Tales from Jewish Ghetto and the Charles Bridge

07/06/12 Approaching noon. Walking across Old Town Square, Praha, Republic of Czech.

2 well-suspended monuments in front of the Old Town Hall, Praha. The Astronomical Clock is built on the left side of the tower (not visible in image).

Nina deftly shepherded our small group across the square and onto Paris Avenue, the most expensive street in Prague, and as you can imagine, lined with brand luxury shops such as Gucci and pals. We headed towards the “New” Old Synagogue (most of these “new” buildings were built at least 5 centuries ago) which had been flooded in 2002. Buried in 12 layers here at the Jewish Cemetery in the Jewish Ghetto was a hundred thousand people because the city wasn’t big enough to accommodate everyone.

A gorgeous set of Bohemian glass figures. Sets like this orchestra are sold in most souvenir/specialty shops.
Signs pointing toward the Maisel Synagogue and other attractions in the vicinity of the Jewish Ghetto.

We hung around in a Bohemian crystal shop for a bit as we waited for an American tourist mom to use the restroom before proceeding to see the Maisel Synagogue (contains history of the Jews from the 10th to 18th century), and Franz Kafka Square, the building where one of the greatest authors of the 20th century was born! Nina half-jokingly criticized the heavy commercialization of Kafka’s birthplace- from Kafka T-shirts to Kafka Café to Kafka steak- hello? Kafka was vegetarian. This is the writer who influenced the works of Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre, the latter of whom I spent half a year studying in IB Philosophy (Hi Fols!).

Praha produces some of the best toys, and above all, puppets, in the world. The Don Giovanni Marionette show has completed over 5,000 performances

Walk, walk, walking through more streets whose diacritic-saturated names I can neither pronounce nor remember, I passed the city library opposite the new town hall and took a shortcut through Klementinum, a former Jesuit college with one of the oldest working meteorological recorders in Europe, in operation since January 1st1775. Phew. On one hand, Nina told us that this recorder had detected some of the earliest signs of global warming; “on the other hand…” she said with a conspiratory drawl, “I’ll let you in on a secret: there IS a kitchen downstairs, so who knows what may have been contributing to all the heat?”

Weather recording has continued here from 1775 to the present day.

I love Nina. Sometimes she talks about the most grotesque things with such nonchalance that you simply can’t tell whether she’s just making up major/minor details. In spite of that I absorbed her stories with relish. The city comes more alive when the air quivers with stories of men thrown into lions’ dens yet wrestle their way back to justice against kings mad and despotic. [On the other hand, I am recalling all of this at 3:18AM on a Saturday night in Berkeley, so that may have been my sugar-high brain talkin’ out of its you-know-what]

And no, we’re not done yet! It’s well past 2PM now so we’d better move along across the river to see the Prague Castle. So here we are at the Charles Bridge, named after King Charles IV. Its foundation stone was laid on 1357 9th July at 5:03:01. 135797531: easy! Superstition has it that the bridge remains standing today, with its 30 statues of saints (mostly replicas), because the foundation stone was laid when the sun was in conjunction with Saturn. If you’re interested, you can get your portrait drawn by street artists on the bridge, not unlike those on the Avenue of Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong. Most were pretty good.

Charles Bridge, Old Town Side. Look, there’s Nina with her orange dress and yellow flag! Follow her! Don’t get too caught up in her accent or you’ll miss her incredible stories.
Mother Zhang with her 2 minions. There’s the Charles Bridge in the background, taken from a different bridge, i.e. the one we are standing on.
Feeling all jolly and refreshed after a long iced coffee at Pizza Saint Nicholas. Watch your step and watch your head if you’re tall.

We did our best to take some pictures with Hradčany Castle in the background, sans tourist photobombs. This genre of challenge, coupled with the hot sun, made most people crave a cold drink so Nina’s suggestion that we visit Pizza Saint Nicholas provided sweet, sweet relief. Although this little underground bar/café claimed to serve the “Best Pizza in Prague”, my family politely abstained and ordered 2 iced coffees, a beer, and a Coke instead.

You know you’re not in the States anymore when beer is cheaper than either coffee or soft drinks.

Final third of Day 1 in Prague to be continued on Sunday. Prepare to see the legendary Prague Castle with me and finish it all off with a traditional Czech dinner and “Swan Lake” Ballet for aesthetic dessert. I can’t wait (to revisit that memory!).

What lies beyond the Charles Bridge at Lesser Town (region across the river from Old Town)? Stay tuned.

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