12.09.2014 - 16.09.2014
After landing in the fairly new airport in Prague, we had hoped to receive a passport stamp; something that has eluded us so far on this trip. We quickly learned that the EU has adopted something called the Schengen area. The Schengen Area is the area comprising of 26 European countries that have abolished passports and any other type of border control at their common borders. Unless you are landing in the EU for the first time, you can travel through all of these countries (train or plane) without speaking to a customs agent, therefore never receiving a stamp. Any person living in an EU country can travel without a passport as long as they stay within the agreed upon area. In conclusion and once again, we did NOT receive a passport stamp.
We decided to stay in the Old Town area, which turned out to be an amazing place to stay as we were right in the middle of the action. As we took a brief tour that night of our surroundings, we quickly noticed that Prague is a mysterious city, with completely different architecture than the western countries we had already visited. One of the first sights I (Lindsay) remember seeing, were the bats flying around the old church steeples which had been blackened by weather and age. Beside the old church is the astronomical clock. The clock was first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still working. The astronomical dial has a background that represents the standing Earth and sky, and surrounding it operates four main moving components: the zodiacal ring, an outer rotating ring, an icon representing the Sun, and an icon representing the Moon.
One of the first sights that I (Sean) remember seeing is the mass amount of beer everywhere and how cheap it is. You can get a pint of beer for 80 cents. DELICIOUS!!
As we continued on our night out exploring, we decided to eat at a restaurant in the Old Town square. It was this restaurant where we were introduced to the most amazing meal on earth – GOULASH. Even though a staple in Eastern Europe for hundreds of years, this was the first time we had ever tried it. It is a simple meal of meat and vegetables in a thick broth, basically a stew, but wow is it ever tasty. I (Sean) was stunned that the last time I was in Prague; I was never exposed to this delicious meal. It was so tasty, that we as a group had it every day for lunch. You may think overkill, but it was a necessity.
On our first rainy and dreary day, we found ourselves in the Jewish Quarter of Prague where we were able to visit the Jewish cemetery and two synagogues. This part of Old Town was the “ghetto” where the Jewish people were kept by the Nazi’s in World War II. People stayed here until they were forced into the Terezin concentration camp, or similar camps around Czech Republic or Poland. The majority of those sent from Prague never returned. One of the synagogues we visited has been turned in to a memorial site for the Jewish victims of WWII. Walls completely covered in names of the people and their families whose lives were lost during and after the war. Pictures drawn by kids who were held in the camps were staring up at us from behind the sealed glass, trying to tell a story, their story. A story of abuse and/or death seemed to be a theme that saturated most drawings. This was quite a moving place to be in and something we weren’t expecting when we entered.
Next we entered the Jewish Cemetery. This cemetery was not the usual cemetery you would think of. We found out that Jewish people must not destroy Jewish graves and in particular they are not allowed to remove the tombstone. This meant that in the early 15th century, when the cemetery ran out of space and purchasing extra land was impossible, more layers of soil were placed on the existing graves, the old tombstones taken out and placed upon the new layer of soil. It is estimated that 12,000 tombstones are present with upwards of 100,000 buried underneath. There were headstones scattered everywhere, some standing alone, but most just clustered together in a jumbled mess. Green moss was covering each one and some of the headstones were so old that we could not make out the writing that was once so perfectly chiselled. Tall trees enclosed the cemetery and made it very quiet for those who were resting underneath their leaves.
One of the most intriguing things about this city is its uniqueness. We walked across the Charles Bridge which was built throughout the 14th and 15th centuries making it the oldest bridge in the city, and every 20 feet or so there were large statues of saints staring down at us, describing their own stories. The cobblestone underneath our feet added to the “ancientness” of the bridge and continued to lead us up and up and up to the castle.
As we ambled up the long stairs, we looked over the large wall that separated the castle from the rest of the city and found that every house and building below us was its own entity; no cookie cutter houses or communities at all, just the city’s distinct character. We eventually made it to the castle where we found small, windy streets leading us to cottage-like shops and houses. The focal point of the castle grounds though, was this gigantic gothic church right in the middle of everything. There were sharp pointed steeples, gargoyles screaming at us from above and dark stained glass protecting those on the inside.
Prague’s uniqueness continued as we all went out one night and found a super small jazz club on the other side of the river. You enter into what looks like a small British pub (they even serve Guinness), but you descend into a dungeon like basement that has been fitted as a jazz club. The liquor bottles need to be held up by custom made shelves to coordinate with the curvature in the stone walls. The capacity of this place maybe was 10 people, but there was a good 25-30 inside. It was a fantastic experience of great music mixed with crazy old buildings/architecture that I am sure had much different uses 500 years ago.