By Sandra Givens
The City of 100 Spires
Arrival – Day 1
After several flights and time zones: New York to London, London to the Czech Republic we arrived and found our driver. As we drove across Prague our driver pointed out sights of interest.
Because we arrived in the late afternoon, we went directly to the Boscolo Hotel for check in. The hotel is in a former bank building and boasts a huge and glorious lobby. The ceilings are very high and have gilded features that are breath-taking. We were exhausted from traveling and were happy for the staff’s prompt service getting us to our room.
Once in our room we fell into a hard sleep. We awoke a few hours later very hungry. Since still tired, we decided to eat in the hotel dining room, the New York Cafe. What a smart decision that was. There was an Asparagus Festival going on so asparagus prepared a variety of ways was on the menu. I had probably the best cream of asparagus soup I’ve ever tasted and the presentation…with a small piece of toast on which a tiny grilled shrimp sat…marvelous.
Back to our rooms for more rest since tomorrow a full day tour awaits.
Prague is a very quiet, walkable and clean city. People actually sweep the streets and sidewalks with brooms.
We met our guide early for our Jewish walking tour. The weather was warmer than usual so selecting the right clothes and good sturdy shoes was key. Our guide began with an overview and told us that although Czechoslovakia is no more the Slovakian people would like to return to being one country since the Czech Republic is prospering while that is not the case in Slovakia.
Like many European countries, the Czech Republic has had a troubled past: Nazis (1945), Russians (1968), and Communists (1985). Germany borders much of the country so capturing Jews was easier for the Nazi invasion primarily based on this geography.
Many of the rich Jews lost beautiful villas on the hills near Prague Castle. If these people never returned, their property went to the state. To this day, the Czechs have little use for Russians but have in some ways resumed relations with Germans which had been good prior to WW II.
Sadly, many Czech Jews who were artists, authors and musicians were killed during WW II. The world’s loss.
Our guide shared a sort of funny story: there is a beautiful building with statues of famous composers around the top. When the Nazis were occupying the building the head man wanted to take down the statue of Mendelssohn because he was a Jew. He didn’t really know what Mendelssohn looked like except that he had a “big nose”. He went looking for the Jewish composer but by mistake took down Wagner, a German composer, who apparently also had a “big nose”. Of course, no one told him of his mistake but he was secretly a laughing stock.
In Old Town we saw the amazing Astronomical Clock just off the busy square. From Old Town we walked across the Charles Bridge, named by Emperor Charles IV for himself. Standing along the bridge are statues which makes the crossing more interesting. On the other side we saw the John Lennon Wall where people have written messages about first about Lennon and now many other things. From there we crossed a smaller bridge where many locks placed by lovers hang. The lovers are supposed to return and unlock these together.
After a lunch break and rest for our already weary feet, we begin again. We saw many synagogues and monuments and cemeteries. One of the most interesting was a monument where the names of those who had perished under the Nazis were written. Our guide shared that she found her father’s name there but happily he was later discovered alive. They decided to leave his name inscribed on the wall because it was a good omen and he should live a long life.
As you may imagine, there are many cemeteries but because of limited space and many graves, people are buried in “layers”. We were told one of the cemeteries was selected as the best location for a new microwave tower, so people buried there were “relocated” to other cemeteries.
After our tour we returned to the area surrounding the Boscolo in search of dinner. This area is filled with clubs and restaurants of all kinds and has a metro stop nearby as well as the train station across the street. We walked until we found a restaurant that sounded good and after dinner walked around this part of the city just observing our surroundings.
This day we met a Japanese friend, Chieko. She and her husband located here for her husband’s work, but his work was hours outside the city so he spent the weeks there while she was in Prague. I think she was happy to be speaking English again since she had been struggling learning to speak Czech. We decided to walk to our lunch meeting and had a wonderful time viewing all the different architecture and the unusual boats on the river. One of the paddle boats was shaped like a giant swan while another looked like a race car. One of the unique buildings was called the “dancing building” and it looked as though it were really waving.
Since we arrived earlier than anticipated, we stopped for a drink at a café on the water where we had a good view of the boats and also of a mother swan with her little ones. This restaurant had one of the funniest signs indicating where the toilets were located.
We met at a special restaurant Chieko recommend on a barge on the water. Following a lovely meal Chieko said she would spend the afternoon with us. I think she was happy to have our company. Lucky for us she was an excellent companion and tour guide.
Art and architecture were abundant. Two art installations which were made more memorable by their unusual nature were: (1) the upside down statue of St. Wenceslas on a horse which hangs from the ceiling in the Lucerna Passage just off Wenceslas Square which is not really a square but a large rectangle.
And (2) a “parade” of life-sized statues all of which showed various wounds in remembrance of those who had been damaged in the various wars and conflicts.
Chieko helped us navigate the metro and took us by funicular to the top of a hill where there were beautiful gardens, a great view of the city and a small Eiffel Tower, one-third the size of the original.
Exhausted again, we boarded the metro which soon delivered us back to our hotel where we said good-bye to our friend and guide.
In the evening we ventured out again in our neighborhood. Many of the sidewalk cafes were filled to capacity. As we wandered we found a place for some pizza, wine and gelato.
Good-bye to Prague
Prague was a wonderful city to visit and even though we only had a few days, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay. The service and the food at the Boscolo were excellent. The history interesting and sad and the sights will live in our memories.
This morning, with the help from a Boscolo porter, we crossed the street to the train station to catch the train to Budapest and the beginning of a new adventure.
Sandra Givens is a travel writer who has been published in newspapers, magazines and a poetry anthology. She began her writing career in the health care field where she wrote news releases, brochures and newsletters for which she received the IABC Award for Excellence. As a volunteer, she wrote news releases and articles for East Valley Hospice in Arizona. A native Californian, Givens has traveled extensively and now lives in Arizona.
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