types appeared all around. Whizzing by, stopping for a split second to point their phone at the dull sky, and then carrying on in a hurry. My tripod and I remained immovable, freeze-framed into their world.
But they were foodies too, I am guessing. Because by 8.45 am, no one was around. The Bridge became silent again, waiting for the big day. Waiting for the city to finish their breakfast, get ready, gather their cellphones and throng it’s 700 year old cobbled pathways, littering it with knick-knacks, trash, and lost papers and trinkets, waiting for the orange-clad cleaners to rinse and repeat.