Thursday, April 22, 2010

Czeching out of Prague

By Claire
Prague has exceeded our expectations and that's hard to do. They were set high but nothing can prepare you for the enormity of delights in this city. Our only problem? Navigating on foot. It's hard to figure out which direction you are heading when surrounded by so many buildings. We often set off in the opposite direction from what we intended, got lost, then completely turned around. And this was while using a map! Asking for help was often our only salvation.

So what do you do on your last day? For us, it was a stroll through everything we hadn't seen and of course, food and drink. We started in Malá Strana (the Little Quarter), where we stumbled upon a lovely, quiet garden, the Vojanovy Sady. Once an orchard planted in 1248, it was opened to the public in 1954 and named after leading Czech actor Eduard Vojan.

Vojanovy Sady

From there, we strolled through the windy streets to the John Lennon wall. When he was killed in 1980, a large wall was spontaneously covered with memorial graffiti. The police painted over the "All You Need Is Love" and "Imagine" graffiti again and again which popped up day after day. Finally, when independence came in 1989, people gathered here. This is a wall that is remembered as a place that gave hope to locals craving freedom. There is even what looks like a nice café, The John and George, but we weren't quite ready for food yet.

We made our way across Kampa Island, through the lovely park and came upon these very strange giant baby sculptures. Their faces were scrunched into what looked like a bar code. Interesting.

Kampa Island

Crossing over one of the many bridges over the Vltava River we wound our way towards Wenceslas Square and The New Town. One of us spotted The Louvre Café and we decided maybe it was time for an early lunch.

Louvre Café

I had my eye on a broth full of vegetables but then I spotted a Havana on the menu. This was described as a sundae consisting of coffee and chocolate ice cream, egg liqueur, caramel, whipped cream and a wafer.

Chuck became so discombobulated when he heard me ordering, he couldn't figure out what to do. "But I thought you were ordering lunch!" I told him it was our last day and when I see a coffee sundae, I just have to have it. I suggested he check out the daily special baked goods and he swiftly chose the apple strudel with vanilla sauce and whipped cream with shaved nuts.

Oh, we also each ordered a cappuccino.

Fortified, we took off for Wenceslas Square.

Wenceslas is the "good king" of Christmas carol fame. He was the "wise and benevolent 10th century Duke of Bohemia." He was literate and well-educated; he Christianized his nation; he had the foresight to ally with Saxony, which gave Czechs a vote and political clout when the Holy Roman Emperor was selected. He was murdered in 929 and then canonized. He is a symbol of Czech nationalism. The four other national patron saints on the statue are associated with books, learning and culture rather than military power. What a concept!

We opted for a Rick Steves Walking tour out of his Prague guidebook but took our time and ogled the architecture. The day was perfect with bright blue sky and just the right warm temperature. Starting at the St. Wenceslas Statue, we read that this is a popular meeting place where people say "Meet you under the tail."

Just down from the St. Wenceslas statue is a memorial to two young men who immolated themselves in 1969--a month apart--to stoke the fires of independence. They hoped to inspire people to work for freedom.

Grand Hotel Europa

This building is from the Communist era (hideous, isn't it?) Between 1994 and 2008 it was home to Radio Free Europe.

We found our way into a grand mall called Lucerna Gallery with some Art Deco from the 1930s. Our favorite, though, was a sculpture--called Wenceslas Riding an Upside-Down Horse--hanging like a swing from a glass dome. It was created by David Černý, one of the Czech Republic's most original contemporary artists.

We hurried over to see the Mucha Museum Building, one of Prague's best Art Nouveau sights. I wasn't impressed with the building but I loved the doorway.

Our rush was to meet up with my former boss from 28 years ago, Dave, and his wife, Suzy who are here in Prague. They are my inspiration for this trip. When Dave retired in 1984, and Suzy 2 years later, they bought a VW camper in Amsterdam and traveled through Europe for 11 months. They stored the camper in Europe and returned several times for periods of 3 to 6 months at a time. If they hadn't done that trip, Chuck and I wouldn't be doing this trip.

Our trips overlapped by this one day. We met them at their perfectly located hotel, Hotel Golden Age. It was so good to see them! What a treat for us. They weren't even sure their plane would make it, due to the Iceland volcanic ash issue. We walked down the street to a cute café that Chuck and I had spotted just before we got to their hotel. Two hours sped by way too fast but we had to get back to Homer and get ready for our drive to Berlin tomorrow.

Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. Christopher Robin to Pooh ~ A. A. Milne


Diane said...

That does it! We are going to visit Prague . . .

Do you think the city is best done on your own (we aren't super-planners like you two) or by tour? Does Rick Steves do a Prague tour? Your former boss and wife look great. Obviously, traveling keeps you young!

Chuck and Claire said...

Rick has several tours that include Prague. It's a tough call but I think I would do it independently. There are a number of walking tours around the city plus one we've seen done by old-time convertibles. But, the best way to see this place is on your own, strolling. I would do a combination of day tours as well as on your own. The two tours we did really helped us see things efficiently and showed us where to go and how to get there so we could return and really savor the area.

Karin said...

Your pictures are delightful! I enjoyed them all.....very much.

Those "babies" by Cerny, are also on the Zizkov TV/Radio Tower, placed as if they are climbing up the pillars to the top of the tower! I really love his sense of humor. Did you get over to the Kafka Museum near Kampa Island to see his "men peeing"? Anyway, Cerny is a hoot and has caused the Czech's to raise their eyebrows more than once, yet (most) Czech's love him! Me, too!

What a big grin Chuck has at The Louvre Cafe! Either that cappuccino is the best ever or he has just tasted his apple strudel! Those desserts; so sinful, so delicious, so necessary!

And another nice treat: to meet up with friends! They look to be a lovely couple, and happily still full of adventure! Now YOU two will also be instrumental to others who want to travel Europe by caravan!!!

I am truly delighted you enjoyed Prague, a city I am completely and totally in love with!

So, today is: "Goodbye Prague, Hello Berlin". Looking forward to the next blog. Until then...

Mit bezpecnou cestu,
Karin on Paros