Blogging our way through Eastern Europe
Today was the day we would finally arrive in Prague, and since our flight was so early, it was also one of the few days we also had to wake up super early: 5:30 AM. I had heard so many good things about Prague, especially about the views, so I was really excited to be there. I was also feeling a lot better from yesterday. I’m not sure if this is necessary information, but I had vomited three times yesterday over the course of the day, and it was terrible. I forced myself to eat breakfast in the morning even though my body was rejecting everything and after vomiting, I ate nothing for the rest of the day. I was so worried I’d still feel the same way today, but luckily, after getting a LOT of sleep (I slept at 8:30PM!!), I was ready to take on Prague!
For breakfast, we got ourselves some bagged food (it was OK, although I didn’t eat much of it and felt bad) and headed straight to the airport for our flight to Prague. I had to dump out all my water in order to get through security, so I went and bought two bottles of water, only to find out they were sparkling waters (which I didn’t really like). I still poured it all into my 1L plastic water bottle that I had been lugging around with me the entire trip though, and made off to the plane. Once again however, misfortune struck me. I realized I had somehow lost my water bottle as I was getting on to the shuttle bus that would take us to the airplane, which made me incredibly sad because I had used that water bottle for a memorable 5 days. I had even spent some time fixing it up after it got all dented. Resigned to a flight without water, I got on the (incredibly tiny!) airplane and got ready for some shut-eye. Obviously, since things were working out great for me, I slept for a good 10 minutes and spent the rest of the flight attempting to get comfortable and trying to sleep.
Eventually we arrived in Prague, and determined to fight the bad luck I had so far, I spotted the nearest store selling water and got me a bottle of cool, still water. After that, we went on a bus, then walked to our hotel, all the while taking in the city of Prague, which I thought lived up to its praises. It was an incredibly beautiful city, and I was staring in awe at the marvelous buildings. After we got settled, Ms. Freeman took us on a walking tour of the old town of Prague. It was amazing. We explored the winding, cobblestoned streets of the city as we explored different synagogues. The first one we went to was Pinkas Synagogue. It was truly a sight. The synagogue-turned-museum had names of around 78000 Czech Jews that fell victim to the Holocaust, and on the second level, there were children’s drawings and pictures they did themselves in one of the concentration camps, which were so powerful. To think these kids had lived in one of the Nazi concentration camps and put their feelings into paper in the form of art; there were some really incredible ones as well, and you could feel the loss of potential as you viewed each drawing and read in the caption that the child who drew it had died. After that, we went to the Spanish synagogue, which was one of my favorite parts of the day. This was a synagogue created by Sephardic Jews, who originated in the Iberian peninsula (where Spain and Portugal are located) and migrated to different parts of Europe after the Spanish Catholics kicked them out. The synagogue itself is reminiscent of mosques of the Islamic faith, which contains a lot of intricate patterns of flowers and detailed designs. This is really interesting, at least for me, because up until the late 13th century, Islamic kingdoms controlled most of the Iberian peninsula, which goes to show why the Sephardic Jews were influenced by Muslims; it was because Islamic culture permeated into Jewish life during the Middle Ages in Spain as well. I just loved how I could make these connections and learn more about different cultures. Honestly, history is so cool!!
After visiting the synagogues, we eventually crossed this huge and beautiful (I’ve used this adjective so many times, but it seems to be the only adjective to describe such a beautiful city) bridge built a LONG time ago, and the view was INCREDIBLE. We ended up at the side of a river, where we spent a lot of time resting and having fun with friends (there was also a lot of picture taking involved!).
After a nice long break at the side of the river, we walked back to a landmark (Ms. Freeman designated certain buildings as landmarks so that we wouldn’t get lost in the very confusing streets), and she let us loose for the evening to get dinner and explore the city. I went with a few other friends to a very nice Italian restaurant which had great food. Afterwards, we tried really, really hard to find our way back to the bridge, but after a good 45 minutes of confusion, we gave up that venture and settled on eating ice cream and buying souvenirs. We eventually found our way back to the hotel at around 10 PM, and settled for a good night sleep since we’ll be waking up at 6:30 AM in the morning tomorrow. It was a really fun day, and a breath of fresh air after the heavy stuff we experienced a few days ago.
This morning we woke up (too early) at 5:30am in preparation for our flight to Prague out of Warsaw Chopin airport.
Once at the airport, it was time to say goodbye to our amazing Polish bus driver, Alek. Alek has stayed with us throughout our time in Poland driving us everywhere, dropping us off and picking us up in places that definitely aren’t designed for buses to stop. He has also made a number of seemingly impossible sharp turns on small streets with a 50-something person bus.
Once in the airport, we checked luggage and got through security. Airport security in Europe has surprised me because we don’t even need to take off our shoes most times, even when flying internationally. There is museum security in America more aggressive than European flight security.
The plane we were taking to Prague was relatively small; it had propellers on the wings instead of jets, and our group took up 52 of the plane’s 68 seats. Most people slept on the flight, but some had conversations or did homework. The flight seemed quite short: it only took about an hour and a half.
We then rode the bus for an hour before arriving in the city. Prague itself at first glance is similar to other places we have been. It has a mix of old and new, new stores in old buildings, glass skyscrapers next to smaller older spaces. There is also lots of graffiti on bridges and walls.
After unpacking at the hotel, we walked to the Palladium Mall for lunch. It was an average mall, not really any different than those in America.
We then walked around the preserved Jewish section of Prague. Most memorably, we went into the Pinkas Memorial Synagogue, which has walls completely FILLED with names of Jewish Czechs who were victims of the Holocaust. This gigantic hand painted list spread from wall to wall, room to room, chronicling the lives lost. Also in that Synagogue were original drawings from children at Terezin, some of which detailed normal things like dishes or shoes, others which showed daily lives in the camp. It was moving, seeing the drawings and sketches from children subjected to such horror. Behind this Synagogue was Europe’s oldest surviving Jewish cemetery, graves squished together and bodies layered on top of one another to preserve space.
After walking through the Jewish quarter we walked through the center of Prague. At this point I started to dislike Prague, as there were crowds of tourists everywhere and we were trudging along in the 80 degree heat. It wasn’t until we got off the side of the Charles Bridge and entered the Mala Strana (“lesser town”), which is lined with parks and is much less crowded than the more tourist filled parts of town, that I began to enjoy the scenery of Prague. Our group ended up stopping by the river that went under the bridge to take photos and rest in the shade, which was a lot of fun and a good break from the heat and walking.
After walking up to Wenceslas Square, we split off for dinner. As the sun set, the temperature dropped and the density of crowds decreased. After getting dinner and dessert within Prague’s Old Town, I realized that although that area is a tourist trap, the intricacies and detail of the architecture are truly something to marvel at. The culture is hidden on main streets covered in designer watch stores, but looking into small shops full of wood carvings or marionettes reveals a more hidden side to this city full of drunken British tourists.
So whats up guys as Aaron would say for his vlog. We started this day with an extra early 5:30 wake up call to go to Prague from Warsaw. We got mediocre bagged lunch from the hotel and left for Chopin airport in Warsaw. We boarded a rather scary propeller plane which we occupied most of. Almost everyone slept from when we took off to when we landed. As we arrived in Prague, no one was prepared for the heat. We had moved considerably farther south and it was 82 degrees out. Everyone was still wearing pants and coats which were necessary in Poland.
In Prague, we boarded a new bus and drove through the beautiful Czech countryside, but it was not the same without our Polish bus driver Alek. Eventually, we reached a tunnel and when we emerged from the darkness, the entire city was visible. We drove into the city and marveled at the architecture. If anything stands out about Praha, it's the buildings. Prague was the only major European capital not to be severely bombed during WWII.
When we got off the bus, we quickly checked into our hotel and then left for lunch at the mall and ATMs. Next we started a walking tour of the old town and Jewish quarter. Along the way, we saw buildings from Prague's medieval period to present. Specifically, the only example of Cubist architecture in the world exists in Prague. In the Jewish quarter, we visited a Synagogue. Its walls were painted with the names and towns of every known Czech Jew murdered in the holocaust. Needless to say, the number of names is incomprehensible. Outside, we saw a Jewish cemetery which was miraculously preserved. Some of the tombstones dated to the middle ages.
After another brief walk, we arrived at what is called the Spanish synagogue, named for it's Spanish style architecture. It is almost more reminiscent of a mosque than a synagogue. From there we walked to Charles bridge. This 14th century construction bridges the Vltava river and is lined with statues and souvenir vendors. When we reached the other side we walked to a river bank and took pictures in between hand stands and wheel barrow races.
We then walked across a different bridge back into old town where we split up for dinner. Shoutout to Bobby who turned 18.