Wednesday, November 16, 2011

To Do: Visit Prague.... Czech!

Another week where I find myself in a place I never imagined or cared to see.
They say "ignorance is bliss..." but I assure you- it's not!

When I was in college I met a girl who was from Prague - and very proud of it! But I always thought "that's great... who cares?!"

To her I apologize...

Since being in Italy, several people have told us that we "have to go to Prague," so at last we've given in.

Most people rave about the beer, and honestly most people weren't sure what James and I were going to do there without partaking in the alcoholic festivities, but as I told my friend- I doubt there's one place you can go where the only thing to do there is drink. Turns out I am yet to stand corrected!

Day One:

The most popular thing that we knew about was the Astrological clock in Old Town Square, so that's the first place we headed (after getting checked and settled into our super cute hotel). The clock on the side of a bell tower was just above eye level (note this because we didn't know it and spent quite some time trying to find it!), and every hour (while the suns out) it does it's thing for two minutes and then a man dressed in Medieval attire blows a horn from the top of the tower. I know I did a fantastic job of describing it- you have to experience it for yourself, and it's well worth it. It was quite charming.

Too bad our heads block most of it, so here you go- a full Astrological clock view:
There are several hands and several circles that each represent something. The obvious; time, as well as what time the sun will set, zodiac signs, and more- but I didn't completely get it so you can Google it if you're interested. You can also YouTube the clock in action if you so desire.

James had been told that the Segway tour is worth the money, so we thought that would be a fun way to orient ourselves with the city. However, we got totally turned around and didn't make it on time. But we did manage to find the cool-looking Dancing House:

To catch the Segway tour we had to make our way across the Charles Bridge. Which we did eventually find. And crossed it several times a day after that.

On our first crossing we saw these guys:
The Bridge Band - YouTube them!

James absolutely loved them and I thought they set a perfect atmosphere for crossing the bridge. James wanted to buy their cd, but I told him we'd get it later... besides, what's the rush we'd be there all week!

After more exploring, the sun quickly decided to set (oh, winter...), so we made our way back to Mr. Astrological clock where we climbed the tower.
Here's a view of the Castle from the top of the tower:

And here's a view of Signora Keaton at the top of the Tower:

Next, our favorite thing about Prague. Food!
I can't describe it, just admire it!

Our American roots got the best of James:

And that deliciousness concludes Day One.

Another reason the food was our favorite part is because it was always decently priced thanks to the Czech Koruna (their money), so we ate well and happily for every meal!

Day Two:

Oh, hey Charles Bridge:
Add Image
We found it a lot quicker this time, imagine that.

This is Saint John of Nepomuk:
He's a national Saint of the CR. It's said that he heard the confessions of the Queen of Bohemia but would not expose her secrets to the people... and was eventually defenestrated (legit word- I totally thought it was made up) because of this. They say when he landed (in the water off the bridge), five stars appeared. So now, whenever you see him, there are five stars above his head.

Excited to be crossing the beautiful bridge:

Next stop, Lennon wall:
Apparently John Lennon's songs gave the Czech people hope and vision, so when he died in 1980 this wall was "spontaneously covered with memorial graffiti" (Rick Steve's Prague). Each night the police would paint the wall over, and each new day it was re-decorated (if you will...). And I'm pretty sure it still changes often, because my cousin Lauren has a pic here from earlier this year and the graffiti she was by is no longer here.

Viva Roma!

The Lennon wall is just around the corner from a little island... and this is us crossing the bridge onto Kampa Island.

If you know Europeans, wherever there's a bridge there are...
Love locks (not sure what the official names is, but that works for me)!
Lovers put their names on the lock and throw away the key to show their forever love- aw!

These creepy-baby-things were in a park on Kampa island. I took a pic with them and said, maybe we'll figure out what they are eventually...
And figure it out we did: An artist painted babies with bar codes on their faces on a TV tower and said that is what will (figuratively) happen if we watch too much TV. And there you have it my friends- though that doesn't completely explain the sculptures of them in the park...

I've never actually seen someone practicing a tight rope...
I kind of want one now...

Us on that beautiful bridge we learned to love!

On the bridge with the Castle in the background.
PS... as many times as we crossed the bridge, we were yet to see The Bridge Band again... oops... As you can guess- James was not thrilled with me about that one!

After our little morning stroll we found the buses bound for Terezin.

During WWII, Terezin was a major hub in transitioning people to Auschwitz (Extermination Camp in Poland). It was our first Concentration Camp experience. Very sobering.

Walking entrance to the Jewish Camp:

In the first section, we went through a museum where we read a lot about the history and the timeline of events. There was also a lot of art from the kids that were there, as they used art as a way to express themselves (much of the art was so sad while others were so innocent and happy. And Sorry, no pics were allowed in any of the indoor facilities). Here we got to see how they lived day to day. It was not like what I pictured a "concentration camp" to be like. It was really a community (not a great one, but none the less...) or small town with a school, church, housing, etc.

After taking all that in, we walked to the next portion- the small fortress. This part is what I always thought of when I heard concentration camps.
Walking up to the entrance there is now a memorial with tons of tombstones (but even still, not one for every victim, or even close to it).

Entrance to the living quarters:

This is how they slept, rows and rows of bunk beds. But 2-3 people would sleep on each layer. No one got one to themselves.

Cramped toilet room:

These were built so that during the inspection, The Holy Cross would think that the Jews were being treated humanly. Truth is, pipes were never even built to bring water in. It was all a facade.

These were their showers.
They were separated by gender, but had to shower in large groups.
This is also set up like the gas chambers in Auschwitz. Since this was a hub for those going to Auschwitz to be exterminated, they wanted the Jews to get used to taking showers like this so they would be unsuspecting in the gas chambers. How horrible!

These were rows of extremely small rooms with one bed. I imagine it was like solitary confinement (but I could be wrong).

On the way out we had to use the restrooms. They are within the camp, which was a little eery and almost made me not want to use them, but my curiosity got the best of me.
No worries- once you walk through the doors they were very modern and nice.

To lighten the mood... dinner in Old Town Square!
James got tuna steak with a vegetable and dried-fruit-rice and I got chicken with mashed potatoes and a yummy pumpkin side. Delicious!

Day Three:

We started today off in the Jewish quarter. We felt it was only appropriate seeing as we just experiened the Concentration Camp.

The Old-New Synagogue is the oldest Synagogue in Eastern Europe:
The Nazi's only kept it intact because they planned to turn it in to a museum of the extinct people.

Jewish people in Prague were only allowed to be buried in this graveyard from 1439-1787. There are approximately 12,000 Tombstones, but each plot is 7-8 graves deep, so there are about 100,000 bodies in this graveyard.
Over time the grounds have shifted, so the tombs have shifted as well.

In Pinkas Synagogue in the Jewish quarter there are a few walls dedicated to all the people who were exterminated by the Nazis. Each individuals name, date and city of birth as well as the last date they were seen alive is listed on the wall. I wish I could have taken a picture. The list of names was so long. When the communists came into Prague they erased everything they could from the walls. But once Prague was free from the communist reign, they put the names back up on the walls.

In that Synagogue, on the second floor there were more pictures from the kids of Terezin. Again, some sad and some innocently sweet. One even showed a Jew being hung. It was quite an intense experience. I wanted pictures of the things in here too, but wasn't allowed.

Finally, something a little less sad and little more dreamy... We took a castle tour.
View down on the city from the castle quarter:

Here I am so proudly showing you St. Victus Cathedral:
The Roman Catholic Cathedral which houses the tombs of the first three Habsburg kings.

I love all the detail on European cathedrals!

Side note: The Cathedral started being built when gothic churches were "in" (obviously), eventually the style changed, so the very top of the church (the last part that was built) is a completely different style of architecture. Smooth work people.

Previously the castle area was not well lit. The Rolling Stones decided that the Castle Quarter was too beautiful to be in the dark, so they donated the lights from one of their tours to light up the area:

The Castle entrance:

No better way to warm up:
Oh Starbucks how we miss you!

After our long day of walking and touring we hunted down a restaurant by our hotel that we read about in Rick Steves' Prague book. Restaurace Mlejnice "The Mill" was so delicious, cheap, and right off the Old Town center. Mmmm.
On James' right is "sweet potatoes..." We thought we were ordering sweet potatoes as we know them, we were wrong. Apparently they eat sweet...potatoes... It was odd but delicious! It was more like a dessert, and a fun new Czech experience!

Day Four:

It was the chillest day our of our stay. The expected high was 35 degrees! Brrr!

We decided to just walk around and take in more of the sites we didn't get enough of. Our first stop was the castle because it was getting dark when we previously saw it.
This is a platform with neat acoustics... something you have to experience for yourself, sorry.

In the back, on that hill there were trees with orange, red and yellow leaves:
Oh fall, we meet again!

Their Eiffel Tower:
Because it's on a hill, the top is at the same elevation as THE Eiffel Tower.

Next we went to check out the largest equestrian statue in the world:
Ooh Ahh...

Pitt stop for Goulash in a bread bowl!

We were planning to share since it was supposed to be a pre-dinner snack... but James ended up having to order his own... Hi.

After lunch I realized it was about the same time we saw The Bridge Band initially, so I suggested we seek them out...
Oh hey Bridge Band!

Then out of nowhere a bride and groom (and their photographer) got between The Bridge Band and the crowd and started dancing:
How Sweet!

... And James finally got his cd:

...And then the sun set at about 3pm. Ok, not really but that's what it started to feel like.
Enjoying our last night in the Old Town Square.

What are these yummy treats!?!
In the Old Town Square there were several kiosk type booths, and they were always selling goodies so we decided to check out these cylinder treats everyone was munching on...

And there they are, fresh off the... cooking stick grill thing...

There are many ways to enjoy this treat...

My preferred method was eating them...

So, I guess that means there really is a lot to do in Prague besides trying the beer...

Til Next time...