Posted from Prague,Czech Republic….
We are in Prague and from the get go it is full of surprises. Of course just like the ugly American that I am, I figured there were only a few flights a day coming to this forsaken metropolis in Europe’s eastern frontier. While walking to customs I glanced at the Arrivals board and saw Dubai, Moscow, Beijing, London and Tokyo for openers. This city of castles and cathedrals is at the same time historic, cosmopolitan and full of energy. Point taken by a humbled TTG.
The drive to the city showcases several housing areas that are extremely well kept but with an institutional flair. Our guide told us these were sold to citizens after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 at very advantageous prices. Much of it had been been constructed by the Communists. What a stark comparison to the same type of housing outside St Petersburg which is still under Communist control. The Russian model produced decay and rust, while democracy and self ownership had pride reflected in the impeccable exteriors.
The sprawling buildings that represent Prague itself demonstrate every manner of architecture from Gothic to art deco. Streets in the Old Town are cobblestone and the facades of buildings have been kept intact for centuries. The interiors may be brassy and bold but the law keeps “scrapers” out and the charm is marvelous.
As we walked along the Vitava River we were somewhat blown away by the breadth of the city from a physical and historical point of view. Prague is a actually a compilation of four ancient towns joined by the famous Charles Bridge. There have been kings and princes and Holy Roman Emperors. all playing a part in its evolution not to even mention the totalitarian occupations of the twentieth century.
You have Czechs, Slovaks, Germans, Austrians,Russians and who knows what coming together to flavor the food as well as the culture. It is almost as if ruling parties through this part of Europe have been conquering and dividing the countryside over the centuries partly through the spoils of victory and partly as tradeoffs on the chessboards of power.I have often mused as to how people can be so docile to takeover. Then you realize the amalgams of peoples are matter of fact. Yet some hostilities are ingrained and you wonder if it will ever work .Sound familiar? And our American differences aren’t even remotely as complex.
The most unsettling area of Prague is the old Jewish ghetto. This dates back as early as the 15th century. If inhabitants wanted to go outside of their confines back then, they had to wear a yellow hat.They still earmark this section of town as such but more for historical and tourist reasons. Hitler came here and was able to condemn 70% of the Jewish residents to the gas chambers. If he was an anomaly maybe it would be okay but he was not. Why is this true throughout our world from South Africa to the Middle East to probably America? What makes the Jewish religion so hated for millenia? I wish I knew.
Speaking of religion it has thrown another wrench into the mix. The area was predominantly Catholic in the Dark Ages but as the Age of Enlightenment moved forward, some were fed up with the antics of the Popes and wanted to see reforms . Ergo the formation of Protestantism. In the long run you had to pick sides in the battle and make formal choice between one or the other. Many did not do so for fear of retribution so they were listed as atheists. Prague with all its religious history has become the largest atheistic city in the world. As Paul Harvey would say, And now you know the rest of the story!
Beer is the national drink and they can have it for breakfast, lunch or dinner It has many recipes but the Pilsener is exceptional. You pay less for a beer than you do for bottled water. They also take pride in their wine. We went to a Czech restaurant for dinner and entertainment last night. This guy kept walking around with a yard of white wine in one hand and a yard of red in the other .That’s right like you would see a yard of beer. He would keep filling glasses reaching across the table and using his index finger as the stopper. What a country! It the US he would have to be in violation of some health law.
The floor show was a local group of strings, brass and of all things a dulcimer. As the dancers stomped and turned in ethnic garb you could almost see the gypsy in their eyes.Half sadness. Half merriment. with just a pinch of lust thrown in for good measure. They had a cellist who also performed in the National Symphony. She did a solo and was magnificent. Imagine in one of our major cities if first chair violinist or cellist had to do gigs in a local restaurant to make ends meet? Chest la vie. Sorry, I don’t know how to say that in Czech.
I am sorry I have put on my Rick Steve’s hat once again. I hope it is not a travelogue but a little insight to the soul of where we travel. We leave tomorrow to meet up with our river boat as we meander towards Budapest with several stops along the way. It fascinates me that somehow with all the drama of the centuries these places have survived and thrived. Somehow they suck it up and make it work. I am sure there have been plenty of obituaries written without ever having gone to press.
The best part of our trip is the lack of TV and newspapers or at least those written in English. It is refreshing to have conversations and loll over coffee or lunch. Somehow like the places we visit you have the feeling this will all work out somehow. Not from naivete or fantasies of Pollyanna but from looking at all this history and taking heart.
Ted The Great
Very few bicyclists or motorcyclists are present on city streets. There is an excellent system of transportation via subway or tram. Drivers in cars are required to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks but not the trams. The hit the horn and seem to pick up speed.
This city is as clean as a whistle. There is absolutely no trash anywhere. The Londoners were not so civil. It was not unusual to see trash in the street or on sidewalks. I thought the Brits were civil?
There are literally dozens of swans beneath the Charles Bridge. They have obviously been well fed by the tourists. Prime time for Prague is spring and fall. It seems Europeans want to head to the shore in summer.
The Chinese and Japanese tourists are rude and obnoxious to a fault. They do not understand queuing and are somewhat oblivious to any other human beings. The lovely Kathy seems to think this is due to the crowded cities of Asia. Every man or woman for themselves. Dunno but that still doesn’t explain why they take pictures of everything including the loos? We can only hope they were not in tape mode.