More Prague History.....
Trip Start Aug 22, 2011
18Trip End Sep 29, 2011
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This morning I again used my portable sound system to provide some gentle "wake up" music while I was getting organized. I sure miss having a TV! When I entered the breakfast room, I found only a few people there, although I believe the Hotel is almost full. The same subdued and quiet atmosphere prevailed, but today there was no vintage Elvis music. There were also no hard boiled eggs, which I missed. The attractive young lady that was working yesterday had been replaced by one of her male colleagues.
After breakfast I chatted with some of the other travelers, including a couple from the Washington DC area. The husband apparently used to work in I.T. but is now retired, and it sounds like the wife is still working
I went back to the room and gathered my gear and unplugged the devices that were "on charge", as I never leave anything connected while I'm out touring. The attendant in the breakfast room indicated that the walk to the Powder Tower would only be about 10-minutes, so I got moving as quickly as possible. The Powder Tower used to be one of the original parts of the wall to the city, as was given that name as it used to be the storage facility for gunpowder.
The distance to the Powder Tower appeared to be considerable on the Map, involving a trip through the Old Town Square and then looping back towards the train station. Ultimately, the information provided by the Hotel Clerk wasn't far off as the walk took me about 13 minutes. I found the Guide with the black Umbrella, looking forlorn amidst a group of other Tour Guides and tourists. The location under the Powder Tower is designated as "Meeting Point #4" so I’m assuming many groups meet there during the day. As it turned out, I was the only one to show up, so I ended up having a private tour at a group rate!
I decided that I couldn’t visit Prague without visiting one of the most prominent locations in WW-II history, which was historically significant for a number of reasons. The tour that I’d be taking this morning covered the exploits and ultimate assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, who was one of the highest ranking members of the Nazi regime (he was third in line behind Hitler and Himmler, and was reportedly designated as Hitler’s successor)
Heidrich was chosen as a target for assassination by the Czech government in exile in England, and a team of Czech Soldiers was assembled and trained at S.O.E. camps in England and Scotland. SS leader Karl Hermann Frank had also been considered a possible target, but Heidrich was ultimately chosen. I found some irony in that decision as Frank had also been passed over as the “Protector of Bohemia and Moravia” (the function which Heydrich held) by the Nazi leadership in favour of Heidrich. It seems that he was always playing “second fiddle” to Heidrich.
The operation was officially called Operation Anthropoid, and the Commandos were parachuted into the Czech Republic on the night of 28 December 1941, along with other Czech soldiers from operations Silver A and Silver B. Unfortunately, the Pilot of the Halifax became slightly disoriented during the flight, and the drop location was actually closer to Prague than Pilsen, the intended location
The group eventually made their way to Prague, hiding out in a network of “safe houses” and began making preparations to complete their mission. On the morning of 27 May 1942, they put the plan into action. Heidrich always used the same route in travelling from his home to his office in Prague Castle and always travelled at precisely the same time every morning, using a Mercedes 320 Convertible. At one point the car had to slow down to navigate a sharp corner near Bulovka Hospital, so that was the chosen location for the attack. Two of the Commandos were positioned on either side of the road, and a third was at the corner to signal the others with a mirror when the car was approaching.
At about 10:30 AM as the car passed, one of the Commandos stepped out and tried to open fire with his Sten Gun, but unfortunately it jammed. It seems odd that the weapon wouldn’t have been tested prior to the operation, and there are several theories for the malfunction. The second Commando stepped out and threw a modified anti-tank Grenade at the car, and this exploded near the right rear fender. A few fragments penetrated the car, and hit Heidrich, although he didn’t immediately realize it
The Commandos went into hiding, but they were eventually betrayed by one of their own, and the Gestapo began rounding up anyone that was even remotely linked to the plot. I won't elaborate on the methods used to extract the information on the location the Commandos were hiding, as related by the Guide during this tour. Seven of the Commandos had taken refuge in the Saints Cyril and Methodius Church in Prague and the Gestapo surrounded the building. a prolonged battle ensued and the first three Commandos in the Choir loft were eventually overcome. Rather than face capture, they chose suicide. The remaining four Commandos were hidden in the Crypts below the Church, a location that was at first only accessible by a small trap door. The Nazi’s were unable to dislodge them and even tried flooding the Crypts with water and Tear Gas. A set of stairs was eventually uncovered by the Gestapo under a huge stone, and this provided another access route
Hitler was insanely furious when he was told about this event, and he ordered two villages to be razed and all their inhabitants either executed or sent to the Concentration Camps. The villages of Lidice and Lazeky were selected and the orders were carried out. All of the Priests at the Church were also executed.
The walking part of the tour covered many of the historical building in Prague that were related to events of that time, and also part of the Prague Underground. I found that part to be a somewhat “eerie”. The Underground was actually at one time street level in the city, and has been used since early times. One of the rooms had once been a kitchen, complete with a Well. I had assumed that the tour would include the Church where the final battle took place, but the Guide indicated he couldn’t fit that in, as the Memorial and Church are open at sporadic hours, so it’s not always possible to access them on a regular basis. He suggested that I could walk there in 20 minutes and visit the site on my own, which is what I decided to do.
My walk took me along one of the main streets in Prague near the Opera house. The previous day this had been a bustle of activity, with heavy vehicle and pedestrian traffic. However there appeared to be some kind of an event taking place today and the street was blocked off. It was being patrolled by Police riding Segway Transporters which I found interesting, given my experiences on the previous day
I found the Church without too much difficulty and the entrance to the Memorial and Crypts which had been made in one side of the building. There was a small charge of Kc$75 for admission. The memorial was small, but had plaques describing the entire background and history of the events. There were a few displays with weapons that had been used in the operation, incluing a Sten Gun. The entrance to the Crypts was on one side of the room and entering that darkened and somber room seemed somewhat "surreal". A row of electric lights led along both sides of the ceiling, there were statues and plaques describing each of the seven Commandos and the steep stairway up to the main floor of the Church was located at the far end. The small window where water and tear gas were pumped in was visible on one side. There was an indentation in the brickwork below that, where the Commandos may have tried to tunnel into the sewer system to escape.
After my tour of the Memorial, I took a brief look upstairs at the main part of the Church which had a large curved plexiglass door to allow people to look inside without entering. By this time I was tired, hungry and as usual my back hurt. I decided to return to the area around the Hotel and felt that I could probably walk (although I did consider hailing a Cab). I initially used only the Map provided by the Hotel but I was having difficulty with this as some of the streets didn’t seem to be shown, so I couldn’t find reference points. I finally resorted to my trusty GPS unit and it didn’t take long to get back (although I had to “reset it” a couple of times).
My route to the Hotel took me past the small restaurant where I had stopped on the first day, so I figured that would be fine for lunch
I decided to head out again at about 20:00, both to get some dinner as well as some night photos. For the first time on this trip, I unpacked my new Manfrotto Travel Tripod as I knew it would be useful at this time of night. I ran into one of the other guests at the door as I was leaving so stopped to have a short visit with her. When I rounded the corner from the Hotel, I started to feel hungry so figured I’d stop for dinner first. As I turned onto Karlova Street, I noticed the Ristorante Toscana on the corner so that seemed like a good bet. They had somewhat of a “garden patio” although the garden was largely painted on the walls of the surrounding buildings. I found the quality of the food to be very good and the service very attentive. The Waiter “humoured me” by allowing me to order in Italian as much as possible (I’ll be in Italy in a few days, so the practice won’t hurt). I ordered the Spaghetti Bolognese, mixed Salad, Wine and Coffee. It was a fine meal! On the way out, I chatted with a couple of ladies from the U.K. who had greeted me when I sat down in the restaurant.
After dinner it was across the Charles Bridge and a lonely hike up the hill to the Castle. There was still somewhat of a crowd on the Charles Bridge, and loud Eurodance music playing from some of the shops on one side. I stopped first at the Raiffesenbank just up from McDonalds to use the ATM, as dinner had completely emptied my wallet.
The once busy streets were now lit only be street lights, and there were only a few couples venturing up to the Castle at this time of night. I hiked up the same road that I had travelled on the Segway the previous day. I got photos both of the outside of the Castle and within the deserted Courtyard.
I took the stairs down from the Castle, as that presented some new photo opportunities. I walked back across the Charles Bridge and directly to the Hotel. It was a somewhat painful journey, as my back and legs were bothering me again. As I was approaching the front door, I noticed a girl across the street having a cigarette. She said “can I ask you a question about your Camera”. She was the Night Clerk in the Hotel across the street, and was just taking a break. She had bought a Canon 550D a few days ago, but wasn’t entirely pleased with the quality of the photos she was getting
While we were talking, a group of teenagers wandered into the Hotel she was managing, probably thinking it was a Bar or restaurant, but she got them out of there in a hurry. The teenagers had obviously been enjoying some of the local “liquid refreshment” and were in a very jovial mood indeed. One of the group stopped and asked me where I was from, and I also asked him where he was from. He said “Italy” and when I asked him in Italian which town he lived in, he was very surprised. He extended his hand and we shook hands (he was from Torino). I seem to be getting lots of Italian practice tonight.
11 Sept. 18 – Sunday
Before getting into today's entry, I'd like to reiterate a couple of points. First of all, my Blog has somewhat of a diverse audience, one which seems to be getting more "diverse" every day
I got up a bit later this morning, since I’d been up until 02:00 working on my Blog. I got cleaned up and went down to the breakfast room at about 08:45 or so. The attractive young lady was working again so there was music playing softly again, and that made breakfast so much more pleasant this morning. As I was finishing breakfast a woman came into the room and asked if she could sit at my table (there was no one else there, so she could have sat at any table). She was from California and had just been laid-off from her job. We ended up chatting until after 10:00.
After breakfast I went back to the room and got my kit organized for the day’s touring. I stopped at the front desk to ask about the Tram tickets and didn’t end up leaving the Hotel until about 11:45. I found the Tram station easily next to the MY Department store
Prague Castle is one of the most significant symbols of Czech history, and was likely constructed in the 9th Century. The Guinness Book of Records lists it as "the largest coherent Castle complex in the world" as it has an area of about 70,000 square metres. The Castle is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Since the Velvet Revolution, Prague Castle has undergone significant renovations and restorations. An impressive Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place each hour from about 09:00-20:00, and the change at noon is accompanied by a band and more fanfare.
I wasn’t quite sure which buildings I’d be touring and felt a bit disoriented by the size of the complex
I spent 4-6 hours wandering through the four locations covered by my ticket. At the entry to each place, the ticket was "punched" by an official as guests are only allowed to enter each site once (unless they buy another ticket). While there wasn’t really a lot to see, I stopped to read each of the plaques that described the history of various parts of each building. It was a good day to be touring Castles, as the weather today is miserable and rainy. The Golden Lane took much longer than I expected. I first thought that it was only one street of quaint old houses that showed the typical life in medieval times in Prague. There were a number of small, quaint shops including one which offered cosmetics made with Beer. The "aromatic experience" in some of these small shops was wonderful, and I lingered a bit although I had no intention of buying any beer cosmetics. The young lady working in one of the shops had a nice selection of music playing, and I told her that our musical tastes are similar
There was a small sandwich shop in one part of the Golden Lane, so I decided to stop there for a Panini and a Coffee. Their Menu showed Salads also, but the Waiter said all they had was Paninis. I ordered a Pepperoni & Cheese Panini, Sprite and Coffee. There was no one else in the small restaurant, and the lone Waiter (whom we'll call "Chuckles") had a dour expression on his face. He didn't seem happy to be there.
After lunch I found my way back to the front of the Castle, as by this time it was almost the top of the hour and I knew there would be another Changing of the Guard taking place. A small crowd was already gathering, so I “staked out” a spot and waited. In a few minutes, the ceremony started with the replacement Guard marching out from the Castle with the Captain of the Guard. No verbal commands were issued, but the NCO provided commands by tapping the butt of his rifle on the pavement. I thought it was impressive and well done
After the Changing of the Guard, I made my way down the stairs to the main part of town. As might be expected with the weather, the crowds were much lighter and many of the shops were “quiet”. As I wandered down towards the entrance to the Charles Bridge, I passed Jo’s Bar and Garaz and they advertised Guinness so I decided to stop for a quick one. There was no one else in the Bar, which I found surprising at that time of day.
After my liquid refreshment, I made my way back across the bridge to the Hotel. Without stopping to watch the entertainment, it took me about six minutes at an easy pace to cross the bridge. Back at the Hotel, I went to the room for a short rest.
I woke up about 18:00 and got cleaned up for dinner. I stopped at the Front Desk and asked for recommendations for a restaurant that served a “typical Czech dinner”. She suggested a place about a ten minute walk from the Hotel, and provided a map, and wrote the Menu item on a small card so I’d be able to recognize it in Czech. The restaurant is called U Dvou Kocek and is dubbed “the restaurant of the two Cats”, as their logo features two Cats
It didn’t take me long to find the restaurant, although at one point I was wishing I had brought my GPS unit. Walking through the streets at night can be a bit disorienting, as it's difficult to see the street signs on the sides of the buildings. When I entered the dining room, a lot of the tables had “Reserved” signs on them, but the Server removed the sign from my table and motioned for me to sit down. After observing the operation for a few minutes, I wondered if they were putting “Reserved” signs on the tables just to make it seem like they were a busy restaurant?
I ordered a dish which had Beef with Potato Dumplings, in a lemon gravy with whipped cream and Cranberry garnish, along with white Wine. The order arrived very quickly and it was an adequate portion, although not large. Part way during the meal, the Server stopped by with a tray full of “Shooters”. There were several items to select from, and I decided to try Becherovka, which is a herbal liqueur made with anise, cinnamon and about 32 other herbs. The alcohol content is about 38% (76 proof). It’s usually served cold and is used as a digestive. I toasted the Server with Naz Dravi (“To your health”) and did “bottoms up”
As I was finishing my Czech dinner, an Accordion player appeared just behind me and started playing. He started with the “Colonel Bogey March” from Bridge on the River Kwai. At one point he asked me where I was from and when I said “Canada”, he said he would play a song for me, which turned out to be Home on the Range. While it’s not exactly a Canadian song, I appreciated his gesture. He sang quietly along with some of his songs, and at one point the people at the table next to me enthusiastically provided a chorus, singing in Czech.
I quite enjoyed the atmosphere and felt the food and service were both good. The restaurant seemed to be filled with “locals” who probably dined there on a regular basis. They apparently also operate a micro-brewery, as there were two large copper kettles just inside the front door. I had a quick look at the Trip Advisor ratings when I got back to the Hotel and was surprised to find that evaluations on this restaurant were somewhat “mixed”. The complaints seemed to focus mostly on "questionable billing practices"
After dinner I made the short walk back to the Hotel in the rain and through mostly deserted streets. I assembled my tiny portable stereo, put on some easy listening tunes (suitable for a rainy and lonely Sunday evening) and spent the rest of the evening updating my records.
11 Sept. 19 – Monday
It’s hard to believe that this is my last day in Prague. I feel like I’ve seen and done a lot since I arrived here, but there’s so much that I haven’t seen yet. I had intended to take a day trip to Cesky Krumlov, but just didn’t have time. Given the weather the last few days, the trip probably wouldn’t have been too pleasant anyway, and it was raining steadily again this morning.
There were only a few people in the breakfast room this morning and I had a brief visit with them but they appeared to be in a hurry (they were taking a day trip to Cesky Krumlov). A short time after they left, a young couple from New York City entered and I chatted with them for a few minutes.
My plan today was to spend a bit more time in the Old Town Square, as that’s an area I haven’t really spent much time in, aside from short stops on the Segway tours. When I stepped out the front door of the Hotel, I found the rain was unrelenting so I again had to resort to my Umbrella. When I arrived in the square, I found it was filled with small medieval-style wooden food huts, selling a variety of food items, mostly Kolbasa Hot Dogs and Czech Ham. A rolling sea of multi-coloured Umbrellas were moving in different directions across the square. The combination of rain and the smell of wood smoke was somehow a familiar and comforting feeling, and it brought back memories of autumn days from the past. I’m sure the ambience of this scene would have been somewhat different if the sun had been shining.
I did a brief “walkabout” around the square and got a few photos. I briefly thought about taking a trip to the top of the tower or visiting some of the other sights in that area, but today I feel like resting rather than touring. I’m sure the view of Prague from the tower wouldn’t be very appealing in the rain and mist.
At about 11:45, I positioned myself in a hallway in front of the Astrological Clock
I took another walk through the square to get a few more photos and by this time I was starting to get hungry. I was tempted to buy a Kolbasa Hot Dog from one of the Vendors, but the thought of standing in the rain and dining while holding an Umbrella didn’t really appeal to me. I wandered through a narrow passageway underneath a Scaffold (some workers were renovating the side of one of the buildings), and found myself in another small square which seemed to have lots of Italian restaurants
One point to mention about the Corto restaurant is that I was very surprised to see Ashtrays on the tables inside, as it’s been my impression so far that smoking is only allowed on the outdoor patios. I expect that will change very quickly as when the Czech Republic is fully integrated into the E.U. they’ll have to follow the rules concerning smoking in public places as other European countries have had to do. If the French can adapt to these new rules, I’m sure any other country can do the same. Had someone been smoking inside when I first entered the restaurant, I likely wouldn’t have stopped there. As I was finishing my meal, three girls entered the restaurant and sat on the far side of the room (I think they were from Italy). One of them lit a cigarette almost as soon as she sat down, but she was far enough away that I didn’t really notice the smoke.
By this time it was about 14:30 so I decided it would be a good time to head back to the Hotel and start getting my gear organized for the trip tomorrow
I decided to return to my usual restaurant around the corner from the Hotel, as it was close and I still had things to do. The rain had stopped, but as I walked to the restaurant I noticed that the weather was noticeably “cool” tonight, and it really felt like autumn. I imagine it’s much the same at home. I checked the weather forecast for Italy, and it looks like temperatures of about 20-degrees or so for the next week and non-stop sunshine, so it looks like I’ll get to enjoy a bit of summer weather for the last part of my trip.
The restaurant seemed totally empty when I first walked in the door, but there were a few people seated in the dining room to the side
When I was leaving, I noticed a somewhat “upscale” restaurant across the street called V Zatisi. I had a brief look at the menus posted outside and it seems to focus on Indian food but there were other items available including local dishes. They seemed to place emphasis on pairing appropriate wines with whatever meal is chosen, to provide the diner with the best possible meal. I wish I had discovered this earlier! It would have been a “splurge” but probably a very enjoyable dining experience. I had a glance through the window, and it appeared that the restaurant was almost full, which was a dramatic contrast to the place I had just left (perhaps the Waiters are more cheerful at V Zatisi).
Back at the Hotel, I continued with my preparations for departure in the morning including charging my “gadgets”. I also figured this would be a good opportunity to back-up the photos from my DSLR to the Netbook (the photos from my small Camera are backed-up daily, as I’m using those for Blog entries)
My Daypack and Camera bag are almost ready, but I know it’s going to be a challenge to get the main Pack closed again. I really hope that my experience with EasyJet and the “one carry-on bag” rule is the same in Prague as it was in Rome last year. I’m prepared for either eventuality and if they insist that my Daypack also has to be checked, I’ll resort to either my Tilley Vest or my ScottEVest Jacket.
My portable stereo system again provided a bit of entertainment while I was packing. It wasn’t entirely quiet though, as I had the window open and there was also lots of “background noise” from the patrons of the small Bar that’s located next door to the Hotel. On previous nights, they’ve seemed to party until the “wee hours” of the morning.