Saturday, April 7, 2007

Prague - Holy Saturday, April 7th

The Mala Strana (Lesser Town) and Prague Castle
photo taken from the Charles Bridge

April 7 – Holy Saturday

[Photos from this day are in the PRAGUE PHOTO SET.]

Knowing that our time in Prague was limited, we set out to explore and come to know Prague as we could in this one day. The day began overcast and a bit cold.

After a so-so breakfast (corner-cutting, with flavored sugar water for “juice” and coffee from a cheap cappuccino machine – at least they can’t screw up tea!) at the Hotel Roma, we headed back down to the Charles Bridge. There were things on the other side that we needed to see again before exploring our side (the Lesser Town, Mala Strana). I looked for the Czech-glass earring stand that I had seen on the bridge the day before, but he wasn’t there. Nor were the policemen at the Hebrew Crucifixion statue.

Prague has been a big deal, as a city, for a long time, its history tied to the land of Czechoslovakia / Bohemia. I knew that we would never be able to grasp more than a rudimentary understanding of all that had happened here. So we contented ourselves to see and experience what we could of Prague-2007.

Old Town Square
We wandered again through the Old Town section, making our way to the Old Town Square (Staromestske Namesti), Prague’s oldest marketplace. There were many souvenir shops – marionettes, nested egg dolls, painted eggs, Czech glass. I was in search of some Czech glass earrings. We saw a roasting pig (I think it was a pig).

Dominating one side of the Old Town Square is the huge Gothic cathedral, the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn, which was the main parish church of Old Town Prague. We had been calling this “the Darth Vadar Castle”, and I was somewhat surprised that it was a church since the spires are so much higher than the crucifix.

The astronomical clock at the Town Hall has dials that represent the positions of the Sun and Moon and stars, as well as figures and other moving statues that parade on the hour. The “Death” statue tolls the bell. The clock was made in 1410 and has worked continuously since then and still works (tell that to the computer makers!).

Josefov - the old Jewish ghetto
We meandered again over to Josefov, the old Jewish Quarters. For some reason, there were policemen around. We looked again at the Jewish museum (we didn’t go in), the Old Synagogue and the cemetery. There was one section of the cemetery that looked like it had been created over shops – or probably it is the other way around, the shops were built under the cemetery. I sensed a mysterious energy here in this old Jewish ghetto area.

Making our way back to the bridge via the river we passed the Rudolfinum Concert Hall. The presence of music is apparent everywhere in Prague, from the street musicians to the many posters advertising concerts.

The Mala Strana and Prague Castle
Again on the Mala Strana side of the River, it was time for us to climb the steps to the Prague Castle. The Castle is actually a whole complex of buildings – cathedrals, government office buildings, etc. It is old and impressive – gothic and baroque and other architectural styles - perhaps especially the St. Vitus Cathedral. We did not wait in lines for tours. Sometimes I think that I need days to just study one aspect of things, and I wonder if trying to take in Prague in one day is not merely skimming the surface of the city's complex life.

John was hungry about now, so we had a Czech lunch somewhere on the way down the steps from the Castle. I found myself wondering what kind of life had taken place through the centuries on these streets below the Castle.

Petrin Hill Park
By mid-afternoon the sky had cleared and the weather became delightfully sunny and warm. We spent the afternoon climbing and exploring Petrin Hill, which was just across the street from our hotel. A very pleasant park, dogs are (of course) allowed here, and there is even a point beyond which they do not need to be leashed. This pleased me immensely. It truly is a joy to see how much Europeans love their dogs. They are allowed in all restaurants, with waiters serving water to the dogs before their owners!

There is a memorial in the Park to those who died and suffered during the years when Czechoslovakia was under Communist rule. Great views of Prague and the Prague Castle from here. At the top there was an Observation Tower. Also a mirror-maze which we decided not to go into, but I’m still wondering what it was like.

The Church of the Infant of Prague
Walking back to our hotel we happened upon the Church of the Infant of Prague. As a child I had an “infant of Prague” doll and my father always said a little prayer to the Infant of Prague. John and Eric had never heard the story so we went into the Church and there was the original doll, amidst gold and splendor, on a side altar. It still feels a little hokey to me.

The restaurant where we wanted to have dinner was full so we went to a little café across from our hotel that was run by 2 (or 3) very friendly and enterprising young Russian men. The food was quite good – a mix of Italian/Asian/American. All of the people there were young, like in their 30’s and American music played in the background.

epilogue - (notes before going to sleep)
There is a fair amount of graffiti in Prague, and I wonder what this is about. John says that it is “inexcusable”; it feels a bit angry to me – like the visible presence of some repressed part of the population. The parts of Prague that we visited were clean and interesting. But there is a washed-out feel, visually, to the city when I see it from a distance. It was like this in Rome – perhaps it is the oldness. I kept wondering if there was something wrong with my camera, or if the pollution had something to do with it. I’m not sure if the Prague that we are seeing has anything to do with Czechoslovakia as it is today. Most of the people we meet are from somewhere else. I met a delightful shopkeeper while I was looking for my Czech glass earrings (which I never got). She spoke good English and was very interested in me- Americans. She said that she was from The Ukraine. I don’t even know where The Ukraine is.

[Photos from this day are in the PRAGUE PHOTO SET.]


Patrick said...

Prague represented our introduction to Central Europe and was a totally wonderful experience. We visited the Castle District, Wenceslas Square, and the Old Town Square area as well as the Jewish Ghetto and found all exciting and interesting. We booked a room in Prague hotel right in the centre of the Old Town - wanting to be close to everything. And of course we went to Kampa and walked across the bridge. Shopping for selected items was rewarding and we were pleased with the dining experience as well. Gourmet restaurants are now interspersed with the traditional. The residents we met, of course largely in a service setting, were initially reserved and a little aloof in the presence of obvious Americans. But they became warm, hospitable, and friendly very quickly, perhaps realizing that we were not ogres.

Timati said...

I like cities where there are many historical places but Prague struck me dumb. I've never seen so many historical and architectural in one place. I really spent wonderful time in Prague, in masterpiece Prague. Besides everything was blooming and I will remember forever my way from the airport: the blooming lilac bushes on both sides of the road. Just fantastic.