First go at Prague

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August 29th 2014
Published: August 30th 2014
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Looking east from Karlúv Most (Charles Bridge) at dawnLooking east from Karlúv Most (Charles Bridge) at dawnLooking east from Karlúv Most (Charles Bridge) at dawn

The bridge is empty of tourists at this time of day, except for about 20 photographers trying to capture this scene.
Our 2014 Central Europe adventure began when Kathy and I arrived at our hostel on the castle side of the Charles Bridge in Prague late Wednesday afternoon. We were both weary after our separate, but equally sleepless, transatlantic flights from Boston.

The plan for the next six weeks is to go to Regensburg by train after a few days' rest in Prague, cycle down the Danube to Budapest with a several days' stop in Vienna, spend some time in Budapest and environs, train back to the southeastern Czech Republic, and cycle back to Prague on the Vienna-Prague Greenway. We'll be back by the Vltava River in early October and after a few more days in Prague head back to Seattle and home. As usual, it will be interesting to see how closely the reality matches the plan.

The first job, after a good night's sleep at the hostel, was to assemble the Bike Fridays. We found a small space on the cobblestones between the wall of the bridge tower and our hostel building and managed to get the bikes out of the suitcases and unfolded and assembled in under two hours, under stares and comments from tourists and locals heading to work. We are getting better at this task.

With the bikes and suitcases safely stored, we had the remainder of this day and one more to enjoy Prague, knowing that we'll have three more full days on our return in October. The Charles Bridge, or Karluv Most in Czech, is a few steps from our hostel door and one of Prague's principal landmarks. These days it's for pedestrians only and mainly used by hordes of tourists. But from its construction in the 14th Century by one of the kings Wenceslas until the mid-19th Century it was Prague's only bridge, amazingly enough. The king's astrologer advised him to lay the first stone for the bridge at precisely 5:31 AM on July 9 of 1357. The numerical representation of this date/time works out to 135797531, which is a palindromic ordering of the single digit odd numbers. Apparently the astrologer thought this would bode well for the bridge and it seems to have worked for the last 650 years. Maybe we should try that with some of our bridges in Washington State.

The bridge has a number of interesting statues depicting religious and Bohemian historical themes. These, combined with
St John of Nepomuk statueSt John of Nepomuk statueSt John of Nepomuk statue

He was thrown off the bridge in 1386 supposedly because he would not reveal the queen's confession to king Wenceslas. Five stars appeared when he hit the water.
the church spires of the old city, make for great silhouettes against the morning or evening sky bringing out photographers in droves.

Another of Prague's main sites is the old Jewish quarter. For centuries this was the largest ghetto in Central Europe. The collections of Prague's Jewish Museum are spread through the old synagogues and other buildings open to the public. There are many artifacts from Jewish secular and religious life, beautiful decorations and gold and silver items, and the hauntingly beautiful cemetery. Jews were only allowed to use this one small area to bury the dead and, over centuries the available space filled and graves were piled on top of graves. The result is a raising of the ground and the gravestones of centuries leaning every which way.

The most moving part of the Jewish Quarter is the Pinkas Synagogue, which is a memorial to the Shoah (a.k.a. Holocaust). Most of the walls are devoted to inscriptions of the names and home towns of all the murdered Bohemian and Moravian Jews (nearly 80 thousand names). There is also an exhibit of children's artwork from the Terezin concentration camp.

We also visited a wonderful small museum devoted
Municipal Hall with Powder Gate on leftMunicipal Hall with Powder Gate on leftMunicipal Hall with Powder Gate on left

Contrasting Art Nouveaux with the Middle Ages. We went to a concert of Mozart and Dvořák music at the Municipal Hall.
to Alphonse Mucha, the Czech artist who was part of the Art Nouveaux scene in early 20th Century Paris and later moved back home to incorporate this style as part of developing a unique identity for the newly formed Czechoslovakia. We also enjoyed a chamber music concert in the Municipal Hall, built in the Art Nouveaux style.

We tried the local Czech food specialities: Czech goulash, roast pork, ham, duck, potato pancakes, various forms of pickled and grated vegetables. Towards the end of the trip, this stuff will be fueling our riding. I finally got to to sample Pilsner in its place of origin, including Budweiser Budvar, the local version of America's most popular beer. It's OK, not my favorite style, but I always like to drink the local stuff. They say that Czech microbrews are pretty good, so, that will be the quest when we are back here.

Prague seems to be a music city, and I am definitely looking forward to coming back to sample more of that. Besides the many classical concerts offered every night, there is a jazz scene. One of the many river boats is devoted to a jazz concert every night, and
Gypsy jazz musicians on the street in front of our hostel.Gypsy jazz musicians on the street in front of our hostel.Gypsy jazz musicians on the street in front of our hostel.

Is the kid on the right the next Bireli Lagrene?
there are a number of clubs as well. There's also a great variety of street music, some of it pretty good. On the bridge there's always something -- jazz combos, groups of fiddlers attempting American tunes, a group of three cellos evoking eastern European folk melodies. On the street right in front of our hostel we heard Gypsy jazz as well as a young woman doing reasonably good renditions of vocal standards, manly in French and English. Elsewhere bagpipes, a South American Quechua group, organ grinder, and others. Along the river walk in an area frequented by beer drinking university types, there was a swing band warming up and students were dancing to recorded swing and Gypsy jazz in the early evening.

Now it's on to Bavaria, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary before returning to the Czech lands and back to Prague in a little over a month.


Additional photos below
Photos: 14, Displayed: 14


Assembled bikesAssembled bikes
Assembled bikes

It took less than 2 hours to get them both unpacked and ready to go. Fastest time yet.
Is this an interesting mathematics museum?Is this an interesting mathematics museum?
Is this an interesting mathematics museum?

No. It is the Charles Bridge Museum. See text for the significance of 135797531.
Street performers in Old Town SquareStreet performers in Old Town Square
Street performers in Old Town Square

Forget crow pose, this is what we're going to work on with Kirk and Troy when we get back.
Window outside Mucha MuseumWindow outside Mucha Museum
Window outside Mucha Museum

This was an excellent small museum focusing on the Art Nouveaux work of Alfons Maria Mucha in Paris and Prague.

30th August 2014

Hello again.
Looking forward to following your trip through your blogs!
30th August 2014

Safe Travels!
What a wonderful adventure ahead for you - we look forward to following your blog. Love, Leslie and Jeff
30th August 2014

Picturesque Prague
So good to hear that you are off to a great start. Your excellent comments and photos bring back our fond memories of Prague. When you return look up the building cleverly called "the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers" building due to its dancing like architecture. Looking forward to reading more of your adventurous news. Marie
31st August 2014

Thanks for bringing back memories of good times. Your bikes looks like some foldups we have at home so looking forward to hearing how you go on the Greenwaysetc in those. Have fun!
31st August 2014

Family of travelers
Here we are a family of four (actually five now) on three different continents. I'm glad you are finally taking this trip. I know how much you have been looking forward to biking on those trails.
31st August 2014

This is a city we long to visit. Fantastic blog.
31st August 2014

Great stuff!
I'm curious about the Greenway. What is this, bikes and foot only?
31st August 2014

Greenways, etc.
Al -- Danube route is a combination of separated and on-road and paved (mostly) and gravel. The Passau to Vienna section is the most heavily traveled bike route in Europe. Vienna-Prague Greenway is combo of same, but rougher, I think. Definitely hillier than the danube route. We will be describing in more detail over the next weeks, so read about it here :).
31st August 2014

Have visited Prague twice now and loved both visits. Like walking through a fairy tale story. Looking forward to Budapest next spring. Have a fun and safe trip.
1st September 2014

Hi...enjoyed your travel log this am. I wanted to pass on a good bike trail from Kelheim (near Regensburg) to Weltenburg Monastery. The trail follows the scenic Danube Gorge. You can bike one way and take the boat the other way. The Monastery serves a great lunch of kloster sausage, potatoes, and beer.
4th September 2014

Beer politics
Hi cousins! It looks you're trip started well. About "Budvar", it's definitely not the Czech version of Budweiser. The beers are completely different -- the issue is about trademark and branding: Indeed, Czech Pils or Pilsner is not for everyone, and as you might have noticed the locals drink a lot! I am not familiar with microbrews as I was not a big beer drinker when I lived there but there are a lot of different brands of beer which originated in the Czech Republic besides Budvar, and some or most of them are now owned by multi-nationals. I will try to remember my favourite brand to recommend by the time you are back in town....

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