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Prague, Czech Republic

A few months ago, I had written about my genealogical search preceding this European trip.  Mistakes in family oral history wound up with us visiting Prague.  My research had unveiled that there was no family from Prague or what is now the Czech Republic.  Nonetheless, it is a beautiful city and I’m glad the errors led us there.  The confusion about my family’s heritage is understandable in view of the political upheaval the country has seen through the years.  The following is a snapshot version, though the actual history is much more complex. In 1620 the Kingdom of Bohemia, which incorporated Czech lands, became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Despite efforts to obtain independence, it was 1918 before the country of Czechoslovakia was formed.  Multiple changes took place over the 20th century, culminating with the split into the Czech and Slovak republics in 1993.  My grandmother came from a town in what is now Slovakia and my grandfather came from a village in Hungary, so not exactly "close to Prague" at all.

Arriving in Prague mid-afternoon, we spent our first day exploring our immediate neighborhood.  Alan’s top priority was finding a local pub to check out the beer Czech Republic is known for.  After settling into our Airbnb apartment, a pub located next to the entrance of our apartment building resolved that issue quickly.  He was not disappointed.  There are literally hundreds of pubs in the city, so finding a place to grab a beer is easily accomplished.  Beer is also cheap here, the small bottled water I ordered was always more expensive than the large mug of local beer (averaged 48 CSK or $2).  Beer consumption in the country is, by a far margin, the highest per capita in the world with the annual average at 142 liters.  
We saw more beer mugs than coffee cups at the outdoor dining spots each morning as we headed through the city.

Heading into the historic district the following morning was like walking into a fairytale.  Architecture throughout Prague is outstanding, but walking into the Old Town and Castle District is special.  The history represented by the Gothic spires and turquoise domes spans 1000 years and crowds of tourists and long lines were the norm throughout these areas.  Old Town Hall, built in 1338, with an astrological clock added in 1410 overlooks Old Town Square.  Currently under repair and renovation, the clock’s procession of Christ and the 12 Apostles still takes place at the top of the hour, but we missed it by a few moments as we rounded the corner and found hundreds on hand in the Square. 

Prague is divided by the Vltava River and joined by a series of 15 bridges, the oldest,
Charles Bridge looking toward Castle District
Charles Bridge, was started in 1357 by Charles IV.  During our visit, it was packed with tourists, performers and vendors.  The bridge is graced with towers at each end and decorated with 30 carved 
statues of saints which were added between 1638 and 1928.  From the bridge, we wandered the streets to the base 208 steps leading up to the Prague Castle and St. Vitrus Cathedral.  Construction of the first fortress on the castle site began in the 9th century.  Work on the complex of the castle, courtyards and streets spanned 450 years.  The Cathedral was completed in 1929, following 600 years of work.   

After exploring the city for several hours, we were grateful for the city’s public transportation system.  The metro whisked us back to our neighborhood in short order.  Public transit tickets cover the metro, trams or buses, so you can travel just about anywhere in the city.  Tickets are inexpensive, so a 24-hour pass with unlimited usage is only 110 CZK (under $5).  

Spanish Synagogue
Since we were visiting during the Prague Spring International Music Festival, we took advantage of one of the many concerts available.  Traveling by metro to the Jewish quarter, we found our way to the Spanish Synagogue where the concert was being held. The top-notch program was a quartet from the Czech Symphony Orchestra with a soprano performing Ravel, Gershwin and traditional Jewish songs.

The following day we headed by metro back into the Castle District to visit the Wallenstein Palace and Gardens.  Now home to the Czech Senate, the grounds are open to the public for no charge and during our visit there were only a handful of visitors.  After wandering around the streets of the district and catching some lunch, we caught one of the many river tour boats offered.  Departing from near Charles Bridge, the tour provided a commentary in English and Czech and wonderful views of the Castle District.

A combination of factors led to minimal bombing of Prague during World War 2 and therefore the survival of the city's historic districts.  Czechoslovakia was handed over to the Nazis to prevent further German aggression in 1939, but Hitler also had perverse plans to create a "Museum of an Extinct Race" in Prague.  The only bombing that took place in the city was accidental bombing by Allied Forces in 1945 and they missed the historic areas.

Now it was time to move onto Poland.  Tickets for our trip on to Krakow had been purchased online (business-class seats for $45) and the following morning we headed by metro to the train station for the first four hours of our trip.  Just before the Polish border, we transferred to a bus for the final 2-hour leg of our trip into Krakow.
Overview from the boat tour
Climbing to the Castle 
Interior of St Vitrus Cathedral
Church of Our Lady Before Tyn built in 14th century
At beginning of the Charles Bridge
Entrance to Prague Castle 
Drip wall at the Wallenstein Gardens
Old Town Hall and Clock
Jan Has Memorial (14th-century religious reformer) in the Old Town Square
Crowded streets of Prague
St. Vitrus Cathedral
Mural on exterior of St. Vitrus Cathedral
Wallenstein Gardens
Czech countryside was primarily agricultural 
Wooden marionette puppets at street market.

Amber and garnets are both plentiful
in shops around Prague

Czechs are known for their cut crystal

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