Friday, June 09, 2017

Prague - As Beautiful as Ever

It was so nice to have a good breakfast again.  Fresh tomatoes and yellow bell peppers, kiwis and watermelon, café au lait and real juices.  They even had a waffle maker (which I skipped but some of the students tried).  I wish we could have something half as good in Berlin.

We had much less trouble boarding the train to Prague and our seats were a little nicer.  The ride was smooth and we had some free entertainment towards the end from a group of four increasingly drunk Berliner men, on their way for a weekend of drinking and partying in Prague.  They started singing a variety of British pop songs and German drinking songs.  It was pretty amusing.

Arrival in Prague hlavi nazdrizi station is always rough.  It’s not the most inviting place and I have to find a bank to get money and buy our metro passes.  The bank I’ve used in the past, however, is no longer in the station and I feel that the one I used gave me a poor exchange rate when I withdrew the currency.  I don’t think I got the market rate.  Still, it was better than the currency changers and their 20% fee.

Buying the metro passes wasn’t any easier as the normal window was closed for renovations.  They sent me to the tobacco shop where I bought all eleven passes.  I don’t speak Czech so I just use Polish and hope they understand.

A short while later we were on the metro to the hotel.  I’m back at the I. P. Pavlova metro stop (named after the guy who rang the bells for dogs), but this time we’re quite distance from it:  four long blocks on foot.  The weather was one of the better days I’ve had in Prague: warm, but not muggy (at least not at first), but it is a long walk with luggage.  We checked in and our rooms were ready.  All keys were distributed and we dropped off our stuff.  By the time we got to Wenceslas Square it was nearly 2 pm.  I took them to a bank to exchange currency and then I gave them 45 minutes for lunch.

From there we walked past the astronomical clock to the Jewish quarter.  I think the students were amazed with the intense, varied, and colorful architecture.  After standing 15 minutes in full sun, I managed to buy 11 tickets to the Jewish museum.  We started with the Pinkas Synagogue, where they recorded the names of all the Czech Jews murdered by the Nazis.  Upstairs is a wonderful collection of art created by children in Theresienstadt, with the help of Fridl Dicker-Brandeis.  When she was deported from Germany, she chose to take her most valuable objects:  her art supplies. She worked with the children in the ghetto doing art therapy.  While most of the children were murdered, their art survives.

We then walked through the old Jewish cemetery as I explained why there were Vulcan hand gestures on certain stones (the priestly blessing), and I made sure we went through the Burial Society house.  

 In the Klausen Synagogue next door I went over some of the basics of Jewish religious practice, while in the Alt-Neu Shul, we spent a lot of time talking about women and their role in the synagogue (the women’s gallery is behind 2 foot thick stone walls with narrow slat opening).  Our last stop was the Spanish Synagogue, as I could see the energy of the students was definitely waning.
After a short photo op with Kafka,
we went to the most beautiful café in the world:  Kavarna Obecni Dum (aka the Municipal House café).  I bought the students drinks and dessert and they definitely took the opportunity to try new things (particularly when the dessert tray came by). 

After an hour they were rested and sated and ready to tackle the last sight: the walk to Charles Bridge.  It was starting to get muggy, though, and the lighting was more hazy than striking.  Still the views are very beautiful.
Sensing again flagging energy, we took a tram from the Malastrana side to the subway and then back to the hotel. I had hoped to take interested students to the laundromat, but as it was 7:15 pm, I thought it might be too late for today (it turns out they close at 8:30, so we would have been pushing it). I’ll take them tomorrow as we’ll be back in late afternoon.

Once the students were back safely in the hotel, my work was far from done.  I headed back to the central station to buy our train tickets to Vienna and then find a nice place for dinner that takes credit cards.   I chose an upscale vegetarian restaurant near the hotel:
I’m spending so much cash, I need to make sure I can pay for the bus tickets to and from Terezin (Theresienstadt) tomorrow.

Very tired, so off to bed soon.

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