I had intended my next post to be about what Prague is like while you’re waiting for a paycheck to come in – but I’ve just encountered one full snow cycle and it was fascinating. Yes, snow comes in cycles. There are three stages.
The first stage is, by far, the best. Not that every city isn’t renewed by a white cover but Prague is immensely beautiful in the falling snow. The flakes blurring your vision gives the entire city the airbrushed haze surrounding a 70’s Playboy centerfold. The gothic architcture loses it’s red roofs during the day as the snow and sky blend together in one white sheet. At night everything sparkles with Christmas cheer as the markets and decorations are piled with snow. The streets hide half of what makes them modern and you’re left with the snowy dream of a city. Then reality sets in.
The second stage is the hazardous one as snow is also inconvenient, lingering, dirty and occasionally downright dangerous in the days following its fall. Once fresh snow stops falling the movement of the city almost immediately sullies what remains on the ground. The streets become sullen and brown, the sidewalks a treacherous slush and buildings damp with what’s been tracked in.
Furthermore, once the snow stops falling no matter what weather follows is dangerous. Since many of the streets and sidewalks are cobbled (and the Czechs often don’t salt) it’s difficult to remove the snow. This means that when the weather gets cold the sidewalks freeze into ice slicks.
On the other hand, the weather can warm up and start melting the snow. Great, right? Wrong. This might be the worst part. Ignoring how obnoxious 4 inches of slush can be, let’s take into consideration the roofs of this elegant city. Ahhh, those steep, enchanting roofs that draw tourists by the thousands. Yet, their beautiful pitches have a tenuous grasp on what snow accumulates there and that grasp tends to slip without warning when six inches of snow is soaked with a days drizzle: dropping potentially lethal piles from insane heights.
In case you’re wondering, I’m not exaggerating. While trying to leave my building the other day, I discovered that the door was locked (which is unusual but a minor delay). No sooner than my key was out of the lock I was stunned by the sight of an entire roofs snow, damp with the days rain, dropping right in front of me. The sickening thud of it drew onlookers out of the pub next door. The force of the impact covered the wall and nearby cars with a layer of wet white. From the sound, and the quantity left on the sidewalk, I would guess it was 500 lbs falling from seventy feet. Surely, at best this would have flattened me to the concrete and at worst, snuffed me out like a tea candle under a tire. The next day many buildings in the city were cordoned off with police tape to avoid just this kind of catastrophe. That afternoon there was a team of workers clearing snow from the roofs in teams: a spotter on the ground watching for two guys on the roof.
Combine the avalanches with the icy streets and every jaunt down the street is a potentially suicidal ice-capade.
The final stage of snow is quite boring. Once all the dangerous bits of the snow have vanished, all that is left are the piles of ice from where the roads and sidewalks have been laboriously cleared. I imagine these 3 foot piles of ice will continue to grow until March, before diminishing.
On the bright side, since it’s a cycle, once we get the filthy stage it snows again and we’re back to the fairy-tale. In fact, it’s snowing lightly as I write.