Czech please!

I have to keep reminding myself as we walk around Prague/Praha (not sure why we call it Prague since they call it Praha) that it’s all real – legitimately old and not the Las Vegas version.  At least two of the churches we’ve seen were built more than a century before Columbus set sail.  There are more tourists than locals in the historic district, and we’ve heard plenty of American voices.  There’s so much to take in in Old Town and in the area of Prague Castle that we, and probably most other tourists, have not ventured much beyond it.  I keep trying to memorize the detail, but the buildings are so ornate and there’s so much history and beauty that I can’t.  We’ve seen Prague during the day with mist which I didn’t think could be any prettier until I saw it at night in mist.  Then we saw sunny Prague followed by a clear night.  I don’t know which is the most beautiful; I do know that my phone pictures don’t do any of it justice.

Charles Bridge/Karlüv most, built in 1357 (!), is a famous, nearby landmark that crosses the Vltava River and connects Old Town with Prague Castle.

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On Tuesday we walked a couple miles over the river to an art museum and saw a series of 20 enormous paintings, The Slav Epic, by Alphonse Mucha.  We also saw a number of Picassos and Impressionist paintings on an upper floor of the museum.

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Below: Near the Franz Kafka Museum…

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On a street pole…

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At night in mist…

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In the courtyard of our hotel:

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At the Christmas market in Wenceslas Square:

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The Christmas market there is pretty small, but the “square” (long rectangle) is very large.  The huge building at the end is a museum that is closed for five years for renovations.  There was also a museum in Kusadasi, Turkey closed for years for renovations – in addition to the Pergamon Altar at the museum in Berlin.  Hmmm.

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Sts. Cyril and Methodius Cathedral (Orthodox) has a crypt underneath that briefly housed seven Czech paratroopers during WWII.  I read online about the small museum and crypt, and Laurel and I went there Wednesday (Laurel escorted Charlie back to the hotel room and then met me at the church.) to learn more.  British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s infamous “Peace in our time” quote comes from comments he made after signing the Munich Agreement that allowed Hitler to take the Sudetenland portion of Czechoslovakia which was occupied mostly by Germans.  Of course, Hitler was not appeased and eventually took all of Czechoslovakia in addition to Poland.  Hitler wanted to kill or exile (from Europe) all the Czechs who could not be Germanized.  I’m not sure exactly what that means.  In 1941, Hitler placed the evil Reinhard Heydrich in charge of Czechoslovakia.  There were Czechs in exile in London who worked with the British government during the war to resist the Nazis in Czechoslovakia.  Some of them trained in Britain as paratroopers and returned to Prague to assassinate Heydrich.  There was swift and terrible retribution for Heydrich’s death including the Nazi murders of an entire Czech town and the razing of its homes.  The seven men directly responsible for Heydrich’s killing hid in the church crypt until they were betrayed by a fellow resistance member.  All seven killed themselves when the Nazis came for them.

After World War Ii, of course, the Soviet Union took over Czechoslovakia.  Playwright and frequently-jailed activist Václav Havel was elected the first president of a free Czechoslovakia after the Velvet Revolution 25 years ago.  The Czechs and Slovaks then split up, and Havel became president of the Czech Republic.  He died in 2011.

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Today we walked to Prague Castle to watch the Changing of the Guard at noon.  St. Vitus Cathedral, a 14-century Gothic church, is on the castle grounds.  Its interior (and exterior) stands in sharp contrast to the 18th-century, Baroque church of St. Nicholas just a short distance down the hill.

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St. Vitus:

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St. Nicholas:

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Charles Bridge and surrounding area:

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A man was making huge bubbles nearby:
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Tonight we took in more views from the Charles Bridge area and then went to the Old Town Christmas market:

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When Charlie was an unhappy toddler and screaming at home or on a car ride, Wayne would frequently try to cheer him up and, I think, calm his own nerves by singing “Good King Wenceslas.”  He never told me why he chose that song, but I’m guessing because it’s long and you have to focus on remembering the lyrics which helped to distract from Charlie’s screaming.  Laurel and I still remember all the words and were singing it the other day.  We looked up Wenceslas on Wikipedia, who lived in the 10th century, and found out he founded St. Vitus church (but not the building that’s there now) because he had a relic that was St. Vitus’s arm (?!) and because the Czech name for St. Vitus is very similar to the name of the Czech pagan god for the sun; and Wenceslas was trying to convert them to Christianity.  Wenceslas was actually the Duke of Bohemia, but was named a king posthumously, and was murdered at age 27 by his brother, Boleslav the Cruel.  Laurel says the murder probably could have been predicted since Wenceslas’ and Boleslav’s parents clearly favored “Good King Wenceslas” and that Boleslav was just trying to live up/down to his name.  🙂  The Christmas carol was written over 900 years after Wenceslas’ death and is probably pure fiction.

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