Saturday, January 21, 2017

Christmas in Prague

On Christmas Eve we arrived in Prague, the capital of Czech Republic. My maternal side came from the Czech Republic, which perhaps made it a bit more special for me.

We arrived on Christmas Eve and the city was packed with people celebrating. But despite the crowds the architecture of the buildings were stunning. The city of Prague was spared from most of the bombing during World War 2 so many of the buildings from the 1400s and on still kept in good condition.

Prague is home to the oldest operating astronomical clock in the world. It was installed in the tower in 1410, making it 607 years old! That is 366 years older than the United States.

How do you read this clock you may ask? 

The easy answer- with great difficulty.

We were surrounded by thousands of visitors surveying the Christkindal market in the Old Town Square. Interesting fact, that although most of the population is Catholic Jan Hus (former Catholic and religious reformer) was a priest at Charles University. He spoke out against the Catholic church for the practices of indulgeces and urged the Catholic church to allow the common people to recieve communal wine (at the time it was reserved for priests). Anyway, he was labelled a heretic and killed in Prague (burned at the stake) and his ashes were discarded into the Rhine river. A statue was erected in Old Town square honoring Hus. And Hus was later absolved of all crimes by Pope John II in 1999. Little late for an apology, but I guess at least it was still given.

Now on to less morbid details and lets discuss Trudl. Amazing! Must eat if you visit. We had our filled with icecream, but you can eat it plain or with whip topping inside it. I recommend it in all forms!

While Christmas Eve was busy among the crowds in Old Town Square, Christmas Day was a bit more laid back and quiet. There were still people around outside visiting the city and enjoying the holiday, but it didn't have the same kind of upbeat and anxious vibe as the crowds we mingled with on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day though we got a tour of Prague Castle, the largest ancient castle in the world. The castle was built in 9th century by the Premyslid dynasty (Wenceslas' family).

One of the first buildings in the Castle is the old church which houses the bodies of Queen and Saint Ludmilla (Wenceslas' mother) who died by being strangled with a scarf.

It also houses the bodies of the other Premyslid monarchs in it's small space.

We then visited the original and oldest part of the castle. The main hall to the castle was created and designed to allow jousting inside. The ceiling above was beautiful designed and I can't imagine  the manure willing spread along the floors in this hall. Imagine being part of the clean up crew?

They also had the records room which had the documents of every coat of arms painting on the walls and ceiling.

The Vitus Cathedral, the large cathedral inside the Palace walls was one of my favorite churches I got to be inside. Beautiful stain glass windows and the Gothic spires.

The crowned jewels of Bohemia are housed in Wenceslas Chapel, where the Duke of Wenceslas (popularly known as Good King Wencelas) body lays in rest. In the corner is a door with 7 locks, and when those 7 people get together they can climb up one of tallest cathedral spires and handle the crown jewels of Bohemia. Cool huh?

One of the coolest tombs was that of St. John of Nepomuk. Heard of him? Nope, neither have I. But his tomb contains 2 tons of silver.

One of the more colorful residents of Prague Castle was Mad King Rudolf. He was interested in Alchemy and hired many people to help him achieve this task. The king provided housing for his new employees and some of the remains of their trade were on display at the castle.

However, the armory there was much more impressive. In fact I think it housed more suits of armor than we found at the Tower of London. Yeah, it was that impressive.

Another cool thing was the Tower, where they kept some of the torture tools on display as well. YES!

Check out the chair.

And this is a full body cage.

And of course it's not really torture unless you have THE RACK.

There was also a pit.

A foot clamp.

And a cage... looks almost like a dog kennel. Except this was for people instead.

There was also like a large leash used to go around the prisoners head and the soldier would use it to guide the prisoner around.

The view from the Castle, which sits on top of a large cliff was beautiful. However, to get back to the front entrance and our hotel room- we have to go up the stairs of doom. I have realistic idea how many stairs it takes to get up to the castle, but it literally took my breath away. Like I had to stop and take a rest.

After the castle tour, we went to the Folklore Garden Restaurant where we received an authentic Czech meal with some authentic Czech dancing and music. It was wonderful! If you ever go to Prague, you must do this!

Needless to say the experience of spending Christmas in Prague was memorable and wonderful.

Chauffeur’s Corner (Brian)
So I earned the title that I created above, due to in small part our fiasco of getting a rental car from northern Berlin to Prague.

On the morning of the 2nd day, we took the u-bahn and then s-bahn (street rail) to the north side of Berlin to pick up our rental car. Fortunately, the clerk spoke very good English. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until an hour later that I realized the car had built-in navigation. So I headed generally south through Berlin while Stacey tried desperately to read signs that “…have 15-letter names that all end in ‘straffe’”. Needless to say, it was like a honeymoon déjà vu.

As we crossed into Austria, we purchased our vignette so that we could drive on their toll roads ($10 for 7 days). Filled up with rather expensive gas for the first time as I was having trouble quickly converting Koruna to Dollars. But the drive was really no different than driving through the US on a 4-lane highway, except that people are much much more disciplined about moving to the right lane after passing (yay!).

As we arrived in Prague it was late afternoon and we found our hotel, but Stacey had to check-in and figure out where we needed to park. In the meantime, I tried to kill time and ended up almost downtown, cut off a street car two different times and then made my way back to drive over the corner curb to get into the hotel’s rear parking lot.

After that excitement we decided to walk around Prague, which is really beautiful. It was fairly loud and festive with all the Christmas markets, but still enjoyable. The next day was our tour of Prague Castle and then the Traditional Czech night. I had never bought anything like that, but it was well worth it. We also found that “love” knows no bounds – as we took a lunch break in a McD’s, 3 American soldiers stationed in Germany asked for help from 3 French girls, stating that they were lost. Ohh and the other wonderful sight was seeing a pre-teen do the “dab” ( next to the statue that pays tribute to the beheadings of righteous people – where was her mom? Taking the picture of course!

I would be up for returning to Prague…but I don’t think I would ever want to drive in Prague – the streets are super narrow, steep and lots of people. The best thing for me about the Prague Castle tour was that it really set the macro stage for the history of the region. That tour painted the picture for most of the rest of our mainland Europe stops - as many of the figures mentioned in Prague would pop up along our trip - it really reinforced the history of the land.

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