My father posted on his Facebook a quote today: “I wish people cared as much about the Earth as they did about who they think created it . . .” As we celebrate Easter today, the sentiment could not be more fitting. Instead of celebrating Jesus’ miraculous rise from the dead and pose in front of blooming trees for photos in new Easter dresses, we should not forget the true origins of our springtime traditions or loose sight of the beauty around us: the chirping baby birds, the new spring buds (4/20 pun intended,) and the warmth of the sun that has been hidden all winter.
John Muir is quoted as once saying “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” At least once a week we find this happening to us: we will go out for a “short walk” at 3:30 and end up walking and talking until nightfall. Both in Atlanta and Europe we have been lucky to live in places where nature is so simple and welcoming.
My favorite tradition while living in Atlanta were our “Sunday hikes.” I would spend all week researching hikes around the city and planning out our trail to explore while the rest of the Bible Belt belted out gospel tunes in their Peachtree-lining megachurches. Some of those hikes I wrote about on the pre-Europe blog. Since moving to Europe, Sunday hikes have dwindled in number, going from Sunday hikes to Sunday walks to a walk to a coffeeshop to Sunday is the new Monday working schedules. This has been a result, in part, of our lack of transportation; ironic that to get to somewhere where cars are unwelcome oftentimes a car is needed.
While we were living in France we were unable to keep up with our weekend pastime as accessing nature past the city streets was especially difficult given that there were very few large in-town parks in Toulouse and Montpellier with anything more than paved sidewalks, and public transportation generally did not run to the truly remote, hiking destinations in the countryside. The Czech Republic, however, has put Sunday hikes back into the weekly schedule, and, as the chill of winter finally leaves the air we find the birds calling us more and more frequently back to the chapel of nature.
Last week, we went on a tour of Prague, and the guide commented that “Czech people dress like they are ready for hiking at all times.” I had to giggle at the observation as it put into words what I had noticed since moving here: Czech people dress atrociously; they all appear to be equipped with backpacking packs at all times, often carrying hiking poles as well; the men sport some kind of quick-dry pant with knee pads usually in contrasting plaid colors; and everyone from young to old and in all dressing circumstances forgoes the European wool coat standard, opting instead to top their outfit off with a hideous snowboarder jacket, always plastic with a geometric print and always in a minimum of colors. The middle-aged crowd also absolutely adores mountain-biking, so much so that even on the most difficult of trails, one must always keep an ear open for the buzz of bike tires.
Our guide also informed us that the Czech people are the most aethiest in the world (a statistic not entirely supported by fact.) For the Czech people, however, it may be said that nature is a majority religion. Today, instead of flocking one of the thousands of churches in the country (the Czech Republic has one of the highest number of churches per capita in the world) the Czech people come out on the weekends to hike by the thousands, especially to our local park, Kunraticky les, Prague’s largest green area and often called the “lungs” of the city. The families make mostly day trips to the parks and forests, with both tiny children, mothers with strollers and grandparents armed with walking poles, tackling surprisingly tough terrain. And every Sunday, if we happen to take a late bus or metro home, every Czech student is dirt-smeared and carrying a tent and sleeping bag as if they spent the whole weekend outdoors.
The other negatives of our current living situation aside, we consider ourselves extremely lucky to be living right on the border of the terrific Kunratice Forest. The forest has most certainly “come alive” this spring, with its floor covered in thousands of tiny white blooms and delicate violets. We try to make it into the forest to explore whenever possible, and have yet only managed to cover a tiny section of the myriad of trails through its valleys and multiple high ridges.
This Easter weekend, we celebrated the Czech way, by entering the chapel of nature. Of course, this would not be a blog about exploration if we did not extend our adventure some: Our walk also took us on a tour of tiny Kunratice village and by one of the most stunningly unique church interiors we have ever seen in the small, baroque church of Saint John the Elder. The pictures simply do not do this tiny church’s dramatic interior justice, and my lack of Czech-speaking ability has left me still wondering who the glassed-in prince fellow above the altar is and why the gentleman above him is surrounded by what can only be clay statutes of ears. Of course, the hike couldn’t have been complete without a stop at our favorite beergarten-in-the-woods, U krále Václava IV, to worship the Czechs’ true God: beer.
You can find a map of our little hike through our neighborhood of Kunratice here http://www.mapmyrun.com/routes/view/396442960.