Thursday, December 1, 2011

Prague Presents...

November 17th to 20th, 2011
Prague, Czech Republic

Rick and Nancy met us at the train station when we arrived from Berlin around 8 pm – even though Nancy had just returned to Prague after a ten-day visit to her parents in Minnesota!  They had our metro tickets in hand, and we didn’t have to think at all – just followed them to their open and colorful apartment.

The next morning Nancy went to the university (sabbaticals are work after all!), so Rick was our amazing tour guide.  We walked up to Prague Castle (Hrad) and through three gates until we were in front of the cathedral.  The cathedral is in the center of the castle and it is impossible to get a picture of its immensity since you keep backing into other buildings when you try!

Crossing the moat to the Prague Castle
The castle is on a high point in town, so we walked down a different path into the streets of Little Town and wandered the scenic streets.

Rick took us to wonderful statue by the Czech artist David Czerny, located outside of the Franz Kafka museum.  The statue takes text messages, and spells them out in "pee" streams from the statues that can move at the hips, as well as directionally move their you-know-whats.  You can see YouTube videos of this if you want!

Darrell and Rick just couldn't resist...
Tour Guide Rick then took us across the Charles Bridge.  During the summer, the bridge is constantly packed with people and buskers.  Even in November there is a steady stream of people.  Rick has some amazing photos of the happenings on the bridge – some taken very early in the morning…

We bought a beautiful piece of Czech blue glass for our shot glass – my favorite so far – and then had lunch in Old Town Square.

Darrell and I in Old Town Square
Prague has a famous clock tower, similar to Bern's, and tourists crowded round to take pictures of the clock.  Meanwhile, Rick took pictures of the tourists!  And I took a picture of a tour guide on a Segway.  We've seen tour groups on Segways, bicycles, and scooters.  The tourists wear headsets so they can hear the guide as they cruise along.

Cruisin' on a Segway
After lunch we checked out the Jewish cemetery.  Because the Jews only had a little land available to them (and it was already in the low part of the city), they added dirt on top of old graves and then brought up the old stones and added a new stone.  So the headstones are stacked on top of many graves and the entire area became a hill of graves.  Surreal.  The oldest known grave is from 1439 and the most recent one is from 1787.  Some estimate there are more than 12,000 gravestones and 100,000 burials.  It would be an incredibly spooky place at night.  It was strange enough in the afternoon!

Old Jewish Cemetery
Nancy met us then and we all walked together back across the Charles Bridge, to the crawling baby statues of David Czerny.  He certainly is an interesting sculptor!

Soft as a metal baby's butt!
Our path then took us up along a vineyard and all the way up the hill to a small version of the Eiffel Tower, called Petrin Observation Tower, built in 1891.  We had worked up a thirst by this time, and went to the monastery for delicious monk-brewed beer.  Yum... Then home for a lovely dinner at Chez Johnson.

That evening I took a short dive into Wikipedia to learn a little about the Czech Republic. I became completely bewildered.  The Czech state, formerly known as Bohemia, was formed in the late 9th century as a small duchy around Prague.  From there the history becomes incredibly complicated. Too long a history with too many countries, invasions, religions, self-interests, etc.  It is completely overwhelming to a small mind like mine, especially after a wonderfully long day of walking followed by a half liter of delicious dark beer. 

On Saturday, after a nice lazy start, we bought tickets to see inside some of the castle's main areas.  We toured the cathedral where it was colder inside than outside – plus they didn’t want you pinwheeling your arms to stay warm since you might knock over some ancient work of art or a modern tourist.  Men couldn’t wear hats inside the cathedral but at least Nancy and I were able to keep our wool hats on!

We also toured a small part of the castle including an area where an important “defenestration” took place.  Basically, two guys got tossed out of a window, but somehow survived.  Stories include everything from landing in a dung pile to a miracle to explain their survival.  Somehow, this incident helped precipitate the 30-year war.  If I ever run out of other things I want to do, I promise I will personally untangle European history, and try to stop the Crusades and Inquisitions; but for now, my head just spins.

We bought tickets to listen to a concert in St. George’s (the dragon-slaying one) Basilica.  This is the oldest cathedral in Prague, dating from 920!  A small string orchestra played Pachelbel's Canon in D, then a small divertido by Mozart, and ended with the entire Four Seasons by Vivaldi.  The solo violinist was spectacular and the church had great acoustics.  After the concert we returned to the monastery so we could have a hearty dinner and more of that amazing beer in a smoke-free atmosphere.  Lovely.

Nancy and Rick enjoying dinner and each other!
The next day we returned to the castle to see into the little buildings that make up Golden Lane. Small, I mean TINY, houses were built into the northern wall when it was created at the end of the 15th century.  They originally housed the marksmen who guarded the fortification.  Now they house small museums showing what life was like for a soldier, a seamstress, an herbalist, etc.  Some have been converted into tourist shops as well.

Then it was time to go to the train station.  As we walked down the hill, I saw a vendor selling waffles on sticks.  Curiosity got the best of me, and I had to try it.  Another yum.  Prague also had more of the hot spiced wine I loved in Berlin.  My family used to have this at Christmas and called it grog (or glug?).  I'll need to get a recipe and revive this tradition!

Enjoying hot wine!
We arrived at the station early enough to buy some bread, cheese, apples, etc. before boarding.  Rick and Nancy took us all the way to the platform and watched while we got our seats.  We’re going to miss them!  We had a 5-hour ride to Munich, and when we went in Darrell’s bag to get a snack we discovered that Rick and Nancy had slipped in some lemon cookies we both had enjoyed at their house and some ultra-yummy chocolate rum balls.  It is great to feel the smooth chocolate collapse in your mouth and get the gush of rum.  Last Yum from Prague.

Darrell's picture of Rick in the train station!
 Thank you Rick and Nancy for a wonderful visit!

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