In the summertime I imagine that Letenská pláň, a green tongue of land rising high above the river Vltava, is a tangle of bodies and revelry. I picture the beer gardens full, tables sticky with spillages, the smell of cigarettes and fried food from small tarmac-side vendors. Below, a string of boats on the river, chugging merrily with brightly coloured pageantry. Perhaps, if I squint, I can conjure the cap-covered heads of swimmers, bobbing in the water.
However, I have visited Prague in the depths of winter, and the park is decidedly bleak. The trees are stripped of colour and the sky is milky and lightless, no shadows are cast, and everything looks flat. The only people I pass are the occasional runner or dog-walker, and a man doing tai-chi in thick jogging bottoms, a huge puffer jacket and a hat. He moves slowly and gracefully with his eyes closed, as the wind pulls the bare tree branches around him in different directions. The grass has been scrubbed into the brown earth, and the main landscaping features are metal bins, graffiti, and empty beer cans.
As I walk further, the park extends onto a plateau, and I take in the sights below. Terracotta rooftops, church spires and domes knot together before fading into the wooded hills of the horizon. The river, silver and slick, is interrupted by the gentle curves of stone bridges. All is quiet, and I can feel the condensation of my breath within my scarf. A little way down from me a couple are taking a selfie, and I watch them turn the phone around to see if it’s worth keeping.
Finally, I reach the Pražský metronome, positioned atop a huge grey stone platform. It runs with a satisfying whirr, it’s huge mechanical needle gracefully arcing across the sky. In the past a monumental statue of Stalin stood here, watching over the city, and I am reminded of Percy Shelley’s Ozymandias. Apart from the grey stone platform, flanked by two unlit torches, nothing beside remains.
That said, at over 75 feet long, the metronome asserts its own authority. I consider it for a while, trying to figure out how the inner mechanisms work. I like the fact that time isn’t round here , no gilded clock-faces, no hurried check of a wristwatch en-route to somewhere important. No numbers at all in fact. The needle raises its head to the sky and bows again in submission. Keeping time, not dictating it.
Perhaps I will return in the summer, when the season is mild, and the park comes to life once again. For now, I descend the steps, back towards the city centre, with its promise of brightly lit crowded pubs and a hot wine called Svarak, which I am yet to learn how to pronounce.