Prague and London: Part 4

It was time for adventure. Part of the reason we came to Prague was because my husband’s maternal family came from there. We were going to hire a car to go to the small town of Pozdyne, where his great grandfather was from.

First, we had to climb the Astronomical Tower. We had been eyeing it the entire trip so we did it first thing in the morning. To get to the tower, you have to go into the Old Town Hall, which was rather pretty. There was some amazing iron work and mosaics in the building. Next time, we might try a tour of just the building. When you get to the foot of the Tower, you have a choice to take the stairs or an elevator. We opted for stairs. As you spiral up to the tower, you get to see a history of the tower, which was cool. Unfortunately, the Nazis did a number on the building so it had to be rebuilt after the war. At the final end, you have a tiny metal stairway that can only take people in one direction. Then it’s Prague! Beautiful views of the city. You can see the Prague Castle in the distance, the hills. It’s glorious!

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Then it was time to meet the car that would take us to Pozdyne. We set off into outside of Prague. Thanks to a coworker, I had learned of a castle that was on the way. So our first stop was Karlsteyn. Our driver took us to an area he dubbed Little America. I think it’s named for the Grand Canyon but I’m not sure.

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Anyway, as we go to the town with the castle, we learned that they try to force a monopoly on transportation in town. They either want you to walk through the town or even better, hire a horse taxi. Instead, our driver took us the back side of the town to the castle but we could see cars that had been parked and booted. They work fast in the town! We got out and made our ascent to the castle. It was rather impressive. I’ve been to a lot of British and Scottish castles, a few French ones, but this was in the realm of the Disney castle. It’s a tour only facility with several tours not running in the winter. We ended up having a 45 minute wait for the next English tour. There’s one kiosk for unimpressive food. But the wait was well worth it.

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The castle had been built by Charles IV, King of Bohemia, Holy Roman Emperor. The castle used to hold the crown jewels but they were eventually moved. The castle never officially fell because the Swedes who came close stopped when they found that the jewels were no longer there. So woohoo to unbroken castle! It was modernized in the 19th century…so no heat. It was a little brisk in late December. We were led through the various rooms learning the history of the place. My favorite fact was that the king and queen slept separately. Her chambers were on another floor. However, the king had a door in his private chapel that led to her bedchamber…

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The King’s impressive bed

The throne room was also set up so the light allowed the king to see his subjects but they could not see his face. That would be incredibly spooky!

In the final stop of the tour, we learned that there is an incredible chapel, the Chapel of the Holy Cross, that is covered in gold, portraits of saints, and more. It’s only available in one tour a day in the summer. We got to see a few copies of the paintings of saints in the room. I learned that the paintings had slots in them where you could put the relics of the saints into their paintings. I had never seen that before. Very cool!

After our tour, we took a leisurely walk through town. Clearly, the town was a bit more hopping during the summer. But it was pretty mild and pleasant to walk through it back to the car.

Now it was time to go to Pozdyne. To get back to the road, our driver used Google maps, which I think decided to go on the adventurous setting. We went up and down zigzag hills etc. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one this happens to! The countryside of the Czech Republic is really beautiful and pleasant.

After about an hour drive, we finally made it to Pozdyne. It’s a beautiful tiny village with about 20 houses…maybe. There’s a tiny chapel in the main square and possibly a closed for the season bar/B&B nearby. A woman was walking her dog. There were satellite dishes so the village was not disconnected from the world. We wandered around for about 10 minutes to see what we could see. Then we got back in the car to go back to Prague. My husband, I think, appreciated the opportunity to see a part of his family history.

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Back in Prague, we took advantage of the late closing times of the local museums and attractions. In Old Town Square, there were exhibitions of Mucha, Dali and Warhol in a local building. We opted for tickets to Mucha and Dali. The Mucha exhibit was really cool because it had lots of his works together. Of course it was mostly reproductions but from his era. I’ve seen his work in books and printed onto merchandise but never en masse. Apparently, his poster of Sarah Bernhardt was what made him famous. They had a little video of her film work on loop. We learned a little bit more about him. Sadly he died after being tortured by the Gestapo, likely because he was too proud of being Czech.

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The Dali exhibition was pretty cool too. They had his drawings illustrating Dante’s Divine Comedy. Another room had various drawings of horses from Poseidon’s horses, the Trojan horse, Don Quixote’s horse, etc. And many space elephants.

Then we ran to the funhouse a few streets away. They were advertising a mirror maze. Naturally, we had to check it out. What a hoot! We had fun wandering around the mirror maze, trying not to walk into the mirrors themselves. It was amazing how the maze itself wasn’t a big area but the serpentine path definitely made it seem bigger! There was also crystal cinema where images were projected onto a screen that were reflected onto angled mirrors. It’s a bit like a giant kaleidoscope. It was fun watching images of Prague and the countryside turn into these abstract crazy animations.

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Next stop: London!

Prague and London: Part 3

Christmas day!

What a glorious thing to experience in other countries. Prague was hopping on Christmas day. People were on the streets (at least in Old Town) and many more shops and restaurants were open than I was expecting.

Our first stop was the Jewish quarter of Prague since we knew that it would be open. (It was Sunday). We’ve been on every trip but it feels like a necessary part of any trip to Prague. There’s several tours that you can do of the area with one ticket. We opted for the medium sized tour that first took us through the Pinkas Synagogue. The walls of the synagogue list over 77,000 names of Jews from Bohemia and Moravia sent to die in the concentration camp. It is a moving and powerful memorial to intolerance and hate. There’s a wall with many of the concentration camp names on it. We really have to work on making this all a thing of the history. Never again. I hope.

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Upstairs there is a room with drawings by children living in the ghetto during the 1930s. The adults tried to continue classes to give their children a normal life as possible. Some look like drawings that any child could draw, happy, and bright. Others show the repercussions of living in the ghetto amongst so much hate. As a child, I remember breaking down when I saw this room because it really brought home what happened here. Many of the children were my age or younger and they did not survive the camps.

The next part of the tour is the Old Jewish Cemetery. It’s not very big but it is supposed to have 100,000 bodies buried there! The earliest grave is from the 1400s as well! You can only walk the perimeter of it since it is covered in gravestones. Various graves have little stone markers, a sign that someone was there to remember. Just outside the cemetery was the Klausen Synagogue, which houses exhibits on Jewish religious objects.

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Then we caught a cab to take us to Discalced Carmelite Church of Our Lady Victorious to see the Infant of Prague. Unfortunately, our friendly cab driver tried to charge us 20 euros for a 4 dollar cab ride. Alas.

Outside, there was a pen holding goats and sheep again. We saw these all over the place. We caught the tail end of Christmas mass that was lovely with a choir. The altarpieces throughout this church was magnificent, covered in silver and wood. The Infant was resplendent in white robes on Christmas day. The Infant has created miracles. According to the church website, “During one invasion, all the children of the city were taken to the Church for protection—praying to the Infant, they were all saved.” (https://www.infantprague.org/about-the-infant-jesus-of-prague/)

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We had lunch at a lovely little pub where people wrote messages on coasters that were displayed throughout. It was a nice break from being outside. Prague is a bit damp and cold. It’s not quite like CHicago (or Krakow so we’ve learned) but I did not bring warm enough boots.

After lunch, we found ourselves at one of the towers flanking the Charles Bridge. We are fans of towers. Naturally, we had to go up.  We had a wonderful view of the city and the bridge itself. We then crossed the bridge to find the Museum of Communism!

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On our very first day, I saw a poster for the Museum of Communism that advertised that it was above a McDonald’s. I was intrigued especially since I’m a Cold War junkie. I also learned it would be open Christmas day (though closed on the 24th).

And so we went. It was definitely upstairs of a McDonald’s and on the same floor as a casino. THe museum told the story of Communism in Czech Republic. It became very apparent that they were very anti-communist. Outside there was a damning exhibition on North Korea. It’s not the most sophisticated of museums. Lots of text, a few mannequins. But it was worth the trip. They also had some video of protests over 30-40 years that were very sobering. Police beating people up, ripping banners, people running for their lives.

Afterwards, we discovered the most outrageous postcards in the gift shop. One postcard had a photo from a famous poster of smiling women that was celebrating good workers. The postcard said, “It was a Happy Shiny time. The shiniest were the ones who worked in the Uranium mines.”

Then we topped the night off with a concert at the Spanish Synagogue. In various European cities, churches and other religious venues host concerts on a seemingly regular basis. Usually it’s Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I think it’s a great idea to open up these beautiful spaces to wonderful music. This concert was magnificent. It had  Carl Orff’s O Fortuna from Carmina Burana, which was magnificent. The setlist was a little eclectic; there were tangos, Don’t Cry for Me Argentina and Porgy and Bess. But the singer and ensemble were amazing. The space is astonishing.

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On our way to dinner, we passed through Old Town Square again and there was a truck covered in bells of all sizes. A person was playing the bells like a piano. We got here Carol of the Bells on Bells!

That’s all for now!

Prague and London: Part 2

The day started with a delicious breakfast at the hotel. As regular readers know, I’m not one to talk much about hotel food or breakfasts much but this meal was notable. The seasonal special was poached egg with pumpkin and rye. Very tasty. I ended up having it three out of the four days we stayed in Prague!

Since it was December 24th, our first stop was the Prague Castle. We knew it would be closed Christmas day so we wanted to make sure we stopped by on our trip. We hired a cab that took us to the magnificent entrance/exit. We got there as a changing of the guard was occurring. Less painful than the one in the UK. We took in the amazing view from up there and enjoyed the little Christmas market. Then we got in line to get in. This ended up being a longer wait than we expected. Also, it was a bit colder than I had anticipated. I really wished I had worn boots or thicker socks. Then it began to drizzle, making the wait a bit more excruciating. Eventually, we got through security and entered the castle grounds!

We made a beeline for the St. Vitus Cathedral as the rains began to pour. It had high vaulting ceilings, beautiful carved stone and wood decorations. There was an amazing tomb with silver figures all over it including angels above it. Very impressive. There’s also the beautiful St. Wenceslas  Chapel that you can peer into with semi-precious rocks embedded into the walls and colorful paintings. There was a lovely wooden creche as well.

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After our visit to the cathedral, we wandered a bit more around the castle but it appeared that much was closed for the holiday. However, my feet were causing me some concern with the cold and damp. We found a cafe and went in despite the “Reserved” sign on the wall. A family was using part of a large table and they generously let us sit at the other end. We ordered various warm drinks. I tried out the apple cider, which was not exactly to my tasting. My husband ordered Kahlua infused warm milk, which was amazing. But the warmth. We realized after we got our drinks that we weren’t supposed to be there. The entire cafe was reserved for a tour group. We watched our waitress turn other people away. I think because we were at the table with the other family, we got in under the radar. Whatever the cause, we were grateful.

Soon after, we wandered out of the castle and made our way to the Charles Bridge. On the way, we ran into giant bevy of swans, hanging out on the river. The Charles Bridge is a walking bridge is decorated with intricate sculptures. It was an astonishing view, Two towers flanked both sides of the bridge. It was near the golden hour of the day so the world was bright.

We made our way back to the hotel as we watched Prague close for Christmas. We had a Christmas Eve dinner at a largely forgettable restaurant but it had lovely live music from two guitarists. THere was also a chopped liver mousse that was delicious (sadly, the rest of the food was not). After dinner, we decided to wander a bit more before bed. We ended up at a brewery just off the Old Square talking to a Brazilian who was a businessman for silver jewelry while drinking a Czech eggnog liquor and mead. It was a delightful end to a good day.

That’s all for now!

Prague and London: Part 1

Greetings to you all in this new year! I can’t wait to tell you all about the adventures in Prague and London over the past week and a half. We went to many castles, enjoyed warm mead, and even journeyed to an ancestral town!

We began our trip a few days before Christmas in Prague. We were staying relatively near the Old Town Square. As soon as we recovered slightly from our trans-Atlantic trip, we ventured towards Old Town Square. On the way, we found a glorious puppet shop with many handmade puppets including Krampus with his one cloven foot and a regular human foot, a green man with a fish (clearly a local legend), and even Harry Potter. Next door was a beer spa. Yes, a beer spa. I had only learned that these establishments existed about two days before our trip from a coworker. You can bathe in beer while drinking beer…I am not much of a spa person but I would have liked to have done this. Sadly, it was completely booked.

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We then continued on our way to the Old Town Square. Many parts of Europe have wonderful Christmas markets in their public places. Prague had a glorious market. There was a tall brightly lit Christmas tree that occasionally played William Tell’s Overture with corresponding lights. There were some live animals that you could pet and feed. Food vendors sold sausages, grilled cheese, trdelinik or Chimney cakes, and hot mead. We tried the latter too. Trdeliniks were like a form of fried dough. You can get them with ice cream or nutella.

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The best was the hot mead. It was almond flavored. Warm, sweet and strong. Other vendors sold wood carved items, metal items made from a blacksmith, and much more. It was vibrant and wonderful. We got to see the beautiful Astronomical Clock that puts on a little show on the hour. A window opens and the Apostles stream by, Death rings a bell, and several figures shake their heads as the clock chimes the expected number of hours.

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Buildings in the area were beautifully decorated, some looked almost like Wedgewood. What a beautiful city! We had dinner at a local place with Czech fare. I had my first bowl of goulash. I was initially frightened when I opened the lid on my stew to find the smell of raw onions. Once I removed them, the stew was quite tasty. I had some potato dumplings on the side, which were nice and hearty.

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A great start to our trip! That’s all for now!