Well wonderful Prague redeemed herself; lucky for us we got the worst part out of the way the first night! J After the attempted pickpocketing we were on our way to the hotel, I had emailed them the day before and received detailed directions from the train station. After getting off the number 9 and going down two wrong streets we finally made it to Andel's Hotel! It was gorgeous, we thought we were in for a real treat when as we were getting to the counter, Sarah goes, 'this doesn't look like the website'. Hmmmmm…..So we hope the pictures were just out dated and tell the lady at the counter our name. She does not have reservations for us. Blast. Could this day get any worse we wonder? She mentions that there is a Hotel Andel just down the block and this is probably what we were looking for. At least it wasn't far away! We made it safely to Hotel Andel, which was quite nice but hard to compare once we were all excited for Andel's Hotel. We settled in and since it was quite late decided to find a good restaurant near our hotel (we were sort of in the suburbs). We did some looking on TripAdvisor and found that one of the top rated places was just down the street, it definitely lived up to all the good reviews! I had I think my favorite meal of the trip there (so far). First we had some delicious Czech wine….weren't quite ready to dive into the beer. For dinner I had turkey stuffed potato pancakes, with au gratin potatoes. It was AMAZING. Sarah's meal was also very delicious, chicken breasts stuffed with ham, bleu cheese and a raspberry glaze sauce. TDF. After we stuffed our faces we were done for the night! J
The first day we were up and raring to go. First on the agenda was the Jewish quarter. We wound our way around the old town, catching our first glimpse of the Astronomical clock and arrived at our first destination, the Pinkas Synagogue. The Pinkas Synagogue was a site of Jewish worship for 400 years and a memorial to the victims of the Nazis. The walls are covered with handwritten names of 77,297 Czech Jews who were sent from here to the gas chambers at Auschwitz and other camps. As we stood in the small chapel taking in the overwhelming amount of names on the walls we could hear a very somber voice reading the names alternating with a cantor singing the Psalms. In the attic of the synagogue is the Terezin Children's Art Exhibit. This is where the waterworks started flowing. It was a display of drawings and artwork done by the children in the Terezin Jewish Ghetto who were later transported to camps. In the ghettos the Jews were not allowed to have school or educate the youth but there was a teacher who held art and craft sessions daily. She was sent to Auschwitz but left behind 2 suitcases containing over 4,000 pieces of artwork done by the children in Terezin. Upon exciting the Synagogue we were herded along to the back, which contained the Old Jewish Cemetery. From 1439-1787 this was the only burial ground allowed for the Jews of Prague. Close to 100,000 tombs are said to be in the cemetery as the tombs had to be piled atop each other, an equally moving site. Unfortunately cameras were not allowed in the cemetery.
After the very emotional morning we decided to lighten things up and head towards the Christmas market directly in the center of old town. On our way we wandered along the Vltava River beautifully lined with trees, lampposts and benches. We spotted the giant ticking metronome on the bluff. The site originally sported a 100-foot tall stone statue of Stalin that was demolished in 1962. The metronome symbolizes that for every power, there's a time to go. We then headed down Parizska, 'a Paris street', a tree lined street with gorgeous art nouveau façade buildings.
This took us directly to the Center of Old town with the Astronomical Clock, Tyn Church and the Christmas market. When entering the square all I could think was, 'Disney World!" If anyone has been to the magical kingdom and walked down the streets lined with cute, pastel buildings, you will know what I mean. First thing on our agenda was Tyn Church. The church didn't open until 3 so we took our time with some warm punch and watched the clock strike the hour. The clock keeps several versions of time, Bohemian and modern time as well as, sunrise, sunset, zodiac calendar and a ring of saints (one special saint for each day). At the top of every hour Death tips the hourglass and pulls the cord, ringing the bell, then the windows open and the 12 apostles parade by, acknowledging the crowd, then the rooster crows and the hour is rung. When we were there we got a special treat because after the hour rung, from the top of the tower was what looked like a court jester who trumpeted his horn and then everyone cheered! It was pretty cool. We then made it to Tyn Church. We were not allowed to take pictures in the church but honestly I thought the gothic outside of the church was much more spectacular then the inside. After a full day we headed back to our hotel.
Day number two was even more rainy and cold then the first day but we did not let this stop us! I had on 4 shirts and 2 pants J I was very excited because we were visiting Prague castle that we spotted up on the hill the day before when we were at the river. We made it on the correct tram and only went down a couple wrong streets until we finally found it! We crossed under the castle gates and made our way directly to the breathtaking St Vitus Cathedral. We were very disappointed to learn that the cathedral was not open that day and continued to wander behind the church, as we came around the corner we saw a huge mass of people standing in line along with news vans and cameramen. We were quite confused. They were all waiting to go into the old royal palace. We decided we didn't need to see it that bad so continued on a bit and found a place for a quick lunch. As we were walking we did see a portrait of a man with many flowers laid in front. We had wished we'd read the paper that morning to know what had happened. After lunch we decided to head back the same way and see if anything had changed. The line was gone and it was really starting to pour so we thought we'd step inside and see if there was a memorial service. What we found was that Vaclav Havel, the president who led the overthrow of communism had passed away the previous Sunday and the day we were there was the start of the 3-day memorial service. We were ushered into a massive grand entry room, where in the middle was his coffin draped in the Czech Republic flag. Surrounding the coffin were flowers and guards at each corner. We were fortunate enough to see the changing of the guards that I did get video of and will try to post. It was truly amazing to be able to be there and be apart of that history.
We then took a soggy walk down the mountain to the Charles Bridge. The Charles Bridge is 500 yards of amazing views and statue upon statue on the rail of the bridge. We then began our walking tour of new town. (Hope everyone is still with me on this long blog! J
We started at Wenceslas Square, which was particularly beautiful that night as people had hundreds of candles and flowers surrounding the Wenceslas statue in honor of Vaclav Havel. Up from the statue is the National Museum; the interesting tid-bit about this building is that along all of the columns you can see mis-matched patches. These are fill holes where Soviet bullets hit during an uprising crackdown. Defying their communist bosses, who wanted the damage to be forgotten, the masons intentionally mismatched the patches so that it would never be forgotten. We then made our way to the Municipal House, which is the 'pearl of Czech art nouveau'. Next to the Municipal House is the impressive powder tower, the formal front door of old Czech and also the house of the city's gunpowder. We again had an amazing meal at Klub Architektu (see pictures). The next morning we were up early and on our way to Munich. We took the number 9 back to the scene of the crime and were scanning the crowds for our 2 attackers, ready at a moments notice to jump into action!