Holiday Break 2012: Medieval Prague

Spent the whole day of today finalizing lodging and train tickets for my upcoming Easter vacation. 😉

This time, I try to be a more organized traveler by putting all pertinent info regarding lodging, train and air flights in an excel sheet.

 

Speaking of traveling, I don’t want to have any more backlogs to write so here it is after almost 3 months of delay, I am posting about my trip to Prague, Czech Republic.

We took a 12:30 train from Vienna to Prague on 28 December 2012. In the coach where we were, a Filipino family was also seated. Their daughter is presently studying in Berlin and in a previous semester in Nice, France. I’m not exactly sure what kind of student exchange program she has but sure is nice to be hopping all around Europe like that. In the Philippines, going as an exchange student abroad is almost non-existent. My colleagues in Singapore have been exchange students and I’ve a lot of Colombian classmates who are also exchange students. Being an exchange student helps make well-rounded citizens. Education in the Philippines – we got a lot of work ahead of us, seriously.

 

Back in the train coach, I kindly asked the mom to take a photo of Patxi and me.

 

 
Egad! I miss my long, permed hair. I’ve cut it shorter in January and away with it the dyed part which used to be on the top of my head in 2010.

 

It was already dark when we arrived at around 17:30 cos that’s just how Prague is during winter. In the train station we exchanged a couple of euros for Czech Crowns, 1€ is roughly 25CZK.

We checked in at the Adam & Eva hostel located in Malá Strana, also known as Lesser Town being situated outside the Old Town (Staré Město). These two towns are connected by the Charles Bridge which Prague is known for.

 

 
We arrived on a chilly winter night, I believe it was around 1°C.
The first we checked out of course, was the Charles Bridge. I love its old world Gothic feel. This particular night, it was nearly deserted because of the cold.

 

 

 

The following day, 29th of December is reserved for sightseeing of the Old Town and a good way to start it is, if you haven’t guessed yet, a walking tour. 😉 My second time to join a Sandeman’s New Europe free walking tour.

 

 

As there were plenty of tourists, the group was divided into two. Pictured below is our tour guide, Ammon, who’s quite an interesting chap.

 

He went on to tell us the history of Bohemia from its early history, to the rule of Charles IV (responsible for the erection of the bridge bearing his name), religious unrest between Catholics and Protestants spawning the Thirty Year’s War, creation of Czechoslovakia at the turn of the 20th century, its German occupation followed by its Communist era during the Cold War, the Velvet Revolution and the eventual split of Czechoslovakia into Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.

 

Behold, the Prague Astronomical Clock. It’s such a marvel to look at. Ammon taught us how to read the clock. It has an astronomical dial, a zodiac ring, a calendar and a mechanical clock. But if clock-reading is too boring for you there are also moving figures who can make it worth your while. The twelve apostles make an appearance every hour.

 

Behind the Astronomical Clock Tower is where the Old Town Hall used to be. It was bombed during World War II and its place is now a small park where Patxi and I sat the next day eating lunch.

 
Prague’s history is truly fascinating. And the way Ammon delivered it wasn’t in any way how an old professor would tell history (which is painfully boring!) but one filled with interesting facts and a joke or two. I even learned a new English word from him. Did you know that there’s a noun for throwing a person out a window? It’s called defenestration. There are two known defenestration incidents that happened in Prague, both always involving religion – the growing rife between Catholics and Protestants. I don’t remember the exact details. All I know is that being a recipient of one in the “City of  Hundred Spires” isn’t really a good idea, your landing could really be your doom.

 

Defenestrations aside, it is no wonder that the historic center of Prague, with all its cultural attractions, is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 
By the Jewish Quarter, there is a memorial to Prague’s son Franz Kafka, a writer, built by sculptor Jaroslav Rona.

Rona’s inspiration here was that of Kafka’s work where a dream of his was illustrated. He dreamt of a giant man, headless and no arms. He jumped into its shoulders and directed its way.

 

 

And what you might ask is a Spanish Synagogue doing in Prague? I was wondering too but Ammon beat us to it and explained that it was named a Spanish Synagogue in honor of the harmony among Jews, Muslims and Catholics in Spain – in Andalusia in particular, during that period.
The Moorish Revival Style is also a fresh break to the predominant Gothic design of the Old Town.

 

The tour ended and our thirst for Prague history was satiated while leaving our stomachs grumbling. With a number of Christmas markets around, it wasn’t so hard where to look for cheap lunch. 😉

 
We decided to head back to Wenceslas Square (named after Bohemia’s patron saint, St Wenceslas), a popular setting for public gatherings and demonstrations. It is where a student by the name of Jan Palach, set himself on fire as a form of protest to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia.

 

I was drawing on a conclusion that Czechs are of the fiery kind. If they don’t throw you out a window, they set themselves on fire. Some things just happen more than once. Just like with the two incidents of defenestration, another followed Jan Palach’s example.

 
While these past historical events are told and retold by history professors and tour guides, trade and commerce just like the medieval times still flourish. That’s why the Christmas Markets. 😉

 

 

I was really tight with money that I couldn’t afford this simple luxury of sipping mulled wine. Good thing I got to taste it because I was offered a free taste. 😀
It is red wine which is served warm and contains spices and raisins. It’s the drink of choice for winter.

 

Christmas Markets in full swing in front of the Church of Our Lady before Týn.

 

At night, while searching for a place to eat, we saw these eerie-looking statues. I read the plaque and it reads:
“The memorial to the victims of Communism is dedicated to all victims, not only those who were jailed or executed but also those whose lives were ruined by the totalitarian despotism.”

 

 

 

I was excited to see and learn more of Prague. Three more days took care of that. 🙂

 

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