Towers and Bridges and Steps- It’s Prague

20170912_220324Towers and Bridges and steps, we’re off again!  Honestly, I’m starting to not get nervous before going through security – although did you know that they don’t know what a loaf of homemade pumpkin bread looks like on their screens and they’ll have to search your bag to figure out what that lump is?  This adventure we decided would be a little longer – 8 days from start to finish beginning on a Tuesday night in September.  We met up at Washington Dulles, and, even though we were flying standby, instead of wondering if we would make the flight, got assigned seats before we even arrived at the gate, a whole row for the 2 of us – not that it meant I got a moment more of sleep than usual but I didn’t have to worry my head would flop on the man next to me.

In the previous blogs I gave a description of our days but since this was a longer trip I’m going to change the format and give the good, the bad and then funny!

Arriving in Frankfurt on Wednesday morning, a-whole-lot of sleep deprived, we picked up our itty, bitty, teeny, tiny rental car.  It was no joke that it was a 1 suitcase trunk because that’s all that fit there!  With little delay, we got on the autobahn to drive 3 hours.  Kate is an excellent navigator – with the help of google maps.  But – when we got 10 minutes from our destination – the home of Kate’s friend Kay – it completely and totally failed us as there was a closed road!  Remember, it’s 10am our time, we haven’t slept in over 24 hours and we have no “real” map!  Fortunately, Kate could call her friend and she pieced together where we were, drove to us and had us follow her to her house!  We made it to our first destination!

That evening we had dinner in a nearby city at Brawirt, located in a 600-year-old building.  (I’ve discovered I love being in a really old building – as long as the bathroom isn’t just as old!)  There we had some amazing food – Schwabian pork and cheese spaetzle (and yes, since I’ve gotten home I’ve found some recipes on Pinterest that look pretty good so I want to try them soon!)

On Thursday, we headed for Prague.  It’s amazing what some years with capitalism can do for a country.  Instead of driving twisty, tiny, country roads, we had a smooth trip on highway – all the way to the city limits.  Fortunately, Kay had told us that we needed a vignette – a sticker to show that we had paid to drive on the highways.  It was about $15, good for 10 days, and we purchased it at a rest stop as soon as we crossed the border – cash only!

Our AirBnB in Prague was great!  Our host opened the double wood doors and we drove through a narrow passageway (good thing it was a tiny car!) into a courtyard, 20170917_150800where we could park and leave the car for our stay (we used the small pedestrian door each time we came and went and opened the wider doors when we drove the car in and out).  We then climbed 75 stairs in a very old building, walked though our host’s apartment and into our own.

The view from there was great, the bed comfortable, and the bathroom “difficult” as the shower was really a tub under the very sloped roof!  (it was 1” from the ceiling at one end and made for some creative “showering”.)

Food in Prague was fun!  We purchased cheese, bread and pastries in the supermarkets each evening for breakfast and lunch the next day (Yup, bread and cheese sandwiches every day!).  We ate our dinners in different restaurants – one in the cellar of a very old building, one outside on a river patio with a water wheel turning near us, and then our favorite, one on a rooftop terrace overlooking the Old Town Square!  What a treat and so worth it!22343686_10155936709263291_289048764_o

During our stay, we managed to eat great Italian pizza, Czech goulash with dumplings, both pumpkin and mushroom risottos, ice cream, delicious pastries, lemon crepes, golem cookies, and trdelnik (a piece of dough wrapped around a wooden roller, baked as it spins over coals, sprinkled with sugar on the outside, and then coated with chocolate on the inside).

But, what sights did we see?  Lots and lots and lots!!!  I had gotten off the internet a list of the 25 best things to do in Prague – some were great and some we wondered why they were on the list!!!  Here are our top 10, in no particular order!

#1 – Museum of Historic Chamber Pots and Toilets – As we wandered down some quaint streets in the old town, we came across this unusual museum.  As the name and topic intrigued us, we entered.  What a fun and unusual museum!  They had so many chamber pots and unusual toilets, all with little placards to tell a little about each.  One that caught our eye was a chamber pot with a frog in it (to indicate the sounds that might come in the pot) as well as the rhyme, “Keep me clean and use me well and what I see I will not tell.”

Another one was French – given to newlyweds to end the “night of love” and filled with Nutella, bananas, chocolates and other foods which are then eaten by all present (umm, really???).  There were portable toilets, elaborately painted ones and then those disguised as normal looking chairs.  We also used their real toilets (a plus since it was free and everywhere else – even McDonald’s – we had to pay 50 cents to make our wee deposits) and the walls were covered with interesting bathroom art.

#2 – The towers of Charles Bridge, best climbed just before sunset – There are 2, one at each end of the bridge.  We climbed one at night and the other we climbed just before sunset so we got both daylight and nighttime for that one.  The town looks magical from these old (think 1300’s) towers.  It’s 138 steps to the top and it was just neat to emerge from the interior and lean back against the roof of the top of the tower and view the town on one side and the bridge and castle on the other.

#3 – Charles Bridge – or Karluv most –  Morning, noon, and night is a great time for this bridge!  Pedestrians only, it has lots of entertainment to enjoy while crossing – puppet shows and artists and statues to see (and touch).  Begun in 1357 and finished in 1402, it is Prague and it is free!20170915_141006

#4 – Old Town Square – A bustling area with lots of merchants, entertainers and tourists here as well as a beloved statue to Jan Huss, a church reformer, 100 years before Martin Luther.

There are lots of open air restaurants here but I recommend the roof top terrace restaurant U Prince – located across from the Old Clock Tower.  Here’s the view from the restaurant looking at the clock tower on the right and the square is just behind it.20170915_174635.jpg

#5 – Astronomical Clock – Located at the Old Town Square, this clock has been operating since about 1490.  But it is really neat when it strikes the hour and the Apostles pass by the open windows and bow.20170915_165957

#6 – Old Jewish Ghetto – the section of the town known also as Josefov.  Here you need a ticket to get into any part and the expensive ticket does get you into everything – the old cemetery and the 5 synagogues – so we visited it all.  It seems there was always a love/hate relationship with the Jewish population of Prague – at times they were depended on and at other times they were either expelled from the city or forced into a very small area.  In the 1600’s Prague had the largest Jewish community in the Diaspora.  But at turn of the 19th century, Prague was “revitalized”, to become more like Paris and the Jewish area was “sanitized”, turning the “malodorous” backstreets into blocks of luxurious five-story Art Nouveau mansions.  When the Nazi’s invaded there were about 55,000 Jews in Prague, but less than 1000 remained in 1989.  As our guidebook said, “In any other European city occupied by the Nazis in WWII, what little that was left of the old ghetto would have been demolished.  But, although thousands of Jews were transported to the new ghetto in Terezin and eventually to Auschwitz, the Prague ghetto was preserved under the Nazis in order to provide a record of the communities they had destroyed.  20170915_154855By this grotesque twist of fate, Jewish artifacts from Czechoslovakia and beyond were gathered here, and now make up one of the richest collections of Judaica in Europe.”          The cemetery struck us as crowded and old – just like the ghetto would have been.

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The Pinkasova synagogue filled our hearts with sadness as we saw written on the walls the names of the 77,297 Czech Jews killed during the holocaust.  Every wall in the entire building has just names and dates on them (the name followed by the date of birth and the date of death or transportation to the death camps).

 

 

#7 – Prague Castle – One of the most popular sites in Prague as it is the largest castle complex in the world!  It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and has been there since the 9th century (it’s old!!) although it has changed a lot over the years.  Since it houses the president of the Czech Republic, you do have to go through security to get in.  And lots of brides get their pictures taken here!

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In the middle of the complex is the Cathedral of St. Vitus, which, although it was begun in 1344, did not get finished until 1929.  Inside it there is the Tomb of Saint Jan of Nepomuk, which is sculpted in solid silver – it is huge!  Then there is the Chapel of St. Vaclav (or Wenceslas in English), the walls of which are inlaid with 1372 semiprecious stones!  It is stunning!  We also visited the Golden Lane, which has above the shops a museum of sorts of knight armor.

There is also a crossbow shooting lane and we both got to fire a crossbow!

#8 – Infant Jesus of Prague located in the church of Panna Maria Vitezna – Infant Jesus or Prazske Jezulatko is a 45cm tall wax sculpture of a 3-year-old Jesus.  He has over 100 items of clothing in his wardrobe and is changed 10 times a year by the nuns.

Make sure you visit the museum where some of his clothing is displayed (It’s a little awkward getting to the museum because it’s at the front of the church on the right side – we had to walk through a service to get to it!)  We found this more interesting after visiting Brussels and seeing all the clothing for the mannequin pis (the peeing boy).

#9 – Petrin Hill Observation tower – or Prague’s little Eiffel tower (it’s 1/5 the size of the Paris one).  Just 299 steps to the top, you get a great view of the city!  The tower was built in 1891 for the Prague Exhibition.

#10 The hanging Sigmund Freud –

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this isn’t really that great but so unusual that I have to mention it!  It was interesting to look up in the old town and see high above the streets a 7’ tall statue of Freud hanging by a hand and “pondering whether to hold on or let go.”  It is in the old town at the intersection of Husova and Betlemske.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two places outside of Prague and worth going to are Karlstejn and Terezin.  We did them as ½ day trips.  Karlstejn was the summer castle of Charles IV and it served as a getaway place for him as well as a place to store his crown jewels and relics.  To see the magnificent chapel, you have to book a tour in advance – we did so the day before going and were able to get an English tour, which you will want and we did!  You are not allowed to take pictures inside the castle which is why we don’t have very many here!

 

Terezin, or Theresienstadt in German, is the town the Nazi’s turned into a Jewish Ghetto by displacing the 3,500 Czech residents and forcing 60,000 Jews to live there before transporting them to Auschwitz.  The Nazis used Terezin also as propaganda, showing how nice it was to live there, with cultural events, playgrounds and more – this 12-minute film can still be seen there. There is a museum, a memorial and several other buildings as well as the fortress here.  One building has recreated the woman’s dormitory.

Another building (hard to find, by the way) has a recently discovered tiny hidden synagogue in it.  The fortress on the outside of town, built in the 1780’s, (it’s most famous inmate was the young man who assassinated the Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914) was also a SS prison that mostly housed inmates who had been active in the resistance.  Although the town now has residents, it also seems very ghost like.

And what things should you avoid while in Prague?  I can’t speak for them all but I would stay away from the KGB museum!  Trip Advisor made this out to be one of the must sees – what a dud!  The owner/guide was probably a former KGB agent who waxed on about the glories of the KGB and how they killed – with highly theatrical sound effects!  Boris was entertaining but not for the amount he charged to get into the museum!  And you had to listen to him because there was no information about the artifacts in the room, except what he told or made up?

Trip Advisor also said that the Lennon wall (think Beatles) was a place to go – as Kate said it was just a wall covered in graffiti and not worth the time it took to find!

 

We also visited Wenceslas Square but since the museum was closed and we weren’t interested in big shopping stores, all we did was take a picture and eat some (wonderful) pizza there!  And, for the record, shopping in Prague was wonderful!  They had all sorts of fun things – crystal (both Swarovski jewelry and dinnerware), Russian matryoshka dolls, chocolate, as well as normal souvenir t-shirts and bags, etc.  You could also in every store find cannabis – lollipops and chips, teas and muffins, chocolates and cookies.

With our 4 days in Prague over, we reluctantly pointed our teeny, tiny car towards Poland (we really were ready to come home at this point but still had places to go, things to buy and people to see!).  So, we bid Prague adieu – what a fun city!20170918_063325

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