Saturday, February 20, 2010

Forever I Love Praha

With the next travel season right around the corner, I thought I'd get out some thoughts of places from the last one. Prague, or Praha to the locals, the gritty fairy tale-esque central european capital (I mean just look at that skyline) was our first stop on the Eastern European itinerary. I was sold on the city before we even landed.

In Prague, its rich history, highly visible all over the city - gothic buildings, castles, the old Jewish Quarter, etc - is all set against a former-Communist backdrop. Newer (ie post WII, but not built yesterday) areas of the city consist of panilachs - huge Socialist housing blocks, big grey and austere. Outside the Stare Mesto - the old town, and home to 90% of the tourists - there's a lot of graffiti around, but not ugly graffiti, more like graffiti as a form of expression in the face of so much oppression. The tiled sidewalks are cracked and little plants grow through; plaster's chipped off the facades of buildings; it all feels a bit grimy in a way. Hence the "gritty fairy-tale city" moniker. I really loved it.

Melissa and Me, John Lennon Wall

And the people! Outside of the tourist scene, it's exactly what you would expect of a Central European Capital, in the endearing way. Old women wear wool in the summer, men play chess in the parks, everyone has a semi-mangy dog that isn't on a leash but just follows its owner around (even into stores!), ruddy old men have hearty laughs and will hit on you - but in an innocent, playful way, and everyone smokes.

The Charles Bridge

Prague has it all: quaint, windy cobble-stone streets and alleyways, history - new and old, with the infrastructure to prove it, cafes everywhere, quite the night life - they're home to the largest club in Central Europe, 5 stories!, and a certain fantastical feeling - like this city must be the setting for a Hans Christian Andersen story (a fairy-tale, but a bit chilling). Really you must go if you get the chance.

View From Prague Castle

So I'll leave you now with some pictures from the Czech Republic and a short exert from a journal I assiduously wrote in each and every day of our travels:

June 1, 2009
Another magical day in the fairy-tale city of Praha. The more I'm here, the more I'm swept away. Love, Love, Love. Today we spent a great deal of time in Josefov, the old Jewish quarter, amazing. The Old Jewish Cemetery, from the 14th century, is the oldest surviving in Europe, as apparently even fascist Nazi dictators are swept up by Prague. Hitler supposedly held a special place for Prague. He ordered many of the Jewish quarters in Europe's old cities destroyed but directed Praha's to remain, I'm told he wanted to make some sort of sick anti-Semitic museum from the area. Anyway, bodies from the 1300's on are buried 12 deep and headstones pile right up after one another. When the cemetery was full, they would bring in more dirt, cover the previous layer and bring the headstones up as they added another layer. Amazing.
While wandering Stare Mesto (Old Town), we happily ran into our friends from last night again. Sometime later we of course got swindled by some italian street peddler, who made profile cutouts of both Melissa and I and we felt obliged to pay his asking price - 200 kc! (about $10). Lesson Learned. Then we wandered...the beautiful Charles Bridge, the John Lennon memorial wall (which yes we added our own defacement), old synagogues and churches, winding streets, alleyways, cafes, the Dancing building, streetcars, bridges, gothic buildings, modern buildings...This city is endlessly wanderable. I'll be so sad to leave it.

Old Jewish Cemetery

Prague Castle

Random Americans (and Austrians) met along the way who become random friends while in Praha.

Old Jewish Cemetery

Me, John Lennon Memorial Wall


Banksy-esque graffiti

These pictures are from a small town outside of Prague a bit called Kutna Hora, there is this medieval Ossuary in the city, famous for displaying the bones of 80 to 200 thousand human skeletons...truly macabre. The town was infinitely charming and the country-side remarkably beautiful.

Kutna Hora

Me, new friends Frankie, Javier and Pete (long since gone), inside the Ossuary

Czech scenery

PS I write to you under semi-amusing circumstances right now. My boss is having a bit of trouble with his phone line, so the phone company made an appointment to come fix the mess today...anytime from 8am to 9pm. Meaning someone must be present when the tech people come, and yup you guessed it...that person is me, lol. But hey, I'm getting paid simply for being present, not too bad.


Camille Lewis said...

agreed. Prague is pretty dang sweet. I loved your synopsis of it all, and of course, the pictures are great.

Jeff said...

paid for being present? Now that's an enviable sinecure.