Travels

Prague

Prague has something like ten or eleven nicknames. I don’t know which is most common or the oldest , but the one I can wrap my head around best is ‘city of one hundred spires.’ (There was a bad translation on one of our tours and it called Prague the city of one hundred spices).  We didn’t count them, but just looking out from the top of Prague castle, you see why.

Our hotel had a peacock. Seriously.  We arrived late-ish on our first night, and decided the wise thing to do would be to sit in the patio and eat there.  I looked up and saw it sitting on top of the patio columns.  There was also a white peahen (only males are called peacocks, didn’t know that) that we saw on our last day.  Prague castle had a few of them wandering around too.

My dad’s grandparents were from Czechoslovakia, and his grandmother from Prague.  I was excited to be here.

Our first order of business was laundry.   We packed very light – basically 3 days of clothing, so after day 9 and washing stuff in bathroom sinks we were ready for truly clean clothes.  There was a wet/dry cleaner just a block away – perfect. We could pick up our laundry after 5 pm and with that, we headed to the Cacao café to plan our day.

From there, we walked through Powder Gate to Old Town Square, the home of one gothic church and one baroque church, the famous astronomical clock (sadly under construction so it was just chiming on the hour and not doing all the other stuff), the art museum, a statue to religious reformer Jan Hus (the Hussite Wars were against the corruption of the papacy and the Catholic Church) and tons of street performers.  The boys had 2 favorites: a man-baby with a white painted face and a squeaker in his mouth, and a group of teenagers singing Lumineers songs. We took a little train ride through old town, the Jewish quarter and into Mala Strana (“lesser town” – the other side of the river).  After that, we  wandered through the streets and alleys and cool passageways in Prague. Ate some street food – the most delicious cabbage/potato combination and a ‘pork knee’ – don’t let it freak you out, it was mostly ham.   We played at Franciscan Gardens, a former Carmelite monastery that is now cared for by the Franciscans. It had a really nice playground and beautiful flower gardens surrounded by yew hedges.  We stopped for new socks, picked up our laundry, changed clothes and strolled through Prague along the river and looked for dinner.  We ended up at the original Pilsner Urquell brewery, per the signage.  After looking at the menu and seeing all the other locations, we realized we might be at the Czech version of Applebee’s.

We spent Day 2 in Mala Strana – across the river.  We walked through Republic Square and down and across the pedestrian only Charles Bridge, full of arches and statues and bands and artists.  The best time to go is dawn for the sunrise, but since we are physically unable to get to bed before midnight any night this summer, sunrise is not happening, except through one eye from our beds.

Mala Strana is home to the John Lennon Wall – city-sanctioned graffiti that started after Lennon’s death as a form of passive resistance against the communist outlawing of western music.  The wall is colorful and always changing and anyone is welcome to bring a sharpie and leave a mark.  Coincidentally, this wall is owned by the Knights of St. John (see our Rhodes posts), as it is part of their embassy building.  From there we walked into Kampa Park, past the David Cerny bronze faceless baby statues and stopped so the boys could climb, play, wrestle and sword (stick) fight.  We had a beer in the park, then crossed another bridge and stopped in a beer garden for a snack and another beer, and then walked to Wenceslas Square.  Named for King Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia, this ‘square’ is more grand boulevard than a plaza.  It’s surrounded by office buildings, cafés and retails, and one end has the national art museum.  The square is the site of many protests – the Nazis used it for mass demonstrations, it’s the site where the young student lit himself on fire in 1969 to protest the Soviet invasion, and where many demonstrations were held in the 1989 Velvet Revolution, the violence-free transition of power from communism to parliamentary representation.

Day 3 started at the American Embassy, also in Mala Strana, to get some papers notarized. We met a California woman who had her purse swiped at mass the day before, and for someone who had all her money and identification stolen, she was incredibly upbeat.  She was glad she didn’t bring any credit cards with her and her breakfast and dinners were covered with her tour, so all in all, she said, she was really fine.  The people on the tour were her friends, so they could spot her cash if needed.  Demetri told her about Venmo and how it would be easy to pay them back, she was grateful and she jogged off to meet up with her tour group.  We had a coffee, met some folks from Rochester, and hopped on the city tram.  Our destination was DHL to ship the notarized docs to Denver, but above-ground public transport is a great way to sightsee when little legs are tired or whiny (yes, I know legs don’t whine).  After DHL we got back on the tram and headed into Franciscan Gardens again.  The boys met a little 5 year old named Mavek, who looked like our two boys merged together (dark hair and freckles) and whose English was as good as ours. They played together for an hour and a half – rotating between characters from Star Wars, Moana and Power Rangers.  From there we took the train to Prague Castle, built around 850.  It’s a complex of sorts – palaces and religious buildings  that are gothic and baroque and Romanesque (I am not good at this part and knowing what’s what), and it includes the magnificent St. Vitus Cathedral.  It was closed, so we couldn’t see inside.  Since the Velvet Revolution, it’s had tons of repairs and reconstruction.  It started raining, but that didn’t stop Demetri from initiating a game of hide and seek tag among the Austrian pines on the palace grounds. We left tired and soggy, but we sure had fun.  We ate in a Czech beer hall and hopped into a taxi, looking back at the Prague Castle, which is lit up at night thanks to the Rolling Stones. They’ve footed the bill since the 90s.  The rain continued into Friday and we said goodbye to Prague from the main train station, passing through cute little country villages on our way north.

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