Okay, action. Where was I? Oh yeah, three and a half weeks ago. I am getting lazy.
So, where I last left you was the day before a whirlwind weekend adventure in Prague! Rewind your mental clocks to Friday, 15 June.
The majority of the day itself was fairly uneventful (I hope, because I don't remember anything of it). Until, that is, at around 6 PM when I scurried home, hat mich umgezogen (changed my clothes), and headed off to an evening choir concert at a church in nearby Bogenhausen, a yuppie neighborhood on the eastern side of the Isar. We sang through a fairly quick rendition of Palestrina's Canticum Canticorum (Song of Songs), checking watches all the while, hoping we would get out soon enough to catch some of the Euro Cup Germany/Greece match. Our director helped us out by starting at 8:00 PM on the dot and limiting himself to a five-minute intermission. The concert ended promptly at 9:30 (exactly the time halftime starts) and we all ran out the door, smart phones in hand, to the nearest beer garden/restaurant broadcasting the game, and were able to perfectly catch the second half. If you happened to have been watching the Euro Cup games (not holding my breath, don't worry), you may recall five of the six goals took place in the second half, so we chose the right part to watch!
Fueled by the resounding German victory, we took a bus into the Innenstadt (city center), entertaining the other passengers with some random choral music on the way, interspersed, of course, by various German victory songs. My game plan was to stay out as long as possible, since my bus to Prague left from the northern bus station at 1:05 AM, so it made sense just to stay out until then. So we set off for Leopoldstraße, the large boulevard stretching from Odeonsplatz up through the University and the Siegestor (victory gate).
Okay. To fully grasp the madness of this scene, we're going to have to do some exercising of the brain. Picture all the people that fit in your high school football stadium during homecoming. Got it? Good. Now multiply that by ten. Now make every one of those people drink at least four beers (that's European style, so I'm talking two liters). Now put all of them in Deutschland Fußball shirts and stick them on the same street. You've about got it. The scene was basically madness, but in the best of ways. There were police everywhere, but their only function was basically to make sure no one got hurt. Cars would slowly brave the masses, driving up over the base of the Siegestor, and wild fans would gather on either side and rock the cars back and forth, screaming cheers all the while. Every now and then, the crowd would sink as a whole to its collective knees, honoring (I guess) the football genius of their home country.
It was something, all right.
Thoroughly impressed by the competitive spirit of my host country, I sadly abandoned the scene and took the U-Bahn a few stops north, where I problem-less-ly boarded a large bus bound for Prague, buckled in, put in some ear plugs, and slept the night away.
Okay, that last sentence was a lie. There are few things as uncomfortable as trying to sleep on a bouncy bus speeding down an autobahn, sitting fully upright on a slippery leather seat, while a large Czech teenager snores beside you. Let's just say I dozed my way northeast, waking fully up at about 5:45 AM as the sun rose (lies, this far north the sunrise is at like 4, but I denied it as long as possible) over the outskirts of Prague. We arrived successfully at the bus station at about 6:15, and, having told my parents I'd aim for 7:00 at their hotel, I successfully (first Czech interaction!) bought some coffee at the train station kiosk to break my 100 bill (in Korunas, that is. So about 5$). Fortunately the word "cappuccino" is fairly ubiquitous. Thank you, Italians, for so dominating the coffee industry. After fiddling with the ticket machine for a bit, I finally broke down and bought a subway ticket from the counter, and took the U-Bahn about four stops to my parents' hotel, arriving at their door at exactly 6:59 AM. (Let's just say Germany has done wonders for my punctuality.)
|My first step after arriving|
|Good little tourist|
|Neal and Lettie|
Luggage safely stowed, we stopped only briefly to pick up some more coffee for me (I don't let little things like three hours of sleep on a bus slow me down in a new city!), and set off to see Prague properly, as only Rick Steves-equipped American tourists can. The day promised to be warm and lovely, so we were determined to take advantage of it. Stopping briefly in the main square to admire the clocktower, we boarded a tram and headed up to Petřín Hill, the large hill west of the Vltava River. Eschewing (foolishly) the line at the funicular, we opted instead the walk up the hill, proving to be quite an accomplishment for the heat of the day. Fortunately a beer garden halfway up called to us, giving me my first taste of Czech beer (in this case, Pilsner Urquell). We then headed up the rest of the way to see a gorgeous view of the city stretched out below us. The hill is topped by a huge tower, a miniature of the Eiffel Tower. Though much smaller, it's designed so that when combined with the height of the hill, it's exactly the same height as the Eiffel Tower. We splurged and took the elevator to the top of it to get the full effect.
|I can't take these clowns anywhere|
|Dad, Neal, Lettie, Mom|
|Memorial to the victims of Communist rule|
|Looking down at the Charles Bridge and the old town|
|Mom and Charles Bridge|
|Vltava River (or Die Moldau, if you're leaning towards German)|
|St. John of Nepomuk|
|Sun setting down Wenceslas Square|
|Memorial to the two men who lit themselves on fire in protest of Communism|
The next day we awoke bright and not-so-early, breakfasted, and headed north from our hotel into the old Jewish quarter of the town. Prague has a long history of anti-Semitism; the first pogrom took place there in 1096 and the Jews were concentrated into a walled ghetto shortly thereafter. The old city was mostly demolished and remodeled in the mid 19th century, but the old synagogues and remnants of the old town still remain. The ghetto was astonishingly not destroyed during the Nazi occupation for a fairly terrifying reason: the Nazis planned on opening an "exotic museum of an extinct race" once their extermination of the Jews was complete; the Jewish museum in Prague is one of the largest and most complete because the Nazis collected artifacts from all of Bohemia and stored them for their future plans.
Choosing not to pay the fee for entry to the museum (not one literal museum but seven different synagogues, all with various different exhibits), we wandered around from sight to sight, reading about the synagogues in our guidebook as we went, including the Staronova synagogue, Europe's oldest active synagogue, completed in 1270. We also stopped to admire a monument to Franz Kafka, as well as peek through to the old Jewish cemetery, a tiny little patch of ground allotted for the graves of supposedly over 100,000 people.
|Klaus Synagogue and neighboring mortuary|
|My father has trouble looking normal in pictures|
|St. Vitus Cathedral|
|Dad pretending to be a cockroach in honor of Franz Kafka's house|
My parents and I awoke early, caught a cab to the train station, and hopped on our respective buses: I, back to Munich, and my parents, off to Berlin, to meet again the next weekend when they came to Munich!
And that was our Prague adventure. Though I really enjoyed the city, I have to confess I didn't fall in love with it the way I did with Berlin or Vienna. It is incredibly beautiful and charming, and I feel like I got to know my way around pretty well, but I don't ever feel like I felt the heart of the city itself. Maybe it's just hard for a city that spent so long being beaten down under Communism then graduated so quickly to the third most popular tourist destination in Europe to retain its essence.
I also think the language was part of it. Though Prague's definitely not a city where you need to speak Czech (almost even less so than German in Germany, really; I suppose the difference is there's a fairly good probability that tourists know some German, whereas Czech isn't really one of those languages people just pick up due to exposure), it frustrates me incredibly to not be able to communicate in the local language. I disliked that about my experiences with Sofia as well, even having an excellent interpreter with me at all times. I pride myself on my ability to do well with languages, and having that skill taken away just makes me feel like another dumb American tourist.
But regardless, Prague and I got along just fine!
I do apologize for leaving you still a couple of weeks behind, but it's past my bedtime and when a blog's too long no one reads it anyway! I promise, the next one will be coming very soon: parents in Munich!