So I managed to blog exactly once since leaving for our three-week trip to Europe (Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Austria) – and that was on the plane ride there. Oops. Traveling (with a young child) is tiring, and between journaling and updating Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, I’d had my fill of documenting the experience while there. Still, there’s a sense of completion I get from blog posts that I just don’t get from other forms of social media.
Let’s begin with the trip itinerary:
Prague, Czech Republic – 4 nights
Berlin, Germany – 4 nights
Munich, Germany – 3 nights
Verona/Brescia area, Italy – 3 nights
Florence, Italy – 2 nights
Overnight train – 1 night
Vienna, Austria – 1 night
Prague again – 3 nights
That sort of pace has never been my style, but the transitions were not as grueling as I’d expected. I still prefer to stay longer in a single city or to visit more than one or two cities of an entire country, but given the parameters I was working with, it was the best itinerary I could’ve come up with. And I can say that because I came up with 19 possible itineraries – this one was #17!
Several people have asked me for highlights of the trip, so I’ll structure my blog posts along those lines. First up: Prague, our arrival/departure city. We spent four nights there at the start and three nights at the end. Initially we stayed in Malá Strana (Little Quarter), several hundred meters from Malostrenská Square (aka Starbucks Square). It was a good location because of its proximity to the Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, and a few key tram lines. On our second visit, we stayed in a more remote location up on the hill, a few minutes’ walk beyond Prague Castle, near the Loreto. Prague is compact, so we were not very far from things, but the hill is a consideration. Especially walking back after dinner at 10:30 at night when it’s really cold. Which we did, several times. If I visit Prague again, I’d like to try accommodations in Old Town or thereabouts because there were more restaurant options on that side of the river, and a lot of stuff over there we didn’t see much of.
Sights We Saw in Prague
Prague Castle — St. Vitus Cathedral — Golden Lane
Franz Kafka Museum
Petrin Park — Tower — Hunger Wall — Mirror Maze
National Marionette Theater
New World Street
Strahov Monastery Library
Old Town Square — Astronomical Clock
Museum of Miniatures
Old Jewish Cemetery — Pinkas, Spanish, and Klausen Synagogues — Ceremonial Hall
Palladium (Shopping) Mall
Museum of Ghosts and Legends
The Charles Bridge is not overrated. We walked across it eight or nine times and it never got old. It was the first tourist thing we did on our first evening in Europe. It was not crowded, and early enough we could look up at the statues and see them against a backdrop of sapphire blue sky, with all the waterfront lights reflecting on the Vltava River. Buskers (one of Kidlet’s favorites was a man who played glasses of water) and portrait artists were still around at night. During the day, there are more ware peddlers and a lot more visitors in general. One day I’d like to walk the Charles Bridge at sunrise.
Franz Kafka Museum – Well, I can’t think of a better museum dedicated to an individual, what an homage this place was. It’s located on Kampa Island and there’s a David Černy fountain out front of two men with swiveling hips facing each other, perpetually “urinating” into a shallow pool shaped like the Czech Republic. Kidlet got a real kick out of that as I mulled over the artist’s statement. I spent two hours at the Kafka museum and could have lingered longer, but six year olds have their limits. Kidlet never fussed or complained and spent most of the time drawing in her sketch book, but she found the space, full of shadows and angles, to be eerie. As we moved from room to room, she’d grip my sleeve and ask, saucer-eyed, “What’s that sound?”
In Old Town, we visited the Municipal House (the exterior of which is spectacular) for the two-room show, Vital Art Nouveau 1900. When traveling, the temptation is strong to see famous warehouse-sized museums, but museum fatigue is real (and lousy). I retain so much more information from a small, well-written and well-curated exhibit on a subject I’m interested in. Here I learned more about the philosophy and influences behind Art Nouveau, especially as it developed in this region, and also about Czech artist Alphonse Mucha, whose work you’d likely recognize even if you don’t know him by name. There were echoes of ideas and feelings I experienced at the recent Seattle Art Museum exhibit on the Northwest School. Some artistic connections were made for me here, and also some beautiful artifacts and film footage of Prague from a century ago.
On our first full day in Prague — before one of my best friends arrived to join us — we had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours at Petrin Park. It was one of our best days on the trip. We set out for a breakfast place called Cafe Lounge near The Hunger Wall, but accidentally took the long way (I wasn’t lost, just confused about where we were going).
It was a great thing because we stumbled upon the Lennon Wall, and some funny statues of giant babies on Kampa Island, and we were along the water and met friendly dogs and their smiling owners in a little park. After a good breakfast (with good service!) at Cafe Lounge, we walked to Petrin Park. There was the sculpture art dedicated to victims of communism, and near that, a big bed of blue and white flowers. I got yelled at by an impatient transit ticket seller, who was then yelled at by an Englishman who came to my defense. Then we took the cable car (aka the funicular) up to the top of the park, where we saw the replica of the Eiffel Tower and spent some time in the Mirror Maze (a major highlight for Kidlet). It was still pretty Autumn that first week of November, and we got to see Prague’s trees full of changing leaves. Petrin Park was calm and interesting, with lots of paths crossing the hills. There’s a nice playground at the bottom of the Park, off of Ujezd. We returned a day or two later with my friend and climbed Petrin Tower (299 steps, and the elevator was broken – be sure to ask after the lift’s condition before buying tickets if there is anyone in your party unable/unwilling to climb those stairs!). It was cold and misty on the second day but the views were still grand.
Kidlet was a real trooper and let me visit not only the Old Jewish Cemetery but several important buildings related to Prague’s Jewish culture and history in the Jewish Quarter. The Cemetery is a sight to behold, with graves — dating back to the mid-15th century — scrambling over each other and every which way. Adjacent to the cemetery is the Pinkas Synagogue, where the names of 80,000 Moravian and Bohemian Jews killed by the Nazi regime are written on the walls. In the upstairs of the synagogue, we looked at the art of children from the Terezín (aka Theresienstadt) Camp. Kidlet’s mind is still very much in a child’s world of cute critters and robots, candy, hearts, flowers and rainbows, but I talked to her about what we were seeing here. I know she doesn’t well understand the context of World War II (nor does she care to go into details of history) but she listened and seemed to think about it. Another highlight, half a dozen blocks from the Cemetery, was the Spanish Synagogue. It’s done in a Moorish Revival style, and all I can say is, do an image search and see for yourself; I stepped in and was in awe.
Well, summing up just the highlights was tough. I have so much more I could tell or write about Prague, but no one wants to read a 2,000 word post. I’ll just end by saying I truly hope to visit Prague again — it’s beautiful, approachable and very romantic. Also, one final highlight: Kidlet lost a tooth there on our very last night!