Walking to the Bohemian Paradise

Prague : Beautiful and complex, the Mecca of European destinations loomed larger than life in my imagination. After three days spent immersed in its history and architecture, I was determined to see something of the countryside. Whenever I visited a country, I tried my best to go beyond the cities, especially if they are tourist hotspots. I have contradicted myself in this respect but I reserve the right to regret and hypocrisy.

Jičín is reachable by bus from Prague, a two hour journey northeast of the capital. It is located in close proximity to Český ráj, the first nature reserve in the Czech Republic and the object of my fascination. The natural rock formations in the reserve had been shaped by nature as well as humans into fascinating, other-worldly shapes that I was fully prepared to feast my eyes on.

The walk from Jičín to the reserve was 3 hours long. We decided to stop at a local cafe for some coffee. The nostalgic, old world vibe and classic European minimalist aesthetic seemed almost subversive – this is how we do it, and we don’t care if you’ve built robots. The coffee was splendid and the tiny pancake screamed perfection. The locals warned us not to walk – they were incredulous when I insisted that we preferred walking, advising us to take electronic bikes and imploring us with their eyes to not be dumb tourists who won’t listen to good counsel. We decided to walk.

The stuff of a post-Communism era countryside, complete with deserted towns, dogs barking through fences and an air of hazy November desolation heavy with the weight of its own history is something special. I felt strangely out of place, as if I was intruding on somebody’s lawn without knowing how they tended the flowerbeds. The sun was nowhere to be seen and the narrow road was lined with fallen apples and in my head, fallen governments – I was fresh from a Sandeman walking tour in Prague that talked about the communist era and subsequent revolution.

My entire perspective of Soviet-era communism was informed wholly through pop culture – some carefully curated movies, Russian novels and Hollywood. I remember thinking that I might not have lived in those times but crossing three towns in the middle of the countryside on foot in Czechia – the times lived through me. Heavy, fascinating colors of the history of a people – their struggles staring back at me from closed windows and logs of wood piled high in unkempt backyards. It snows here, I thought, as I trudged along the road, almost seeing it, almost hearing the crunch of snow under my worn out tennis shoes.

The reserve itself was beautiful, craggy rocks looming over our head and autumn colors beaming on every tree. Since it was a day trip, we couldn’t explore the entire reserve and had to head back before the inevitable sunset – right back through the towns again, kicking at the hundreds of fallen apples that lined the sides of the road. I felt lost in my head and tired out of my mind, having covered almost 35 kilometers on foot, thoughts wavering like the haze that surrounded everything. My weariness melded into the surroundings, making them a reflection as melancholy hummed gently from my bones. It snows here, I thought, smiling.

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