Prague looks like it’s straight out of a fairytale. It is so, so beautiful. I arrived in Prague quite late at night and was glad that my hostel, the Art Hole, was easy to find. Even my cheap digs were in a lovely building, shared with the Embassy of Congo, just a few blocks from Old Town Square. Old Town Square is a hub of activity, especially when the Astronomical Clock strikes the hour and figures of the Apostles take turns coming out little windows in the tower. At the last chime, a red and yellow clad trumpeter appears at the top of the tower to play a tune and wave to the cheering crowd below. I climbed to the top of the tower for a panoramic view of the city including the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn, a stunning 14th century Gothic church which dominates the other side of the square.
|Our Lady Before Tyn as seen from Tower|
|Clock Tower at Night|
|Up in the Tower|
|The Charles Bridge|
|Making a Wish|
|My lock is the little blue one in the lower left corner.|
|John Lennon Wall|
Of course, one of the most significant sights in Prague is Prague Castle. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Prague Castle is the largest castle complex in the world with palaces and churches of various architectural styles, including stunning St. Vitus Cathedral. Like all good castles, this one has a dungeon with a torture chamber. “Golden Lane” was fun to wander down, as it’s composed of 11 small houses built in the 15th century, one of which was the home of Franz Kafka from 1916-1917. Some of these houses have been restored with artifacts dating from different periods of the castle’s history and others are now cute gift shops.
|Prague Castle Overlooking the City|
|Torture Chamber in Castle Dungeon|
|St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague Castle|
One of my days in Prague was spent exploring the Jewish Quarter which was also really close to my hostel. In the 13th century, the entire Jewish community of Prague was ordered to vacate their homes and move to the ghetto in an area subject to flooding from the Vltava. The Jewish Quarter contains 6 synagogues, two of which I was able to go inside. The Spanish Synagogue, designed in the Moorish style, is regarded by many as the most beautiful synagogue in all of Europe. The handsome Pinkas Synagogue was built in 1535 and used for worship until 1941. After WWII it was converted into a memorial, with wall after wall inscribed with the names, birth dates, and dates of disappearance of the 77, 297 Czech victims of the Nazis. It also has a collection of paintings and drawings by children held in the nearby Terezín concentration camp. The children were given art lessons so they would have some semblance of normalcy and a chance for self-expression. Each piece of artwork has 3 dates written beside it; the date of the young artist’s birth, the date of their transport, and the date of their death. Only a very few pictures have the word “survived” beside them. When you exit the museum, you can walk through the Old Jewish Cemetery, with tombstones that date back to 1439. According to halaka, Jews must not destroy graves or remove tombstones, so when the cemetery ran out of space more layers of soil were placed on the existing graves, creating 12 layers which is why the tombstones are now so close to each other. One would think that during the Nazi occupation that the old ghetto would have been demolished, but they preserved the area and collected Jewish artifacts here from all over Europe for a planned "exotic museum of an extinct race".
|Old Jewish Cemetary|
One of my favorite evenings in Prague was spent at the home of Vera and Martin, Servas hosts and parents of two lovely children, David and Ester. Vera was delayed waiting for a doctor to visit her father (although she said it is rare, doctors still do house calls in the Czech Republic!), so Martin and the children and I ate the delicious chicken dinner she had prepared. After dinner, Martin and I talked about politics (one of my favorite subjects and as it turns out one of his as well) and he explained a lot of the history of the Czech Republic and what it was like to live there under communism. I find these first -hand accounts fascinating! Later, Vera came home and we had a chance to talk about children and art (two of my other favorite topics!) and about her many experiences with Servas. Vera is very involved with the local chapter, and has traveled all over the world visiting Servas hosts who have become life-long friends. She recommended that I contact a Servas representative in London, which I did, and I have already been invited to an event there in December.
|Servas Hosts, Vera and Martin|
|My room at the Art Hole|
So Prague was practically perfect, with stunning sights, an interesting history, and new friends to meet. I’d love to return someday, and if the legend of touching the statues on the Charles Bridge is true, I will be back.