After dinner, we hit the streets! Prague at night is absolutely magical. We all started to refer to it as the "Disneyland" of Europe because it's main cathedral looked like a castle and the buildings are so beautiful they look fake. We managed to watch the world's oldest astrological clock ring at the top of the hour (with hundreds of other tourists), walk along the Charles Bridge, and stroll through Old Town all within our first night. We were bummed to have to leave Berlin, but those feelings were soon eclipsed by our excitement about our new city.
Our first full day in Prague was LONG. We started with the New Prague walking tour, went straight onto a second tour (the Castle Tour), and then the boys went on a beer tour! Needless to say, we did a lot of walking and took in quite a few sights. The architecture in this city is incredible and full of diverse architectural styles, including (but not limited to) Art Nuevo, Art Deco, Cubism, Renaissance, Victorian, and Soviet. We learned that most of Prague’s buildings, including their synagogues, were spared during WWII because Hitler had decided that Prague would be the city that held his museum of the extinct race. It’s a creepy reason to be spared, but fortunate that original buildings are still standing. Some of the other tour highlights included:
- Prague’s Velvet Revolution and Velvet Divorce (non-violent political movements that were said to go so smoothly, they were like velvet).
- How Praguers liberated themselves from Nazi occupation at the end of WWII.
- Life within Soviet occupation, which lasted until 1989 (to this day, older generations remain completely silent on public transportation for fear that their conversations will be overheard)
Our second full day in Prague was SO much more relaxed than our first. We found a breakfast place and gorged ourselves in the name of Ian (it was his birthday, after all). We all enjoyed munching on delicious pastries watching locals go by. After breakfast, Ali and Lijah took off for a daylong tour to the concentration camp in Terezin, a site used for propaganda during the war. Since Nazi’s couldn’t make prominent Jews (i.e. doctors, professors, lawyers, etc.) just disappear, they were sent to this “model” camp. There, a doctor named Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, created a drawing program for children to express their feelings during the war. It was incredibly powerful to see images of fear and hope coming from such young people. Luckily, the doctor was able to hid thousands of drawings before she volunteered to go to Auschwitz to follow her husband.
The four of us explored New Town, found the right train station, lost Ian for a bit, and bought cigars (at least the boys did). We visited the Metronome Statue that has replaced the statue of Stalin that once overlooked the city. Right next to the statue was a makeshift skate park full of skate kids doing their thing. It was refreshing to find a place that Praguers call their own without trying to sell something.
We walked through the park to a beer garden our tour guide recommended. The park and beer garden sat on top of a hill, so we had panoramic views of the city as the guys enjoyed their beers. We ate in a cute little restaurant that was soaked in sun and alive with people. It was wonderful to sit in the sun, enjoying conversation and a meal with my guy.
Before dinner, Robbie, Ian, and I rushed to the clock tower in Old Town Square. We ran up the stairs as fast as we could (as fast as my short legs would carry me), and made it just in time to watch the trumpeter announce the top of the hour. It was an experience I have never had and don’t imagine having many more times in my life. The tower gave us striking views of the city. We saw everything from the castle, our beer garden, and open fields in the distance. I started to feel a little shaky and dizzy from the height, but it was well worth it for the experience.
Our final morning was spent catching up on things we weren’t able to see the previous few days. We wanted to make sure we saw the Jewish Cemetery and memorial. The cemetery was pretty remarkable. Jews in Prague were walled into their ghetto for hundreds of years and weren’t granted any additional land from the Czech government. This lead to the community burying their dead on top of previous graves, up to 12 graves deep! Visitors can see the tops of some headstones resting at the foot of others. When the ghetto walls were taken down (just over 100 years ago) community members were given the option to either move out or stay within the ghetto; 80% moved out immediately.
I was a little intimidated by Prague when we first arrived. I think it’s because I am completely incapable of the language; I have no idea how to pronounce Czech words and don’t even know where to start with pronunciation of the letters, and felt insecure about that. That said, since Prague relies so heavily on tourism it does an excellent job accommodating English speakers. English is all over signs, in menus, and individuals throughout the city do their best to use it. The language barrier was scary at first, but it definitely got easier.
Prague may have been the biggest surprise of our trip. I don’t think any of us were expecting just how beautiful it would be. We were struck by architecture at just about every turn and had delicious food almost (ask Ian about his little hiccup if you have a chance :) every meal. It’s a gorgeous city and would highly recommend making a stop the next time you’re in Europe!
(More photos after the jump!)