Sunday, February 20, 2011

Goodbye Praha Beach!

We woke this morning to plummeting temperatures and snow flurries.

With the tempeeratures not expected out of the 20's all day, the final day in Prague would be the coldest one so far. After grabbing a quick and unhealthy breakfast snack at Starbucks (I needed a double shot of espresso as a pick me up and nothing else was really open on Sunday), we met our tour guide for the morning, Jana Hronkova, for a trip through the Jewish Quarter in Prague. For those of you who don't know, the Jewish section of Prague is the largest in Europe.
As many of you are aware, the Jews have been persecuted for thousands of years, and it only continues today. The Christian majority in Prague allowed the Jews to inhabit a certain section of the city in the old town that no one wanted due to its flooding problems. The Jews were forced to live in this section only, and had curfews and limited rights beyond its borders. A series of synagogues were built and life was generally difficult due to continued over-crowding and issues with disease, fire and whatever else could spread quickly. It was funny to learn that the Christians that so persecuted the Jews looked to them even then for loans because it was believed that charging someone interest on money borrowed was a component of the deadly sin greed. The Jews, however, had no issues. Later, we would learn that as the restrictions on Jews loosened and they were able to leave the ghetto and function as normal members of Prague society, they would look to the Christians to cook food for them on the Sabbath, as it was against their beliefs to do so. Finding a way around the rules went both ways. It was also interesting to learn that many times the government would borrow money from the Jews to fund wars and other works and re-pay them by giving in to more freedoms.

Size of the ghetto was an issue that could be seen in the Jewish cemetery. If there was no way to gain land for living, land for the dead was limited even more. The Jews would continually stack the dead in the same cemetery. Over time, it has been said that at least 20K people were buried in the cemetery that takes up a small portion of the land that they were allowed to utilize. As can be seen in the picture, the headstones fill every possible space, every nook, every cranny. Obviously, with the snow coming down and covering the grounds and stones, it only added to the experience.
We listened to Jana as she provided information on life of the Prague Jews as well as background on the Jewish religion itself. Much like Czechoslovakia, the Czech Jew has had a difficult time maintaining their identity. As we learned again today, not too long after they found equality amongst the Czech people, the Jews lives were again shattered by the German occupation and subsequent attempted extermination at the hands of the Nazis. Side note. Europe's oldest synagogue resides in Prague. When asked why the Germans did not tear it down during occupation, Jana replied that they had planned on using it as part of a museum for extinct races. The world can be quite sickening. We also saw a unique Hebrew clock. Just like Hebrew is read"backward", so is the clock. You can see with the modern clock above, it's exactly opposite.
We couldn't take pictures in the synagogues, but we left excited about learning something new. This sounds pretty "well la-de-da" but old churches start looking the same after a while.

At the start of the 19th century, they leveled the ghetto and built an area they call "New Paris." At the end of the street the communists placed a GIGANTIC, and I mean Gigantic, statue of Stalin. Once communism fell they put this equally gigantic metronome. Fun Fact: Michael Jackson once started his world tour in Prague and he put a gigantic statue of himself in the same place (1996 HIStory Tour, look it up, totally true). Hmmm... questionable...
We finished up a little shopping, Blake took 500 more pictures of the Charles Bridge from different points in the city,
and we hiked down river to take this picture of the "Dancing House." It looks like Fred Aistaire and Ginger Rogers! I had this great plan to take a picture with my leg up leaning against Blake. It was going to be great except, there was no one around and we'd have to stand in the middle of the highway, so that didn't so much happen.
Next we decided to put the "Fun" in Funicular and ride up Petrin Hill.
We hopped on the Cable Car for a short trek WAY up to the very top of Prague. Petrin Hill is the Central Park (or one of them) of Prague. In the summer it's a gorgeous green space to take picnics and get panoramic views of the city. In the winter it's just freaking cold (about 18 degrees at this point.) It's topped with a mini-Eiffel tower that you can climb. They closed five minutes before we got up there. Nothing makes me madder than that. Way up at the top of the hill, it did give us some gorgeous views of Prague at night and the Castle.
When we couldn't feel our fingers or faces anymore, we headed down and off to our last night in Prague. One more good dinner, beer, and we we're done. Goodbye Prague!

Our car comes at 4 am, so we're pondering ways to spend the next two hours.... midnight polar bear run around Prague? It's only about 10 degrees...Who knows!