Trip Start Aug 20, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Europe of dreams.  What it is in your head or what you always thought it would be.  That was Prague for me.  That old world feeling of cobblestone streets to break and ankle (or heel of a shoe) on, brick bridges lined with statues and castles on hills. Prague has it all.
Arriving late at night I was a little apprehensive, because along with the romanticisms come some shadier sides to what I am going to call "Eastern Europe".  Being the home to Absinthe and the former Czechoslovakia also conjures up notions for me - on the opposite side of the spectrum.  Thankfully all apprehensions dissipated upon finding the guest house with relative ease and awaking the next morning with all romanticisms confirmed.  I had arrived!
A stroll next to the river and you see bridge after beautifully formed bridge and up on the hill, Praha Castle.  After climbing up to get to the castle you are instantly rewarded with panoramic views over the whole city.  Sometimes called the "City of 100 Spires", Prague is a plethora of historical buildings, squares and churches.  From the castle you can see the river with spanning bridges into the horizon, baroque and gothic churches alike and red colored roofs for days.  Upon probing further, one is rewarded with a gothic church contained within a palace, complete with intricate stained glass windows depicting various scenes of Christ and beautiful wall frescoes. The surrounding hilltop is equally beautiful with old mansions flanking the square near the entrance to the palace; homes to past aristocracy.
The main town square, Stare Mesto, is a sight to behold.  On one side, is the famous astronomical clock, with the oldest components dating back to 1410.  This masterpiece not only tells the time, but also the position of the sun, the moon and the zodiac and each of the four flanking figures moves upon the hour.   On the other side is the gothic Tyn Cathedral, dating back to the 1200's and a prominent feature in this magnificent city's skyline.  All other sides are flanked by various other styles of architecture and typical narrow houses that I have grown to love so much in Europe.
Connecting the heart of the old town and the castle perched up high, is Charles Bridge.  Possibly one of the most stunning historical bridges I have ever seen.  If you have ever seen any pictures of Prague, it was surely taken of this, from this or including this sight.  As you walk the length of the bridge the statues, that seem to stand guard, are examples of former Jesuit propaganda and each end of the bridge is capped off with towers.  Unfortunately, the tourist machine exists here in full force, as during the day this iconographic place is packed to the hilt with those both buying and selling photos, souvenirs, paintings and jewelry.
The synagogues in the Jewish quarter are a sight to behold.  The Spanish synagogue contains so much detail and Moorish Islamic-style wall carvings that it is hard not be awed.  At the Pinkas synagogue someone has painstakingly taken the time to write out all the names of the Czech Jews that were murdered during the holocaust - some 65,000 if memory serves me correctly.  Walking through it is hard not to feel the weight of those that suffered in the very area the Synagogue is now located.  In addition to these two beautiful monuments, there is the old Jewish Cemetery.  This is Europe's oldest surviving Jewish cemetery and has been used from as far back as the 15th century.  Unfortunately they ran out of land space and had to keep bringing in land and placing bodies and tombstones on top of one another.  The cemetery now looks dilapidated due to erosion and general wear, but nothing about the estimated 12,000 old Hebrew tombs and tombstones literally toppling over one another gives any indication to the over 100,000 bodies estimated to be buried here. See the pictures, so you understand what I mean.
Sights aside, for me it is always wandering around the lesser known areas of a city and happening to come across something of a hidden gem.  Finding a vegetarian restaurant in a meat-laden society is always a treat and I found one such place in about a 500 year old building.  Sitting there and enjoying a good meal it is hard not to let your mind wander back to the goings-on that took place in the previous centuries.
Hidden gems and sunsets.  A sunset can take an average day and turn it into an extraordinary day.   Watching the sun go down give you time to reflect, not only on your day or week but also on just how beautiful the world is.  Prague had some amazing sun sets.  Setting behind the castle and casting a reflection on the water, it provided some amazing photo opportunities in addition to thinking time.
I left Prague feeling recharged, after a very contrasting experience in Berlin.  Off to Austria next.
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