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Vagabond Journey

Letany – Wandering Around The Liminal Zone Of Prague

Looking for an ice rink.

PRAGUE, Czech Republic- The criteria for adventure, according to Petra:

1) You’re going somewhere you’ve never been before.

2) You don’t know what’s going to happen.

3) And daddy pees on a tree.

Yeah, that’s about right.

***

As I climbed up from the subway and scanned the horizon I realized that I could scan the horizon. I was on the far outskirts of Prague in this new development area called Letany looking for an ice rink. I was taking my daughters ice skating and we had a 20 minute walk from the subway station, which appeared as if it was only recently opened.

I looked out across a cabbage field. A prop plane came in for a landing right over our heads. The sky was that kind of deep blue that seems to be a salve for people who have grown too used to looking at cities. There was sun. The air was brisk and smelled good. I smiled as I walked, completely satisfied with where I was and what I was doing. I began getting memories of previous travels when a felt in a similar way — previous travels wandering out in the middle of nowhere in China, Indonesia, when I was a kid in Patagonia.

I initially didn’t quite realize why I was feeling so good and what walking past a cabbage field on the outskirts of Prague had to do with my previous travels. Then I got it: I was relaxed.

It may sound odd, but I feel that the greatest allure of travel isn’t the adventure, it’s the relaxation. I don’t mean relaxation in a leisure sense, but relaxation of the mind. Travel calms the nerves — it is like cutting the cords of obligation with a knife. Going out into the world is kind of like going out on a sort of social island, removed from everywhere and everyone. You watch the chaos flowing around you but you are impervious to it — you are calm and cool because no matter how crazy it gets you know it has nothing to do with you. You’re just watching the show. It’s a nice feeling.

Travel is easy. If you want to go west you stand on the side of the road and flag down a bus going that way; if you want to go east you get on the eastbound train. If you want to make a jump you go to an airport, booking the ticket on the cab ride there. Travel commands the use of your body but provides little labor for your mind. You follow the signs, comply with the directions, go from point A to B robotically. Meanwhile, you’re just looking around, pondering what’s in front of you, daydreaming about travels past when you were just walking around the outskirt of some city with nothing to do.

***
It probably helped that I was on the liminal zone of Prague — a weird landscape that’s neither countryside, city, nor even really suburb. It’s an intermediary phase of a place in transition. This stretch of Letany was just being developed, and for some reason that I do not quite understand I like places like this. There’s not really much culture in these new outposts of progress, no history, no social layers to peel back and look beneath. There are apartments and shopping malls and subway stops in liminal zones, but for some reason they feel empty — as empty as a meandering mind, perhaps. I just go out to them and relax.

There is also the fact that subway stations in the middle of nowhere — and liminal zones in general — often remind me of China during my ghost cities project. I get nostalgic — I miss that China. I think the place is different now and I’m extremely reluctant to go back. It’s silly, especially when contextualized by the fact that my main focus is on change, but I have this defensive reaction to not go back to China so I can remember it as it was. Just kind of put those memories in a plexiglass box and archive them …

Subway stations in the middle of nowhere remind me of China.

***
Ice skating was a bust. We arrived on time but for some reason the place where you rent skates didn’t open until public skate ended. It made no sense, but whatever … we’ll go back on Sunday morning. We went over to the shopping mall instead — a two-hour round trip for Pizza Hut.

***
It’s the end of 2018, why are we still building places that look like this? That could be anywhere, and now that we know it it isn’t a sign of progress, but the exact opposite. Shopping malls like this are overtly third world.

Filed under: Czech Republic

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 88 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3413 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Prague, Czech Republic

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