Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Europe at Christmas {Prague~Day Two}

Thursday, December 17th was my second day in Prague, and it was a busy day.  I wanted to start early, but I don't think Europe does "early" the same as Americans.  My hotel had a free breakfast, so I wanted to take advantage of that before heading out, but it didn't start until 7:30.  Once I finished the breakfast of an omelet and homemade yogurt, I headed out for the Charles Bridge.

The hotel was only a short walk from the bridge and the Vltava.  I walked down a little bit so I could get some pictures of the bridge before I actually walked over it.  Just FYI:  Charles Bridge construction began in 1357!  Until 1841, it was the only means of crossing the Vltava River.

Charles Bridge with Prague Castle looming in the background

There are lots of swans on the Vltava


I then walked over to the start of the Charles Bridge


The bridge can get very busy during the day.  I have seen pics where it is solid people all the way across, so that is why I wanted to get there early and beat the crowds.

There are 30 statues along the bridge...most constructed in the 1600 and 1700's


A selfie on Charles Bridge

 I crossed the bridge, but then immediately walked back across to go to the Old Town.  I had a guided walking tour of the Josefov (the Jewish Quarter or Jewish Ghetto) that I wanted to do. 

The Jewish Quarter is made up of several Synagogues and an old cemetery.  Most of the Synagogues have been turned into museums.  This is the Maisel Synagogue and it was built in the 1590's.
This is the Jewish Ceremonial Hall.  Actually quite a new building, as it was constructed in 1911.

Included in the picture, is the Old New Synagogue (1270!!!), the High Synagogue (1568) and the Jewish Town Hall with it's messed up clock (bottom one) that goes backward.  According to my guide some of the Christians decided to gift the Jews with a clock as a reward for something that I don't recall now.  They assumed that since they read "backwards" their clock needed to be backwards too.

More of the New Old Synagogue (back side)

Legend has it that a Rabbi created a Golem to protect the Jewish People, and that the body of the Golem lies in the attic of this Synagogue.  There is only one door into the attic.  It is said that the Nazis sent an officer into the attic to see if the Golem existed and he dropped dead.

a Pretty building that is now a restaurant
The Spanish Synagogue (1868)
Our tour guide said that the Nazis did not destroy synagogues in Prague as they did in other cities throughout their occupied lands because they intended to turn them into museums to the "extinct Jewish race".  

Statue of Franz Kafka outside of the Spanish Synagogue.

The tour was just a walking tour around the area, so I went back and paid admission to go through some of the sites including the Old Jewish Cemetery.  Thousands were buried here from the 1400's to 1786.  They are buried one on top of the other over the years.






After I finished with that tour, I decided to just go ahead and walk across the river to the Malá Strana (translation: the lesser town or little quarter).  Malá Strana was founded back in 1257 by the Bohemian King.  I didn't cross the Charles Bridge, but a different one this time.

I headed to the Church of St. Nicholas, but took in the sights along the way



Here is the Church of St. Nicholas

and the inside...







After the church, I started to walk up the hill toward the Castle.  Remember how I was going to use the hop on hop off tour bus as transportation?  Well it was a good plan, just one that I didn't stick to.  I walked on my two feet all day.  My fit bit hit 10,000 steps by 10:45 a.m. 

While walking up the hill, a store caught my eye.  They were selling gingerbread.  I had seen tons of beautiful gingerbread booths at the markets, but this store seems somehow more legit since they were always in business.  And let's be honest, I wanted a break from the uphill climb.  So I went inside and was persuaded to try a sample even though I don't like gingerbread.  Well, I liked this.  It doesn't have ginger in it, but is a spice cookie of sorts.  I got a bag of mini-cookies for myself that I'm still eating on...

But I got some of their pretty cookies for my mom and my grandmothers.
They were nice and boxed them up for me to carry them home more safely, so that was a total bonus of buying in the store vs. the markets.
They also had some ornaments cookies so I bought myself this one and got my mom a bell...

After the shopping break, I kept walking up the hill for a bit, but then you come to the stairs to the castle.  This is where it gets serious.  

Here's the start of the stairs...
This is after I had been going up for a bit...
Once you get on up there, the view looking back is pretty awesome...
Do I look ready for a rest?!?
because I had just come up this...
Once I got up there, there was a small Christmas market that I shopped around.  I only bought some water and a Coke Zero at this point, and then took a seat on a bench and munched on a couple of my cookies.  Prague Castle is really a complex of buildings that dates back to the 800's.  No, I didn't forget a "1" in front of the "8".  It is now the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic.




also St. Vitus Cathedral




I never figured out why there were Christmas trees stacked below this window...



{these two are iPhone pics}
the back of St. Vitus

Gargoyles of St. Vitus

There was a Christmas market here too.
I purchased the heaviest item of my trip, and I schlepped it around Europe in my carry-on for the rest of the week.  Thankfully it made it back to Texas in one piece.

I stopped at another place with great views of Prague before heading down from the castle.



For the rest of the day, I went back to the market at Old Town Square, and also walked along the street that was all lit up with christmas lights on the trees that line the street.  That is their fancy street with all the high end stores, so I did a little window shopping.

Before I leave you with Prague pictures, I must show you this sidewalk.  Really, if you go back and look at many of the pictures I have posted, you will see the gorgeous sidewalks everywhere.  I was obsessed with them!

Ultimately, looking back, I think Prague had the best goods at it's Christmas Markets.  Of course at the time, I didn't know that, so I was pacing myself.  My goal was not to have to pay the overweight bag fee to get home (this time)!  But here were some of my other purchases...

I got my mom this Nativity
Also a couple of nativity ornaments from the same booth.  I kept the blue for myself and gave Jennifer the other one with her Christmas.  The blue isn't pretty on it's own, but it really pops on a tree, and thankfully they had them displayed on garland so I could see it's potential.  
and again, at the same place, this magnet for myself
Here's an ornament that I bought in the Old Town Market.  It has the scene from the square painted around it, with the clock tower on the other side.
And somewhere in the hike up to the castle, I stopped in a glass ornament store and grabbed this one.

And that's a wrap on Prague!

  Here are some of my thoughts about this city in case you are interested in traveling there:

It's an amazing city.  Seriously, my second favorite city in Europe.  I mean nothing is going to top London for me, but I loved Prague so much more than other places I've traveled to including Paris, Dublin, Edinburgh, Brussels, and even the other stops on this trip.

I found there to be lots of English speaking people in Prague.  The hotel, tours, markets...language was not a problem.  There are lots of tourists from the UK there.  I encountered many, including one retired lady who had a conversation about the tv show "Dallas" with me while we walked along our Jewish Quarter Tour.  

I loved staying so close to the Old Town Square, so I would recommend that.  Keep in mind, you can get a pretty good deal on nice hotels in Prague.

I lucked out and the weather was pretty mild...in the 40's.  If you go for the Christmas Markets, you could luck out like me, or it could be in the 20's like it was the next week.

If you are thinking about going, JUST GO!  It is a great city!

Stay tuned for my day in Vienna...

 

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