Personality begins where comparison ends.” -Karl Lagerfeld
“Wait until you get to Prague.”
That’s what my good friend wrote on my Facebook status that proclaimed Vienna now ranked second-most beautiful of cities I’d visited (a list that included such gems as Luxembourg City, Rome, Venice, and Galway, Ireland). I’d always maintained that no city could beat Paris, but Vienna easily nabbed the runner-up spot. Third place? Fourth? I’d decide when I got home. In the meantime, oh yeah, I had to go to Prague. And after five minutes outside the cab there, I realized my friend had been right.
I never determined if Prague’s government told its citizens “you can only paint your house green, white, or yellow, and it must have a red roof,” but every single one looks uniform in that manner. Put them against the backdrop of a blue sky, a beautiful river, fall colors… I was in love. A thought beyond any I’d had in good old second-place Vienna immediately came to mind: Could Prague be better than Paris?
Ironically, one of the first stops suggested near our hotel was the Petrin Tower, Prague’s “Eiffel,” our concierge told us. “Wait, what?” I said, hoping this wasn’t another tourist contraption like Las Vegas.
“Yeah, it’s a model of the one in Paris, really cool, not as big of course.”
“Okay..” my stepmom and I set off to find it.
I mentioned in a previous post that major rivers prove a common feature of European cities. The second most common feature? Towers. For that reason, climbing hundreds of stairs didn’t bother me in the least, and the views at the top certainly rewarded us. But the tower wasn’t nearly as cool as the Eiffel… Paris still had the lead.
Dinner along the river that night brought my stepmom and my first opportunity to step onto the famous Charles Bridge, and the sights took my breath away. Streetlights illuminated the historic black and gray bricks, filled with meandering tourists, artists selling their work, and even musicians offering an evening serenade. Once we crossed the bridge, we could look back to the “castle side” of the river and marvel at the namesake building towering from the hills — the largest castle in the world, we found out. My stepmom and I, both known for taking pictures, both often accused of taking too many pictures, were too blown away by the scenery to even take our cameras out. I noticed on the way back that the tower didn’t light up at night — definitely not as pretty as the Eiffel.
Rain the following day didn’t keep us from exploring some more. With our umbrellas up, we strolled through the quaint streets of Prague’s “old town,” admiring each colorfully painted building, glancing down each cobblestone path, and taking in the busy-ness of the square. This same square played home to the beginning of our bike tour the following day, which led us through the old town, as well as the “lesser” or “smaller” town, again filled with narrow cobblestone streets and ornate buildings. Our tour guide made sure to show us Prague’s famous John Lennon Wall, initially designed as a place to mourn the fallen superstar; later a place for people to freely express their opinions in an otherwise communist state. It was my favorite stop.
Strolling back into the square after our bike tour, an even bigger crowd greeted us, complete with musicians, street vendors, and even bubble-blowers all adding to the distinct, charming ambiance. I couldn’t get enough of it. By the end of the day, I had completely forgotten about Prague’s tower.
And I’d remembered something else.
During my first week in Arizona earlier this year, right on the heels of yet another trip to Europe, my mom and I hiked the Saguaro National Forest. As its name suggests, this “forest” isn’t quite like the Redwoods in CA or Oaks in Northern Wisconsin; rather, hundreds-of-year-old cacti make up the scenic backdrop. A few minutes in, my mom proclaimed she didn’t like it, “I guess I’m just an ocean girl, Megan, aren’t you?”
“Ocean?” I thought. But we’re in the desert….
That night, it occurred to me that my open-minded attitude stemmed from that recent trip; I’d just seen a half-dozen new cities, all remarkably different from one another, which made me realize it didn’t make sense to set them against each other. This same lesson came back to me in Prague, reminding not to judge or keep score based on certain characteristics. Places shouldn’t have to compete with one another.
On that note, neither should people.
The day before I left for Istanbul, my mom and I ran into an old friend of hers. After the friend introduced her grandchildren, she looked at us and stated that it was time for me to give my mom grandchildren, “dog’s aren’t the same!” she proclaimed (she’s clearly never met my dog). In the past such statements would have bothered me; despite how much I love my life, it’s made me upset to think I’m still behind on some people’s scoreboards — my uncle likes to remind me, no matter what I accomplish “now you just need to find a man!” But at the end of my second trip to Europe this year, I realized that letting myself be compared to others in that manner is as silly as comparing two completely different — yet completely wonderful — cities.
After a fourth trip to Paris, the city does remain my favorite destination — I’m a Paris girl, what can I say. But I’ve done away with my “beautiful-city” rankings in favor of just appreciating what each has to offer. Along those same lines, I’ve learned once more to consider less how others view my path in life and just enjoy where I’m at. It’s not about being ahead or behind….
Everyone’s playing a different game.