Prague is bruising hot today. 36° is enough to make me consider staying indoors. But I liked the sound of the quiet in the Strahov Monastery yesterday, so I’m going back for a second turn. The sky is very clear and it feels like I’m walking in a crystal blue cloud of heat, each brush of shade an oasis.
I head straight for the library once I get up to the Monastery, but it is closed for another half an hour. There is a grand church standing beside it and I step inside the doorway. Only about two metres is open to the public, but those two metres are like walking into a pulse of chill air. It is delicious. The effect is so instantaneous that I wonder whether it is air conditioning. I suspect it is just the heavy stone walls.
I end up waiting slumped in the shade on a bench outside the library door, my feet happy for the break. I watch an older gentleman step up to the dark door of the church and as he steps into the cool he opens his arms up wide and tips his head back and I hear him laugh.
The library eventually opens and a little flock of people materialise outside the door. I decline to pay for photography rights. I look into the two historic rooms that are protected by red velvet ropes.
The frescoes on the ceilings of the two rooms are beautiful (the Philosophical and Theological Halls), as are the two stories worth of books and the polished wooden floors and shelves in the Philosophical Hall – the main library room. But I feel a little sad about the books trapped behind their velvet ropes. I think they’d like to be read. I imagine their old paper smell.
The corridor that joins the two rooms is lined with old cabinets and odd pieces of history. There are old books, some with cracking old covers, others still lustrous in leather. There are collections of shells and dried sea creatures.
There are treated elephant trunks (yes, trunks – they are shrivelled and thin, strange looking) and a narwhal tusk that the collector believed to be from a unicorn. There are some rather dashing French military boots that look like something a pirate would wear and other pieces of military paraphernalia.
I have lunch in the Monastery restaurant and try one of the famous brews (made from the original recipe of the monks). It is amber coloured and tastes light fresh. Liquid bread they call beer in Prague…
I’m thinking about asking for some water just as I catch sight of the waitress down the other end of the room. She is blithely pouring half-drunk glasses of water back into the main jug. I think I’ll stick with my liquid bread after all.
I’m glad I came up here again. I loved the tour yesterday, loved the guide and the noise and the stories. But I am also loving the quiet now. I’ve become very used to my solitude and it is nice to see these places again with only my own thoughts in my head.
That being said, I had a wonderful Skype video with my Mum, my sister and brother-in-law and my oldest niece this morning and loved seeing each of their dear faces and hearing their familiar banter. I miss them. I think travelling is not just about the beautiful places I see and things I learn when I’m away, it’s also about the joy of coming home.