Europa 2013

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August 20th 2013
Published: May 5th 2014
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Turrets at the entry of Prague Castle.
We should have taken it as a sign of what was to come, a gruff taxi driver who reeked of cigarette smoke, greeted us with little more than a grunt and yelled out "arschloch" half a dozen times during our short journey to the train station. One scary frau! Then our train to Prague was late, not by a great deal but it puts you on edge and you wonder whether you have the right time, right platform etc. It's reassuring when you speak to others and they are waiting for the same train so that's what we usually do when we are unsure. When we eventually boarded we found someone sitting in one of our seats. She was adamant that she had the right seat and showed us her ticket. I had to point out to her that unfortunately she had the wrong carriage!

The scenery during the train journey to Prague was magnificent, particularly on the German/Czech boarder. Small villages, lush forests and rolling hills, truly beautiful. Definitely the most enjoyable train trip to date . . . at least until it was time to disembark from the train. Prague has two international train stations, Holesovice Nadrazi and

Prague Castle
Hlavni Nadrazi. Our stop was Holesovice Nadrazi, the train station nearest Old Town where we were staying. We had no idea when to expect our stop. There was no route map on the train, no messages over the PA, no rail attendants to ask for assistance so we kept our eyes peeled. We knew we had to be getting close so pulled our suitcases down, stood up and got ready to disembark. Unless the route ends at your stop you have to be ready to get off because you don't have a lot of time. They don't mess around on these trains. As a rule though there is a rail attendant who signals the driver when everyone has disembarked and it is safe for the train to go. Not on this occasion. We reached our station and as we moved to the exit two women stepped out of the cabin next to ours and separated us. There was no way Clive could get past these women. So there we were sandwiching these two women who were not sure whether this was their stop and who, when they decided it was their stop, took an age to gather themselves and get

View of Old Town from Prague Castle.
moving. Throw into the mix a young American man who contributed to the chaos by insisting this wasn't the main station and we all shouldn't be getting off and we had a recipe for disaster. The young man was right this wasn't the main train station but nonetheless it was 'our' train station. It said so right there on our ticket! Anyhow I was first in the line of four to disembark so off I got, followed ever so slowly by one of the two women. She was half way off when the train started to move. My yelling at the train proved pointless. The train driver was a good six carriages up so he wasn't going to hear and there was no rail attendant on the platform. In fact there was no one just lonely old me and this woman half on and half off the train. I grabbed her arm and yanked her off the train. Not too gently I might add and she landed with a bit of a thud! So there I stood on the platform of Holesovice Nadrazi, watching the train disappear with Clive and my passport on it. Now keep in mind this was

Astronomical Clock
an inter city train, not a metro train. It stops in 'cities' and not every one on its route at that. It was our very good fortune that the train was scheduled to stop at Hlavni Nadrazi and that was where Clive got off. A good thing because the next stop was Budapest, Hungary. I kid you not!

Thank goodness we had decided we would both have a phone in Europe in the 'unlikely' event we lost each other! Over an hour later, during which I was approached by one unsavoury character and abused by a manic Spanish woman while I waiting inside the small, derelict station, Clive turned up at Holesovice Nadrazi. After several frustrating attempts to make himself understood and get some assistance he managed to catch the metro to a nearby station and walk the rest of the way, lugging his suitcase and cabin bag. Just to cap things off we had the choice of one dodgy taxi driver to take us to our hotel and he very kindly overcharged us which we didn't realise until some time later. Nice. This was not the sort of arrival in Prague we had anticipated!

Fortunately our hotel

Time for coffee. The view from here was amazing!
was gorgeous and the location of it perfect. Virtually in the middle of Old Town. We had dinner in a lovely little restaurant near our hotel where we were attended to by a delightfully friendly young Czech man who made us more hopeful for the next few days in Prague! We weren't disappointed. Prague is magical. Like something out of a fairy tale with it's medieval castle and cathedrals. We spent the next two days visiting and revisiting the sights for which Prague is best known. Prague Castle with its famous Vladiskav Hall and stunning views of the city is an absolute highlight. Then there is St Wenceslas Chapel in St Vitus Cathedral and the Basilica of St George, Prague's finest Romanesque Church. The medieval Astronomical Clock is amazing. It is the third oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest still operating. We walked down Golden Lane and felt like we had been taken back in time into a medieval village. Everything has been remarkably well preserved. The Czech Republic was extremely fortunate that during World War II it suffered very little damage to its buildings and infrastructure unlike neighbouring Poland. The Czech Republic fell quickly to the

St Vitus Cathedral
Nazis but unlike Poland it did not give the Nazis cause to bomb it as Poland did with its Resistance Army. As with Poland very little work was done in respect to the maintenance of buildings and infrastructure during the period of Soviet occupation. Much maintenance and restoration work has been done since liberation and evidence of continuing work is everywhere.

We also walked across the famous 14th Century Charles Bridge and took a boat ride on the Vlatava River where we enjoyed some very good Czech beer. We ate a meal of baked pork, saukraut, pickled red cabbage and dumplings in an old medieval tavern. It was partially underground and felt like being in a dungeon. The bread dumplings were delicious but the potato dumplings were so dry and chewy they just might have been left over from medieval times. We managed to eat them though with the assistance of some more of that good Czech beer!

We also visited the Jewish Quarter and the old Jewish Cemetery which is no longer in use. It is a very small cemetery and when they ran out of room rather than dig up and remove old graves they would

John Lennon Wall
just add another layer. As a consequence it has fifteen layers of graves! The Jewish people have been persecuted in the Czech Republic for centuries, long before WWII. There are remnants of a 11th Century ghetto when the Jews were walled into a small area within the town to ensure they did not come into contact with the rest of the town's inhabitants. As for how how they fared during WWII well few survived. The Jewish population in Prague was approximately 92,000 at the start of WWII. At least two thirds perished. Today there are just 5000 Jews living in Prague. They apparently keep much to themselves and a great many are Orthodox Jews. The oldest operating synagogue in Europe is in Prague and although we could not enter it we were able to view it from the outside. It is over 1000 years old. Can't believe it still exists.

During our walk we came across what is known as the John Lennon Wall which is full of graffiti and references to John Lennon. John Lennon never visited Prague but during the Soviet occupation the youth of Prague would use the wall and Lennon's messages of peace to protest

Lunch in a medieval tavern.
against the Soviet occupation and the restrictions they imposed upon the Czech people. If caught they would be imprisoned for at least a month. To be imprisoned in a Soviet jail is, as you might imagine, no picnic and most of the protesters were just teenagers. The wall remains as as a tribute to those youth who dared to protest. Interestingly the Soviet influence is still very strong in Prague and they own much of the prime real estate and operate many of the large businesses. The current Czech President is apparently a close friend of Putin and the Czech people are understandably not thrilled!

We did not get the opportunity to visit New Town in the few days we were in Prague. It wasn't the purpose of our visit in any event. We did however pass through it during the taxi trip to the Bus Station to catch our coach to Nuremberg. It is hard to believe New Town and Old Town exist side by side but you visit Prague for Old Town. Two million other tourists think so too!

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Charles Bridge

View of Prague Castle from Charles Bridge.

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