One of the reasons we wanted to stop in Alton was because loopers get a discount for staying 5+ days in the marina. David’s company was sending him to Prague to meet and work with the team there, so we needed somewhere to park the boat for ~9 days, and I decided to tag along on the trip instead of hanging out in Alton. Having worked on with several different teams in Prague, David has actually visited the city quite a bit, but this would be only my second time (the last time also tagging along on a work trip!).
We landed late on Saturday and after checking into the hotel, we learned that is difficult to find food in the city late at night! After being turned away about about 7 different places (kitchen is closed!), we managed to find a restaurant, Divinis that hesitatingly agreed to seat us, but we could only order one course! We had an inkling that we’d stumbled upon a fancy restaurant when we saw that there was a tasting menu option. Ooops, we were still in our worn-for-24-hours airplane clothes! Both our meals were absolutely delicious, and we learned later after talking to some of David’s colleagues that the restaurant is Michelin rated.
On Sunday, we passed by the astronomical clock in Old Town Square, which on our last visit was covered by scaffolding, but now was visible. We were headed for the Klementinum for a tour of the astronomical tower (not to be confused by the astronomical clock) and an amazingly beautiful library, which we couldn’t actually go into. At the top of the tower was a great view of the city.
Next, we climbed the gothic tower at the beginning of Charles Bridge – something David had wanted to do, but never had a chance to on his previous trips. At the base of the tower was an exhibit of items from various time periods that had been fished out of the river around the bridge, and a video of the myths surrounding the building of the bridge. There was another great view of the city from the top. We met up with some of David’s colleagues for a lovely lunch, and then to pass the time in the afternoon (so we didn’t fall asleep from jet lag), we decided to do a boat trip on the river.
Starting on Monday, David had full days in the office and then work dinners in the evenings scheduled for the rest of the week. This meant that I was on my own.
I started out the week with a free guided tour of the Old Town, New Town and Jewish Quarter. My guide, Sarah, was an American with Czech family who had been living in Prague for 10 years. She was a fantastic story teller and I learned a lot about the city throughout various different periods from the early 1400s to the Velvet Revolution. In the afternoon, I re-traced the steps of the tour, and walked further up Wenceslas Square towards the National Museum while snacking on a Trdelnik, which you can find all over Prague, but actually originates from Belgium. Nonetheless delicious! In the evening, I had a lovely pasta dinner with a glass of wine and a good book.
The next morning, I spent in the Jewish Quarter, walking through all the museums. There are about 7 historically preserved parts of this neighborhood, and for me the most incredible/intense/thought-provoking is the Pinkas Synagogue, where almost every inch of the wall space is filled with names of Czech victims of the Holocaust. I was visiting this museum about a day after reading about the Texas law requiring schools to teach multiple sides of every subject, including the Holocaust. On the previous day’s tour, I had also learned about the Old Jewish Cemetery. Unlike in Christian tradition, it is apparently not tradition to have graveyards close to places of worship. Due to the fact that the Jews were restricted to the small area of the Jewish Quarter, the cemetery’s proximity to several surrounding synagogues is actually not by intention. In addition, when the land was full, they were denied new land for a new cemetery, so they had to keep building up. I believe there are something like 12 layers before the last person was buried in the cemetery, so it sits much higher than street level (which has already been raised over the years due to flooding). The cemetery packed with tombstones (each was removed and replaced after the new layer of dirt was added). I did not take many photos, wanting to respect the places that I was visiting.
In the evening, I attended a classical music concert (getting an extremely good deal on last-minute VIP tickets) that was in one of the churches of the Klementinum, which had a 6 piece string orchestra, a soprano, and sometimes the organ as well. It was a digest of well-known classical pieces including some Mozart, Dvorak, and Vivaldi, but the acoustics were amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Over the next few days, I explored more of the City including walking over the Charles Bridge, visiting the Museum of Communism, and the Mucha Museum.
On Saturday, David and I were finally able to spend the day together, so we had arranged a private tour with my guide from Monday. We met her at a farmer’s market on the river and walked through Old Town, New Town, over the river and up to Letna Park, and through the Prague Castle. In New Town, we learned about Operation Anthropoid, a mission carried out by Czech paratroopers with the goal of assassinating Reinhart Heidrich, Hitler’s #2. The story is fascinating and there is a memorial at Cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius to the paratroopers, all of whom lost their lives in the mission. Around the city there are also memorials on various houses where former residents hid the paratroopers as part of the mission (I saw some on my Monday tour). We also stopped at the public library that has an amazing chimney of books in the lobby. Apparently this was known only to locals until a year or so ago when some pictures of it went viral on instagram and now it is always busy with tourists!
In the Prague Castle, we learned about the history of the cathedral that was actually only completed in recent times. Inside we saw the amazing stained glass windows, where you can see that they were funded by such modern institutions as a bank and an insurance agency. The latter in particular is hilarious as it depicts various natural disasters like storms and flooding.
We finished off our trip with a return to Divinis to sample their full menu – again delicious. After another long day of travel, we arrived back to the boat in Alton along with my parents who flew in from Seattle to join us for a week on the inland rivers.