If you ever go to Prague, you absolutely must visit the Charles Bridge. That is all I heard in the week before I left, and it's what I'm saying to you now. It is an artist's dream, with Gothic copper and stone statues that silhouette against the river, and even on a dull murky day, as it was on the day I crossed it, the religious scenes of moaning sinners and angels with their eyes rolled to heaven sent shivers down my spine. I was so pleased I hadn't stayed in bed, listening to my head telling me to lurk under the dark of my duvet. The brisk walk along the riverside to the Charles Bridge had aired my hangover from the night before, and although I felt slightly nautious, it was nothing a morning coffee and cigarette couldn't handle.
Because the morning was murky, the bridge was clearer than the usual tourist hot spot it becomes in the summer months with people swarming the statues; SLR digital cameras out and flashing them wildly, viewing the sights through the lens, rather than their eyes.
Snap. Snap. Snap.
I thought I'd take full advantage of the fact the bridge was bare of people, and whipped out my three year old Canon digital camera (who's pixels aren't quite as fabulous as they once were). Angling it around, I tried to capture how the statues stood tall, like misshapen street lamps; how they appeared imposing upon the soft pastel coloured roofs of the city behind them. The Gothic figures seemed cold and characterless until you got right up close and saw the expressions carved into their faces.
Street sellers littered the bridge, and there were only a few - the brave few - taking into account how cold it was. Their bandy-legged wooden stalls, covered in multicoloured woven blankets with pictures and knickknacks tied up with string, batted about in the wind as they let go of the tablecloth for a moment to wrap their scarves up and over their heads, pulling them tighter across their faces.
I took my time, wandering further along the bridge, trying to read the many different faces on the statues. I imagined the countless others who'd also walked by slowly and stared, wondering on their stories. I wanted to take time enough to appreciate the way their pleated robes fell so softly, how their eyes looked so longing; even though just carved from stone. I ran my hand over the cold gritty stone and smooth semi-precious metal, all worn away from years of touching. It was the same as when I visited the Avebury Stone Circle in Wiltshire last year. I'd walked around each stone in the circle and said 'hello' - even to the little weird ones that had been rubbed away too much through time, and no longer stood quite upright. Probably, (a little foolishly) I thought that if I missed one out, I might make him feel bad. So I paced from one statue to the next, guided by my senses, as if almost in a ritual.
My favourite of all the statues was of St.John of Nepomuk. It struck me immediately as totally beautiful; the bronze having turned a brilliant shade of green, in stark contrast to the gold palm leave which was held in his right hand. I loved the expression on his face, with his head slightly tilted, but most of all I was drawn to his halo of golden stars, as if illuminated like an aura around his head.
I found out a little later, that St.John is the oldest statue on Charles Bridge and is said to bring luck. You see, St.John was once a parson who refused to betray a secret told to him by none other than the Queen. His lips remained sealed as the King asked him to tell. But to the King and all of Bohemia, St.John remained silent. The King, in outrage had him tortured and thrown to his death from the Charles Bridge into the depths of the river Vltava. It is told that five stars appeared shining above the murky waters of the river exactly where the martyr's body was thrown.
Now, if I think back to when I'd stood at the statue of St.John of Nepomuk, gazing at his starry aura, I remember seeing the people in front of me rubbing his green tinged toes, and at the time, I did wonder why.