Eastern Europe:  Czech Republic 

Prague

The Golden City, City of Spires, Paris of the East, and City of Clocks…

That last name, City of Clocks, is my name for Prague; there’s a clock tower everywhere you look!

Many say it’s Europe’s prettiest city.

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Prague is in the region called Bohemia, on the Vltava River, you probably know it as the Voldau. The above photo is taken from the Charles Bridge with Prague Castle in the background.

Old Town Square (Stare Mesto)

Our first view of the Stare Mesto was at dusk. Prague is magical at night.


I recognized this view of the square from a scene from the Tom Cruise film, Mission Impossible I.

The twin Gothic towers of the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn. It feels almost like one is at Disneyland.

Church of Saint Nicolas

It’s magical in the day too. The Church of Our Lady Before Tyn. Looking closely you will notice that one spire is larger than the other. We were told that the two towers represent Adam and Eve.

City Hall and Clock Tower.

There’s always a crowd to witness the chiming of the hour at the Old Town Hall Astronomical Clock, dating from 1490.

With doors that open and rotating figures, a skeleton, Moor, and crowing rooster among other figures, the dials show the movement of the sun and moon through the constellations, and the 365 Saints Days.

One of the old gates to the city, this one is called the Powder Gate because it once stored gunpowder.

Charles Bridge (Karlovy Most)

Charles Bridge, anchored by a tower at each end is a 14-century bridge commissioned by Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. Composer Antonin Dvorak was a resident of Prague.

Charles Bridge was smaller than I imagined and crowded day and night.

In my opinion the street artists and performers ruin the atmosphere on Charles Bridge.

A view upriver from Charles Bridge.

Another city gate at the far end of Charles Bridge entering Hradcany, the Castle district.

Prague Castle (Hradcany)

Looking down on Charles Bridge and the city of Prague from Prague Castle.

St. Vitus Cathedral dominates the grounds of Prague Castle. It looks old, although it was only completed in 1929.

The back side of St. Vitus.

A view of some of the many spires towering over a sea of red roofs as seen from Prague Castle.

A view of the large Wenceslaus Square. Yes! it’s the same guy. Good King Wenceslaus looked out, on the feast of Stephen (Boxing Day). But he was never the King!

Municipal House. We were told this was the most photographed building in Prague.

We enjoyed beautiful Prague even though it was very touristy and crowded.

How often do you see a bride and groom at the crosswalk?

We decided to skip Salzburg and stay 2 extra nights for a total of 4 nights in Prague. We joined one of the Free Walking Tours offered by Sandeman’s New Prague Tours. We had excellent guides!

Jewish Ghetto

In the early 18th-century more Jews lived in Prague than anywhere else in the world and made up 25% of the population. Prague has the oldest surviving Jewish cemetery in Europe and four synagogues.

The Jews were expelled from Prague by the Empress Maria Theresa from 1745-1748 but returned during the reign of Joseph II and by the 1800s the ghetto walls were torn down.

According to Wilipedia, “at the outbreak of World War II, over 92,000 Jews lived in Prague, almost 20 percent of the city’s population. Prague had one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe. At least two-thirds of the Jewish population of Prague perished in the Holocaust.”

Hitler loved the city of Prague and intended for the entire Jewish quarter to come a “museum of an extinct race.”  While moving Prague’s Jews to Terazin, he moved in salvaged objects from destroyed Jewish Moravian and Bohemian communities, ironically preserving a large cache of thousands of religious and household objects.

Josefov, the Jewish neighborhood has beautiful buildings.

  


Terazin Concentration Camp

Everyone ought to visit a WWII Concentration Camp. It is heartbreaking and sad to hear histories of the brutal, inhumane treatment of the Jewish people, but important to see, and hear, and know. We visited Terezin – called Theresienstadt by the Germans. We purchased the all day tour from New Prague Tours.

Terazin, a fortress city built from 1780 to 1790, was named by Emperor Joseph II for his mother, Empress Maria Theresa. In the 19th century, the fortress served as a prison. During World War I it held political prisoners, including Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip, who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife on June 28, 1914, an event that precipitated the war. About 7,000 Czechs were living here before the Nazis took over and expelled them turning it into a concentration camp.

The dry moat between the fortress walls.

Only a portion of the train tracks remain. Never again will one arrive in Terazin by train.

Theresienstadt was originally designed as a “model community” for middle-class Jews from Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Austria for propaganda purposes. Many educated Jews were inmates of Theresienstadt. In a propaganda effort designed to fool the Western allies, the Nazis publicized the camp for its rich cultural life. There were so many musicians in Terezin, there could have been two full symphony orchestras performing simultaneously daily. A number of distinguished composers created works at Terezin. An extremely rich cultural life ensued, with lectures, recitals, poetry readings, concerts, and so on. At least four concert orchestras were organized in the camp, as well as chamber groups and jazz ensembles. Several stage performances were produced and attended by camp inmates. Amazingly, many drawings and paintings, including children’s art, hidden in the camp, survived and are displayed at the museum. *

Children were not allowed to play on the grass.

Delegates of the International Red Cross visited the ghetto once. In preparation for the visit, changes took place. Flower beds added color while a cafe, bakery and musical and children’s pavilions were built. A shaving room with a wall of sinks has constructed, but never plumbed. To reduce the overcrowded dorms, sick prisoners were transported to Auschwitz. The Nazis also made a propaganda film. The Red Cross delegates were duped, not realizing it was a concentration camp. *

At the height of the war, the Ghetto/Concentration Camp Terezin held over 55,000 Jews. As a consequence, starvation and disease proved rampant. Thousands died of malnutrition and exposure.

At first the ashes were placed in wooden urns and later in cardboard boxes and stored in the Columbarium within the walls of the fortress. In 1944, in an effort to clean up the camp and hide what had happened there, the SS ordered the ashes of the deceased to be liquidated. Some 3,000 were buried but 22,000 urns were dumped into the river.

There wasn’t enough land to bury the dead.

They began cremating the bodies at a small crematorium with four gas ovens.

A map of the surrounding WWII concentration camps constructed for the sole purpose of exterminsting the Jewish people and other undersirables.

After the war, the former residents returned to Terazin and today the former ghetto is a community that houses The Ghetto Museum.

Wars and rumors of war are in the news everyday. Thousands of refugees fleeing from ISIS. Traveling through the Balkans, signs are visible from their civil war. Daily news reports of senseless killings of police officers in the USA and knifings by Palestians in Israel. I’ve read about the Rwandan genocide when neighbors killed neighbors.

How can we be sure that this will never happen again?

On the weekends city people like to escape to their “cabins” on narrow plots to tend their gardens. These garden plots are just outside of Terazin.


* I learned much of this information from our tour guide, but I confirmed it and compiled data from Wikipedia, JewishVirtualLibrary.org, and private-Prague-guide.com.

Journey to Croatia

They sold us a train ticket (without any warning of possible disruptions) from Prague to Graz, Austria with a 1-hour layover before connecting to Zagreb, Croatia. I was looking forward to a relaxing 12-hour train trip.

The journey through southern Austria was beautiful. The sun was shining, the fall colors were brilliant, and as the train climbed in elevation we could see fresh snow on distant mountain peaks.

At Graz, with less than an hour before our connection we hurriedly made an ATM withdrawal, drank a coffee and bought dinner to eat on the train. We were on the platform when the word “CANCELED” appeared on the display next to our train which was arriving from Vienna and supposed to continue to Zagreb. While Steve stayed with the stuff, I went looking for answers at the Customer Service counter.

“There are refugees on the railroad tracks and Slovenia has closed the border with Croatia.” 
What are my options? “Stay overnight and check back in the morning.”

At the Graz train station there were groups helping the refugees. I saw groups of young men and women with babies and young children at several train stations along the way.

We were stopped dead in our tracks a mere 115 miles from our destination. 

The three closest hotels were all booked, but we found a hostel that, taking advantage of the situation, charged us more than we paid per night in Vienna, Budapest or Prague.

A new day dawns in Graz. Its going to be a day to remember.

The problem with making advance reservations…

I immediately called our Zagreb accommodation telling them of the dilemma and they were inflexible and would not allow me to cancel and would charge us for the night. I tried to cancel my next reservation as well, but they were just as inflexible! The reservations had barely been made 24 hours prior. I needed to cancel due to the refugee crisis and not for any reason within my control!  I contacted Booking.com customer service and they were unsuccessful reasoning with the places, although the Zagreb inn canceled my second night, and offered us the opportunity of a future stay. (More on this next week.)
After a restless night we returned to the train station and were issued replacement tickets for 2 trains and a bus ride to Zagreb, but turned out to be 4 trains and 2 buses.

After 20 minutes on train #1 the conductor came around to say that we would be taking a bus at the next station. We were in the dark as to where we were going, but followed the crowd to some waiting buses. Arriving at another train station, again we followed the group to train #2 which we rode only 3 stops before we were told to get off for a 3-hour wait.

There were seven of us wanting to get to Zageb: two guys and a girl from Delhi, India, a single male traveler from Japan, a solo female traveler from South Korea and us. I will never forget this day’s adventure as we banded together and helped one another.  There weren’t any food options in this small community, but we could ride a local train to Sevnica and catch our train there. The 7 of us hopped on train #3 of the day and at the next station a young lady walked us to town and pointed out a grocery and where to buy kebabs.

Train #4 arrived on schedule and we hopped on.

There was never any questions from the conductors regarding our ticket, they just would add their stamp to it and we never had to pay any additional fees. I think the railway company served us well in a situation that was out of their control.

The next leg of the journey was bus ride #2. Again, a bus was waiting for us. From the bus windows we witnessed long lines of refugees walking the train tracks and levees.

At the Slovenia/Croatia border we all got off the bus to have our passports stamped as exiting the Schengen Zone before reboarding. (They were never stamped entering Croatia.)

We made it to Zagreb! 

6 hours, 4 trains, 2 buses, 115 miles, 7 new friends.

This is a long post. Thanks for reading! Meet You in the Morning next week from sunny Split, Croatia.

 

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