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Published: August 30th 2014
Looking 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 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 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
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.
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