I traveled to Prague recently, easily one of the most fascinating, stunning cities I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. I wanted to walk down every street and touch every cobblestone with my tired feet.
Usually, I shun the most touristic attractions and sights. I don’t mean to be pretentious, but I simply do not like the overwhelming crowds. The constant clicking of cameras, the tour groups led by a man or woman hoisting a colored flag, and the omnipresent obnoxiousness coupled with entitlement that I deserve to be in the perfect spot to see whatever it is to see.
The 14th Century Charles Bridge and Prague Castle, both within sight of one another, are what most tourists go to see in Prague. Initially, I shunned the idea of visiting, especially after walking past the bridge entrance in the early afternoon hours on a hot Friday afternoon. I’ve seen bars and clubs less crowded on New Year’s Eve. Finding my way across the bridge would’ve required constantly shuffling and sliding in between tourists under a cloudless sky and a beaming summer sun. No thank you.
Then I continued further north along the Vltava River and could at least get a view of Prague Castle across the way. Magnificent. I don’t even remember consciously making the decision to stop and take it all in, but I soon found myself staring warmly at the castle, my arms resting along a chest-high stone wall.
Despite my tendency to try and avoid touristy attractions, I’m also a firm believer that some destinations or monuments are touristy because they are indeed truly astonishing. I wondered if Charles Bridge might be one of those things.
So, I made an effort to wake up early and get to the bridge before the crowds. As I suspected, it was worth the effort. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The attention to detail in all of the statues and monuments that line the way across the Vltava River is remarkable. I quite quickly turned into the entitled tourist, wanting this bridge, this moment to myself.
Of course, I knew the bridge would soon become overwhelmed with tourists. The urban design nerd in me enjoyed that so many people from all over the world felt so compelled to visit a piece of historic, pedestrian-only infrastructure. Then again, part of me wished that expertly-designed, visually-stunning pedestrian infrastructure wasn’t such a novelty in the world.
What was perhaps most disappointing was the litter. The bridge itself was kept impressively clean, but the trash bins at either entrance were overflowing with plastic bottles. First of all, really? Do you really need that large bottle of coke? Is purchasing a reusable water bottle too difficult? Few things depress me more in this world than needless waste.
This is hardly an issue limited to tourism in Prague. Rather it’s one of the many issues the world needs to cope with as more people are able to afford travel and as tourism continues to expand. Nevertheless, I truly believe tourism and travel can continue to be a force for good. I’d simply like it if we could all be a bit more respectful of the homes we’re visiting and the planet we’re all living on while we do it.