Prague - part 2

Trip Start Apr 21, 2009
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Trip End May 02, 2009


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Flag of Czech Republic  , Bohemia,
Saturday, April 25, 2009

As I mentioned earlier - my dear angel has relatives who live in Prague: Inka and Michal (Inka's son)...Inka graciously offered to show us around, so we spent quite a bit of time in the city with her...she was telling us stories and filling us with various details that cannot be found in books...it was interesting to see Prague through the eyes of someone who actually lives there, and we were very lucky to have her as our guide!...

to me - the best, most interesting and most beautiful sites in Prague are outside...

the façades of the buildings are like fine art exhibits - you can see Gothic, Art Nouveau, Cubist (now thinking of it - I don't remember seeing a Cubist building before  !)...


 


 






the streets, the churches...the amazing 500-year-old astronomical clock on the Tower Hall that shows several versions of time and gives you a little show at the top of each hour...


































Inka and Michal treated us for lunch  at a rooftop restaurant with beautiful views of the Old Town Square...their home is within a few minutes walk from the Old Town Square, so - we went there afterwords, had some coffee, talked, looked at old family pictures...it was a very nice afternoon...
























we also explored the Old Town on our own...the Old Town was laid out in the 9th - 10th century but is very well preserved...it's very beautiful there, the only disappointment was that there were so many people around - just crowds upon crowds of tourists...but what can you do - everyone wants a glance at beauty...



 



 






the Old Town is connected to Malá Strana (the Little Quarter) by Karlův Most (Charles Bridge) - a well-recognized Prague's landmark...

 

the bridge is surrounded by legends and superstitions...for one, if you write down in single digits the year, day, month, hour and minute when the first foundation stone for the bridge was laid, you'll get this sequence: 135797531 - a palindrome...for those few who do not know what palindrome is  - it's a numerical sequence that could be read from right to left the same way as from left to right...and yes, it is officially recorded that the first foundation stone for the bridge was laid in the year 1357, on the 9th of July (in Europe, like almost everywhere else in the world except America, the day goes before the month) at 5:31 in the morning (and so: 1357  9/7 5 :31)...







some say it's a magic coincidence, others believe that Emperor Charles IV who built this bridge, had chosen the exact time deliberately because he was interested in numerology and astrology ...coincidence or not, but! on the day of summer solstice the end of the bridge that leads to the Old Town perfectly aligns with the setting sun...
 

there is another legend about the bridge: one of the statues there can grant you one wish in your lifetime...how about that? :)  

the statue is of a saint by the name of Jan Nepomucký (or in English - John of Nepomuk)...supposedly he lived in the 14th century and was the queen's confessor...the legend doesn't tell whether or not the queen gave her husband the reasons to be very suspicious and overly curious about the things she had to confess...but either way her husband the king ordered John of Nepomuk to break the sanctity of confession...the saint refused, and the king ordered him thrown off the bridge to his death...the legend goes that once his body hit the water, 5 stars appeared over it ...supposedly it all happened in 1383, and the statue of the saint was erected in 1683...




 


now the legend goes - if you touch the statue while making your wish (but there is a limit - only one wish in a lifetime!) - it will definitely come true...so the statue is always surrounded by hopefuls...and you can tell that some people take it very seriously leaving nothing to chance - traveling here from afar, praying fervently, trying to reach up high...we, on the other hand, are only "opportunistic" wish-makers: we are more like "hey, since we already happen to be here, it won't hurt to do so"...and so - we also made our wishes there....




they say that your wish won't come true if you tell what it was, but I could say at least this much: my wish was probably the most unselfish wish I've ever made - nothing in it was about me...so - for this reason alone (not to mention all other reasons) - it must come true! :)








Prague is very famous for its Black Light Theaters even though they exist in other parts of the world, too...this theatrical performance style actually originated in Asia and it uses black light illusion...it's a fun mixture of  circus, dance, farce, mime, movie projection, motion effects... we went to one such theater in Prague - "Laterna Magica" - and watched a show by the name "Wonderful Circus"...Inka highly recommended this show to us, and we really enjoyed it...it was fun, light, fairytale-like - the kind of show that brings back a child in you...

 




Laterna Magica theater is right next to the National Theater, and while walking past it we stumbled upon an open-air photo exhibition in front of the National Theater...the exhibition was of Jan Saudek's works devoted to the actors of the National Theater...














Jan Saudek is a world-famous Czech photographer who lives and works in Prague...he is loved by many - France even bestowed upon him a title of Chevalier Dans L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres...he is disliked by some, too - mostly because of explicit sexual overtones and unabashed nudity present in many of his works...but his controversial, provocative work will never leave you indifferent - it's not easily forgettable...Jan Saudek also has a permanent gallery on Celetna street in Prague which we visited and really enjoyed...








if you are in Prague, your visit is not complete without going to Josefov - the Old Jewish Quarter...Prague's Jews used to live there since the 11th century...I don't think there are many Jews remaining in Prague now, and even those who live there do not necessarily live in this area...but the neighborhood is charming, well-preserved and has a number of sites that give you a good overview of the history of Jews in Prague...





there are about six old synagogues in this area - among them Staronová synagoga (The Old New Synagogue) which was built in 1270 and is the oldest active synagogue in Europe...





the curious thing about this synagogue is that according to a legend "golem" made by Rabbi Loew is left to sleep in the attic of this synagogue...for those who do not know the legend (and I myself learned it only recently, while in Prague), here it goes:

Rabbi Liwa ben Bezalel (known as Rabbi Loew) was a scholar and teacher who studied Kabbalah...to protect the Jewish community of Prague from pogroms and anti-Semitic attacks he made a human figure out of clay he collected on the bank of the Vltava river...with the help of Kabbalah he brought it to life, and this newly created warrior started to kill those who did Jews any harm...when eventually Jews were left alone, Rabbi Loew "deactivated" his creation...so according to the legend this golem rests in the attic of The Old New Synagogue and can be brought back to life when the need arises...





makes you wonder though why the golem was sleeping when almost 80,000 Czech Jews (among millions of other Jews) were being sent to gas chambers and concentration camps...
we sometimes don't let our mind stop and really comprehend what these numbers mean... but in Pinkasova synagoga (The Pinkas Synagogue) - which now houses a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust - the walls are covered with handwritten names of these people...their hometowns are written in yellow, then - in red - the family name, then - in black - first name of each member of this family along with the date of birth and date of death...



when I leaned closer to the wall now and then to be able to read a random name, I often noticed that the whole family had the same date of death - perished together...and when you walk past wall after wall, room after room covered with the names of Czech Jews perished in the Holocaust, then the numbers begin to really sink in...

it is a very powerful memorial...
but there are other museums in the Jewish Quarter, too - the Ceremonial Hall that exhibits items related to Jewish medicine, illness, death and burial rituals and traditions through the centuries...
speaking of burials - the Old Jewish Cemetery located right next to this place  is quite a wistful site!...

the Old Jewish Cemetery was established in the 15th century (the oldest tombstone remaining there now dates from 1439 - it marks the grave of poet and scholar Avigdor Kara) and the burials had been taking place there until 1787...over the centuries the cemetery was enlarged a few times, and the earth was brought to add more layers...because of this, the older stones were lifted up from the lower layers creating this curious arrangement of tilted and crooked stones from various periods grouped together...












there are a few graves of people who were prominent in Jewish life of their time, and we even found a gave of Rabbi Loew (the one who according to the legend created golem)...his golem might be a legendary creature, but the rabbi himself was a real person...he died in 1609 (exactly 400 years ago!) and was buried in this cemetery...





our explorations of the Old Jewish Quarter led us down the picturesque streets, past Franz Kafka's childhood home, St. Agnes convent nearby, back to the Old Town...it's easy to lose track of time when you walk around this city...unfortunately, our stay there was too short...












we walked to the train station to buy the tickets to Vienna for the next morning and then met Inka and Michal  to say goodbye...they took us by funicular to the top of Petrin Hill where Michal treated us to dinner in one of the restaurants with beautiful romantic views of Prague...we had a great time together and after dinner walked all the way back to our hotel...Michhal even gave me a bottle of "Becherovka" - a slightly bitter herbal liqueur that I learned to like a lot and that I doubt I could easily find in the US...so sweet of him! :)




















it was time to say goodbye, so - we had one final drink together in the bar of our hotel, thanked our gracious hosts and promised ourselves that we would definitely return one day...when we return I would also want to go to Ceský Krumlov ...I heard from Inka that it's a great place to see, and I read about it as well...but that will be some other time...one day...




Now - a few little personal observations about Prague...

Horses and carriages...I loved horses and carriages on the streets!...it's a little too corny for my taste to ride around in one, but I love  horses...I wished I had an apple for them or a carrot or some other treat..actually seeing animals on the streets (and by "animals" I mean dogs and horses - not mice and rats!!!) makes me feel warmer towards the city...
















Language...most people speak English reasonably well...although Russian is almost more useful there - first of all, Russian language used to be compulsory in school; secondly, certain words sound similar in both languages; and thirdly - there are tons of Russians in Prague...some of them are tourists, but many just live there...German could be used, too - some people understand it...

Monuments...I have never seen so many interesting monuments in one city...some of them are modern sculptures, others - older monuments...I couldn't help but take some pictures - judge for yourself!




















Food and Beer...food is very inexpensive there compared to the rest of Europe...and beer is great - it's Bohemia, after all...and that is me saying it - me who doesn't even care much for beer...

we loved Prague and had a great time there...Prague is a wonderful city...those of you who've been there know...and those who are just thinking of going - will discover it for themselves...
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