One of the things I like best about old European cities is the way they can make you feel as if you’ve stepped into the past — a kind of instant time travel. It’s no accident: Europeans love their historic city centres, and they’re only too happy to heighten the effect by adding people in period costumes and things like horse-drawn carriages.
I’ve seen the horse carriages in Vienna, Bruges, Belgium, and a few other places, but I came upon this one in the Old Town Square of Prague. Framed by the classic old buildings in the square, it created a perfect picture of the 15th century – well, almost perfect. No matter how hard you try, you can never quite keep the sights and sounds of the 21st century from creeping in. And sure enough, just as I snapped this picture, a girl zipped right through it on a Segway.
It would be hard to create a better picture of time travel: one of mankind’s oldest forms of transport juxtaposed with one of the most futuristic, as if a time warp had suddenly mixed the centuries. (The guy in the background on a cellphone just completes the picture.) But then, maybe it’s a perfect metaphor for life in Europe’s big cities. Every day, modern life goes on in ancient surroundings built for a very different world. Tech stores sell laptops and cellphones in buildings that once hosted harness shops and apothecaries, and no one thinks twice about it.
Here in North America, we marvel at buildings that are 100 years old. But in Europe, hundreds of buildings erected in the times of Shakespeare and Michelangelo are still standing – they’re just a part of life. I think living with that kind of history adds something to the local culture. While we in Canada sometimes wonder who we are, I don’t think the Germans or the Czechs ever do. Their past is right in front of them — even when they’re riding a Segway. For them, time travel is a way of life.