(I finally figured out what it was about Vienna that was disappointing: nothing happened there. I mean, obviously Emily and I met up there and that was EPIC, but that had nothing to do with the city. In Budapest, I got lost all the damn time and Megan and I went to midnight mass and the Christmas markets were so unique. Prague, as you'll soon see, is just so absolutely singular...and plenty of shenanigans happened. In Vienna...nothing. It was charming and fun and totally worth doing, but there really aren't any stories to tell! (Correct me if I'm wrong, Em or Meg or Kate or Danielle!))
We took a bus from Vienna to Prague. Emily and I grabbed a lunch of (omg delicious non-Albanian) cheese and pears and bread (because we're Quandt carbivores) and took in the scenery. Emily managed to catch a couple of shots of the beautiful old buildings we passed on our way through the countryside.
We happened upon Prague all of a sudden. The city just appeared in full all at once. And all at once, it was obvious we were back in eastern Europe. The language seemed more familiar, there was graffiti and dirt and edginess all wrapped up in a bundle of styles and colors and signs and buildings and chaos.
We eventually made our way to our hostel and after settling in, we set out to explore a bit of the city and get dinner. Even though we weren't too close to the city center, there was a great bus that took us almost the entire way there.
This city is freaking gorgeous. Prague is worth all that hype. Every style from the past millennium is represented in buildings that alternate in eras - Classical next to Art Nouveau next to Gothic with Communist renovations. I could have simply walked the city and done nothing but take in the facades of each city block, and I would have felt completely satiated with history and culture and beauty.
We ended up splitting up that first night, and Kate and Emily and I got some delicious, warm, and hearty Czech food and beer. What's completely weird, however, is that just after we left, apparently Megan and Danielle happened upon the exact same restaurant and ordered the exact same meal. Cue the spooky music.
The next morning we ventured out sans-Emily, who was still feeling awfully tired and jet-lagged. (The fact that she finished her finals and then hopped on a plane certainly was not helping her fatigue.) We found a great little cafe to start our morning off, and then joined a free walking tour with a hilarious Australian guide. He was a fantastic entertainer, and regaled us with tales of ridiculous historical hijinks.
These cinnamon dough things are the bomb. Like, I could eat only those forever and always and be happy.
Prague is famous for its famously-overrated astronomical clock. It truly is a marvel: almost exactly accurate since the 15th century, it can tell the day, month, year, time, phase of the moon, zodiac, planting season, sunrise, sunset, moon rise, distance of the sun from the horizon, name days, and a few other things I'm forgetting. The story goes that the city elders were so afraid that the maker of this clock would create another one somewhere else (and therefore reduce its value and popularity among travelers) that they invited him to a party, got him drunk, and gouged out his eyes. So the creator called for his assistants and had them lead him to the top of the clock, whereupon he threw himself into the gears of the machine to destroy it in order to get back at the city elders. Which is pretty much the most metal response ever. And he was successful - it took another 150 years or so before someone else came along who was smart enough to fix it.
The clock also features hourly dances by the personifications of greed, death, pestilence, and barbarians (the four biggest fears of Europeans at the time), with an angel playing a harp or bell or maybe I'm making that up, but there's definitely a skeleton shaking an hourglass and causing the other statues to shake and cry.
Another story: the three photos above are from a concert hall on the river, and the statues are of famous European composers. When the Nazis held Prague, a big-time high-level bad guy took it over as his personal headquarters (because megalomania never goes out of style) but couldn't possibly bear to work beneath the statue of Mendelssohn, who was a Jew. He ordered two SS men to go up to the roof and destroy the statue of Mendelssohn, but failed to inform them how to identify the "offending" personage. What to do? "Being good Nazis, they pulled out their rulers. They guy with the biggest nose had to be Mendelssohn, so down he went!" said our succinct guide.
Their only problem? The statue they destroyed was of Wagner, die fuhrer's very favorite composer.
The Jewish Quarter of Prague is exceptionally well-preserved for the chilling reason that Hitler intended for it to be a museum of a lost race which future aryan tourists could pay to visit.
Most of the area was razed at the turn of the century as part of a giant urban planning clean-up campaign, and so almost every replacement building is an exquisite example of Art Nouveau.
When Kafka was born, the Jews of Prague spoke German; thus it follows he wrote in German as well. Most of his works were published in Germany, because Czech publishers didn't think there would be a very big audience within the Czech Republic for German-language books. Soon after his works were published, however, the Nazis and then Communists took over the country. Obviously, neither fascists nor communists tend to like Kafka, and so his works were banned in his own country while the rest of the world beyond the Iron Curtain enjoyed them. After the fall of communism, in the early 90s Kafka-ites started trickling into Prague looking for his birthplace and neighborhood - but most Czechs had never heard of him, let alone knew his life details!
Obviously, that is no longer the case. Kafka is considered a Prague treasure. The statue commemorates two of his works, although being a Gender & Women's Studies major I look at it and see only one thing.
LOOK AT THOSE MERINGUES. LOOK AT THEM. THEY ARE THE SIZE OF YOUR FACE.
Crying because I waited out in the cold for Emily for an hour so we could meet up for dinner but I couldn't find her. Apparently she was also out there for an hour and somehow we couldn't see each other. LAME.
(I'm not actually crying mom.)
Oh hey, look, it's another hedgehog!
OMG I'm almost done, I promise.