I will say right now that my decision to spend a few days in Prague last July was largely brought on by the beautiful writings of one author. I’m talking about Laini Taylor, and by her writing, I’m talking about Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I’d previously reviewed the book last year, and I was so smitten by the setting (which encompassed a wide array of places, actually) that I found myself imagining that I was sitting near where Karou had been sitting in her Poison Kitchen, or walking across Charles Bridge just trying to get to class. It’s one thing to imagine and live vicariously through your favorite fictional characters, quite another to actually have the opportunity to live it, even for a short time.
And oh boy, when Opportunity came knocking, I opened the door so wide he had no choice but to step into my threshold to enjoy a pot of tea and freshly-baked kolaches, while I went ahead and packed my bags.
Admittedly, I was with a tour group, so it was much harder to get away and linger in Prague by my lonesome. I did have a full day to myself, which I took advantage of by traipsing the possible places Karou could have gone.
They paid good money for Kaz’s “ghost tours,” which consisted of being herded through the tangled lanes of Prague in the dark, pausing at sites of supposed murders so “ghosts” could leap out of doorways and make them shriek. – Pg. 3
There weren’t any ghosts jumping out of doorways and alleys, but traipsing the old Jewish Quarter at night certainly had no end in creepiness. The guide for my “ghost tour” was dressed up like Death, though, and he had a great deal of stories about the area. A particular favorite was one about a sleeping golem hidden upon the rooftops of the Jewish Quarter. The legend goes on to say that the golem will rise up again in Prague’s hour of need to protect the city. I love this concept, really I do.
The streets of Prague were a fantasia scarcely touched by the twenty-first century–or the twentieth or nineteenth, for that matter. It was a city of alchemists and dreamers, its medieval cobbles once trod by golems, mystics, invading armies…and Gothic steeples stood ready to impale fallen angels. – Pg. 24
There’s imagery, and then there’s imagery. The Prague that Taylor described was during the winter-time, so I imagine it’s much less crowded, since people are inside trying to keep warm or, you know, there are definitely less tourists at this time period to begin with. Still, snow or no snow, the city is beautiful.
Down by the Devil’s Stream, Poison Kitchen was a place rarely stumbled upon by chance; you had to know it was there, and duck under an unmarked stone arch into a walled graveyard, beyond which glowed the lamp-lit windowpanes of the cafe…
“…but the monks’ quarters remain, and have been converted to the strangest cafe you’ll find anywhere, crowded with classical statues all sporting the owner’s collection of WWI gas masks.” – Pg. 25
Hate to burst your bubble, but Poison Kitchen doesn’t exist. Yeah, this was a mild disappointment when I looked it up. However, I kind of did run into a baroque cafe facing the Charles Bridge. You wouldn’t know there was a cafe inside since the signs mostly point to the museum right next to it. To get here, I had to climb down a set of stairs, go past the fascinating open museum, and then head sharply right into a lovely cafe. The place could probably fit twenty or so people at the most. It was cozy and small and–fortunately for me–rather empty when I sat down to order my coffee and cake.
Okay, so there is no gas mask collection in the baroque cafe, but I’d gone to a nuclear bunker tour the day before and found the picture fitting to add in here, lol.
Fairy-tale city. From the air, red rooftops hug a kink in a dark river, and by night the forested hills appear as spans of black nothing against the dazzle of the lit castle, the spiking Gothic towers, the domes great and small. – Pg. 160
Regrettably I do not have any night pictures of Prague’s skyline. I also don’t have an aerial shot of Prague, so this was the closest I could get to as far as Akiva’s view of Prague is concerned. Squint hard enough and maybe you’ll see the fiery-eyed angel perched on top of one of the towers. Sigh, if only, right?
Soon enough she came to the Charles Bridge.
Icon of Prague, the medieval bridge crossed the Vltava between Old Town and the Little Quarter. Gothic bridge towers rose on both sides, and the whole span — pedestrian-only — was lined by monumental statues of saints…Vendors and performers were arriving with handcarts to stake out the most coveted real estate in the city, and in the very middle, before the photo-perfect backdrop of Prague Castle on the hill, was the giant puppeteer. – Pg. 174
Besides Poison Kitchen, I think the Charles Bridge was one of the most memorable scenes in Daughter of Smoke and Bone. A lot happens here in Karou’s story, including Zuzana’s puppet show and the fantastic aerial showdown between Karou and Akiva (OMG can I say how much I ADORED that scene, btw?!). There were no giant puppeteers or marionettes being displayed at the center of the bridge when I was there, but there was a puppeteer dancing his marionette, to the delight of a small crowd and their children. (No, I didn’t take a picture of this, ’cause I was too busy recording it on video, lol!).
Needless to say that I enjoyed myself stepping into a character’s shoes. I didn’t meet an angel, I didn’t find the portal to Brimstone’s shop, and I certainly don’t have a head of bright blue hair, but I walked Karou’s shoes as best I could, and that in itself was magical.
Now, if I was to pick another place from Karou’s travelogue, I’d head to Morocco next. The scene happening in Marrakesh was my second favorite, after all!
Update: As it turns out, Morocco was definitely a location I did visit some years after!