Updated: Apr 22
That’s hello in Czech. Yes, after a 17 hour bus ride I am finally in Prague! We have a very, very small group. Our tour guide, Savage, and the three of us from Rome (all from IES) left at 5:30 PM. At around 9:30 PM we arrived in Florence. The traffic was horrible! In Florence, we picked up 22 girls and headed for Prague. We stopped at around midnight for a half hour bathroom break and got into Prague at 10:30 AM. The bus ride honestly wasn’t that bad. We watched a few movies (Kill Bill Volume 1, Out Cold, and Forrest Gump) before our DVD player broke. I pulled my iPad out and watched half of Eurotrip (how appropriate) and about an hour of a college football game before trying to sleep. Since there were only 25 of us, we each got our own seat to lay across. I would say I got about 4 or 5 hours of sleep, so I can’t complain. I normally don’t sleep that well on a buses or airplanes, but think I’ll be a pro by the end of this trip!
Sunrise on the way to Prague
When we arrived into Prague, I knew it was going to be one of my favorite cities. Each building is unique in its own way and has a lot of character. I think the best way to describe Prague is that it has a great deal of history, but was built more recently than a city like Rome.
We are staying at the Czech Inn – the nicest hostel I have stayed at yet. After we arrived, we ran upstairs to wash up and came right back downstairs. The hostel has a full breakfast buffet – American style. Toast, butter, jam, cheese, ham, tomatoes, oranges, yogurt, granola, eggs, orange juice, and American coffee. It was phenomenal. The only thing I am concerned about now is that the coffee was not very strong. I am hoping it was just the coffee and not the fact that my taste buds have changed and are now used to the Italian espresso shot. I will see when I return back to the USA.
After wolfing down breakfast, we had a walking tour of Prague. Our guide met us at the hostel and we took the tram for about 10 minutes to downtown Prague to start our tour. Our guide was very informative, energetic, enthusiastic, and entertaining. One of the funniest parts of the tour happened within the first 20 seconds he started speaking. A “Czech Crazy” (his words, not mine) stood behind him and started mimicking him as he talked. Then, the “Czech Crazy” interrupted to tell our guide something about where he should take us. It was in Czech, so all I could understand was the fact that he was pointing around the corner. After about 30 seconds everyone exchanging awkward looks the “Czech Crazy” left.
Our tour guide crammed about 1,500 years of history into the first five minutes of the tour (it’s a good thing I’m not getting tested on it). The one thing I was intrigued by was that Prague used to be the center of the Holy Roman Empire. I love cities with lots of history!
After our guide’s spiel, he took us to Wenceslas Square – home to many protests against the communism imposed on the Czech people by the USSR after World War II. It was where Jan Palach set himself on fire to show his discontent with the government and where communism fell in Czechoslovakia in 1989, just one week after the fall of the Berlin Wall, as part of the Velvet Revolution.
Standing in the same square where communism fell 21 years ago was enough to give me goosebumps. I have always been fascinated by history and, while I’ve been studying in Europe, have specifically become more intrigued about the Cold War and the revolutions across Europe that overthrew communism. I feel that they are even more relevent now with everything that is going on in Northern Africa.
After this, our tour guide took us to Old Town Square which is home to the world famous Astronomical Clock. It was absolutely beautiful and the square was packed with people. We had just missed the hourly show that the clock performs from the hours of 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM, so I had to go back later.
Statue in the middle of Old Town Square
Facade in Old Town Square
The facades had so much character in Old Town Square. I could have stayed there all day and admired the uniqueness of each one.
Old Car in Old Town Square
After this, we went to the Jewish Ghetto of Prague and to see a famous classical music performance hall. Both were gorgeous – I went back to the Jewish Ghetto later to go to a museum, so I won’t get into too much detail now. Our final stop was to see Charles Bridge and Prague Castle from the distance.
A bell tower in the old Jewish ghetto. We learned that the clock rotates backward as it is a Hebrew clock.
Prague Castle – It looks like Hogwarts from a distance!
After the tour was over, myself and a girl from IES Rome, Daniela, went to a Jewish Holocaust Museum. It had three rooms that I found particularly moving. It had a room with the names, dates of birth, and dates of death of all 77,297 people who died during the Holocaust. One of the names I saw was for a child that was only three years old. The room quantified the unquantifiable. The second room I found particularly moving was a room with drawings of children who were in a Concentration Camp. An unsanctioned, the kids were allowed to draw anything they wanted. They were not dreary, but hopeful of what the future held for them and their families. We found out that all of the children were sent to Auschwitz – they were deprived of their hopes and their future. As hard as it was to walk around the room, it is even harder to write about it. The third thing I saw was the Jewish Cemetery. There are over 12,000 gravestones in it, but due to the lack of room coffins were placed on top of each other (the graves were up to 13 bodies deep).
After the museum, we walked around to try and digest what we had just saw and admire the beautiful architecture throughout the ghetto on our way to Old Town Square.
Building in the Jewish Ghetto
Another example of the beautiful architecture in Prague
Some of the facades had very detailed artwork
The arches made me feel like I was in a movie
One of the posters advertising the Museum of Communism
Another poster advertising the Museum of Communism
I guarantee Karl Marx is rolling over in his grave right now. The museum was situated above a McDonald’s and next to a Casino – two symbols of good old Capitalism. The museum itself was great. It told the story of the nation of Czechoslovakia under Communism. I’ve included a few pictures from my visit below.
A picture of a 40 meter high statue of Lenin that used to be on a hill overlooking Prague
A political cartoon against the USA and Capitalism
Another political cartoon against the USA and Capitalism
One more political cartoon against the USA and Capitalism
Well, that was my day in Prague. Tomorrow morning, we are going to the John Lennon Wall and I am going to take a tour of Prague Castle. I can’t wait!
Note: This post was originally published on March 25, 2011 in a blog entitled “Romeing Around Europe” which chronicled my study abroad experience.