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(a very long entry)

14 July 2012

Today feels like Master Course in Czech History meets Marathon Man.  I was better equipped to handle one than the other.  I am remembering back to our first day in Helsinki when I hit the wall after 3 blocks and dragged myself through the rest and am contrasting that experience today with using my cane (best thing I ever did was to buy that cane!) and being able, if not entirely to keep up with the group, to at least not be all that far behind, to handle cobble stones OK, and to thoroughly enjoy the day.

As for the "master course," we had so many names, facts, figures, dates, and I don't know what else thrown at us that all I can remember for sure was that a lot of guys named Charles and other guys named Frederick or William or Jan did a lot of stuff between the 8th century and today, and they left behind a lot of buildings and statues and other stuff.  I also remember some woman who was killed by her daughter-in-law and I hope Marta and Laurel don't ever come here to take this tour.

We walked for about 2+ hours in the old town, then picked up the bus and went to the Prague Castle and Lobkowicz Palace for lunch, a concert, and more walking, ending with a walk down a bunch of steps--not quite like those in Cinque Terra, but a challenge none the less...and with all that, I feel great.  Oh my feet hurt and I don't know how my knees are going to be tomorrow, and I certainly don't want to walk anywhere else today, but I did it.

Life started around 5 a.m., waking up from a good sleep of some 2-3 hours.  I spent SO much time frustrated by this computer, that there really wasn't much time to actually sleep.  Also I had my usual bed problems, so I rigged up this thing which really was almost, but not quite comfortable.  (I'm sitting in a chair, covered by the quilts partly pulled from the bed, with my feet up on the bed.)

We checked the weather prediction for the day.

So after breakfast we prepared for rain (and miraculously didn't have any!) and joined our group on the bus--the first time we were meeting most of them.

We were dropped in Old Town...now there is Old Town and the New Old Town (which probably dates to the 1400s) and I can't keep anything straight, but this was the old Jewish ghetto and I'll tell ya, for a people who have been so hated, reviled and persecuted, they certainly have come out as the stars of Prague, at least for this tour. 

The building on the left, by the red X, is the "New Synagogue," built in 1270, which is the world's oldest active synagogue. It also is the oldest surviving medieval synagogue of twin nave design.  (I confess to having to look this information up, because after a day of facts, dates, and figures thrown at me, I had completely forgotten what was special about this synagogue, except that it was very old!)

Anyway, I do remember that part of Yentle was filmed in this neighborhood and also one of the James Bond movies. 

Signs of Jewish occupation are everywhere in this now upscale and desirable part of town.

One sad fact I do remember from this part of the tour was that 10,000 children were taken from here during World War II and only 240 returned.  That makes me want to cry.

I did like the street sign, however.

We made our way over to the city center, which is spectacular.

I was more taken with the horse-drawn carriages, though:

When I saw the horses maneuvering over the cobblestones, I noticed that they had specially designed shoes that kind of caught on the edges of the stones and prevented them from slipping

And I especially liked the poop bags attached to their backside.  I wonder if I can make one for Polly...

Around the corner from the horses is the famous astrological clock and we stood there watching it chime the hour (video coming after I get home)

Then we got a half hour break, so we went to a cafe for coffee, water and, for me, some ice cream with hot raspberry sauce.  We listened to some musicians playing jazz on the plaza.

Next, we wended our way through more tiny streets to the famous Charles Bridge, the first bridge in Prague and, for centuries, the only bridge connecting the two sides of the Vltana river.

It is strictly a pedestrian bridge, and a home for musicians and artists....and lots and lots of tourists. Rick Steves filmed a report from here, but in winter, and I'm convinced it was because it was the only time of the year where he had a chance to film easily without 1000 tourists crowding him!

This is our tour guide Hannah, explaining that this piece of art is dedicated to the memory of St. John Nepomuk, a bishop who was thrown off the bridge for refusing to tell the king what the queen had revealed to him in the confessional.

This guy's hurdy gurdy is beating out "Lara's Theme" from Dr. Zhivago.

This is the end of the bridge, but we turned left and went down stairs and into a park which had some unusual artwork (including today's Photo of the Day).

At this point we reconnected with the bus and our tour was half over.  Awaiting was Prague Castle.

The guards stand at attention for an hour at each of the many entrances to the castle, but they lack the British unmovable precision. I caught one of these guys scratching his nose while on duty.

The top of the hill on which the Castle (which seems to be surrounded by several smaller palaces) sits gives a glorious view of this part of Prague.

We got an extensive tour of all four courtyards including a brief tour inside the spectacular Cathedral of St. Vitus, in which is held, among lots of other things, the shoulder of the saint (they liked to cut up dead saints to spread their parts all over the place, as holy relics, I hear).  King Wenceslaus (of "good king" fame) is also buried here.  These dates I remember.  Construction on this cathedral started in 1444 and finished in 1929 (apparently they didn't want to rush things).

We went inside briefly but it was so jam packed with others of us that it was impossible to get any good photos.  However, I do like this one of Mike, Char, and Hannah!

Hannah left us at this point and turned us over to another Hannah, who was going to be our guide for our tour of the Lobkowicz Palace.  We started with lunch, goulash with gnocci, which was delicious though Walt, who later lost it all, and several previous days' food, said it didn't taste nearly as good coming back up the second time.

Then we were treated to a concert by a piano-violin-cello trio, which played music by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, and Dvorak.  The Beethoven was the Allegretto from his 8th symphony, my favorite of his works, so I enjoyed it very much.  I was sorry I didn't get a chance to take a picture of Mike and Walt fast asleep.

Then we took a tour of the art collection in the Palace.  I'll tell ya, that cane was invaluable.  When they saw me limping around the place, they gave me my own special ride in a tiny 2-person elevator.  By this time in the day, I wasn't about to argue.  I was happy for the ride up, but when I tried to walk down, this little lady who spoke no English wasn't about to let me and firmly insisted I take the elevator, so I ended up with my own private backstage tour of the Palace.

The Lobkowicz family have long been patrons of the arts and sponsors for several musicians, including Beethoven and Mozart.  They had an original manuscript of Mozart's orchestration for part of Handel's Messiah (sadly, no pictures allowed to be taken on this floor).

We finally ended the tour and walked down a l-o-n-g hill to the bus and then back to the hotel.  I was amazed that when we got back here I didn't even mind the walk down the 2 corridors to our room.

None of us wanted to go out for dinner, so we just met in the hotel bar and had pub grub--fish 'n' chips for Mike and me and a Czech sausage for Char (Walt just had coke...and later lost that too).  Mike, who really likes to try to speak the local language when we travel tried to ask for fish and chips in Czech, but the waitress grew impatient with his efforts and told him to just ask for fish and chips!

So it is now 10 p.m. and time to start the lengthy process of posting this very long entry. I had to take a break in the middle because we did so much it was exhausting just writing about it.  I don't know what we are going to do tomorrow, which is a free day for us.  It depends on how my feet and Walt's stomach feel, I think.


These statues are called "black babies" by sculptor David Cerny
This is reminiscent of a picture I took of Mike and Char in China last year, with an elephant


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