Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Our Trip to Europe: Prague

   We arrived in Prague on Sunday evening, May 27. The drive was uneventful, but much longer than we anticipated.  The southern part of Czech Republic (Bohemia)  has a very green landscape with gently rolling hills and numerous prostitutes lining the sparsely populated road.  That was about the only interesting thing for the entire drive...the sloping hills, of course.

After checking into the hotel, we couldn't resist a quick glance at what the city had to offer.  We soon discovered that there was plenty. The city has a pulse that is infectious and a sparkling personality. It is not as scrubbed as Vienna, but seemed a lot more interesting and quirky.

Every morning we were able to enjoy a breakfast buffet that was quite lavish. Of course, it took me several days to figure out that there was jelly for the great bread selection.  The bread was in one corner, the butter in another, and the jelly on the other side of the very large island. Hmmm...who knew?

We hit the castle quarter first after discovering that the Jewish quarter was closed for some sort of Jewish holiday. Oh, those wacky Jews and their holidays! Luckily, we had many days to be able to visit it.

The castle quarter was a lot of fun.  We followed the suggestions in our Rick Steves' Prague book and ate at a really good Czech restaurant. We all tried different traditional Czech dishes and I was surprised how much I enjoyed the food. They use a lot of bread and cranberries, plus the yummy meat.  I wasn't really a fan of the cabbage, so I left that plate in front of one of the kids.

I learned lots of new things on our European vacation and one of them was defenestration.  Ever heard of that word?  When the Czechs got fed up with a politician, they literally threw them out of the window. Raef is reenacting the time when two unfortunate Catholic priest/politicians got chucked out of this very window, which was the catalyst that led to the Thirty Years' War, which lasted about 30 years!

There were guards all over the castle grounds, as this is the seat of the actual government. I wonder if all government offices are now in the basement, just be safe? They had similar abandoned pill boxes in Vienna and Raef asked if they were teleporters.  I love it.  If only they were and we could have teleported from Vienna to Prague, but alas.

You know I had to throw in a picture of some stained-glass. We saw loads of it and I loved it all.  This one is actual fairly modern, only about 100 years old and can be found in St. Vitus Cathedral on the Castle Quarter. I think my kids' eyes started going cross-eyed having to look at all the stained-glass.

This is the view from the Castle Quarter, in a bathroom, that Rick Steves said had a great view. He was right, huh?

On the back side of the Castle Quarter is the Golden Lane, a row of very small cottage row houses that housed working people, like goldsmiths and taylors.  This particular cottage, #22, was where Franz Kafka lived for a short time. Maybe I will try to read one of his books sometime.

To finish out our castle tour, we decided to torture the kids with one more museum for the day. It was the Lobcowicz Palace and it had some super-cool stuff in it, with a sweet audio guide actually done by Mr. Lobcowicz himself. One of the highlights of our entire trip was seeing this old stack of papers right here.

It is the original Eroica Symphony, written by Beethoven.  He had originally dedicated it to Napoleon, but angrily changed his mind when he found out Napoleon decided to be emperor. Instead, he dedicated the song to Joseph Lobcowicz and it is probably one of the most famous pieces of music ever written, like, evah!  And there it is, the actually pieces of paper that Beethoven wrote on, himself.  It gave me chills. Oh, and next to it is an original Haydn score, as well as a little Mozart piece...all originals.

I didn't even realize this, but the picture here with the statue and the building is the same picture they used on the front of the guide book. My extremely observant child, Raef (or was it Zach?) pointed it out to me.  Hence, we had to get a picture.

You see what I mean?

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On Tuesday, we finally were able to see the Jewish Quarter.  The first synagogue we toured was compelling. Every wall was covered in names of the Czechoslovakian victims of the Holocaust.  Before the war, the country was 1/3 Jewish, 1/3 Czech, and 1/3 German.  The Nazis killed almost every single Jew. I think only about 5% survived.  The victims names are written on the walls.  You weren't allowed to take pictures, so I did a sneaky picture.  If you look closely you can see the names and the dates, and every death date is between 1941-1945.  Franz Kafka's sisters were all exterminated.

There was also a moving display of children's art upstairs. The children were prisoners at Terezin and all were exterminated, except for a very few.  It made me sad.

Okay, moving on.  As Zach would implore, no more sad stuff!

The cemetery was crazy.  Jews were only allowed one cemetery in the city and it got pretty darn crowded after 200 years.  They piled bodies 8-10 deep, so that the ground is raised up quite a bit from the walkway. That is why the headstones are so crowded and skeewampus.

We had a little lunch in the Old Town Square so we could sit while watching the Astronomical Clock. It is the most charming thing and it just makes you smile.  The whole "show" lasts about 20 seconds, but we just loved it.  This clock is only about 600 years old. Pretty impressive, huh?

On Wednesday, we decided to get out of town and go 40 miles east to Kutna Hora.  I was a bit apprehensive about going due to major language barriers and a little fear of the unknown, but luckily because of our sheer luckiness, we were in luck and got there with no problems.

So what was the draw of Kutna Hora? It is a little medieval town with a few interesting features.  I love to see the churches and it can't hurt to get decorating inspiration.  I think I found it here.

I think skull and crossbones are the new black!

Yes, it was an entire church decorated in human bones, victims of the plague and Thirty Year's War (which lasted about 30 years).  Rinar is standing under an ultra-chic super-chandelier. Every bone in the human body is featured. Now that is what I call re-purposing!

Here is the view from another cathedral.  Another cathedral, but not our last one!

We ate Czech Italian that night. Did you know there was such a thing?  The main ingredient missing in Czech Italian is the tomato.  They don't put it on the pizza and are pretty stingy with it on the spaghetti sauce and lasagna. But nevertheless, the meal was tasty and not too outrageously expensive.

And as a side note, we did frequent McDonald's more than I would ever want to, but it was always in penance for the incessant museum/cathedral trips we subjected our kids to over the two weeks.

I had this brilliant idea to make our own art while on our trip.  Although it was hard to find something worthy, we finally settled on a sewer cover to make a rubbing. The sewer caps were actually quite charming.

I saved the best cathedral for last.  What, pray tell, do you think that black, shrivelly thing is?  Incense, petrified mistletoe?  Oh, no, no, no.  It is a human hand, of course.  According to legend, the schmuck tried to steal the holy relic (Madonna Pietatis) on the altar and his hand froze to it.  The only way to release it was to chop his arm off.  They then hung it over the door to warn all future would-be thieves.  I think this story has some merit.  The hand is clenched, after all.

We went back to the Astronomical Clock and took pictures of the tourists taking pictures. Fun, huh? Prague has huge swaths of tour groups and they all clump together at the top of the hour as Prague turns on its charm.

And in one of those spontaneous moments, Zach and Raef became street performers. We were walking past this guy and stopped for a minute to listen to his music.  He then offered the violin to us to have a turn. Raef immediately took it and played a little snippet of something, but had a little trouble since his true instrument is the viola.  Zach also played, with a bit of coaxing. He garnered a little crowd and someone even dropped a coin into the violinists' case.  Isn't that sweet?

Aahhh, the beauty of Communist architecture...

This street sign is now in the Museum of Communism, where it belongs.  After subjecting the kids to their very last museum, Zach had a little breakdown because of all the sad stuff.  He didn't want to see anymore sad stuff.  Well said, kid.

I kind of, sort of love this hanging sculpture. It is the Good King Wenceslas on his upside down horse.

We were able to tour the river from the paddle boat. I loved it because I had to do very little paddling.  Exuberant ten year-olds do come in handy once in a while.

This is a sculpture memorial to all of the victims of communism. It is very powerful.

The streets of Prague are all like this. I loved it. No asphalt anywhere. They didn't pave paradise and put up a parking lot, they cobblestoned it to death.

Raef on Wenceslas Square.

And finally it was time to go home.

I got to see the world. Well, a little part of it.  I thought it was beautiful. I loved Europe and I definitely want to see more of it.  But it will never even come close to America. I am grateful for my country and know that I live in the most incredible place on earth because water is free at restaurants...and it is cold...with ice!


Lindh Family said...

So cool!

likeschocolate said...

I love that you got to see so much. Broken stroller and baby do not equal getting to see everything.

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