Magnificence of Central Europe- Part 3-Prague & Cesky Krumlov
Our next destination was Prague. We took a train from Dresden to Prague, where we met this lady who was originally from Brazil, came to study in Germany, and now has a wonderful German husband. We became friends and talked until she reached her destination. At one point, she stated how amazing it is that there is an Indian family living in the U.S. talking to a Brazilian lady living in Berlin all on the same train. Even a decade ago this occurrence would have been rare, yet today, almost nobody would bat an eyelid.
Prague is by far one of my favorite cities I have visited. The landscape looks like it came out of a fairy tale! You feel like taking a picture of every building around you. It is probably because Prague was not impacted much in second world war bombings as Berlin and Dresden were- so a lot of old buildings have been preserved.
We walked down to Wenceslaus square (St Wenceslaus - Duke of Bohemia in 9th century - is revered as the one who introduced Christianity to the area, his martyrdom and the popularity of several biographies gave rise to a reputation for heroic goodness that resulted in his elevation to sainthood). A concert was going on because it was the weekend.
Wenceslaus Square and the area around it has a lot of history- both from late sixties when communist forces occupied Czechoslovakia leading to student protests and immolations- and then 1989 when communists were overthrown in the "Velvet revolution"led by Vaclav Havel. Btw Vaclav is Czech name for St Wenceslaus.
We were following walking tour podcasts by Rick Steves - and on its recommendation, we found a bakery nearby where we ate their famous banana and strawberry ice cream (absolutely delicious!). Because it was the weekend, tourists from all of Europe seemed to have descended on Prague. We were surrounded by a cheerful atmosphere. Afterwards, I painted a brick with an organisation which supports children with mental illnesses
As we walked around- we came across a showroom of Bata- that made my Dad and Mom remember their childhood in India when shoes were synonymous with Bata. Thomas Bata was a successful Czech entrepreneur of the early 20th century. Here in his home of the Czech Republic, Bata shoe shops and superstores are located throughout the country. Pre 1991- India was very close to socialist countries and thus Bata dominated shoe market of India.
Later, we went to the communism museum where they explained the origins of communism, how it came to be so popular, and its importance in history. Although I had learned about communism in school, the museum taught all of us on a whole new level. Then, we went to lunch at a restaurant close by. Please order the beetroot risotto! I promise, you will not be disappointed!
After resting at the hotel for some time, we went to a black light theater (an amazing experience and a must do if in Prague!) It was a blend of pantomime, dance, music and a non-verbal theatre production. It relies on one simple optical illusion called "black box trick.“ Actors dressed in black cannot be seen against black background, you can only see the actors dressed in colorful costumes. Actors in black use various props and objects. These objects are lit by ultraviolet light or by moving spotlights. Since the actors are "invisible", the objects seem to be moving on their own and actors in costumes make you believe they can fly!
It was so much fun and at end of the show, I got a chance to test out how it works. I got to go up on stage and fly!
We walked through Old Town square where there a are a number of impressive buildings including Huss memorial. The square's center is home to a statue of religious reformer Jan Hus - a Czech priest who, a century before Martin Luther, called for reform of the Church and was burnt at stake. His death set off a religious, political and social revolution in Bohemia and 18 years of war.
Also nearby is Jewish quarter. In 13th century- Jews were ordered to vacate their disparate homes and settle in one area. Over the centuries, with Jews banned from living anywhere else in Prague, and with new arrivals expelled from Moravia, Germany, Austria, and Spain joining them, more and more people were crowded in. Most of the significant historical buildings (including six synagogues) were saved from destruction, and today they remain a testimony to the history of the Jews in Prague. They form the best preserved complex of historical Jewish monuments in the whole of Europe. The monuments even survived the Nazi occupation in the 20th century. Adolf Hitler himself decided to preserve the Jewish Quarter as a “Museum of an Extinct Race”. Actually the Nazis gathered Jewish artifacts from other occupied countries, transported them to Prague to form part of the museum.
Nearby was also the famous astronomical clock that has been working for last 600 years. Huge throngs of tourists surround the area at stroke of every hour when the procession of the Twelve Apostles sets in motion. Unfortunately it has been closed for repairs since Jan 2018.
It tracks Old Bohemian time, when the new day began with sunset; Babylonian time, which tracks the day from sunrise to sunset; Central European time, which is marked with a distinctive hand in the shape of the sun; and Star time, measured by the way the stars appear to move because of the Earth’s rotation. A calendar dial notes the days of the week, month and year, and a zodiacal ring shows the path of the sun and moon through the sky. But it is the astrolabe that is the heart of the clock’s mechanical operation. The apparatus, which tracks the position of the sun, moon and stars, has been an essential tool for astronomers and mariners dating back to antiquity.
Then we walked up Charles River bridge. It is a beautiful stone bridge across Vtava river and has been in existence since 14th century. It is lined with 30 Baroque statues of religious figures. It was packed with lots of tourists trying to capture the scenery on their phones and cameras. We requested a group to take our picture- and truly, in the spirit of Prague- they decided to photo-bomb !!!!
Finally, to end our busy day, we went out to a delicious vegan restaurant- Etnosvet. I cannot describe how many great vegetarian restaurants we visited in this trip. Another restaurant we visited was Maitrea in Prague as well.
The next day, we visited Prague castle, saw the guard of honor ceremony (cool, but not worth it), took a walking tour of the castle, and walked around Wenceslaus square. On the way to Prague castle, was a statue of Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler. Good description on how Prague enabled them to achieve their milestones here.
Prague castle is the largest ancient castle of world according to the Guinness Book of world records- dating to 9th century AD. It also houses the Presidential residence. St Vitus Cathedral is the most visited part. The current cathedral is the third of a series of religious buildings at the site, all dedicated to St. Vitus. The first church was founded by Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia in 930. This patron saint was chosen because Wenceslaus had acquired a holy relic – the arm of St. Vitus – from Emperor Henry I.
Afterwards, my mom and I went into the store Marks and Spencer, intending to use the bathroom. We tried to open the door and it wouldn't budge. Then we realized that there's a pin code machine, ensuring that the customer bought something. I was astonished that they even charge you to go to the bathroom in Europe. My mom and I immediately proceeded to find the cheapest item (14 pence) and get our code as fast as possible. So there is a tip/trick for you if you are in similar situation. After that incident, we walked back through Wenceslaus Square and went to an Indian restaurant - Namaste India - for dinner.
The following day, we took a car trip to Cesky Krumlov, a beautiful small town a few hours from Prague. Český Krumlov, in Bohemia’s deep south, is one of the most picturesque towns in Europe. It’s a little like Prague in miniature – a Unesco World Heritage Site with a stunning castle above the Vltava River, an old town square. On the way, we saw Pisek sand statues, a stone bridge (oldest remaining bridge of country- even older than famous Charles Bridge) , and another small town.
When we arrived at Cesky Krumlov, we took a walk of the town and arrived at a vegetarian restaurant - Laibon, run by a super friendly dude who was proud tell us about how he lived in India for a year.
Afterwards, we began our walking tour with Veronica, our guide (she's amazing - a tour guide, ex-model, singer, theater artist - all rolled into one!), and saw both the tourist and residential parts. Then, we saw the revolving theater, which was amazing (you can possibly see a show there if you book a year or so in advance)!
Towards the end, my dad and I climbed up the famous tower to learn more about the history and for a spectacular view of the city.
On the way back, we stopped by a village which is on the UNESCO list and took an overnight train to Budapest.
The night train is something you have probably never seen before. There were 9-10 tiny rooms with 2 or 3 people in each one all equipped with bunk-beds, a sink, a closet, and a window. It was a unique experience and can save you time during your travels(the reason why we booked it).