London & Prague
“You are free, and that is why you are lost.”
― Franz Kafka
Walking through Bankside, I dropped into a ritzy hotel bar and took a seat next to an Irish man and his British girlfriend. They were getting bottle service and generously invited me to join. We toasted our glasses and shared travel stories. They showed me photos they’d taken from the concerts they attend. We discussed music. The man was a musician and we both had a taste for prog rock. We all went back to their flat and had an impromptu jam session over another bottle of bubbly. We got too drunk. His girlfriend kissed me. The night ended awkwardly.
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The building that once housed the Bankside Power Station is hallowed ground for artists and designers. It’s now one of the most celebrated modern art museums in the world. As a student, I poured through pages written about Rothko’s Seagram murals or Eliasson’s Weather Project or Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds. But visiting those legendary galleries for the first time, I found the community more striking than the art. Children played in a fog machine from an exhibit in the courtyard outside. Students lounged in the galleries, reading books or tapping their smartphones. Admission is free, the spaces open and unassuming. The result is a museum that feels less like a global destination and more like a local gathering place.
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Every great city needs at least one art movement. Abstract Expressionism in New York. Cubism in Paris. Whatever you call the stuff people make in Tokyo. Prague is defined by the Art Nouveau movement at the turn of the 19th century. The romance, grandiosity and fantasy of that movement still persist today - preserved like a taxidermied downtown. Its artificial and infested with tourists but none-the-less magical. With a little imagination, you can travel back in time to live as a Bohemian intellectual alongside the likes of Franz Kafka and Alphonse Mucha.