The More You See, the More It Looks the Same

Eating the local food. Seeing the local sights. Buying the local bangles. Watching the “drunkie cab” pass by. Five European cities in 14 days, and I’m struck by the sameness of a lot of it.

I’m in no way comparing Museum Island in Berlin to the Eiffel Tower in Paris to the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague or downplaying any of the sites we saw. But I am comparing how tourist destinations draw the same tchotchke place after place, although often with a local twist.

In every place, there is the tourist bus and, if location permits, the tourist boat. We did both on this trip. You’ll find an overabundance of souvenir shops, which we never set foot in except to buy a museum pass in Berlin. You’ll find those designer stores that normal people don’t shop in, charging way too much for weird-looking clothes with huge, gaudy designer labels. Horse-drawn carriages, pedicabs and the drunkie cab, our name for those rolling bars where (at least) half-drunk people pedal their way to further debauchery. And, I almost forgot, something to climb on to look over the city, which we also did.

Marilynn visited Prague in the fall of 1990, just after the people threw off their Communist shackles during the Velvet Revolution. She recalls a very different Prague from what we saw. Of course, most of those changes are positive.

But when did Prague become known for Thai massage parlours, where you can have fish eat the funk off your feet in a storefront window or get a massage in view of passers-by? We spotted nearly a dozen such places, including several that obviously have the same ownership. We saw three wax museums and at least two “museums” of torture.

And I’m not sure what to make of the Museum of Sex Machines, which Declan and I passed on our first morning in Prague. I didn’t want to stop and stare, but I did glimpse what appeared to be dildoes mounted on some sort of rolling contraption, similar to a water wheel.

A friend of ours, during lunch at a local, nonchain restaurant, said that hamburger bars had largely replaced pizza parlours as the tourist eatery of choice. She also told us about the trdelnik, a local “delicacy” of dough dipped in sugar and cinnamon, wound in strips on a cylinder and slow grilled rotisserie-style over a wood fire. We had seen several trdelnik stands in the extended Easter market near our hotel and a couple of storefront locations. She’s been in the Czech Republic since 1995 and had never heard of this dish until very recently.

Declan was determined to try Prague ham, which as far as I could tell, is, well, ham. His father grills pork frequently on his Big Green Egg, to the raves of nearly everyone. But hey, when in Prague…

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