Monday, February 22, 2010

prague.


After a whole mess of train nightmares that I won't go into, here I am, sitting in a window seat watching the Bourgogne fly by, on my way back to Beaune for the week. 


No matter how many times I've tried to warn myself, the year has been zipping by even faster than I had thought.  Last year October crept by, January and February stayed to chat for awhile, but √† partir de mars, march, everything flew by.  People say, ‘you blink and then it’s over’.  I felt like I hadn’t even shut my eyes halfway before I was packing up my suitcases at the end of the year.  Back at work, but already there are only six weeks of work before our next vacation- because French students and teachers would of course melt or spontaneously combust if they had more than six consecutive weeks of work. 

But before I start preparing my suitcases for my next adventure, I’ll unpack first, and tell you some stories. 

statue up by castle.

Prague was just as great as I thought it would be.  As we stepped off the plane into the freezing Czech morning I bit worried.  Being excited to see a new place is dangerous.  What if it’s not as you thought?  What if all the hype was for nothing?  I do have to say, this has rarely happened to me.  Rarely have I disliked a city or been so disappointed that I haven’t found at least several good parts.

And that of course holds true for Prague.  What a wonderful (chilly) city.  We stayed in a cozy clean hostel not far from the Old Town Square, home to the famous astronomical clock that’s been there far longer than my home country has even existed.  After settling our bags at the hostel, we put on an extra few layers and headed out to explore.  We joked that every morning when we got dressed, it wasn’t so much a question of what we were going to wear, but how we were going to layer the leggings over tights, under dresses and skirts.  Long sleeved shirts over t-shirts, under sweaters and a thick wool coat.  Earmuffs tucked under hats, scarves wrapped tight and folded to hide all skin.  It really was an adventure every time we went outside. 

said astronomical clock. and me.
wearing lots and lots of clothes.

We had a fairly positive first impression of the city.  Stopping to get some mulled wine on the square (because that IS the best way to warm up on a chilly day) we wandered past a group of weathered Czechs playing music in the square.  Complete with a cone to yell through, trumpet, bass, might have even been a saxophone in there.  While we were tapping our feet and sipping our cinnamony wine, a group of young and most friendly, oddly dressed, Czechs came running through the square carrying signs marked ‘FREE HUGS’.  How many people can say they were hugged by seven Czech people before noon?  At absolutely no charge, I might add. 

the band in the square


The trip was highlighted by two tours around the city, although it’s not the best idea to include two 3-hour walking tours as part of the itinerary in February.  Despite of the slight frostbite, it was the best way to see the city, and learn the history.  We walked by churches, town squares where the Nazis and later the Soviets rolled tanks through the city, and an opera house where Mozart premiered several of his works.  The same opera house where we would reserve tickets to see Cosi fan tutte and would be disappointed to learn the main singer was sick and there was no understudy.  Sherlock Holmes with Czech subtitles would have to suffice for our cultural entertainment in Prague. 

view of the cathedral

As part of the tour we also had a small introduction to the Jewish Quarter in Prague, in much nicer shape today than in it’s day.  Taking the word ‘quarter’ quite seriously, it was once sectioned off from the city with intrusive walls, the Jews forced to live in swamp conditions.  Later, as conditions finally improved and the Jews wanted to stay, they were forced to leave.  Some cruel reverse psychology going on there.  A small cemetery in the middle of the neighborhood was a stark reminder of their suffering there.  When the Jews weren’t given anywhere to bury or commemorate their lost family and friends, they resorted to digging deeper graves, sometimes 14 slots deep.  The gravestones on the surface, like small teeth jutting up this way and that in the crowded space, made for a sobering sight. 

One of my favorite things to do in a new city, is to try and see it like a local would.  There happened to be two other assistants visiting Prague at the same time as Jenny and me, who were staying with an American working in Prague.  With a little local know-how, she led us to a small Czech restaurant, Uflecku.  We stepped into the beer-hall style restaurant, with dark wood tables and ceilings hung with hefty chandeliers.  Ten seconds after sitting down and unwrapping all our layers, waiters came by and set dark chocolate colored beers in front of us, hardly asking if we wanted them.  Later in the evening, as soon as the mugs were empty, a new one appeared, also with little question if the refill was wanted.  I treated myself to a local favorite, goulash with dumplings in a thick hearty sauce.  The others had apple strudel for dessert, but I just simply couldn’t fit anything else in. 

outside the castle



back side of the cathedral.



inside of cathedral.



some more modern stained glass windows.



st. george's basilica, next to the cathedral.
way prettier in the evening light than the photo shows.

I really enjoyed my couple days in Prague, and already would like to go back.  The next time will definitely be in the summer though.  Strolling over the bridge from the old town to the cathedral will be a whole different experience in a skirt and sandals, rather than tights, leg warmers, and boots.  One thing I really enjoyed was the charm of the city that didn’t seem to fade as you moved farther from the city center.  Statues decorating nearly every street corner, frescoed apartment complexes and business buildings, permeated the charm throughout most of the city, though I admittedly only saw a limited part. 
My visit has also inspired me to put the most challenging Kafka works on my upcoming reading list.  He lived most of his life in Prague, and is quite well known, even though he never wanted his works to be published even after his death.  Anyone with any recommends on which of his dark stories to tackle? 

Hope you enjoy some of the pictures from the trip.  Maybe they’ll inspire you to get over there yourself!  It would be worth it. 

Stay tuned for some more stories from the vacay.  Hopefully I can get them up this week, as I get back to my regularly scheduled classes. 

What have you all been up to?

A+

Alli 

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food for thought.

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