Beautiful buildings, terrible tales (including golems and severed arms…)

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This has nothing to do with the fantastic walking tour Hugo and I did, but it’s just one more example of the fabulous food in Prague. These stands are in several shopping centres: dried fruits, fudge, chocolate—there are delights on every corner. Literally. I have never seen so many cafes, patisseries, mini markets, little pizza or kebab shops, and restaurants.

Last week we joined the Royal Free Walking Tour. Our guide, Ashley, was Australian. He married a Czech woman and has lived here for the last few years. Aside from being a tour guide, he has a Pie Shop! They were out of vegetarian pies when we went, but Hugo said the meat pies were excellent.

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A Sydney-sider, Ashley was super animated. He should be a history teacher—he told us such great stories. I felt as if I understood the Czech people much better after the three hour tour (not to an uncharted desert isle…). They’ve been through so much. They’re peace-loving but very courageous.

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This was exciting! Prague is famous for its beautiful performance venues, and at The Estates Theatre, the current opera is Don Giovanni. It was actually FIRST PERFORMED in this theatre. Mozart conducted it! This production is apparently a careful reproduction of that original performance. I think I might go! Not sure about Hugo.

Prague’s architecture is stunning. On on intersection, we saw six architecture styles.  think they were  Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Art Nouveau, Cubist, and modern Communist. Can you imagine which was the most drab? The pic below is a good example of how when old buildings burned down, whatever could be salvaged was left intact. This is one of the remaining towers which marked the city’s boundary centuries ago. Don’t ask me how many. It’s a lot.

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In the Jewish Quarter, we came across this statue honouring Franz Kafka. He was never successful while alive, largely because he wrote in German, and it was terribly unpopular at the time. When he was dying, he asked his friend to burn all his work. Fortunately, the friend did not. I must admit that I’m only familiar with a few of his works. Our guide Ashley suggested that ‘Metamorphosis’ (in which the protagonist wakes up as a cockroach) is a good book to read in the loo : two pages a day. I can’t imagine anyone but an Australian giving that advice to a tour group.

Below are some pics of the Jewish Quarter. I can’t wait to go and explore this area later this week. This first pic is of the Spanish Synagogue, built in the 16th century. During World War II, the Nazis stored what they stole from Jewish people here. Our guide said that it was built in this style because the Islamic rulers were very kind to Jewish people, and everyone lived harmoniously.

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This next building is the oldest active Jewish synagogue in Europe, dating from the thirteenth century. It is also the site of the most famous of all golem stories.  Rabbi Loeb is said to have created a living creature from clay in the sixteenth century to protect the Jewish community. The golem  is said to be hidden in the attic.  Golems are very scary. Be warned!DSC00705

We also saw the Pinkas Synagogue, but I didn’t take a picture. Some very important artefacts are housed there. You might have heard the story of Frederika “Friedl” Dicker-Brandeis. Deported to the Terezin ghetto, she organized secret art classes for the children. When her husband was sent to Auschwitz, she volunteered to go too. Before she did, she entrusted some 4000 pictures drawn by children to a friend. She died, but her husband survived. A large number of the drawings are on display in the Pinkas Synagogue. 550 of the almost 660 child artists were killed.

We also saw a very old church (below): St James the Greater (in English). Ashley had some of our group members act this story out. The legend tells that several hundred years ago, a thief was stopped from leaving the church when a statue of Mary came alive and grabbed him by the arm. The next day, the priests could not extricate him, and had to cut off the arm. Immediately, the statue dropped the arm. It was hung on the wall to warn other thieves. Apparently the mummified arm that hangs there now is not the original one, which was destroyed in a fire a little over four hundred years ago. The inside of the church is spectacular, we were told, but it’s only open at certain times. I’ll have to go back for sure. DSC00673

I feel as if I’m just scratching the surface of Prague’s immense history. So many narratives here. There is horrific sadness, great bravery, and so much intriguing mystery.

After the tour, Hugo came with me to find The Globe, a very hip English-language bookstore that hosts reading groups, movies, and all kinds of events.  I think it might be a little too cool for me. Yes, Hugo looks like he’s engrossed in Go Set a Watchman, but he’s sneakily just reading the last page.

The food was pretty good, but the rhubarb lemonade was divine. I was instantly plunged back into a childhood of stewed rhubarb and junket. It was heavenly. I’m noticing that there are so many interesting drinks here—all kinds of boutique styles of fruity deliciousness. Strawberry juice is popular too.

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