Today, we headed out early and walked to a local park, to let the kids blow off some steam before we start our day. Czech parks are similar to parks in Vienna, but there was a cool bicycle type pedal machine, that went round and round as the passengers peddeled. The park was at the base of Petrin hill, on the way up to Prague Castle. There is also a funicular you can take to the top. I know the kids will want to ride this, although I would prefer the terrestrial way up.
We wandered from here to the Charles Bridge. We were early, before the massive influx of tour groups, so we had the bridge to ourselves, except for a few other early risers. This bridge was built and rebuilt over and over again and finally erected permanently by Charles IV in the 15th century. The bridge is lined with statues, most are reproductions but some are real. There is one of the patron saint of Prague, John of Neropuk. It was said that he was thrown off of the bridge and was made the patron saint of Prague. There is a statute of him, and the legend says if you touch him and make a wish, it comes true, but you only get one, so choose wisely. Legend also dictates that if you place a lock on the bars surrounding him, you can lock in the love of the one you want to catch.
There is also another intersting statute of Jesus, with Hebrew letters above him. The Hebrew letters were placed there to humilate the Jews in the 1600's; apparently, they must have done something wrong, as history dictates they seem to be a scapegoat people.
After wandering around the bridge and checking out the artists lining the sides, we headed up to our bruch appointment at Mlsna Kavka. This is a vegetarian/vegan restaurant, translating to Fastidious Jackdaw. The jackdaw is a bird found commonly in Europe, as common as the black ravens that are in San Diego. They are bigger than the ravens, and have a beautiful contrast on their backs of dark black and gray.
When we arrived, we were greeted with the most delicious fresh squeezed orange juice, the color of persimmon skin. We had a reservation for the brunch at 11am, and little did we know, we were the only customers they had planned to come in and made the entire brunch for us! The kitchen turned out enough food to feed an army, let alone our small family and the spread was divine. The offerings were as follows: canapes with garlicky black olive tapenade and a spread that was like thousand island dressing paste, green beans in an Indian curry, roasted spicy potatoes, and a dish that was the vegan version of eggs benedict, comprising of a portabello mushroom for the base, topped with polenta, a slice of tomato and spinch that was roasted with onions and garlic, guacamole and chips, fresh crepes with figs, cream and strawberries, split pea soup with garlic croutons, a green salad, corn fritters with tomato remoulade, and for dessert, dark chocolate and fig mousse and strawberry mousse. We were in awe and stunned that the kitchen made this all for us! We felt badly we could not even attempt to dent the amount of food on the table, and our server even offered for us to take the food home! We left with happy bellies and a wonderful feeling of going to our dream brunch.
We then headed off for the real business of being a tourist in the Jewish quarter. Jews have lived in Prague for over 1000 years, and this ghetto area, Josefov, is the legacy that was left. After the war, of the 118,231 jews in the Czech Republic, less than 15,000 survived. The Jewish quarter is in a high end part of town now, complete with Prada and Tag stores. The ghetto was torn down in the early 1900's and redone in the Art Nouveau style, one of the best representations I have seen in Europe so far. Our 480Kn ticket per adult bought us admission into the 7 major sights of the Jewish quarter.
The tour began in the Pinkas synogauge, the most harrowing and somber of the sights we explored. Upon entering, inscribed on the walls of the synogauge were over 77,000 names of the Jews of Czech who perished, listed by town, then family name, the individual name, birthdate and the day they were last seen alive. There was also a voice reading each name and a cantor singing Psalms. I could not keep the tears from flowing as I read the names and dates, many children, who were murdered by the Nazis. I also thought of the people who spoke up against the regime, the Roma's, Catholica and Muslims that were killed as well. Upstairs in the synogauge was one of the most chilling exhibitions I have ever seen.
60km away from Prague, there was the transporation camp of Terezin. Built by an Austrian Emperor as a fortification, it was never used as such, but as a prison. It was built to house 3,000 soliders and eventually 7,000 prisoners were held there. When Hitler began using the barracks as a transportion staging area, it eventually turned into a holding area and ghetto that held at the highest number 100,000 people. Among this number was 15,000 children; less than 100 that survived the war. The exhibition included the art work from the children in the camp, photos and even drawings of a stage and play that the children put on, an opera company in fact. This was all a sham, a progoganda film made by the Nazi's the try to prove to the international community that Terezin was actually a health spa and a place where the Jews were being re-educated. To see the drawings of these children, the hopefullness of them to return home, the people in the drawings smiling, the feeling cored away my heart.
After viewing the synogauge, we heaed into the cemetary. This cemetary was home to over 100,000 Jews who were buried here for over 400 years. Since the area alloted to the Jews was so small, we are talking a half and acre, the people were buried on top of one another, as high as 8 stacked. Over time, the earth shifted and the tombstones moved and tilted, leaning on one another. It was amazing that so many people could habitate one area, even if they were deceased. And, everyone is treated the same, Rabbi or poor man.
Next door was a the ceremonial hall of burial rights, where the society of burial rights prepared the bodies for the grave. In Jewish tradition, it is preferred the bury the dead the same day or as soon as possible, as no embalming is allowed. Everyone is dressed in the same garment, a kittel, a linen robe, as the tradition says we are all equal in front of God's eyes. The fingers are scrubbed and hair combed, the the ceremony takes place.
Next, we went to the Old-New Synogauge. This is the oldest synogauge in central Europe, built in the 1200's. Today, it is still a functioning orthodox synogauge. The Jews were forbidden to be builders, so Christian architects from France came to build the Old-New synogauge. Since the common style was a 4 ribbed vaulted ceiling, that made a cross, not an appropraite design in a Jewish house of worship. So, a 5 ribbed support was built, making the celing look lumpy and odd. There were also inscriptions dating from the 1600's on the walls and also chairs that lined the hall, that were passed down the generation to generation. There was also a medieval banner that was carried through the streets during processions, completely in tact. The double valuts in the outer chamber held the Jews money for the taxes they had to pay to the kimg of the time.
Lastly, we visited the Spanish synogauge, built in the moorish style in the early 1800's. It was richly painted inside, with reds and blues, golds and ocres. There was even as organ that was played by the famous musicians of the time, even though they were not Jewish. For a short time, Jews and Gentiles co-excited in this quarter from the late 1800's through the middle of the 1920's, peacefully, as rabbi's could be seen arm in arm with priets. Hitler screwed that up, huh?
This expereince left me somber, but left the kids ansty, tired and bored. Abi tried so hard to keep up with the adult explanations, but mainly learned about the various artifacts and marveled at my ability to read Hebrew. Kahlan was totally bored the whole time, but I hope she can appreciate later in life where she was, as I told her, her life was effected by the Jews here as well. If my grandparents did not escape Hitler, she would not be here today. Tough for a 5 year old to grasp.
We ended our day walking through the Old Town, catching a quick glimpse of the Astronomical clock chiming away, and found the Country Life vegan buffet to grab a to go dinner. We picnicked on an island in the middle of the Vlatava river, watching the curious shapes of paddle boats stream by. I must say, eating while viewing such a gorgeous city made my soul sing. I think I am in love with Prague and it may be a city to get to know more intimately in the future. Na shledanou, dekuji and ciao.
Prague has beautiful streets. I mean literlly, the streets. They are cobble stoned, but I am not talking the cement variety. They are the real deal, granite or cut stone of some sort. They are patterened in squares or triangles of dark and light stones, which entertains Kahlan while walking down the street... who can stay on the dark stones, as she smashes into a lady looking up at a building. This occurs about 10 times a day.