Day One/Two (13-14 Feb 2007)
Get out of Newark before the ice storm hits. Flight to Frankfurt might as well have been "Chasidic Air" - about 60 Chasidic men on our flight. No sleep 'til Germany - but at least they kept me entertained while opening/closing (or attempts at closing) the overhead bins.
Transfer in Frankfurt was uneventful - no police with machine guns as a couple people told me they saw on their trips to Germany. We passed through passport control, then had to go through security again before we could get to the gate for our connecting flight to Berlin.
Short flight to Berlin, got to Berlin Hbf (main train station) then took a taxi to our hotel. (First time I'd ever been in a Mercedes taxi! For the price - using my Marriott rewards points - the Courtyard was an excellent value. While not a prime location, it was not far from the sights of East Berlin.
Strolled around the former East Berlin area, found an Italian restaurant and had dinner (pizza in Germany - delish!), then strolled down Unter den Linden for a bit before finding our way back to the Courtyard and crashing for the night. Our train for Prague leaves early tomorrow morning.
Arrived Prague after a mostly uneventful train trip.
We rode first class reserved which was nice as the car was mostly empty. I noted it was a Hungarian train car - final destination for this train was Budapest. Departing Berlin Hbf the conductor decided the train was 'too cold' so he cranked the heat and never came back to adjust it down. By the time we reached Dresden and located the conductor again to turn it down it was a virtual sauna. I think I lost 5 lbs by then.
Border crossing was uneventful. Despite both Germany and Czech Republic being EU members they still stamp your passports at the borders. I didn't remember that from our previous trips - but then that was flying into Dublin and connecting to Heathrow - we only got one stamp coming and one stamp going.
Train turned into a sauna again somewhere in the Czech Republic and the Czech conductor's solution was to open the windows. Brilliant! Why didn't I think of that somewhere between Berlin and Dresden? Fortunately we were disembarking in Prague and not continuing on to Hungary.
We had a car meet us at Prague Holesovice and to our surprise it was the owner of the guesthouse where we were staying (Lida Guesthouse - Lopatecká 26 , Praha 4). Jan was a wealth of information - giving us info on the sites were were passing and telling us the history of Prague. I also learned my first Czech word - zmrzlina. This is the moniker of someone I know from an online book forum and when I saw it plastered all over storefronts, I had to ask what it meant. (Now I'm wondering - is she of Czech descent? Does she like ice cream?)
After settling in at the guesthouse and getting some basic information from Jan, we grabbed a bite to eat at a neighborhood restaurants (Josefina). Mark had some sort of goulash/stew, I had chicken. I was hesitant about the food in the CR as the pics I had seen in my guidebooks weren't exactly appetizing, but I was pleasantly surprised. Of course, Mark had a pivo (beer) with his meal - Pilsner Urquell. (Though he dislikes it in the USA, he enjoyed it in Prague and said it was much better.)
We hopped the train into Old Town and strolled around a bit. Checked out Charles Bridge and then sought out a pub where Mark could try the original Budweiser - aka Budvar. We ended up in U Medviku (Na Perstyne 7, Old Town) . By some odd twist of fate, there was a group of men wearing various NY sports teams gear. Turns out this group of guys from NY/NJ takes a trip each year with the intent to drink beer. Two of the men were from Toms River, NJ - a mere 15-20 minutes from our home. We travel 4000+ miles to run into people from home - who'd have thunk it.
After a couple beers we headed out to explore more of Old Town. We found our way to Old Town Square where we saw the Astronomical Clock (but not 'in action' at this time) and started wandering up and down the side streets.
Our second day in Prague consisted of a visit to the Josefov - (Jewish Quarter) . After a bit of confusion as to where to purchase the tickets for the Jewish Museum (consisting of several sites), we began our tour.
First stop: The Jewish Cemetary in Prague was last used in 1786. It's estimated there are some 12,000 graves several layers deep in the cemetery. Many of the gravestones are illegible these days - but a restoration project is in the works. Rabbi Löw (of Golem fame) is buried in this cemetery.
If I may digress for a moment, for lovers of historical fiction, Frances Sherwood's novel The Book of Splendor is a wonderful read. Sherwood takes the golem legend and creates a wonderful story set in 17th Century Prague - both the Jewish Quarter and the Castle. I loved it when I read it a few years ago and wish I had re-read it before leaving for Prague.
Also on this site is the Pinkas Synagogue - now a memorial to the Czech victims of the Holocaust. The names of the victims from all over the Czech Republic along with their birth dates and their death dates (or last known date to be alive) cover the interior walls. The names of the victims are read out loud in the synagogue - it takes approxmiately 7-1/2 years to read all the names on these walls from start to finish.
The upper floors of the synagogue contain an exhibit of artwork from the children of Terezín which are very moving. Now the we're home, I regret that we didn't use some of our time to make a day trip to Terezín while we were in the vicinity.
After visiting the Spanish Synagogue (so named for its decor, not the congregation), we stopped in for lunch and Mark had another pivo -- this time Pilsner Urquell, which he proclaimed to be much better than the bottled version you get stateside.
We capped off the evening with some Black Light Theatre - which I'm still hard pressed to explain. It's sort of mime, dance and music -- imagine black light posters coming to life. We saw "Colour Dreams of Dr. Frankenstein" and while the plot wasn't much, it was fun and entertaining.