PragueAuthor: Judith A. (More Trip Reviews by Judith A.)
Date of Trip: July 2006
We met in the bar/lobby area of our horrible, hot hotel. Our guide’s name was Honza and he spoke a little about what we were going to do on the tour and we all sweated buckets until it was time for dinner. Honza had arranged a dinner in the little quarter and as we walked to the restaurant, he told us a little about Prague.
After dinner, we walked over to a spot by the river (right underneath the Charles Bridge) where we could be seated and we were serenaded by two Czech musicians, one flute player and one accordion player who played (and sang) some classic Czech tunes for us (along with a little Mozart) as the sun set. People on the top of the bridge heard the music and stopped to listen also. A waitress at a nearby café started to dance a little jig to one of the songs, and the cook came out of the kitchen to listen. It was fun.
After our musical interlude we walked back over the Charles Bridge and Honza told us a little of its history. He was a very good tour guide, told us lots of interesting stuff. Not just names & dates. Then Robb & I raced off back to the main square to watch the end of the final world cup game between Italy and France.
This night the square was so crowded that we couldn’t see the screen, so we went to an outside bar by our horrible, hot hotel to watch the end of the game. It was tied, so they had to penalty kick to decide the winner. Besides the extremely controversial Zidane head-butt to an Italian player, this was the most exciting part of the game. Italy wins!
The next day we met our group in the morning for our tour of the Castle Quarter (the only part of Prague Robb and I had not yet been to, since we knew it would be covered as part of our tour).
Prague’s castle complex is extremely huge. I think Honza said it is the biggest castle complex in Europe. (Or maybe the 2nd biggest).
After our tour of the Castle Quarter, Honza took us to a little fountain by the Bethlehem church and as we sat ourselves down he darted around the corner to garb himself in the vestments of a Priest. He came back out to us as the Czech hero, Jan Hus. Who was a Catholic dissenter about a century before Martin Luther. Jan Hus preached that the pope had no moral authority over his congregation, as each man’s relationship with God was personal and he had to live by his own conscience. You can imagine how heretical this type of belief was back in 1410, so of course he was burned at the stake. (There is a big memorial statue to him in the main square in the old town of Prague). To the Czech today he is a big hero, as the Czech people pride themselves on their history of dissent.
So it turns out our guide Honza is a bit of a ham. He should maybe be an actor, he did so well preaching to us as Jan Hus.
Our group split up for free time in the afternoon, and Robb and I decided to walk over to Petrin Hill, which has a little Eiffel Tower on it that you can climb up to get good views of Prague. We did this, and boy did the breeze up at the top feel good. We walked back down the hill through a lovely park.
The next day our tour group did a walking tour of the Jewish Quarter, and we saw the oldest synagogue in Europe, and heard about the Jewish experience during WWII. Then our group broke up for free time, and I think Robb & I just strolled around the open air market and had lunch. But in the evening we again met up with Honza, so our tour group could walk the same path the protesters took during the Velvet Revolution in November of 1989. This was extremely interesting, as Honza told us about it from the perspective of someone who was there. He was 14 years old, and there with his older sister. The protestors were marching towards Wenceslas Square, chanting demands that the “old dinosaurs” leaders of the Czech Communist party be fired, when they suddenly realized they were trapped by the Communist police. There were hemmed in by buildings on both sides, and military vehicles and military police in front and behind. The protestors sat down and started singing “We Shall Overcome” as the night came on and it got colder and darker. Honza said everyone was very scared – and very aware of what had happened to protestors at Tiananmen Square a few months previously.
Then he and his sister and some other protestors managed to get out somehow by going through a building and getting access to a side street, and they ran home as quickly as they could and his father told him: “Never tell anyone you were there”. His family turned on America Free Radio and listened while the Communist police started beating and shooting the remaining protestors. (There was a secret radio reporter inside one of the buildings overlooking the street where the protestors were trapped, and he was reporting everything live on the radio). The official version is that 2 people were killed. But Honza said they don’t really know how many people were killed because the Communists might have suppressed that information. But many, many people were injured. However, the theory is that Gorbachev directed that there not be another mass killing. Over the next few days, things were very tense in the city and no one knew what was going to happen, but every single night protestors filled Wenceslas Square, demanding new leadership. The Communists did fire the old leaders, in an attempt to placate the demands of the crowd, but now they had a taste of their own power and that wasn’t good enough any more. They wanted political freedom. Vaclav Havel came out onto a balcony overlooking the square and spoke to the crowd, and two weeks later, they had a new system of government. Which was the beginning of a wave in Eastern Europe.
That night was our last night in Prague. The next morning we got up, packed and left our horrible, hot hotel and got on the air-conditioned bus to head towards Trojanovice!
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