Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Czech it Out! Prague (3)

On my final day in Prague, death was a theme.

First I went to Olšany Cemetery (which is actually 12 cemeteries) with up to 2 million burials. It's one of the oldest graveyards I've seen, because it was originally created as a plague pit in 1679. Due to its vast size, I couldn't find the plague monument. I pulled out my finest charades move, but it's actually pretty difficult to mime the plague, and the disinterested groundskeeper pointed me towards Franz Kafka's grave instead. Did he die with armpit buboes? I don't think so.

Quite a few graves featured this bird motif.

Unexpectedly, in one corner is a Commonwealth War Graves graveyard, with an over-representation of young Kiwis.

There's also a section for Russian soldiers, with their traditional high body count.

One of the churches in the middle is surrounded by unusual cross. I believe that's an orthodox church.

The New Jewish Cemetery at Olšany is, if anything, more conservative looking than the Christian parts.

As mentioned, its most famous inhabitant is Franz Kafka. Finding it was a bit of trial, although I'm not sure why.

Most striking to me were the plaques on the wall to Jewish residents of Prague who were murdered in WWII.

I then headed back to Prague's Jewish Quarter. The Old Jewish Cemetery dates back to at least 1439. It only covers a small area, but has as many as 100,000 burials. To enable them to fit, extra layers of soil were put down and new graves built on top of old ones. There are 12 layers of graves. It makes for a very chaotic scene.

Certainly the Prague Jews did not fair well in WWII, but the city's 6 synagogues did survive - something that did not happen in a lot of German-occupied cities.

The High Synagogue

The Jubilee Synagogue

Then there was just time for me to stuff my face with one more round of goulash at a golem-themed restaurant before heading to the airport. Excellent trip: I loved the Czech Republic.

Czech it Out! Prague (2)

I was surprised by how busy Prague was, for the shoulder season. However, it is the 6th most visited city in Europe (4.4 million visitors per year) so I guess it's busy all year round.

This is the point on the Charles bridge where John of Nepomuk was thrown into the river for refusing to disclose the queen's confession to the king. The stars around his head represent the stars that appeared on the water when he drowned.

That King was Wenceslas IV, who was also heavily involved in the Hus affair. Bad King Wenceslas?

People being thrown out of, or into, things is something of a feature of Czech history. There were 2 famous defenestrations that led to wars. In the second, in 1618, 3 noblemen were thrown out of a window in Prague castle and fell 70 feet. All 3 survived. Wikipedia notes that: "Catholics maintain the men were saved by angels, who caught them; Protestants believe they fell into a heap of horse manure". Isn't history great?

Near the castle I visited another St Nicolas's church, or as the Czechs call it, Kostel sv. Mikuláše. This one was a bit flasher on the inside.

Then it was a quick jaunt down the road to another cathedral: St Vitus's. This is another impressive slab of building.

I did the various tours around the castle. I wanted a photo of the defenestration window, but some American girls were standing in the way and their high-pitched squawking drove me from the room. I could see the appeal of defenestration.

In the evening, I roamed the streets taking photos.

More love locks on the bridge.

I then finished the evening with a violin concert at Clam Gallas Palace, where both Mozart and Beethoven played. It was breathtakingly magical.

I then strolled back through the old town, past Our Lady church...

and watched the Astronomical Clock report the hour. The American man next to me asked loudly "Was that it?". Yes, you hillbilly, that was it and it's been doing that, with limited interruption, since 1410.

One street over from the clock, I found an icecream bar and ordered a sundae with bananas and peaches. When it arrived, it was huge. A couple of spectators gave me worried looks, but I smiled back knowingly. I've dealt with oversized European puddings before and this one disappeared pretty fast.

Czech it Out! Prague (1)

My train travel to Prague wasn't simple either. A section of track was closed with a bus replacement. Once again it was late before I arrived. I checked into the pension and then set out with my camera for a walk.

I was aiming for the Charles bridge, but must've started at a point on the river north of it, because I walked for ages and ended up in a distinctly un-touristy area. I had to scamper across a motorway to get back to recognisable territory.

The door in my pension was padded leather. I guess my high school guidance counsellor was right about me ending up in a padded room.

The next morning, I gnawed my way out of the restraints and hit the streets.

Wenceslas Square

This is the House of Two Golden Bears. No idea where the name came from. The door was built in 1590 and there are passages under the house that lead to the Old Town Hall and the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn.

There are so many cool buildings in Prague. This is the Old Town Hall and the tower.

Church of St Nicolas

The Church of St Nicolas is a Hussite church. Jan Hus was an influential church reformer prior to Martin Luther. As a gesture of reconciliation, the Catholics offered him safe passage to visit the Council of Constance, and then, due to a clerical error, burnt him at the stake.

Hus was a follower of the English reformer Wycliffe, who was also declared a heretic and burnt at the stake. However, unlike Hus, he had already been dead for 44 years when it happened.

This all worked brilliantly for the Catholic Church, except that the vast majority of Czechs promptly became Hussites.

Church of Our Lady Before Tyn

The photo doesn't really do it justice, but the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn might be the most impressive building I've ever seen, especially at night. It was begun in the 14th century and was originally a Hussite church, before being taken over by the Catholics.

The Charles bridge. Couples attach love locks to the bridge to symbolise their love.

In Cambridge, we do something similar to symbolise that our bicycle has been stolen.

A Bohemian Rhapsody: Cesky Krumlov (2)

Cesky Krumlov - let's add some sqiggles - Český Krumlov, was founded in the 13th century. There are many pretty buildings, although the tower of the castle stands out. The church is St Vitus's.

The town is nestled in a bend in the Vltava river, and I slogged my way up a couple of the nearby hills, looking for the perfect birdseye shot. Never quite got it.

Before heading to the station, I bought a cheese and ham pancake - or palacinky. You get a good feed off one of those.