The Spanish Synagogue
Yesterday’s tour consisted of visiting five synagogues in Prague. To get a feeling of sense of place in the Jewish quarter, I will tell you what stood out to me from the long tour. First our tour guide explained the history of the Jewish population in Prague. During the Nazi rule, many synagogues and Jewish buildings were destroyed. However, the Nazi’s decided to keep the Jewish Quarter untouched in order to create a museum of an “extinct race”. As twisted as that may be, our tour guide was still happy that many significant parts of Jewish history in Prague were saved. After visiting such beautiful buildings and historical pieces, it was not surprising to find out that Jewish Museum is actually the most visited Jewish Museum in the world.
The first synagogue we visited was the Old-New Synagogue, the oldest lasting synagogue in Europe that is still in use today. It’s name comes from being called “New” compared to its past buildings that did not survive. The building had an interesting layout because the site is so old that it was created when women were not allowed to join in prayer at synagogue. Later on, women and men were allowed to pray in the same synagogue, but a women’s section was always created to separate men and women to avoid distraction.
One of the most touching sites we visited was the Pinkas Synagogue, a memorial to those who did not survive past the Nazi occupation. The walls contain names of over 180,000 Jews with their names, dates, and place of birth. The vast number of names surrounding you is overwhelming and devastating. There are literally names wall to wall in the building. The names were handwritten on the walls and you could even still see the pencil marks from the writing. I thought the handmade design gave it a more real and personal feeling.
Another fascinating site was the crowded Old Jewish Cemetery, with the oldest tombstone dating back to 1439. The cemetery had five layers of bodies beneath the surface in a “bunk bed-like” fashion, as our tour guide put it.
Before our tour of the Jewish Quarter, I couldn’t tell you much about Judaism. This tour meant a lot to me because I have always wanted to know more about the common religion of Judaism. The tour was a great opportunity to learn more about the religion, especially from someone who practices the religion herself.
The Old-New Synagogue
The Pinkas Synagogue
Since it is our last week in Prague and many of us are not sure if we are going to see each other again, we decided to celebrate the end of our journey together by going out and having fun in the city. It’s crazy to think that since we have graduating seniors in our study abroad group, there might be a chance that we will not see each other again. It made perfect sense to spend time together with the whole group.
We ended up going to a Jazz Club that had a live band playing blues music for the night. The band was a local group from the Czech Republic. I was curious to see what blues music would be like in another country. Surprisingly, I knew or recognized most of the songs. There’s so much to do here in Prague, that I did not doubt that we could see such a great band. They were amazing, especially the drummer. He had multiple solos and he knew how to keep the crowd entertained. Even though the band members were from the Czech Republic, I couldn’t help but be reminded of home in Austin. Despite the fact that we speak different languages, not only our music, but the feeling you get from the music can be really similar. Overall, it was a great night to spend time with new friends (that already feel like old friends) and listen to comforting music.
Today our class met in Wenceslas Square for an architecture tour. I figured we would start at the Square and venture out to far distances in Prague. Yet, I didn’t realize how much interesting architecture and history we could cover in a small area. The tour mainly consisted of comparing different buildings’ architectural styles, with Art Nouveau being the most prominent style we looked at. The tour guide started with an explanation of how Art Nouveau buildings were being constructed at the same time as neoclassical buildings. The two architectural styles were almost in a competition of which one was the best. At the time, many people wanted to see something new and fresh in the city and they were tired of neoclassical architecture. However, when the elaborate Art Nouveau style was introduced in Prague, there was a lot of opposition to the style because it was so different. We looked at many Art Nouveau buildings, but my favorite had to be the well known Café Imperial. The Café Imperial was filled with ceramic tiles and mosaics of the most intricate detail.
The other Art Nouveau building that stood out to me was the Lucerna Palace. It had a oriental style and was filled with impressive marble. Photographed above is a sculpture placed in the Lucerna Palace. The Upside-Down Horse sculpture, by the infamous Czeck artist David Cerny, is comically placed in this building. It’s hard not to miss the sculpture when it sharply contrasts with the architecture around it.
Another style that I thought was really interesting was the Cubism architecture. Cubism architecture is an unique architecture style that branched off from Cubism art work (for example, Picasso). As told on the tour, Cubism architecture is only found in Prague. A famous example of Cubist architecture would be the House of the Black Madonna. The building looks much more modern compared to those around it due to it’s geometrical shapes within the structure. Even though today was scorching hot, I was happy that we got to go on this tour because we learned so much in a short amount of time. Now I want to go back and visit many of the architectural sites and possibly get a coffee to drink in the view.
Early Sunday morning, we decided to climb the stairs of the most well-known icon of the world, the Eiffel Tower. The tower was much more impressive and massive than I ever imagined. The detail and time and effort that must have went into creating such a masterpiece was unbelievable.
The Eiffel tower is constructed into three levels with each level placed at a huge height. You can either climb the stairs to the second level then ride the elevator to the top or you can take a lift to the second level and then the elevator to the top. We arrived at the Eiffel Tower when it first opened for the day, however, the line for the elevator to the second level was already a hour and a half long. If you don’t want to take the stairs, I would recommend coming at least one hour before the Eiffel Tower opens.
We all agreed that climbing the steps was the best option when we saw the long line. However, taking the stairs was not an easy task and this was apparent when we saw that there wasn’t a line or hardly anyone on the stairs. Taking the stairs was definitely a workout and our feet were screaming at us since we had walked miles the day before. The climb up the Eiffel Tower made the journey up Prague’s Petřín Lookout Tower seem like a breeze. It was rewarding to know that we went up by foot as far as we could on such a famous landmark. We decided to not go up to the very top by elevator because the wait was 45 minutes.
The view from the middle level was plenty high for us. The expansive view was absolutely breath taking. If anyone comes to Paris, they have to make sure to take the time to overlook such an amazing city.
After a long weekend full of crêpes, sightseeing, tram riding, and window shopping, our last stop in Paris was the Lourve. The Lourve was high up on my list of things to do in Paris. I wanted to go see Monet’s paintings and other french artists, and of course, I had to see Mona Lisa’s following eyes. I was so excited to finally get inside the amusement park of all art museums that I forgot how beautiful the outside of the Lourve was going to be. I was overwhelmed by the sight of the modern glass pyramids sitting next to the contrasting neoclassical buildings. The “shadows” of the pyramids were fountains that flowed so smoothly as if they were glass like the pyramids above them. While I was looking around in awe, something interesting caught my eye. I noticed a man sitting at the corner of the fountain and the pyramid drawing with ink on his sketchbook. I ran over to him to see his work of art. He was sketching the neoclassical structure in front of him with the utmost detail and patience. He was truly talented and after I spoke to him, he was also very kind. I was glad I noticed this man, because even though there are so many masters inside the Lourve, he will always remind me of the talent that remains outside of the art museums. Who knows, may he will become the next famous artist of our time.
After staying in Paris for a couple days, I quickly realized that the French love their gardens, flowers, fountains, and statues. They take pride in having a beautiful city. They seem to decorate every corner with exotic flowers or elaborate statues. There were bouquet and potted plant stands lining every street. I had no doubt that Paris was beautiful.
One area that significantly stood out to me were the Luxembourg gardens. The area was massive and carefully detailed and maintained. It was filled with perfectly trimmed hedges and rows of roses. The fountains and ponds were lined with lawn chairs with people relaxing and reading. The three of us felt so inspired by its beauty, that Victoria read us a passage from Les Miserables about a scene placed in those the same gardens. We all wanted to spend hours there, yet with only two days in Paris, we had much more to see (maybe too much to see in such a big city filled with landmarks). It was hard not to be envious of the locals that could sunbathe and sit with friends for hours in an area with such a peaceful atmosphere. There was even a giant fountain with children sailing off their toy boats from one end of the fountain to the other. In a city where everything costs many Euros, this is one of the few free activities within the city. Seeing these beautiful gardens, made me realize that this would be the perfect weekend activity if I ever came back to Paris.
Similar to Austin, in the Czech Republic, being weird is completely normal. However, after visiting the museum of Egon Schiele Art Centrum in Český Krumlov, weird is an understatement. The exhibits inside this museum of modern art are bizarre and sometimes extremely disturbing. The first display included fascinating black and grey portraits made out of cremation ashes. The craziest exhibit was art pieces made out of pubic hairs. Other pieces of art were videos, but as I could guess, they were also nowhere near normal. The first video was about two mice that ate away at their mini house made out of food, while often attacking each other. Another video included puppets that unwrapped decapitated animal heads. Nevertheless, I think we all enjoyed the exhibits because art is supposed to create a reaction, even if it isn’t a pleasant one. My favorite part of the museum was a room that unleashed your inner childhood, coloring all over the blank white walls.
After the art museum, we walked next door to experience two mazes made out of mirrors. I didn’t have high expectations for the mazes, and was surprised at how fun it could be. At times we all panicked a little while wondering if we were ever going to find the end. It was unexpectedly difficult to figure out what was an illusion and what was reality. Over here, our freaky Friday might have appeared to be abnormal for us, yet for others this is just a ordinary day. It’s crazy to think about the artists that devote themselves to this expressive lifestyle and to think about both the maze and museum workers that also experience this everyday.