Monday, May 25, 2009

Day 5: Více Praha!

More Prague! This morning we made our way over to the Jewish Quarter (Josefov) to walk through synagogues and museums chronicling the history of the Jewish community in the area. As the Nazis came through, Prague's Jews were allowed to archive and collect their treasures here, and while the archivists were ultimately killed in concentration camps, their work survives. None of the sites allow photography, so we're low on visual evidence but have plenty of powerful memories. We started at Pinkas Synagogue, now a memorial to the victims of the Nazis. The walls are covered with the handwritten names of 77,297 Czech Jews who were sent to concentration camps. When the communists came to power, they closed the synagogue and erased virtually all of the names, but in 1989 the synagogue was reopened and the names were rewritten. Pinkas also had an exhibit displaying art drawn by Jewish children who were imprisoned at the nearby concentration camp at Terezín. As you exit Pinkas, you walk through the Old Jewish Cemetary, a jumbled collection of over 12,000 tombstones and graves from 1429-1787.

We also explored the Ceremonial Hall, Klaus Synagogue, Old-New Synagogue, Maisel Synagogue, and the Spanish Synagogue. The Old-New Synagogue was built in 1270 and is the oldest synagogue in Eastern Europe. Interestingly, as 13th-century Jews were not allowed to build, the synagogue was built by Christians - the Christians typically used four-ribbed vaulting to create a stable roof, but since that resulted in a cross, it wouldn't work for the synagogue. Instead, they made the ceiling using clumsy five-ribbed vaulting. The Maisel Synagogue was built as a private place of worship for the Maisel family during the 16th century - Maisel, the financier of the Habsburg king, obviously had quite a bit of money. In World War II, it served as a warehouse for the accumulated treasures of decimated Jewish communities that Hitlet planned to use for his "Museum of the Extinct Jewish Race." The Spanish Synagogue was built and decorated in an ornate Moorish style, and it was so interesting to explore the architectural details while going through the exhibits on Jewish history and life in Terezín.

Our time in the Jewish Quarter was very informative and also quite sobering. I think it also gave us some good background and frame of mind for our upcoming visit to the concentration camp at Dachau.

In the middle of our Josefov stops, we grabbed lunch at Franz Kafka Cafe - and I had a glass of wine instead of another beer. My poor body probably just needed water, but that's what the bottle in my bag is for, right? The rest of the gang enjoyed a more lunch-like, lighter menu of sandwiches, and I opted for a potato dumpling with smoked sausage, onions, and a side of spinach. Delicious!

On our way back to home base we stopped at this amazing little bakery we passed this morning - here we go again with the ridiculously cheap side of things, and after inspecting all of our potentially delicious options, Megan exercised some self-restraint while the rest of us filled bags with goodies. Trinity and I also enjoyed a rather delicious cappuccino from the Nescafe machine. We took our pastries back to Old Town Square, found some benches, and enjoyed flaky, buttery, chocolatey, utterly delicious delights before continuing...Mole Quest 2009. Thank goodness for Sparky's, a multi-level, super-awesome Czech toy store that had every possible incarnation of the Mole. Stuffed in every size, books, everything you could ever need.

After a successful Mole adventure, we made sure we made it back to the hotel in time for our brewery tour and tasting. However...since this is such a small operation, you pretty much get the brewery tour by sitting in the tasting room. We were a little disappointed in our non-tour, but we opted to just sit and have a drink - Diana and I each had another tasty serving of Oldgott while Trinity tried X-33, their special 12.6% alcohol content scary beer. We all tried a sip, and my comment of "it tastes like beer wine!" was really pretty much in line with the comments of beer fanatics across the interwebs. I mean, at that alcohol percentage, you're not going to get beer fuzzies - it really was more like wine. Weird...but cool. And really quite tasty.

In anticipation of our train ride back to Munich the next day, we stopped in at Tesco, a local grocery store (and yes, I wondered aloud "is that the grocery store??" on the street and some kind young man popped out his earbuds and politely informed me that yes, it was - I wonder how many Americans are fluent, or at least fluent-ish, in a second language?), to pick up some snacks for our six hour ride. Remember the scary snack cart sandwiches? Yeah, we're not going there. My goal was primarily to track down cheese of the Laughing Cow, no need to be refrigerated variety, along with some crackers to give us a little train picnic of sorts. Oh, and a ginormous bottle of water (without bubbles! no bubbles in my water!). Success on all fronts! Although...we were sidetracked by the candy bar aisle and the entire store in general. I seriously could have spent three hours in the grocery store going up and down every aisle (Trinity probably felt like we went up and down every aisle - "come on, you crazy girls! You're running around like chickens with your heads cut off!"), just checking out all the different options. Quail eggs, right there with good ol' chicken eggs! And just LOOK at all the cool candy bars! In fact, as I'm writing this, I'm in the process of consuming an Orion Aero bar. It's delicious!! And I don't think I can pick this up at World next one might have to wait for my return trip to the Czech Republic. Oh, and you know what was waiting for us right outside the grocery store? This amazingly tasty pretzel-like sweet and salty rolled deliciousness that I simply can NOT figure out the name of. Mmmm, street food.

As we embarked on our last evening in Prague, the Vaughns counted out their Czech crowns and felt pretty flush. So, as we're exploring the city and finding an upside-down horse statute, we're also trying to figure out the best way to throw away some crowns and end up with a cool experience/tangible good. Aren't vacations awesome? My brilliant "let's get a caricature from the Charles Bridge artists!" plan unfortunately didn't occur to me until later in the evening, but we made do with quite a bit of souvenir purchasing and a really fantastic dinner that fulfilled Diana's "please, let's eat something not Czech/German!" request. We dined at Le Patio, a French-ish restaurant that offered another good break from our hearty peasant food. Oh, and belly dancing, which we found pretty amusing. Allow me a food moment here...I had a delicious glass of cabernet and an amazing (and amazingly large) steak with a side of "cheese pie," which basically consisted of a really cheesy quiche-like filling in this crazy savory graham-crackerish crust. I was in food heaven. We had a table full of beer and wine and gnocchi and pasta and french fries and steak and many, many delicious things. And you know how much I spent on everything? About $20. I felt pretty wealthy in the Czech Republic.

After our amazing dinner and a little more city wandering, we made our way back to the restaurant at our hotel with some excitement built up over a certain ice-cream-beer-float thing we'd seen advertised on the little table tents. Diana and I were expecting something along the lines of a root beer float with beer substituted for the root beer. Some darker beers can get a little chocolatey, so we thought this would make for an awesome combination and a perfect dessert to end our time in Prague. was beer ice cream. No vanilla ice cream with a good splash of beer, but straight up beer ice cream. You know I don't often give up on a dessert, or any food for that matter, ice cream is just not my thing. Trinity adored it, though, and managed to polish off the one he'd ordered along with the vast majority of the one Diana and I ordered to share along with ANOTHER plate of the delightful roast boar-potato dumpling-creamed spinach variety. I don't know how he ate all of that.

With a few crowns still burning a hole in their pocket, the Vaughns picked up a round of beer to take back up to the room so we could pack away all of the Prague purchases with good spirits in preparation for our journey back to Munich the next day. Trinity and I stuck with the Oldgott (the more I type that name the more odd it looks), and Diana opted for an original Budweiser (Anheuser-Busch can only use the name "Budweiser" in the U.S. - I sense there may be some more legal battles here, if for nothing else than the litigious nature of Americans) while we strategically crammed bags and prepared for our departure to Deutschland the next morning.


Trinity said...

Beer Ice Cream Rocks.

Erin said...

Maybe with a different kind of beer...hmmm, possible kitchen adventure here...