Friday, November 9, 2007

Old Town Prague

My new tripod costs more than my Canon 350D Digital Rebel, so I had to take it out last night and wander around "the city of a thousand golden spires." It was cold, but my rather attractive photography assistant found enough mulled wine (served piping hot) to hang in there for an hour or two.

Today started off with a tour through the Jewish Quarter. During the Crusades in the 12th century, the Pope decided that it was a sin for Christians and Jews to live within proximity to each other, so the Jews had to put on yellow badges and move together into a small ghetto that was walled in. Sound familiar?

The first stop was to the Jewish graveyard. Started in 1439, this is the only cemetery Jews were allowed to have, so this tiny area is stuffed with more than 12,000 tombstones.
The toughest part of my trip to Europe thus far was the next stop; Pinkas Synagogue. Of the 120,000 Jews who lived in this quarter in 1939, only 10,000 lived to see liberation in 1945. A place of worship for more than 400 years, it is built with walls containing the handwritten names of 77,729 of the Czech Jews who were sent from here to the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Everywhere I turned, there were more names. Just when you thought you had surely reached the end, you'd turn the corner to find another wall.

Continuing on, we wandered into the nicest Synagogue I have ever seen; the Moorish-styled Spanish Synagogue from the 1800s:
This and other synagogues around the Quarter are filled with tons of silver goods and other valuable things that were collected by the Nazis from dozens of towns that were literally completely empty around the Czech Republic, as all the residents had been sent off to concentration camps.

It was a tough morning, but I'm glad we did it. The history is important. After a few hours exploring, however, I was ready move on to the lighter part of the day spent exploring Prague's beautiful Old Town. I hit a bit of luck and saw the sun peek out just as I had made it up to the top of a 250 foot tall spire and caught a view of the very Gothic Tyn Church.

Prague has the most amazing architecture of any of the 180 cities across the world I have visited in my lifetime. You can see everything from Gothic to Renaissance to Baroque to Art Nouveau.

By the way, if you're wondering what Baroque architecture looks like, I think this is the most Baroque church I have ever seen: By nightfall (4:30 pm these days) I was ready for a sunset walk across the famous Charles Bridge, dinner, and bed. Prague is bitterly cold. We're battling the Czech winter by wearing the winter expedition gear we packed for the summit of Kilimanjaro -- including mountain socks and long underwear.

The have lots of classical concerts across the city every night in churches just like this one. While the concerts are touristy and cheezy, I'd love to make it to one because the venues are unbelievable. But I'm just too tired and too cold, and I'm headed to Vienna and Salzburg anyway, so it's off to bed.

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