I couldn’t sleep, and it was only 4 a.m.
The problem I had was due to jet lag, which had really messed up my body’s clock, leaving me staring at the ceiling of my hotel room in Prague as I contemplated what to do.
It was to be my last day in the city, which I had been told was fantastic at dawn. By 6 a.m., I decided I would brave the cold and experience what everyone else had told me about.
As it was just two weeks before Christmas, and snow blanketed the hills around the city, I bundled up in a sweatshirt, gloves, my full-length wool coat and the imitation Soviet fur hat I’d bought a couple of days earlier. To my surprise, the fur hat wasn’t a cliché in Prague – many of the locals wore them.
Grabbing my camera, I headed out of the room, leaving a note for my family telling them I would be back for breakfast.
When I stepped into the street, the cold air bit at my face, and I was thankful for my warm clothes. I wandered through streets illuminated only by streetlights and passed very few people. A homeless man slept sitting up in a small alcove, a pair of trash collectors puffed steam as they labored with an overloaded bin, and two British guys stumbled out of a pub, which I was surprised to see still had a healthy amount of people sitting at the bar. As I had no desire to down a pint of Pilsner Urquell or Budvar, despite how good they are, I kept going.
I was headed to the Old Town Square, and the sky wasn’t even giving the slightest hint that dawn was approaching. It was interesting to see the place without the crowds of people and the Christmas market going full-swing, and I was amazed at how alone I felt.
Since there was nothing to do, I headed over to the Charles Bridge, which had been a solid mass of people every time I’d seen it. When I arrived, however, there were only two or three other people on it. The sky was finally starting to lighten up, but was just a dull red color.
I walked to the far end, on the side of the Castle Quarter, and I set up my tripod and camera, taking several extremely long exposures that I hated and instantly deleted. The gateway to the castle looked mystical, but I wasn’t able to capture it on my camera, so I decided to let some time pass and hope that the conditions would get better with more light.
As the light improved, I got a photo that I was somewhat happy with (at the top of this post), but it certainly wasn’t the “photographer’s magic hour” I’d read about. As the sun finally rose and I played around with the camera, I realized the reason that thing’s weren’t as advertised – the sky was overcast.
I walked back toward my hotel as the city was waking up. The hordes of people weren’t out yet, and shopkeepers opened their doors, swept the streets in front of them and set up outdoor displays. The smells from a bakery filled one corner, and I was suddenly eager to get to breakfast.