Prague never made it on our list of places we should see while we live in Europe. But when we realized it was only 3 hours or so from Berlin we decided we had to stop for a night.
Of course, I am glad we did. Check this out: “Situated on the Vltava River in central Bohemia, Prague has been the political, cultural and economic centre of the Czech state for more than 1100 years. For many decades during the Gothic and Renaissance eras, Prague was the permanent seat of two Holy Roman Emperors and thus was also the capital of the Holy Roman Empire.”
Wow! It is also the 6th most visited European city after London, Paris, Rome, Madrid and Berlin. (How cool is it that I’ve been to 5 out of the top 6!? Hmm… guess Madrid needs to go on our list…).
Also, Prague is in a country we had never visited, the Czech Republic. They speak a language that neither André or I can understand a word of. They are part of the EU but still have not adopted the Euro, using kroners instead. I was excited to see what these looked like!
We got there a bit late (due to the car trouble that morning) and just hung out at our Bed and Breakfast eating cooler food for dinner. When we travel, I always carry a cooler full of snacks, etc., to save money and for times when we are too tired to go out. This bed and breakfast rivaled the one we stayed in in Ireland, which I also adored. The rooms were absolutely enormous and so fancy! I felt like we were being given permission to hang out in a museum! The people were incredibly nice and the breakfast the next morning even included eggs and fresh rye bread (yum!) It was less than a 5 minute walk from town center and the price, for 2 rooms plus breakfast for 5 was only 100 Euros (off season). Total bargain. Thanks to my friend Caroline for the recommendation! If you ever want to visit the website is: http://www.dumuvelkeboty.cz/ Here are some photos of our luxurious surroundings.
The next morning we were ready to see the town. First we headed to Prague Castle.
The kids were in a great mood this day and were playing beautifully together. Zander was the professer who had adopted 2 kids, Dawn and Charlie after their father (his best friend) had tragically fallen to his death while leaning too hard against a bridge railing that suddenly collapsed. This kept them happy for about 2 hours. I love their imaginations. Every time we got to a bridge, the professor kindly reminded the kids not to lean against the railing, because “remember what happened to your father!”
There were guards at the castle gates that (unlike the others we’ve seen) were seemingly allowed to move their heads and alter their expressions. I even saw one smile… I was impressed by the statues over the gate showing warriors at battle (see left).
Within the castle walls is the oldest Gothic Cathedral in Central Europe. St. Vitus. Of course we went in for a look. Thanks to wikipedia for last two photos….
Then we walked through the town heading for the old Jewish ghetto of Prague. So much to see!
As loyal readers know, we’ve probably seen at least 100 cathedrals since we began traveling. What we haven’t seen, yet, are synagogues. We were very interested when we saw some shown on the map and headed over. Unfortunately, it turned out that all the synagogues and Jewish history museums in Prague had banded together and in order to get into any of them, you had to pay to get into all of them – for our family it would be over 50 Euros to enter and there was no option to pay to enter only one location. Very, very frustrating! I was particularly interested in seeing the Prague ghetto since it is still a functioning vibrant part of the Prague community.
Of course, I became interested in the etymology of ghetto since modern usage makes me think of inner city slums as ‘ghettos’. In fact, the word was originated in Venice to describe the location of their Jewish population and then expanded to include such enclaves of Jews all over Europe. “Jewish ghettos in Europe existed because Jews were viewed as alien due to being a cultural minority and due to their non-Christian beliefs in a Renaissance Christian environment. As a result, Jews were placed under strict regulations throughout many European cities. The character of ghettos has varied through times. In some cases, the ghetto was a Jewish quarter with a relatively affluent population (for instance the Jewish ghetto in Venice). In other cases, ghettos were places of terrible poverty and during periods of population growth, ghettos had narrow streets and tall, crowded houses. Residents had their own justice system. Around the ghetto stood walls that, during pogroms, were closed from inside to protect the community, but from the outside during Christmas, Pesach and Easter Week to prevent the Jews from leaving during those times.” There is evidence these communities existed as early as 1084. Now the word ghetto has evolved to mean any place that groups of minorities are concentrated under less than ideal circumstances.
The Prague ghetto is particularly interesting since it includes the legend of the Golem. I had run into this story before in a children's version I got out at the library. This is how it goes:
“Under Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emporer, the Jews in Prague were to be either expelled or killed (a pogrom). To protect the Jewish community, the rabbi constructed the Golem out of clay from the banks of the Vltava river, and brought it to life through rituals and Hebrew incantations. As this golem grew, it became increasingly violent, killing gentiles and spreading fear. A different story tells of a golem falling in love, and when rejected, he became the violent monster as seen in most accounts. Some versions have the golem eventually turning on its creator and perhaps even attacking other Jews.
The Emperor begged Rabbi Loew to destroy Golem, promising to stop the persecution of the Jews. To deactivate Golem, the rabbi rubbed out the first letter of the word "emet" (truth or reality) from the creature's forehead leaving the Hebrew word "met", meaning dead. The Emperor understood that the Golem's body, stored in the attic genizah of the Old New Synagogue, would be restored to life again if needed. Accordingly, the body of Rabbi Loew's Golem still lies in the synagogue's attic, although some versions of the tale have Golem stolen from the genizah and entombed in a graveyard, where now the great Zizkovska tower stands. A recent legend is told of a Nazi agent ascending to the synagogue attic during WWII and trying to stab Golem, but perishing instead. At any rate, the attic is not open to the general public.”
Awesome, right? But, since we were unwilling to pay 50 Euros for a 15 minute visit, there was no chance to try to break into the attic and see Golem.
We wandered around Old Town Square and saw the cool Astronomical Clock go off at 11am. You can see the kids on top of a giant pile of snow –facing the clock tower. I think the snow piles were their favorite thing in the city. We got lost a bit trying to find a good place to eat and ended up having something random. We then walked across Charles Bridge which began being built in 1357. It has played a role in many other parts of Prague's history and the mortar is supposed to have egg shells in it. Also the INXS hit “Never Tear us Apart” was inspired by the history of this bridge.
The architecture in Prague was amazing but I particularly enjoyed the 20’s style Art Deco buildings. Here are some great examples…
Another thing I loved in Prague were the shops. They seem to have a ton of Amber and Garnet jewelry everywhere in this city! Despite the overwhelming amounts of the stuff, it wasn’t really very affordable but I loved looking at it! Also there were lots of matreshkas and interesting art galleries and glass blowing studios…. I had a great time window shopping and even bought a small amber pendant for myself with the last of our kroners at a place that was going out of business and had it all 50% off! We finally hopped in the car, heading for Munich by nightfall (we hoped!)
I think we could have easily spent a week in Prague though – what a great city.