Voyage to Eastern Europe - Part I: Prague

PraguePrague is not a place for high heels. Watching those who dare, you see women wobblying and teetering between the cobblestones and intricately designed streets and sidewalks of Prague. Prague is a walking city that enchants your sensibilities with grand streets as wide as the Champs Elysee and as narrow as the passageways of a labyrinth, transporting you back into time and the ghettos of the 20th century in Eastern Europe.The city of Prague is built along the Vitava River. It�s beautiful cityscape has been carved and sustained by a variety of emperors, artists and religious communities. It�s buildings are decorated with statues and graffiti (the original meaning of it is �designs on buildings�) that make you feel as though you are walking through an outdoor museum.Thirteen bridges cross the river with the most famous being the pedestrian Charles bridge, built over 600 years ago. What you notice when walking across the bridge is the 30 statues of religious figures spaced out about 30 feet apart. Evidentially they were placed there in the 17th century to lead the masses to mass at the cathedral on the hill. On one end of the bridge is the Old Town Bridge Tower leading you to �Old Town.� It looks just like the entrance to the castle at Disneyland. It makes one wonder where Disney actually got his original ideas. We walked across the bridge both at night and day and stopped to enjoy the jazz musicians playing their terrific music. Zo�-Pascale, with her dancing soul, swayed to the music enjoying herself for all the world to see. After giving them 3 tips, we decided to buy their CD of Jazz music from the 20s. Her joy in giving money to the street musicians extends over to the beggars on the street. We could not pass any beggar without her wanting to give them money.The man in front of us knelt down with his head touching the ground as though in prayer. In his hand was his hat, hoping that money will fall into it as though it is Manna from heaven. After a few moments, we gave Zo�-Pascale, 20 Kronen and she skipped happily to the beggar dropping the 20 Kronen in his cap. He lifted his head and nodded as though to say �Thank you�. After a few more beggars and Kronen, we tried to explain to Zoe-Pascale that we have to choose how and who to help as there are many people in need. Is it the blind woman playing the recorder, the beggar with the cap, or the animals in the shelters. Oh, to be so innocent and want to help others without any questions. In retrospect however, she did want to know how the blind woman would know how much money she actually earned. Good question, we said, and promptly went into another explanation. This is the joy of traveling with a young child!!!On the opposite side of the river hovers the Prague Castle. The hilltop fortress surrounded by the fall forest foliage is now the home of the Czech Parliament and is in full use. St. Virus�s Cathedral built between the 14th and 20th century (a few wars in between stopped the building) is eclectic, with a Gothic base and a Renaissance, rounded cap on top. After climbing a 287 stone circular staircase about 3 Feet in diameter (with people going up and down) we reached the top of the tower with a breathtaking view of all of Prague. This climb was enough to make us promise to increase our aerobic exercise and get in better shape! We actually thought a few people would have heart attacks before they reached the top.As part of the Castle complex, an area called, the �Golden Lane was built with colorful hovels in which the goldsmiths lived. In the early 20th century, Franz Kafka lived on the Golden Lane and wrote his best writings which were not published until after his death in 1924. Reflecting back to a bookclub in which we read Kafka�s work, I could now imagine the environment which fed his paranoia and fear. His disturbing novels seem to forsee the communist years. Later that day we passed a wall which had a poster of Franz Kafka plastered on the front. Next to the poster was a picture of the Russian dolls that Zo�-Pascale had just bought that day. The dolls that get smaller and smaller are hidden in each other as a sort of surprise. On the poster, it had a picture of the doll, but instead of a smiling face it looked like the mouth of a shark ready to bite with sharp white fangs. Below the picture it said, �The Communist Museum.� It took your breath away as you realized how, at a quick glance, it looked like the beautiful dolls in all the shops, but underneath there was such cruelty and hatred.The Jews in Prague (like much of Eastern Europe) had been plagued by intermittent anti-semitic behavior and high points of acceptance and independence since their arrival in the 10th century. Under certain rulers, pograms, discrimination, and slaughters took place while at other times in the 17th and 19th centuries, autonomy and independence was given with life flourishing in the Jewish Quarter. The Old Jewish Cemetery used from 1439-1787 has over 200,000 people buried. It was the only place jews could be buried during that time. It stands today as a memorial to the past. The idea of the Nazi invasion of Czech and the Holocaust comes to life when you walk through the Jewish Quarter. It is hard to believe and yet within the course of two years the affluent Jewish community was walled into a ghetto and then sent off to the gas chambers in the concentration camps. We can not forget that nearly 80,000 Jews from this area died in the Holocaust. Twenty thousand escaped with many of them coming back to settle once again.Now on to food! Our favorite meal we dare confess, was the sausage stand in the center of the square. A choice of 6 different kinds of �saucisse� with a choice of rolls, brown bread or baguette. Zo�-Pascale�s and my favorite was the �saucisse� served on a paper slab with mustard, grilled onions, and pickles and a piece of fabulous dense brown bread on the side. To round it off, we could get a bottle of their delicious local white wine. For desert we discovered a dish called, �Hot Love.� Warm raspberries served on a plate with vanilla ice cream and chantilly (whipped cream). The contrast between the warm raspberries and cold vanilla ice cream melting in your mouth made you tingle all over.
Suzanne Saxe-Roux