Thursday, 14 May 2015

The Candy Cane Tour Part Three: That time I accidentally found myself in the middle of a World Hockey Championship, otherwise known as my time in Prague

Well folks, this part of the trip is going to take a bit of a drastic turn... First, let me say, that the train ride from Vienna to Prague was incredible. The scenery was unbelievable - so many tiny little houses along the river. I daydreamed pretty much throughout the entire trip, and it was fantastic! No screaming children, no 'crazy' people, just peace.

When I arrived in Prague, it was early afternoon, I felt pressed for time, and still needed to address the issue of my train to stop number four. I pretty much booked it for the ticket office, and was informed of a train strike happening in Berlin. Slightly panicked, but realizing I had zero control over things, I took a deep breath, a step back and reassessed the situation. I was told I couldn't make a definite reservation, but that there'd be no problem with me getting to my next stop. The glitch - I could only go as far as Dresden. With that in mind, I decided to let myself worry about that in a few days, and made my way to the hotel to check in.

I stayed at a fairly sketchy spot, which ended up being on of the best places I've ever stayed. The staff were super friendly, and the location was really great! I unpacked quickly, grabbed my camera, and ventured out into the 'mean' streets of Prague. Actually, they weren't mean at all. Honestly the only meanness I encountered was the aggressiveness of the train ticket office lady, and another lady trying desperately to sell me a ticket to a concert I really wanted to see, but did not have enough cash-i-loa on me at the time.

I took the underground to a fairly touristy part of the city, knowing that I likely didn't have enough time to see all that I wanted to. Although, I quickly realized that a map of Prague, and well, pretty much everywhere else in Europe does not work on the same mistaken scale as Canada... in other words, it looked big on the map, but was quite a small area in reality! Where I ended was at the bottom of a hill, with what I believed to be Prague Castle at the top. However, I quickly got sidetracked looking at some neat buildings, and before I knew it I was walking up a hill in a direction I did not know. On this trek, I got some great views of the city, and before I knew it I was wondering a path on the way to the castle!

The first photo I snapped in Prague - some random 
Prague Castle 
A view of the city from the hill on the way to the castle 
Part of the castle
This was along the path to the castle. I thought it was a neat shot, and had to laugh afterwards,
because a bunch of other people started to take the same picture after I did!
This is __ Church, the cathedral within the Castle walls
The castle itself was pretty cool. It is basically a little town of sorts, with a massive cathedral in the centre of it. Entrance into the castle grounds was free (or at least from where I entered...), but there was an option to pay to see various aspects of it. I opted out of this, and just enjoyed walking around. The views of the city from this vantage were also really awesome!

The entrance courtyard
St. Vitus Cathedral, one of several churches within the castle walls
Random door...I think part of the cathedral. 
One of the courtyards inside the castle walls.
The reddish building is St. George's Basilica.
Views of Prague from the castle walls.

Next, I decided to make my way to the Monastery, which is only a short walk from the castle. I decided not to go all the way, as there was a walking path that captured my eye instead. While stopped at one point snapping a few pictures, I was approached by a young man from Brazil who asked if I would take his picture. Alas!  I thought, I had been surprised that no one had asked up until this point in the trip, as I usually am asked frequently! It turns out he was doing the reverse trip that I was on, less my final stop, and was studying English in London. We had a nice chat for a few minutes, and then I carried on my way in search of other architectural finds within the city.

The Monastery
A view from the pathway I decided to walk on
The Brazilian guy insisted he take a picture of me in return...he ended up taking plenty,
of which none I was ready for...this was the only one where I'm slightly smiling! 

And I did. And just like in Vienna, most of what I took pictures of I did not know what I was looking at - I just saw cool looking buildings and such! It was nice to just wander and take it all in. I tried to walk along the river, but so many restaurants have ownership of the river bank, so it was difficult to make a straight path. Still, it was so walkable, even with the cobble stone (don't worry, I soon live to regret this comment!). At one point I was even stopped and asked if I wanted to get high! This was a rather 'high point' for me, as no one has ever looked at me and thought boy! she looks like someone who'd like to get stoned! Or, maybe I do, but no one's ever asked! But it was also within this adventure, that I met a Canadian couple, who enlightened me on the fact that at that moment Prague happened to be hosting the World Hockey Championship! They seemed disappointed that I didn't know that this was going on... sorry Canada, I've let you down once again.

The Holy Trinity Column.
Not sure what the buildings are behind it.
The courtyard inside Wallenstein Palace.
This is where the Czech Senate sits. 
Wallenstein Gardens
Wallenstein Gardens, with the Palace in the background
More shots from within the Gardens

The Palace

Another shot of the Gardens
A monument to signify the Soviet Liberation in 1945.
A view of Charles Bridge from along the waterfront.
Shots from along the river

This is Dancing House, a fairly popular building in Prague, apparently. Interestingly,
the nest-looking thing is how my hair started to look towards the end of this trip!
That evening on the way back to my hotel, I got majorly lost, and the cobblestone was wearing on my tired old knees (see!). I ended up having a really good dinner at a place which turned out to be two streets away from where I was staying! Go figure!!

Day two was the turning point. The afternoon was filled, as I had booked a tour to Terezín Concentration Camp, so naturally, the thing to do in the hours leading up to, was visit the Jewish quarter of the city. I'm slightly making light of this, because it made for one really heavy day. In fact, the trip to Terezín is going to have to wait, because I'm still trying to process it, and am certainly not ready to discuss that experience.

But, the morning was nice! The nice sunshine made for a wonderful few hours of touring around what used to be home to the largest Jewish population in Europe. The churches and synagogues within the area were pretty immaculate. I walked a long the waterfront a bit, and onto Charles Bridge.

Not sure the name of this Church...
Prague Astronomical Clock, also known as Old Town Hall in Prague
Church of Our Lady Before Tyn 
Views of Old Town Square 

The Czech Philharmonic building!
View of Prague Castle from the riverside by the Philharmonic building 
Statue of composer Antonín Dvorák
Church of St. Salvador, also known as The Church of the Most Holy Saviour
The start of one side of Charles Bridge - one of Prague's most recognizable buildings!
Statue of Charles IV Karel IV.
Charles Bridge is named after him.
St. Francis of Assisi Church
The Lamentation of Christ statue on Charles Bridge.
Apparently this was were executions used to take place...
A view of Prague from Charles Bridge
Then I paid a visit to the Old Jewish Cemetery. When I said at the onset of this post that this is where the trip took a drastic turn, I mean, it was impactful. Heavy. Heartbreaking. But, ultimately impactful. When you enter the cordoned off walls of the old Jewish city, you start by exploring an old synagogue. What you are greeted with are walls and walls of names and dates of births and deathsof those who died in the Holocaust. Walls. Putting into context the magnitude of any major world event is difficult, but seeing it in a tangible way right before your eyes is simply impossible to grasp without being completely moved. The upper part of this synagogue held an exhibit of art drawn by children in Auschwitz. If the names on the walls didn't get you, some of the images found within this display sure did! Ranging in themes from 'the men that take you away', to the fear of living under such inhumane conditions, to incredible images of hope produced such a rainbow of emotions, even reflecting on this and writing about it now, is incredible difficult. And, it's for this reason, that I can't quite allow myself to fully process my experience in Terezín quite yet.

Names written on the walls... 

The original writing, which is now coming off the wall.
Next was a walk through the old cemetery. This was quite interesting, as there were so many tombstones to look at. I think I've noted this in a previous post, but I really enjoy walking around cemeteries. There's a peacefulness and hopefulness that I seem to get out of doing so. This was similar, but not, as I couldn't understand most of what was on the markers in front of me. The peacefulness was interrupted by an extremely rude American couple, who even through the drawings exhibit seemed clueless about what they were viewing - clueless, as in who they were (possibly) surrounded by! But, thankfully, my love of looking at the detail of tombstones enabled me to get some distance away from them.

The final part of this, dare I say, attraction is another synagogue, which focuses on the tradition of Jewish burials. This was much more uplifting that the start of this experience, and was actually really interesting.

All in all, it was a great morning, and it really provided a good foundation for the afternoon's activity. I mentioned above that I wanted to see a concert during my time in Prague (they're foolishly cheap), and even though I missed the Prague Philharmonic (my favourite!) by two days, I had intended on catching something else. But, upon returning from Terezín, I was really glad that I didn't - I was wiped...emotionally, physically, and just needed a quiet and early night.

-the Orange Canadian

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