October 7–14, 2011

    Prague was the first leg of our trip through central Europe to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. We flew from Denver to Boston, enjoyed dinner with our daughter’s family during our four hour layover, slept to London, and got off the plane in Prague. Our visit was seven days of happily walking through one of the great cities of Europe, sampling the city’s art, history, music, architecture, and foods.


Map of Czech Rep.
     In the beginning were the Celts. Then came the
Germanic tribes. The duchy of Prague was founded somewhere in the 9th century or before. Then came the Great Moravian Empire, followed by Bohemian kings, The Holy Roman Empire, and the Habsburgs, putting Prague under a variety of rulers through WW I.

    The country of Czechoslovakia was created in 1918 when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire following the end of WW I. With the Munich Agreement (or, as the Czechs may prefer to call it, the Munich Dictate or the Munich Betrayal) in 1938, the Nazis took control of Sudentenland (a large portion of Czechoslovakia) and, between 1939–1945 divided the country into the Slovak Republic and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Following WW II it was a Communist ruled country: the Czechoslovakia Republi, the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, and the Czechoslovak Federated Republic and the Slovak Federated Republic. In 1989 the Communist regime collapsed during the Velvet Revolution and Czechoslovakia became independent. Finally in 1993, Slovakia and the Czech Republic peacefully declared themselves independent nations with Prague the capital of the Czech Republic and Bratislava the capital of Slovakia. What a checkered history in 100 years! Throughout all these time, Prague remained the focus of art, culture, and political power.

    Today, Prague is a city of 1.3 million with another million in the surrounding metropolitan area. In 1992 parts of the city were designated a World Heritage Site (WHS). Despite its large population, the city is manageable for visitors to explore and appreciate its history, culture, and beauty as a city. A common complaint from some visitors is that it is crowded. While it was not during the first week of October, it is no wonder that people flock to this magnificent City of One Hundred Spires.” Of all the places we have ever visited, Prague is one of the most entertaining, diverse, and interesting. We’d happily return again.

Judy and Tereza

    At our hotel, the Dorint Don Giovanni, we met with Tereza Libichova, our Grand Circle Travel guide for the entire trip. She had sent us a letter of introduction a few weeks before we left so we had some idea of her background: Born and educated in the Czech Republic, fluid in English as well as Russian, Polish, Hungarian, and others we are not sure of, studied Russian culture and literature at the university level, a wife and mother, and, at the age of 28, knowledgeable about every place we would visit in the next two weeks. And, we are quick to add, absolutely charming as well.

    Pragues transit system of trams and subways make it easy and affordable to get to all parts of the city. We found that out on our first night. We had purchased on-line tickets to a concert at Smetena Hall in the Municipal House (known better by the locals as Obecni Dum). This magnificent Art Nouveau building is an architectural masterpiece, and Smetena Hall is one of the two great concert halls in Prague and home to the Czech National Symphony Orchestra.
 Karavan Restaurant
    We walked a few yards from our hotel to the subway, which was easy to navigate and reasonably priced for seniors. We arrived in time to have dinner at the Kavarna Obecni dum restaurant in the Municipal House, rightly touted as one of the most beautiful cafes in Europe. Pricey, but it captures the relaxed feeling of luxury from another time. We felt as though we were really in a special place, not just at another urban restaurant near the subway.

    The concert was excellent: arias from Puccini and Strauss, Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A Major (KV 488) and, following the intermission,  Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”). If the soprano was a bit lackluster, the pianist was dazzling, and the New World Symphony was masterfully performed. We watched from the first level side balcony and the sound was outstanding. In all, it was a memorable welcome to a city we will remember forever. Afterwards we walked through the building, noticing the beautifully rendered tiles, friezes, murals, sculptures, and other art nouveau decorations throughout. We looked in The Americky/American Bar, which claims to be the oldest bar in Prague, though it dates only back to the early 19th century. (Could that really make it the oldest in town? We are skeptical.) We were to see other drinking establishments that are indeed much older. We returned to the hotel about 11:00 exhausted, but looking forward to our time in Prague.

    Our general schedule throughout our trip began with a morning guided tour followed by the afternoon and evening on our own. The pace was relaxed and we had plenty of time to select what we might investigate based upon Tereza’s suggestions and those by Frommer’s and Steves’ excellent guides which we had researched before leaving.

    Prague comprises five historic towns by the River Vltava: Lesser Town (Mala Strana), The Castle District (Hradcany) are on the west bank of the Vltava. On the east bank are the Jewish Quarter (Josefov), Old Town (Stare Mestyo), and New Town (Nove Mestyo, though parts of the “new” town date back to the 14th century). We were to visit them all, each interesting in its own right.

Lesser Town Square

    Our tour was of Lesser Town began with a subway ride and walk to the Wallenstein Palace Gardens where stand statues of Greek mythology created by Danish artist Adrian de Vries in the 15th or 16th centuries until they were stolen by Swedish invaders in 1648 (and never returned!). What we saw were early 20th century replicas.
Today it is owned by the state and used by many government agencies. The gardens also featured a wall of sculpted cement created to give the appearance of a cave. Peacocks wandered the grounds perhaps to give it all a feeling of a royalty—or at least privilege. The Wallensteins were clearly people of great wealth and power.

    We walked by the Franz Kafka Museum to the bank of the Vltava River to note the high water level from the last great flood in 2002. We noted the area of town on the other side of the river is protected by a high embankment, but why the west side was left unprotected is not clear.

    We climbed stairs up to the Charles Bridge, a landmark as iconic—and as busy—as the Rialto Bridge in Venice or the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, to name just a few. It is a magnet for tourists, buskers, artists, and families and couples just strolling. Reconstruction
began in 2007 to shore up the deteriorating stonework, to return traditional gas lighting, and to lay down a new pavement, all completed was completed last year. We walked to the east (toward Old Town) and then returned to Lesser Town where our tour ended at Saint Nicholas Church, considered a masterpiece of high Baroque architecture, that dominates the small Lesser Town Square (Malostranske nam).

    As the group broke up, we headed for a cafe that promised, in good English written on their outdoor chalk board, Homemade Pastries. We were not disappointed (in fact, we were never disappointed with the pastries in Prague). In addition to coffee, Judy selected from a photo on the menu an incredible ovocny dort s joqurtovym kreme layered six inches high; Hughes selected a tvarohouy zavin s vanickouyn kreme, which was equally delicious and as sinfully memorable as Judy’s. And so it began our visit to Prague.

    We walked south from the square down Karmelitska namesti (street) past the Church of Our Lady Victorious, home to “the infant of Prague,” a wax statue of baby Jesus presented to the church in 1628 and which has gained almost cult-like status. We’ll have to report on that another time. We were intent on the getting to the top of Petrin Hill not far away.
Petrin Observation Tower
    Though we could have walked, we fortuitously chose to ride the 1600' funicular railway to the top where we discovered the beautiful Strahov Monastery, the 800-year-old “Hunger Wall,” (built either to protect the city from Mongol invaders, or built by famine-starved workers in return for food; maybe both are correct), and the Petrin Observation Tower, a one-fifth scale model of the Eiffel Tower that stands 200' above the hilltop commanding one of the finest views of the city. It is said that on a clear day you can see the mountains on the border with Poland, though clear days in Prague are few and far between. However, while we were there, the clouds parted somewhat giving us good light and an excellent view of the city and metropolitan area. And maybe Poland.
    We had no idea how many buildings were covered with red tiles; from the top we learned why Prague is considered the “City of a Hundred Spires.” We saw the Charles Bridge was completely covered with folks walking leisurely on this Sunday afternoon. We saw the line of drab, anonymous “panel buildings” on the fringe of the city, relics from the days of Soviet occupation and city planning.

    On the way up the hill on the funicular, we talked with two young fellows, John from Prague and Thor from Reykjavik, who shared the car with us. They were on a return visit to the top of the hill and recommended that we have lunch at the charming Nebozizek Restaurant attached to a small hotel situated halfway down the hill. On our walk back down, we stopped there and found that the restaurant has a marvelous view, a great menu, and excellent pastries. They also serve Krusovice Lager, a favorite among Czechs. We also re-met John and Thor who where also having lunch.

    [Thor (short for Steinthor) is a professional guide in Iceland and encouraged us not only to visit but to be sure to contact him for suggestions about where and how to travel in his country. His pleasant and low-key personality makes us think he would make an excellent guide. We took his address, phone, and email ( so that when Icelandic Air opens its direct flight to Reykjavik on May 11, 2012, we will put ourselves in his hands while we’re there.]
Bridge Across Vlatava
    We joined the throng walking across the Charles Bridge, listened to some local musicians, looked at the statues, sketch artists, locals and visitors, and the boats on the river. Strolling through the narrow cobblestone streets is a pleasure we don’t often have in this country.

    [Note: Unlike other cities in other parts of Europe, Asia, and Latin America, very few people ride bicycles in Prague. It didn’t take us long to figure out why: the cobbled streets are crisscrossed with tram tracks, jarring and unsafe, especially when wet.]

    We found ourselves in Old Town Square, a central hub of what’s happening in the city. Crowds gathered to sip coffee, people watch, and witness the medieval astronomical clock, which was not made to tell time but to mark the phases of the moon, the seasons, and Christian holidays. Today, when the clock strikes the hour, a brief morality play is presented: the twelve apostles emerge in a row from the clock while symbols of evil (death, vanity, greed, etc.) sort of shake and dance below. It may be the most popular tourist attraction: it’s dramatic, unique, dependable, and free.

    As the afternoon wound down, we drifted toward a often mentioned shopping mall, Lucerna, off Wenceslas Square. But it was pretty well closed up this Sunday. Back on the Square, we decided to try some stand-up street food: sausage and sauerkraut and chicken sandwiches which we washed down with a tall can of Pilsner Urquell. (We didn’t eat on the street again, and don’t recommend it.) While we were on the Square we witnessed the removal of a car illegally parked: a tow truck driver with a hoist strapped the car to a chain and lifted the car out of the parking slot on the street and placed it on the back of the flatbed truck. Where it went, no one could tell us.


    The Prague Castle was likely founded over 1,100 years ago in the 9th century and has always been a work in progress: changes, additions, remodeling, and reconstruction have occurred almost ceaselessly through modern times. Architectural styles range from Romanesque to Gothic to Baroque to Rococo to Neo-Classic. Today Prague Castle, covering over 17 acres, is considered “the largest ‘coherent’ castle complex in the world.” Visitors may wander most of the grounds without charge, but there is a fee to enter the most of the buildings: about $18.75 (half price for seniors and children). Rick Steves’ guidebook says only four stops matter, and we saw them all.

    1) St. Vitus Cathedral. Today’s Cathedral, which towers over the castle grounds and can be seen from all over the city, is the third incarnation of the church honoring St. Vitus: the first was begun in 925, and a second in 1060, was built on the same spot. The one we visited is the Gothic Cathedral begun in a different place in 1344. By the mid-1500s it was only half finished; lack of funds, wars, revised plans, new architects, and design-contractor disputes prevented the completion for nearly 600 years! In 1929, the Cathedral, the Czech equivalent of Westminster Abbey, was finally finished, though renovation continues.

    In spite of Nazi and Communist occupations, the interior remains a place of beauty. The organ, which we did not hear, is magnificent, as are the alter pieces and windows. Of special interest is the stained window completed by Art Nouveau artist Alfons Mucha. (There is much Czech history in this window and it would be worthwhile to read up on how much Mucha depicted in this amazing masterpiece. In fact, there is probably as much political and cultural history displayed throughout the Cathedral as there is the usual Biblical history found in most churches.) A short-tour ticket, which included other portions of the castle properties, gave us access to additional areas of the Cathedral and reduced the number of other visitors we had to contend with. A cathedral is a place to take in slowly, letting the light and shadows and quiet wash over you. This is not a place to rush through.
Royal Crown
    2. Basilica of St. George. This very old Romanesque building with its wood ceiling shows it age immediately. It has none of the ornamentation of  St. Vitus. Restoration of the Gothic frescoes is in progress to bring back the colors to their original condition. It is small, some might say intimate, but we did not find the majesty of St. Vitus or other churches we visited on the trip.

    3. Royal Palace. This has been the home of governments and heads of state for over 1,000 years: Bohemian kings, Holy Roman Emperors, occasional Habsburgs, Presidents of the Republic—even Nazi big shot Reinhard Heydrich (“Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia”) lived there until he was assassinated. It is said that Vaclav Havel, first president of the Czech Republic (1992-2003), chose not to live in the palace in spite of his right to do so as head of the country.

    Like other royal palaces, there are many magnificent rooms for living, meetings, dining, etc. Here you can view the crown jewels: the St. Wenceslas Crown, the Royal Apple, the Royal Sceptre, and the Coronation Cloak. (The crown was so big and gaudy as to appear fake, but is, in fact, considered priceless monetarily and historically.) In addition, the palace contains the enormous Vladislav Hall, large enough to host huge feasts, jousting contests, and large crowds of guests for coronations and inaugurations without the impediment of supporting pillars. Also of macabre interest are the torture room in the dungeon area and also the room where several defenestrations were accomplished: defenestration is a quaint punishment whereby politicians or clergy of other notables who had fallen out of favor were tossed out of an upper story window on one side of the palace to either their deaths or, in some cases, serious injury only to be finished off by the mob of observers below.
Small House
    4. Golden Lane. This cluster of impossibly small buildings (the first rowhouses?) line both sides of a narrow street leading away from the palace. These tiny dwellings, no larger than a mid-size travel trailer (without running water or kitchens), were built by and home to castle guards and to craftsmen for nearly 500 years. Today, this area has been spruced up as a tourist attraction with gift shops, some craftsmen, and historical displays. It is a lively source of retail after a couple of hours of castle touring.


    Directly across the Vltava River from Lesser Town and the Castle District and surrounded by Old Town is the Jewish Quarter, once home to an estimated 15,000 residents. The history of this section of the city began in the 10th century; Czech Jews were confined within the walled ghetto as early as 1096. What followed over the centuries were devastating pogroms, times of prosperity, and a degree of quasi-municipal administration; there was even a period of emancipation when, in the late 1700s, Joseph II, the Holy Roman Emperor, enacted the Toleration Edict, allowing Czech Jews to settle outside of the Jewish Quarter. Many left and the ghetto slowly became a slum providing shelter to mainly the poor. Many of the buildings were demolished in an urban renewal project just prior to WW I, leaving today only six synagogues, the cemetery, and the Jewish Town Hall. Rather than completely destroy the remains of the ghetto, during the Nazi occupation of Prague, Hitler removed most of the Jews to death camps; he planned to preserve the area as a museum to an “extinct race,” displaying artifacts from across Europe as he expanded his vision of the Third Reich.    
Maisel Synagogue
    Many of the buildings and apartment houses within the Jewish Quarter have been built since 1900 (and in art nouveau style) and give the area an upscale look. Exploring the older sections and buildings can be accomplished with the aid of a good city map; to really see what the Jewish Quarter is like, we purchased a ticket to visit the Jewish Museum of Prague, which permits entry to four of the synagogues (a separate ticket is required for entry into the Old New Synagogue) plus the Old Jewish Cemetery and the Ceremonial Hall.

    It is quite worth the 300 Czech korunas (about $16) per person to walk the self-guided route. A few more dollars for an English language recorded guide was very helpful. The size and detail of each synagogue varied from small and simple (like the Maisel Synagogue pictured here) to the extravagant Spanish Synagogue, built in the 19th century in the style of the Moors, which stands out for its size and its artistic excellence—and its organ. However, a walk through the Old Jewish Cemetery was most moving experience as well as reading the materials in the Old Town Hall. Here we were in the presence of some 12,000 tombstones, most illegible from deterioration and erosion of the lettering (but we don’t read Hebrew anyway), dating from the middle 15th century to 1787, each representing the resting place of a dozen or more individuals layered in the ground one atop of the other because there was so little space available (since Jews could not be buried outside the Jewish Quarter).
Prague Jewish Cemetery
    [The New Jewish Cemetery was founded in 1891 and is located a few miles outside of the downtown area, actually quite close to our hotel. It has an area for 100,000 graves and includes a memorial to Czech Jews who died in concentration camps or killed in the resistance movement. The most visited grave is probably that of Franz Kafka.]

    We planned an entire morning to explore this part of Prague, and we could have extended it for the whole day. There is much to see and much to grasp, to try to comprehend. In the end, we had to break away—at least a little ways off. On a side street still within the ghetto walls we found the Golem Cafe that offered excellent strudel and pastries, hot coffees—and the golem! At least a model of the famous Golem of Prague, whose legend in known to most Jewish children today—and many gentiles as well since David Wisniewski’s creative and colorful Golem (Houghton Mifflin, 1996) won the 1997 Caldecott Award; it can be found virtually all libraries throughout the country. It’s not clear how or why this six-foot statue stands inside the cafe, or if it draws many customers, or if it’s there for safekeeping. However, we enjoyed the connection and the pastries.

    To shake the mood and let our emotions subside, we took our bread and cheese from the hotel buffet and walked through the drizzle to a park on the banks of the Vltava near the Rudolfium, home to the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, to “picnic” under a leafy tree and watch folks on the river or crossing the Manesuv most, the bridge just north of the Charles Bridge.

    We wandered again through Old Town Square, watched the Astronomical Clock “chime,” found a source of outstanding pastries—maybe the best of the trip—at the Patisserie Saint Tropez within the Lucerna Shopping Mall. Good coffee, too.
    We enjoyed an authentic pub dinner in Old Town with David and Caroline Voorhees, fellow travelers whom we found very compatible and easy to be with. David enjoys good food and some beer to wash it down. Caroline and Judy got along well and the four of us had the first of several evenings together on the trip. David somehow found the Restaurace and Hotel U Medvidku, which dates back to 1466. In the back of the pub is the “smallest brewery in Prague” that makes the strongest beer in the world, X Beer 33 with an alcohol content of  11.8% The subterranean beerhouse seats 300 and was appropriately smoky, noisy with loud talk and a hockey game on the big screen TV, and a menu of traditional Czech fare. For the first time in Prague, we enjoyed Budvar, the original Budweiser, a fine tasting pilsner made at the pub. We’ll come back another time for the X Beer 33. Walking to and from the subway at night did not cause us any concerns. We might not feel the same way in a large US city at night.

Astronomical Clock
    We often find we enjoy wandering around a city like Prague, not lost (we learned in Venice to keep a map handy) but without a specific destination when we start out. We probably miss things we “should see,” but we often stumble upon treats not mentioned in the guide books.

    Old Town Square is Prague’s impressive center of history and culture—and crowds! Though we don’t know for sure, we suspect dozens of pockets are picked there every day. Old Town Square was a traditional market square for a thousand years. Today it is the gathering place for outdoor cafes and restaurants, meeting people, and watching the Astronomical Clock “chime” the hours. Here are statues to such national heroes as Jan Hus, grand churches like the Church of St. Nicholas and Tyn Church, art museums, the Old Town Hall, carriage rides, and countless places selling gee-gaws to tourists.

    We passed through the square several times on our strolls of the city, but never met anyone we knew, found quieter places for coffees and pastries or, in the evenings, restaurants and pubs in other parts of the city, and never found a gee-gaw that captured our fancies.

    We did find the “Fred and Ginger Building,” or “Dancing House,” a controversial modern office building, erected on the spot where an allied bomb was dropped by accident during WW II (the pilot thought he was over Dresden!) that gives the appearance of two people dancing. It was worth a glance, but we’re glad we didn’t plan our day around locating it.

    On the way, however, we passed a display of police and fire department vehicles and equipment that was being set up for some sort of public exhibition and demonstrations. Judy found the vehicles and equipment very much like what we have in this country and couldn’t resist being photographed with some of the trucks. We could not find anyone who could or would trade a Prague Fire Department patch for one of ours from Nederland.
Engine #1
    Part of several days, usually in the afternoon, Judy found time to run in the neighborhood of our hotel. In spite of wet pavement, a chance of drizzle, and running in unfamiliar areas, she tried her best to keep to her schedule. All this after 3–4 miles of walking most days.

    The dividing line between Old Town and New Town is somewhat blurred; we never could quite figure where one stopped and the other began. However, when you’re in the heart of New Town, you sense a “where it’s happening” feeling by what people are wearing, how fast they walk, and what shops line Wenceslas Square (not really a square but rather a wide, three block patch of boulevard dominated by pedestrians). At one end is the National Museum (closed while we were there for repairs and renovation), a huge 19th century building that still shows the scars of Communist gunfire during the 1968 Spring Uprising. An interesting statue of St. Wenceslas stands in front, a monument to this symbol of Czech nationalism. The other end the boulevard is a cross street to the right of upscale, modern stores and such Art Nouveau landmarks as the Mucha Museum and the Municipal House. Look for the black Powder Tower, built to house the city’s supply of gunpowder, standing guard over this area.

    For us, this was a refreshing look at modern Prague and those who live there.
New Town Prague
    [Note: People watching in the area of Wenceslas Square, as well as throughout the city, was very entertaining. In most ways, the Czechs are very like Americans: they dress like us, they wear their hair as we do, they act in every way like Americans. We did note that the younger women tend to be noticeably tall; in many cases of couples on the street, the women were taller than the men. The younger women also had noticeably skinny legs in their very tight jeans. We also saw very few dogs, and those we did see were off leash though clearly “with” their owners. No cats in sight.]

    We watched an illegally parked car be lifted onto the back of a flatbed truck and taken who knows where; we spent a relaxing and revealing hour at the Mucha Museum learning to appreciate the full range of this artist’s patriotic genius (as well as beautiful designs and colors); well worth the modest price of admission. We skipped the MacDonald’s and Starbucks which we suppose were bound to happen in a city this big. We also skipped the highly recommended Museum of Communism, which seemed to us out of place in this strongly anti-Communist country (though for a country that is generally non-religious, there are scads of churches).

    But we do remember we ate very well while in Prague:

    To the cafe on Lesser Town Square whose name, regretably, we did not write down: You have not been forgotten. We will easily find you in a heartbeat when we return—opposite St. Nicholas Church. Your pastries were wonderful! We did, however, write down the the following cafes and restaurants we also enjoyed:

    •Nebozizek Restaurant on the side of Petrin Hill (below, and mentioned earlier).    
Petrin HIll Restaurant
    •Restaurace and Hotel U Medvidku
(in Old Town, mentioned earlier)

    •Patisserie St. Tropez (in Lucerna Mall, mentioned earlier).

    •U Vejvodu Restaurant. David did it again! This famous “Old Bohemian Alehouse” seems to be another pub popular with locals and visitors alike. The menu featured traditional Czech cuisine including potato soup and a delicious roast duckling which Judy and I split. I don’t know how David found these two places, but his choices were excellent. Thanks, David. Come west and we’ll return the favor.

    •Grand Cafe Slavia. Just across from the National Theater, this spacious coffee house has been the meeting place of artists, writers, actors, and political dissidents (and at least one US president: Bill Clinton). In fact, the story goes that in the period leading up to the 1989 Velvet Revolution, at any given time, half the customers at the Slavia were political dissidents and the other half Communist secret service agents. Whatever the truth, the Slavia’s coffees and pastries were among the finest we had on the entire trip, the service was impeccable, and the views of the river and castle outstanding.

    •Lehka Hlava. Tucked away on a tiny backstreet just a few blocks south of the Charles Bridge in Old Town is a small restaurant that serves singularly non-traditional food. One of probably a tiny handful of vegetarian eating establishments, Lehka Hlava offers an eclectic menu from around the world featuring greens, fresh ginger tea, and main dishes strong on lentils, veggies, tofu, cheeses, etc. It also may be one of the very few places in Prague that bans smoking! Dinner was a tasty change of pace from the carnivorous dining in smoky basements we had been used to.

    In addition to wandering the streets of Prague, we visited two World Heritage Sites out of town:

Chalise of Bones
    About 40 miles east of Prague, Kutna Hora was once a thriving and wealthy silver mining town of where much of the coins of central Europe were minted from silver mined in this area. The mines petered out by 1700 and Kutna Hora, like mining towns everywhere, including in the western USA, slumbered. Went ghost. Today it is what the guide books call a “refreshingly authentic” town, and tourists have discovered its charms, which include the beautiful 14th century Saint Barbara Cathedral and the macabre decorations of the Sedlec Bone Church just a mile away.

    Imagine the number of deaths from the plague and wars that spread across central Europe in the 1300s and 1400s. Bones of the dead were often piled in churches as a reminder to the living of the mortality of us all. Sometimes it was just a matter of practicality and convenience. Such places were called ossuaries and can be found among both Christian and Jewish communities throughout Europe.

    The Sedlec Church is the final resting place of over 40,000 souls whose bones languished in disarray until the monks decided to creatively display the bones in designs that were as elaborate as they were imaginative. The result is a display of human bones that is decorative: a breastplate and shield can be seen, sculptures, and artfully arranged skulls. What struck us was the chandelier that in comprised of every bone in the human body. While the first impression may be one of horror, we left with respect for the ingenuity of the artist-monks who completed the works.
Town of Kunta Hora9
    Saint Barbara is the patron of miners who founded the cathedral (some claim it is not a cathedral but only a church) in 1388 and generally represents Renaissance and Gothic styles. The frescos and windows are of high quality and the interior is, overall, stunning. Just across from the cathedral is a long dormitory erected by the Jesuits for their college in the 1600s. There are statues along the promenade next to the building that are patterned after the statues found along the Charles Bridge in Prague.

    We walked through the quiet narrow cobblestone streets, looking at store windows,  enjoying the near-absence of traffic and the contrasting pastels of the buildings. In fact, the whole day gave us a rest from the rush and bustle of the city. We found a very out of the way pub/cafe where Hughes ordered ribs (and potato pancakes) and was served eight racks of ribs, absolutely delicious and more than he cold handle (but enough to share with another of the folks with whom we ate). Of course, there was beer to help wash down the good food. There is always beer in the Czech Republic!

    [Postcards sent from Kutna Hora were received within a week of posting them. It may be because they were sent from a post office and Hughes witnessed them being hand stamped.]    

Castle in Czesky
    This medieval town of 15,000 was our last stop in the Czech Republic before we reached the Danube. Celts first settled here before the time of Christ, then came Germanic tribes, and finally the Slavs in the 9th century when it became an important part of Bohemia. It flourished as a cultural center and the site of an important Jesuit college. The Habsburgs “bought” the region in 1602 and it became an important German city until 1945 when most Germans were expelled.

    What has survived is a town of great beauty and architectural diversity: Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque buildings with charming facades, frescoes, and stonework. It has the appearance of a fairy tale town and tourists have discovered the town which has prospered with the influx of visitors. It claims to be the second-most visited town in the Czech Republic and was named the country’s first World Heritage Site in 1992.

    Cesky Krumlov was a stop between Prague and Linz (Austria) where we would board the ship that afternoon for our cruise down the Danube. We stopped for a home cooked meal at Pension Jana, a small hotel/bed and breakfast run by a cheerful and outgoing woman who, with the assistance of her mother and her mother-in-law, prepared a lunch of potato soup, delicious and filling roasted chicken and veggies, with strudels and coffee for dessert. It was a very pleasant stop with a chance to see the home of middle class family.
Czesky Krumlov Street
    Jana’s home was in a tidy neighbor hood overlooking the old town center. We had a brief guided tour to point out Krumlov Castle (access to the interior requires a tour ticket), the colorful Round Tower (site of the first castle) with its painted exterior frescoes now restored, the Church of St. Vitus, and, as could be found in so many central European towns, the monument to plague victims. We did not have time to visit the bear pits, the puppet museum, or the Baroque Theater, one of the few remaining in Europe where dramas and comedies were once performed.

    Wandering along the cobblestone streets, we were mindful that Cesky Krumlov was part of Sudetenland, the predominately German areas of Czechoslovakia. The Munich Agreement in 1938 ceded this area to Germany and the Czech minority was forced to leave. At the end of WW II 3,000,000 people of German ancestry were forced out of their homes in Czechoslovakia; Cesky Krumlov lost over three quarters of its population and Czechs moved into the abandoned houses. In time the town reclaimed its charm with the support of the Czech government and Cesky Krumlov has again flourished.

Overview of Prague

    Our preconceptions of Prague as a gray, sprawling, drab city with industrial smog and fumes hanging over decaying buildings has been completely replaced by images of grand gothic and baroque churches, elaborate palaces, a rich variety of art, inviting cobblestone streets in quiet urban neighborhoods, a city that comfortably blends the modern with the Middle Ages. It is an area of great beauty and an atmosphere that beckons visitors to explore the details of a great city that has endured a thousand years as a cultural and political crossroads. We are so glad we came and that we chose to spend as much time here as we did.

Judy and Hughes Moir
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