Yesterday I decided to have one final walk around Old Town Square to get a glimpse of all the festivities laying within the beautiful architecture. I saw the usual: a wedding, a live band, and a handful of street performers. This square will never get old or boring, and I don’t want to leave it behind. I can’t believe time has slipped away this fast from the beginning of the trip. It seems like yesterday I was that crazy tourist, photographed above, posing for pictures in front of the astronomical clock. Now at the end of my trip, it’s hard to look at the tourists the same way when you are starting to not feel like a tourist yourself.
While walking through the square, I saw a group of girls sweating with frustration as they were reading a giant Prague map. It was strange to think that only four weeks ago, that was me. I remember thinking that there is no way I am going to be able to get to know this city. However, just yesterday I remembered I had to take something back to the Pallidium (the Prague Mall), and I quickly hopped on the 24 and rode straight to the mall and then I ran into a market to pick up some snacks before heading to my apartment. This easy task wouldn’t have seen as simple in the beginning of my trip. Now getting around town seems like nothing! It’s exciting to think how far everyone in the class has come from those tourist days. I know I’ll always be considered a tourist while I’m here since I’m not from these parts, however it was fun learning the ways of the Czechs and getting to know the wonderful city of Prague.
Sunday morning I journeyed to Florenc to shoot my metro stop photos. I ran into a giant bus transportation center where people from all over Europe leave or arrive in Prague. I took a break at a small coffee shop in the middle of the bus station called the Crossroads Cafe. Here I could look out of the large windows to observe the busy bus station. Frantic lost tourists stepped off their buses and immediately ran to find maps. Many visitors were excited to be in a totally new place. I couldn’t help but think about all the means of transportation and how without it, we wouldn’t be connected with the rest of the world. I remember flying over to Prague and thinking I was in a dream when I stepped off the plane. It was crazy that after 12 short hours (it seemed short since I fell asleep), I could been on the other side of the ocean. In Prague, public transportation is a huge deal. With one metro pass, you can basically go anywhere in Prague with a few simple rules. Just don’t forget your pass (or you’ll be fined), make sure you and your friends are not too loud (or you will be shushed), and stand on the right side of the escalator (or you’ll be pushed around), and give up your seat to the elderly that walk on board the tram.
Thinking about all this makes me wish that we had a tram or metro system in Austin. It’s nice to be able to look at a map and go to any part of the town by taking a few trams. Where would we be without our trains, cars, boats, and planes? We would be stuck in one place and wouldn’t be able to experience the world. After sipping on my simple black coffee, these thoughts were too much to handle early in the morning.
When I think of a zoo, I usually think of a crowded sweaty place packed with yelling kids (aka the Houston Zoo). This was not the case for the Prague zoo. The Prague zoo was like no other I’ve ever been to before. It was tranquil and peaceful. The zoo was spread out across many acres that mimicked a natural habitat. My favorite section was the giraffe area. The outer surroundings held many tall trees and hills with a few Czech style houses in the background. The calm atmosphere made me almost forget that I was at a zoo.
Another surprising aspect about the Prague zoo was its huge size. My handy iPhone calculated that we walked 6 miles that day. Each animal’s area looked completely different from one another and it was spread out far from the next section. Some areas were not only giant in length, but in height. For example, the mountain goats had tall rocky hills to walk up. Also, there were many exotic animals that we had never seen before in America. I saw a toucan with four beaks that looked like a bunch of bananas. We saw strange monkeys that came up to the fence to say hello to all its visitors. Overall, this was an enjoyable weekend activity set at a good price. There was a nice shaded eating area with inexpensive hot dogs, gelato, and yes, even beer. We had such a relaxing time at the zoo that we wanted to stay all day!
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.
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.
After the alchemy tour, our class separated to explore the city on our own, mainly to work on our metro stop projects. On my way back from my metro stop, I decided to take a longer route to my apartment by visiting the Charles Bridge. The first time I visited the Charles Bridge, I quickly became overwhelmed by the beautiful views and towering statues. The Charles Bridge is an icon of Prague, which links the two sections of the city in the most interesting way.
The Charles Bridge closed during the recent flooding due to the slowly rising river. Since the bridge has reopened, the whole area is completely covered with tourists. As I have quickly realized, this city is heavily filled with visitors and tourists from all over the world. I had no idea how many people could fit on a single bridge. At one point of my walk, the tourist traffic was stand still with people shoulder to shoulder. I wanted to leave the bridge as quickly as possible until something new caught my eye. Instead of being distracted by the frantic tourists, I took the time to pay attention to the souvenir and caricature stands that are lined up along the sides of the Charles Bridge. Along the bridge you can find almost anything; paintings, jewelry, crafts, fruit, maps, glass, and more. However, the most interesting thing about the stands is the people that work there. Many of them are extremely talented in their artistic skills and it’s mesmerizing to watch the artists work.