My introduction to Prague was wonderful. I wandered, I saw sights, I reveled, I danced, and I caught on fire! Ok, so that’s not wonderful, but it’s a story… so there it is. I slept after my late night at the Roxy, but rose refreshed and ready to see and learn more of the city on the walking tour today. (another free New Europe tour) I had told my roommates, Ferdie & Ben, about it yesterday and they wanted to join me. They’ve been to Prague a few times, but have yet to actually see the city… always have a specific agenda that didn’t involve sightseeing. After getting ready for the day and grabbing a bite, I waited a while to let the boys sleep in. Finally at noon, I shook Ferdie awake. I was ready join the group in Old Town Square. Surprisingly, he rolled out of bed immediately. Impressive. I gave them directions where to meet me when they got ready and off I went.
They never made it.
Hours later, I ran into them after the tour and learned that they had looked for me downstairs in the hostel instead of at the meeting spot in the Square. Damn. I guess that’s what happens when you give somebody instructions when they’ve barely just woken up. Despite missing the boys, I very much enjoyed my day. I learned the history of Prague from Colin, a very funny, outgoing Scottish guy. We started in Old Town Square at the Astronomical Clock and worked our way all over the city. We pass many interesting and historical sites including the Estates Theater, which hosted Mozart’s first performance, the large, gothic Powder Tower that served as one of the 13 gates to the city in the 1400’s, and the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn. I learned so much on this tour; I’m fascinated!
The historic Jewish Quarter was special; we saw many meaningful buildings. I was specifically touched by the Pinkas Synagogue. The names of 77,297 Czechoslovakian victims of the holocaust are inscribed on the walls along with a display of artwork from the children who were once imprisoned in the Terezín concentration camp and never made it home. The Old Jewish Cemetery (that’s actually what it’s called, not just how I’m referencing it) can be found behind the synagogue; appropriately named seeing as it’s the oldest in Europe. For 300 years, Jews weren’t allowed to bury their dead anywhere else; up to 100,000 bodies had to be stacked into this compact area, sometimes 12 layers deep, so you’ll find tombstones haphazardly placed directly beside others. The most famous gravestone belongs to Rabbi Loeb, who, according to legend, created a Golem out of mud from the river to protect the Jewish people from the Catholics. The oxymoronically named Old-New Synagogue, completed in 1270, is Europe’s oldest active synagogue. It’s here where Rabbi Loeb’s Golem allegedly went crazy and the rabbi had to banish the creature to the attic where it “might still be today.”
“You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world, that is something you are free to do and it accords with your nature, but perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could avoid.” – Franz Kafka
Out of place in the Jewish Quarter is the 14th-century Catholic Church of the Holy Ghost in Josefov. Just between a synagogue and this church stands a statue of Franz Kafka, the Czech Republic’s greatest author, who was born and raised in this area. Much like his work, the statue is unusual and entertaining… based from his early short story, “Description of a Struggle.”
On the tour I ran into Hailey, a Californian I met earlier in Berlin! Berlin to Prague is a common route for travelers, so I’m not completely surprised, but like R at the train station, meetings like this remind me how small the world can be. After the tour, Hailey and I wandered across the Charles Bridge again and did a little window shopping in the Mala Strana (Lesser Town) below the castle. I walked into an adorable toy store, full of old-fashioned, handmade wooden toys… I was looking for a wooden yo-yo for Mekhi since he’s so into them now. Despite being exactly the kind place that would have a yo-yo, I was out of luck. After aimlessly strolling around for a while, Hailey and I parted ways with loose plans to maybe catch each other tonight.
Back in the room, Ben & Ferdie strolled in about 20 minutes after me and I learned of the morning’s miscommunication. They were ready to start the night, but I was tired and desperately wanted a nap. After I resisted the peer-pressure, they went to grab a bit without me so I could rest and upon returning dragged me out of bed and ignored my continued protests of staying in. They got me up and out, a fact I was grateful for once I woke up properly… especially since they were checking out the next morning, returning to Munich. After a fun night, we exchanged the oh-so-important Facebook and email contact info, and I promised Ferdie I would visit him for Octoberfest!
I was happy to learn later, they joined the walking tour on their way out of Prague the next morning. Well done, boys.