First, three things we forgot to mention in the previous post:
1. They pretty much have two brands of beer here, Pilsener Urquell, the original Pilsener brewed in Pilzen, Czech, and Budweiser (Budvar), the original Budweiss beer, which tastes pretty much like Bud at home. In other words, flavored water. (Oh....they also have "erdbeer", but that's just the German word for strawberry!)
2. Most street intersections contain a "zebra", a black-and-white striped crosswalk. So unlike places such as Rome or Hanoi where you put your head down (No eye contact!) and walk across the street as the cars and motorbikes whiz by you on both sides, here, when a pedestrian is on the zebra the cars all stop! Amazing!!!
3. In the old town there are a lot of street musicians. But we're not talking about two guys with drumsticks banging on empty plastic pails (like in Chicago); here we have seen (singly or in groups up to 5) people playing flute, bass violin, accordian, violin, guitar, trombone, and bassoon (!). Quite a lovely sound.
Friday was an absolutely perfect day. We actually slept late (well....til 7:30) and then a leisurely breakfast with some of the other Tauckies who stayed extra.
Then we walked to Wenceslaus Square. St. Wenceslaus is the patron saint of the country. This square was the site of the massive demonstrations in 1968 and the Velvet Revolution in 1989. So what better thing to do from there than to go to the Museum of Communism! We were anxious to see how this compared to the Communism exhibit at the National Museum of Bejing (see last year's trip post). The focus of this exhibit, unlike the one in China, was on how bad Communism was for Czechoslovakia! It started with a little history of the post-WWI period and then focused on the end of WWI and beyond. Much of it was told using photographs, materials (e.g., a Soviet-era classroom), and propagandistic posters of the era. There was a separate area showing how bad Communism still is in North Korea (photos of starving people, tortured people, etc.). The whole thing was very well done. This poster, an advertisement for the museum, pretty well sums up the Czechs' feelings.
Then we headed to the Jerusalem (aka Jubilee) Synagogue. This large, ornate synagogue (on Jerusalem Street!), was opened in 1906. It has a Moorish design, unlike the Gothic ones we saw earlier. It also has an organ and beautiful stained glass windows, which include the names of those who (apparently) donated the money for them. Best of all we could take pictures inside!
Then a stroll through the square back to the edge of the old Jewish ghetto to a fantastic lunch at Cantonnetta Fiorentina (OK, even though it was Italian it was highly recommended), which, until last year was called "Pravda" (Russian for "truth"). It was about 2:00, since we decided to do a late lunch and skip dinner becasue of the opera. Of course we ate outside. Wendy had a whole bronzini which was expertly filleted at our table. Wayne had linguine with baby clams in an olive oil - butter sauce. Both were divine. Dessert was a large caramel profiterole and a red fruit crostada slice. Bellisimo!
We walked back through the square one more time, did a little gift shopping, and then went to the hotel to get dressed.
Unlike the theater in Vienna, the attire at this theater was not quite as showy. Yes, there were many people dressed up (as were we), but many others had more casual dress. In fact, we saw a woman wearing shorts! (Not the same woman as in Vienna). Our perception was that this crowd was more made up of tourists than locals (e.g., one Japanese woman was wearing a kimono!).
As we mentioned in the previous post, this was a performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni. The music, libretto (super-titled in both Czech and English), and the men's costuming were all as they were in 1787, but the staging and women's costuming were definitely very modern. For those who may not be familiar with the story, here is a good synopsis of the opera: http://www.musicwithease.com/don-giovanni-synopsis.html
It was a wonderful performance made even more impressive by the fact that we were seeing it in the same place as it premiered 125 years ago.
Saturday, our real last day, was again....perfect. The weather forecast was sunny and upper 70s as we started out for a day at Petrin Hill, which rises 130m just on the other side of the river. To get there we first had to take the subway (which features one of the steepest, fastest escalators we have ever been on.....needed a Dramamine just for that!). Then a subway ride from the Nam. Republiky station to the Narodni Trida station. Then we hopped aboard the #22 street car and got off on Uvezd street. Then we rode the funicular to the top of the hill! Wow! (A note about the mass transit system: it is just like in Budapest: the honor system. You buy a ticket - good for 30 minutes of travel, for 90 minutes, or a full day - then you put it in a machine to stamp the time. But there are no gates or turnstiles! And no one ever checked our ticket! They just trust that you will be honest. Hmmm.....).
Petrin Hill is a huge park with rose gardens and other attractions. For example, the Monastery / Library mentioned in the previous post is there. This time we visited the lookout tower. We climbed the 299 stairs to the top of this 60 meter miniature version of the Eiffel Tower (it was built by the Eiffel Company), built in 1891. The top gave a tremendous view of the entire city. Then we walked down (could have taken the elevator either way, but what fun is that?)
Then we went into the Mirror Labyrinth, which was also built for the Prague Jubilee Exhibition in 1891. This features a pathway through a "maze" of odd-angled walls that are covered with mirrors. As soon as you walk in, you are reflected to eternity from all sides. It was almost impossible to know which way to walk without whamming into a mirror!
Then a walk down the hill, into town, over the Charles Bridge and back to our hotel to relax and prepare for our final dinner. We were hot and exhausted!!!!!!
Well....we had intended for this to be the last post of this trip, and to include the Prague food report, but we've been having so much fun and doing so much that we just didn't have the time. So there will be a final post (including tonight's dinner!) after we get home on Sunday. Or Monday.....depends how tired we are.