Czech Republic: Day Four

Posted: under 2011/04 - Czech Republic.

Today we head to the Jewish quarter first off then continue the tour we started yesterday.

This is an interesting part of the journey to me since two of my party are Jewish I get to learn more about their heritage and history. Our first stop is the to get our pass to the ‘Jewish Museum’ in Prague. This is actually several older Synagogues and the cemetery complex combined into a walking tour of the quarter.

We bought our pass and immediately I started hearing all the grumbling ‘why are we having to buy tickets to our Synagogues?!’ I had to restrain my laughter. Our pass included admission to the Old Jewish Cemetery, the Maisel Synagogue, Spanish Synagogue, Pinkas Synagogue, Klaus Synagogue and the Ceremonial Hall.

While they still held the honorific title of Synagogue, these were museums now, not houses of worship. Which was good for me as I always feel a little odd wondering through functioning churches (etal). But our first stop was the Old Jewish Cemetery.

The cemetery was not a large one in square footage, but they made up for it in depth (no pun). There are over 12,000 gravestones stewn about with a small path winding through them. I took tons of pictures as the cemetery dates back to 1478. Oh, and you had to pay extra for a photo pass for the cemetery.

We exit the cemetery and enter the Ceremonial Hall. Nice museum with a ton of artifacts (in a small place). It was also crammed with about 40 Italian kids on a tour. I got to play the ugly American and push them around since they had no sense of personal space.

Our next stop was the Klaus Synagogue then to the Maisel Synagogue. Both had very interesting displays of historic relics for the Jewish community. All the Synagogues did not allow photography. Which was a shame as I would have loved to taken some close up shots of the silver work. All these sites I would recommend to anyone interested in history as they are fascinating.

Hungry…time to find a place to eat before joining up with our tour this afternoon. There are a couple of places nearby so really we just pick the first that we come to, the restaurant U Golema. Obviously in theme withthe neighborhood with the Jewish Golem. Lunch was fine, but the bill came and upset us all. Even though we were warned by our tour guide about places like this, I guess we had gotten complacent since we hadn’t encountered any yet. First off they charged a ‘setup fee’ of 15 crowns per person (about $1) and then they dumped a 20% tip on the total of the check. And the general rule for the Czech Republic is that tips are not something that is commonly done, but if you do get good service then 10% is acceptable. I disputed the charges, but both were listed on the menu…we had just missed them. Needless to say my Yelp review is pretty scathing.

Our tour group was meeting at 1:15pm and sure enough Monika was there to meet us again. Glad it was her as she had been a delight the previous day. She will lead us through part of old town, the little quarter then on to the castle.

First stop was the old Jesuit college best known as the Clementinum. A sprawling complex built/expanded between 1556 and 1723. This area definitelyhad more a feel for the 1700′s in the architecture, unlike a lot of the town that felt much older. One cool little thing that was pointed out was the statue of the school girl sitting on the wall with her book.

Next onto the Charles Bridge to cross the Vltava river. On this side of the river is the impressive Old Town Bridge Tower. It is a large Gothic tower from the 14th century that has some impressive statues on the side of it, including St Vitus, Charles IV and Wenceslas IV. There is also a viewing gallery that we chose to pass on but I hear you have a great view of the river area from that height.

The Charles Bridge is pedestrian only and handles a ton of foot traffic everyday. There are dozens of large statues along the bridge dedicated to various saints and other biblical characters. Many of the statues over the centurieshave been replaced with copies due to people damaging them or even taking parts of them home as souvenirs. In the center of the Old Town side is an ornate 17th century Crucifixion. There is a gilded date of 1692 and the Hebrew words ‘Holy, Holy, Holy Lord’. Apparently it was paid for by a Jew as punishment for blasphemy.

Along the bridge are a number of street performers including a blind accordion player, painters and a puppeteer. They were good folk though, didn’t bother the crowd just did their thing and had a place for ‘donations’. There were also a lot of people hawking various items. Some were crafts made locally and of course plenty of touristy souvenirs.

On the east side of the bridge is the small island of Kampa. There are several art museums here that we skipped but perhaps I will get to do when I come to Prague next. We cross a small bridge and very soon find ourselves in front of the Lennon Wall. That would be the John Lennon wall. Seems that when Lennon passed, local youths graffitied memorials on the wall. Of course the communist government felt this was quite subversive and would repaint the wall almost immediately. Needless to say this went back and forth for awhile until finally the graffitiartists won out. Now its more a free form design that stays up for a month at a time before it is painted over.

We spent about 30 minutes in the Little Quarter checking out the sites before starting up the hill to the Castle. Monika said that she would keep a slow pace as the grade was a little steep on the hill. I thought she was doing an okay job but apparently others in my party thought she was going fast. As it turns out, they were probably right. Some of the tour group today were  marathoners from yesterdays race and she was trying to keep them in site…thus they broke the curve for the rest of us.

The way up Nerudova street was quite picturesque. There were residences, shops, restaurants, embassies (Italian and Romanian at least) and churches. We will definitely have to come back here to investigate later.

Once we reach the top of the hill we are presented with the Prague Castle. This is still a working building which includes the President’s office. It is the largest castle in Europe and is made up of churches, chapels, halls, towers and gates from various eras of the countries history. The castle is an interesting place, but I really wanted to get onto our next stop at St Vitus’s Cathedral.

The Cathedral is actually made up of 4 different complexes. Each from a different era, 10th, 11th, 14th and 19th century. The architecture outside is AMAZING! And to top that off its even more so on the inside. We spent about 45min inside just wondering around. I was of course was enraptured by the Alfons Mucha stained glass window. It was one of the latest additions to the complex in the early 20th century. I almost felt like I was going to weep when I stood before it, the beauty was that overpowering.

After that we went over to the Sternberg Palace to the west of the castle. It is an old palace that has been converted into an art museum. This huge collection of art was enjoyable but frankly I did not recognize many of the artists hung on the walls. There was some nice pieces by Goya, Rubens and Rembrandt…but otherwise it was all ‘new’ to me. There was also a nice collection of statues that I enjoyed and a large collection of icons that I did not. Everyone has their taste in art, but I have never really had any appreciation for icons…except maybe in their original churchs, but only barely.

Wow…a lot going on today. We head back to the hotel for a quick moment to chill out and take our shoes off. For dinner tonight we are actually planning on going to a Mexican restaurant. I always find it interesting to experience a culture that I know through another cultures eyes. I certainly have fond memories of a German restaurant that I ate at in Beijing. Tonight its fine dining at El Hombres!

The meal was quite excellent and the beer flowed as normal. But the real beer flowing will start soon enough, we are off to U Medvidku. This place is awesome, even if we didn’t get to stay to long (they closed early on Sundays). Its the only hotel in Prague that has a brewery in residence. In fact, it was originally a brewery but it got converted into a hotel/restaurant/brewery. This building has been the site of brewing and serving beer since 1466. So basically this place where we are sitting has been making beer since before Columbus found the new world. Kinda puts the whole trip into perspective.

1 Comment

  1. Scott Nolan Says:

    Sounds like a splendid trip and I definitely need to visit Prague again… beautiful city with vibrant nightlife and people.

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