Day 4 - Last day in Prague and Katies birthday!

Trip Start Apr 08, 2011
Trip End Apr 17, 2011

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Flag of Czech Republic  , Bohemia,
Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Day four, unfortunately, brings us to our last day in Prague and Katies birthday -- happy birthday, Katie!

At this point, we felt comfortable in the city. Hotel Mucha -- although slightly rough around the edges felt homey. The streets and squares felt familiar. We could stride from the hotel to Old Town without peering at the map. Isnt that always what happens when you travel from city to city? Once you become acquainted, itś time to move on...

Today, we decided to move on from Prague in the WWII era and enter one of its most famous times in history: the late 80s. After the Czechs were liberated from the Nazis, Stalin took control and folded Czechoslovakia under his Communist regime. This lasted until 1989 when a few students took to the streets and began protesting what was clearly a deteriorating economic system for the Czechs. The police brutally beat these students in the streets, which set off a fire storm of fury among the Czech people.

First, more students got involved. Then artists. Then radio broadcasters. Then theater actors. As the movement built, it became more and more clearly supported by the people who could break through the state-controlled media (for example, theater actors would read anti-establishment messages and rally cries before plays, radio announcers risked their jobs and possibly their lives by broadcasting messages of dissent). Finally, hundreds of thousands of people took to Wesceslas Square for a series of protests in the fall of 1989. They were dragged, fire-hosed, and beaten by police, but no deaths were reported. (If you wikipedia The Velvet Revolution, it talks about an interesting conspiracy about a possible staged revolution...)

A fairly complex series of government resignations happened after that -- I dont remember all the details! -- but, eventually, Czechoslovakia held itś first democratic election and then later broke away from Slovakia to form the Czech Republic in 1993.

All that being said, Katie and I started out at the slightly hidden Communism Museum near Wesceslas Square (coincidentally named after an extremely unpopular king in the monarchy days). What I liked about the Communism Museum was that it showed in detail how a broken people after WWII and proximity to the Soviet Union caused many Czech people to sympathize with communism.

Further, it showed how media and propaganda played a large role in forming this society, and its underground secret police. Large posters of handsome, muscular men with slogans like Ẅork will Free You from Western Evil! were abound, as were handbooks on the new curriculum being taught in schools to raise The Soviet Man. Makes you wonder how that has affected Czech baby boomers! The museum then went on to describe how the system failed and how the Czech people suffered in silence and fear for decades.  

The most stirring aspect of this exhibit was the raw footage from the Velvet Revolution in 1989 shown in a screening room. Not many eras in history or major transitions of power have video footage, but there is plenty from this particular moment. Tanks rolled down the Square toward the National Gallery, women were punched and kicked by police, it was total and complete mayhem. You dont need a text book to interpret what you can see with your own eyes.

Appropriately, Katie and I left the Communism Museum to walk Wenceslas Square, which is now lined with stores and shops (including a McDonalds and an H&M) and picnicked near the large statue of Wenceslas. Since the beginning, Katie and I have packed peanut butter and nutella in our backpacks and literally eaten this on our laps with stolen bread from the free breakfast at Hotel Mucha -- but, more on that later.

Like I mentioned in the last blog, I am completely fascinated by important locations in history that still function today -- not preserved, shellacked over, or made into a museum. For example, when I used to work at Beacon Street Girls, I would drive and sometimes walk through the exact point at which the American Revolution began. Museums give great information and put it all in context, but always my favorite part is standing on the site and imagining what went down there 10, 50, 300 years ago -- all the while every day people are walking by briskly thinking about what errands they have to run that day. Amazing.

After Wesceslas Square, Katie and I decided to stroll. Just stroll. At this point, we had been walking pretty much nonstop all day for four days, so it was like we could walk for 20 minutes, then had to rest for 20 minutes. Our feet had reached new levels of pain. The time we rested was equal to the time we could be on our feet! We bought some souvenirs, revisited the Jewish Quarter, and just got lost on the medieval streets of Prague. Finally, we ended up in Old Town Square, where we began in what seems like weeks ago, to meet Kathleen for dinner.

As I mentioned earlier, Katie and I are basically eating homemade sandwiches on our laps with fruit and snacks stolen from the free breakfast at the hotel every day to save money. We go out to dinner, but not really for traditional Czech cuisine, which is all like dumplings and weird meat and fat and salt (so weve seen and have been told). Katie and I arent really foodies anyway. Luckily, when we met up with Kathleen (under the Astronomical Clock), she took us to a vegetarian place on a quiet side street. No tourists, just Czechs, kind of an artist hang out.

Once again, it was great to see Kathleen and talk about her life in the Czech Republic. She  asked us why we like traveling together, and I said that it really comes down to four things: first, weve been friends since kindergarten; second, we have similar interests and a similar pace when swaying through museums; third, we carry our own weight when it comes to research and navigating, and fourth, we dont feel like we need to talk all the time. On long bus rides (or the 8 hour plane ride we had together), if we felt like we needed to chat to each other the whole time or entertain each other, that would be completely exhausting very quickly. But, Katie and I can share experiences, talk or not talk, and most importantly, reminice together when this adventure is over. We can also support and lean on one another when things go south...

...which will segue perfectly into my next blog entry: leaving Prague and entering Vienna. (Dont worry, everything is fine...)

I hope all is well with everyone!
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