Castles, palaces in the land of storybook fairytales!

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Day 14: Berlin-Prague

On to Prague today; what a wonderful way to spend a Monday don’t you think? Certainly not your typical Monday in September but we’ll take it! We got up this morning very early and had our first Contiki breakfast and jumped on the coach. Todd and Yan (our dutch bus driver who speaks very little English) drove us for a quick photo stop back to the East Side Gallery. It of course once again was beautiful but I was really glad that we had gone the other day as we had much more time to observe all of the artwork and just kind of have a relaxing afternoon as opposed to the jump off stop we got today. We got back on the bus and had a quick tour of Berlin (as the marathon was now over and cleaned up to the city it was before) and headed for Dresden, Germany where we were stopping for lunch. The bus seems like a nice bunch so far. It’s been quite awhile for both of us since our last Contiki but it’s kind of like riding a bicycle you know. Todd it seems has been working for Contiki for about 9 years and has apparently been all over the world. He’s obviously had some interesting job experience as he says he started out as a gymnastics coach, then on to some environmental education, the IT for the government of Australia and then into travel and tourism and has been there ever since. He told us both that he worked for one tour company in Africa, another in South America and now has been with Contiki in Europe for the last seven. An interesting career and life choices that’s for sure and a definite way to see the world! Anyway, (I digress) we stopped in Dresden for lunch which was a lovely city. It was attacked during WWII and completely rebuilt using schematics of old buildings so it looks as if it was from the early centuries which is a testament to the architects I would imagine. We grabbed some lunch at a food court and sat outside in a nice square for lunch to just watch the world go by.

After about a two hour stop we were back on the bus and headed to Prague in the Czech Republic. It’s funny, it’s as if you hopped in the car and drove to New Jersey or something as there was no border check or anything (yes, and once again…no passport stamp!).We dropped off our stuff at our next hotel, showered and jumped back on the coach headed into the city for a quick tour. We got dropped off and walked across the Charles Bridge, through the Jewish quarter (passed a Jewish cemetery with over 12000 people buried in one small area of land), through the Old Town and the square, then the New Town which looks as if it’s out of the 21st century as opposed to everything else besides the fancy shopping steet and then all split up for some food. This is such a picturesque city. I mean really, how can a castle be real-not that we haven’t been to others but this one looks as if it’s right out of a storybook and the whole city looks like it’s out of a movie. Mathew, Adam and I wandered a bit and headed to Old Town for traditional Bohemian Czech food and found just that. We used our Czech Kroner (money that will shortly be out of date as the Czech Republic will shortly be moving towards the Euro) and for about 12 US dollars each had a very hearty meal. They each had some goulash thing that came with an to spend any day! And just think…tomorrow is another day in the magical city of Prague!

Day 15: Prague
A typical morning would consist of waking up, showering, getting dressed and eating breakfast, but after that this was not your typical Tuesday…we’re in Prague for goodness sake-one of the most magical cities in the world and breakfast is included!!!!! So after eating our nice spread and a later wake up and on the bus at 9am we had a new passengaperitif and dessert and I had a vegetarian risotto and we split some potato pancakes…no, this was not one of those low carb nights that’s for sure (although it appears that neither Germany or any of the Eastern European countries would fall into the low carb category) and it was delightful as my sister would say. We finished our dinner and headed back to the square to see this gigantic Astrological Clock chime on the hour. It’s no disney attraction that’s for sure but when you think that it was constructed in something like the 15th century and it has mechanisms that move, chime, ring bells and spin around it’s quite astonishing. Then back to the bus and the hotel for the evening!

Prague is beautiful. Allegedly it is one of the few cities that did not get destroyed during the war. The castles, synagogues, churches and palaces look and feel so lifelike that you think you must be in Disneyworld or on the set of a movie-how can this possibly be a reality? Aside from the concern for the gypsy-folk and immense pick-pocketing woes it is an awe-inspiring city. There was one point tonight when we were walking through Old Town and I was looking up and the spires and I had to stop and pinch myself and I thought, oh my goodness…it’s a Monday night in September and here I am walking through Prague with my husband; how unbelievable is this! I’ve wanted to come here for so very long and now I’m really here-sometimes it’s really great to be a traveller and to be able to leave your ‘footprint’ on the world and to of course have the world’s footprint in your memory and handprint on your heart. What an amazing way er today with us we saw. Today we had a local guide with us for a morning tour of the city of Prague. He was about 31 years old and spoke English quite well and was very funny. His voice was quite robtoic for a start and then it got easier to understand. He told us about Czech history and the ups and downs of life in Prague. First we went to the most beautiful castle (Hradcany) and he explained the marble on the ground (three different colors-blue, red and white for the Czech flag), then the gardens and the squares, the beautiful architecture, the stories of the guards and the beautiful churches inside and out. We eventually left the palace, went through more gardens onto the scenic lands of Prague and then the Charles Bridge and then Old Town by the clock. There are wonderful guide left us and the city was ours to explore.

We grabbed some lunch in Old Town square with Emma, Brendan and Adam. The rest of them had sausages and I had French fries and a crepe with nutella and banana (all of the major food groups right…French fries, chocolate, fruit and carbs) and we were ready for an adventure. We all headed to the Jewish Quarter and bought our tickets. We all went to see the Old-New syngagoue which was so small but had all of the aspects of any Jewish temple with the ark, aron kodesh (where the Torah is kept) and some sort of pulpit and we looked around. It was unbelievable to be again standing where so many had stood before. Adam then relaxed for a bit and Emma and Brendan headed to the museum of Communism and we went to the rest of the synagogues which were more like museums of sort; gift shops and the synagogue again which had so very many names on one headstones which showed that there were so many people buried on top of each other in one plot of land at the same time as the area was so small. We walked through and I placed a rock on a few of the headstones and then we finished up our tour (of course by that time I had bought a few postcards, a magnet and a small mezzuzah) and met up with Adam to head to our next stop. We wandered across one of the many beautiful bridges to a church the guys wanted to see where apparently they dress up the baby Jesus with the clothes of whoever the travellers are in town that day; so if there are many Aussies he might have an Aussie jumper or something on his body. The guys went inside for a quick picture stop and we headed back to the Charles Bridge area for some shopping. At this point it felt as if we had walked for ages and covered the streets of Prague more than twenty times over. We headed back towards Old Town with achy feet and a filled spirit for this gorgeous city as we walked pass palaces and churches and steeples and spires and wound our way back towards Old Town with some stops along the way to look at Czech garnet and Bohemian Czech crystal. I so wanted to buy the crystal that was really beautiful but I just couldn’t figure out where to put it that it wouldn’t break for the next two months or so to make it back in one piece. On our way back we saw a Czech criminal being nabbed by the police and in handcuffs (this is something you tell your mother after she already knows you’re just quite fine) on the ground after what we believed to be an armed robbery of a jewelry store as there were many police officers, witnesses, a badguy that apparently put up a fight and a gun that the police pulled out of the rubbish bin along with some jewels…you have to love the stupid criminals, right? With a little bit of new energy we continued walking passed our friendly clock (I have no idea how the Czech women wear heels on these cobblestone streets-it was hard enough to walk in flip flops but they are of course my most comfortable footwear), past a few brides (which we think are just an advertisement for Prague as we saw the same ones walking around and taking pictures for hours) and got back to the statue in the center to meet up with the group for dinner.

Adam headed off to dinner to the Beer Factory to meet up with Emma and Brendan as they were not doing the optional dinner and we were on our way with the others. We headed to a restaurant where we sat at a table with Chantal from Minnesota, Sarah from Washington and Simon and Francine from New South Wales (Australia) and ate traditional Czech food and watched some traditional Czech singers, dancers and musicians. There was a salad with tomato, cheese, lettuce and asparagus (the meat eaters had ham on theirs too); some sort of mushroom soup and then dinner. The carnivores of the bunch had some sort of mystery meat and I had a plate of potato and sautéed veggies which were delicious and then we all had some light pancakes with crème fresh and berries. Mathew got chosen to play one of the instruments and dance with one of the female dancers and the male dancer picked me to dance with him…so now I think we’re officially “the fun couple” on the trip…not such a bad label, right? We got a bit lost and detached from the group for a bit but managed to make our way back and meet in time to catch the bus and head to the hotel to check some email and head to bed. Some of the nineteen year olds hit the town for a pub crawl and a 5-story night club and the rest of us went back to the hotel to sleep a bit for tomorrow’s excursion.

This was an amazing city and I’m so very glad that it was on the trip. I think it rivals Sydney for my favorite city now although the two are miles different from one another. When little girls read storybooks of princesses, castles, moats, royalty and all the in between…well, I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty…this is where that storybook is! You wander the streets with almost the intent on getting lost just to see what’s around the next bend. Cobblestone walkways, hidden passageways, bridges, boats, knights, castles, princes and princesses, bridges and sweet people-it’s all here! Unfortunately our time in Prague has to come to an end…tomorrow we’re on to the land of the Lippizanner horses…Vienna, Austria!

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