After waking up at 5am Thursday so that we could walk to the bus to take us to the airport to catch our 8am flight, we finally began our Big Trip (that is what we called it before it was even an official plan). Everyone in my group is taking advantage of a couple days off this first week to make a giant trip and travel. When we were on the bus headed to the airport, two of our girl friends from our program ended up getting on the the same bus because they were catching a flight to Dublin, so we made our way to the airport and through security together.
First we flew from Sevilla to Barcelona where we had a two-hour layover before our flight to Prague. On the flight to Prague I ended up sitting in a row of Spaniards from Barcelona who were headed to Prague to visit a friend studying there. We ended up talking most of the way there (between my naps) and I gave him my e-mail so that we could meet up once in Prague. I was surprised that after heading so far from Spain I still ended up speaking Spanish!
Once in Prague we had a complicated journey on the bus, through the metro, and into the center of town to find our hostel (it always seems to turn out this way!). After a couple hours we finally managed to find where we were staying and check in. During the flight I read Rick Steves’ book on Prague (obviously), and when we got to the hotel I started looking up things to do in Prague. I found that the National Theater in Prague was putting on the nutcracker and advent concerts, so Sarah and I headed to the Theater to try and buy tickets.
(Castle Quarter across the river)
It gets dark extremely early in Prague, so although we checked into our hostel around 330, it was already nighttime when we walked out in search of the tickets. Sarah and I picked our destinations for the big trip because we read about amazing Christmas markets that these cities have in December, and when we walked out of our hostel it was like walking into Christmas land! Everything was strung with lights, there was a Christmas tree in every plaza, and we kept passing markets selling ornaments, sweets, hot cider, and everything Christmas!
(Statues on Charles bridge)
Prague is a beautiful old city, with a lot of pretty old buildings (they came out of World War II with almost zero damage) that added to the dreamland atmosphere. On the way to the Theater we passed a cute chocolate store so we made a pit stop. The store was filled with antique chocolate boxes and tons of amazing looking chocolates, so I bought a couple of things for gifts and then picked out a bag of chocolates for myself. Once we made it to the theater we tried buying Nutcracker tickets, but there was only standing room left, so we ended up getting tickets to the Christmas concert on Sunday, which I was equally excited for.
(Street near the markets)
We walked around the city taking pictures and ended up coming across the infamous Charles Bridge, so we walked along that and then headed back towards the Christmas markets. It is hard to put these markets into words, except to say they are basically like my heaven. The whole market is filled with the amazing smell of these cinnamon doughy desserts, everything is lined with garland and lights, and all the little stalls are selling cute ornaments and fun little Christmas gifts.
(Christmas tree in the market)
We bought an apple cider and wandered around a while admiring all the ornaments and gifts before deciding to spend our crowns on a giant sausage/hot dog and some weird potato thing that we decided had sauerkraut and gnocchi in it. We headed home pretty soon after dinner because we were tired from traveling.
(Horses and the Christmas market)
The next morning we got a pretty early start and headed down for our free breakfast in the hostel (unlimited cereal and a sandwich, it was amazing). After approximately 5 bowls of cereal (I had to get my moneys worth! And I haven’t had cereal in months), we headed for our first touring activity: the Jewish Quarter. On the way to the Jewish Quarter we ended up passing the Astronomical Clock, which is another infamous symbol of Prague. The clock is giant and dauntingly complicated keeping Roman time, Bohemian time, it also has a dial to show the location of the sun/moon in relation to Prague, another showing Zodiac signs, and finally a list of the Saints names to show whose day it is.
In the Jewish quarter we saw a number of Synagogues, the most interesting of which was the Pynkis Synagogue. This synagogue’s walls are lined with names of all the Jews from Prague who disappeared during World War II. Each name is listed with the Family name, date of birth, and last date known to be alive. Apparently while the country was under Soviet control, the Soviets came in and attempted to wipe off all the names, which can be seen in one section of the synagogue which has only the original paint, but the other names were all redone.
(Each saints name on the clock)
This synagogue also contained artwork that young students did while in the nearby concentration camp, Terezin. A teacher in the camp had students draw pictures to express what they were feeling to help them cope, the result of which was really moving drawings that show the young children’s perspective.
Included in the Jewish Quarter is also the Jewish cemetery, which is filled with topsy-turvy gravestones, piled almost one on top of the other. The Jewish people were only allotted a small, limited area of space for their cemetery and the Jews believe that once buried, bodies shouldn’t be moved; so with such little space the Jewish people were forced to essentially layer their dead in the cemetery. Over time the cramped burying caused the graves and headstones to create a hilly landscape that looks like it is from a macabre cartoon.
After the Jewish Quarter Sarah and I just wandered around and took more pictures of all the beautiful buildings. We ended up returning to the chocolate shop we found the first day and picking out another bag of chocolates, and then we stopped at McDonalds to have our breakfast sandwich for lunch with some French fries. For dessert we walked out onto the street and had one of the little cinnamon things that make everything smell like heaven (don’t judge! I saved the chocolates for dessert after dinner!), and they were amazing!
They are made by wrapping dough around a giant rod that is rotated over a fire, which toasts the outside of the dough while leaving the inside nice and gooey. When you order one they take the dough things off the fire and then immediately coat them in a cinnamon sugar mixture inside and out, and then they are ready to eat!
Although it was dark outside after our lunch, it was only 430, so we ended up walking around trying to find things to do. We decided to go to the Communist museum, which shows old Communist propaganda, and it had a displaying showing how a grocery store looked with the uniformed packaging and plain products. After our day of touring we wandered around the big Christmas market again, bought a few ornaments and ate another giant sausage/hot dog for dinner.
(By the river)
Traveling in a country that doesn’t speak English, but doesn’t speak Spanish either has been really weird. I am so used to speaking Spanish that if someone doesn’t speak English I immediately start talking in Spanish, which obviously wasn’t helpful in Prague. Since I speak Spanish, I am not used to not being able to communicate what I need or want even when I am in a foreign country; luckily, sign language has sufficed for my needs in Prague.
The hardest has been trying to find people willing to take a picture of Sarah and me. Since we are traveling without anyone else, it is hard to get pictures of us in front of monuments things together. While in the Christmas market we stopped on lady and asked if she could take our picture (while also using hand signs) and I don’t know if we did some hand sign wrong or what, but she responded by looking at us funny and then kind of backing away….now we generally try to find English speakers to take our pictures.
(Big tree in one of the markets)