Czech Republic Prague and Terezin 2000.09.22 - 09.30

Prague, The Gem of Central Europe

From a combined financial, cultural, and aesthetic perspective, Prague may very well be the best place to visit in Europe. Spared from heavy world war destruction, the city preserves centuries of architectural style from Gothic to Renaissance to Baroque to Art Nouveau. Prague is one of our favorites.

As in many European cities, walking tours are available in Prague. We selected 2 out of half a dozen options: the city introduction tour and Prague Castle tour. Guided by Charles University students, the tours tell the historical significance of structures and statues. What a fantastic way to see the city and learn some history.

Having learned from our mistake in Budapest, we reached Prague on a weekday when all tourist offices are open. As a result, finding accommodation and city information was simple. Our goal was to find an inexpensive apartment with a kitchen. The AVE Travel office in the train station found us a place without difficulty. We had the option of paying by cash or credit card, received the address and keys, and had a place to call our own (see the Czech Lodging page for details).

After getting settled, we spent most of our time wandering around the old section of Prague, trying Czech restaurants recommended by our student tour guides, and looking for entertainment. After our disappointment with food quality in Budapest, our expectations for Prague cuisine were low. We were delighted to discover decent food - better than British, Swiss, Hungarian, Austrian, and German - at very low prices. Main dishes at nice restaurants ranged from US$1.25 ~ $2.50. For $5, we could usually order more food and drink than 2 can finish. We have a word of warning, however. The singular widespread fraud against tourists is restaurant overcharges (isolated to Prague). The methods are as varied as street scams. Some restaurants list higher prices on foreign language menus. Others include unordered dishes in the final price. Many arbitrarily inflate the price of each ordered dish on the receipt. Almost all bring breadbaskets to the table and impose an additional charge on the bill. The Czech & Slovak Republics Lonely Planet guide warned of this rampant overcharging. We had to politely "correct" 4 out of 5 bills. Sum the cost of your order before returning the menu!

For entertainment, we initially inquired about operas but decided otherwise when we were warned that the improperly dressed are denied admittance. Instead, we enjoyed a unique performance at the Laterna Magika theater where dance, film, music, and filtered lighting blend into a captivating show. Some of the acts were elegant; others were humorous; all were excellent.

Below are photos of Old Town Prague.

A running Astronomical Clock on Old Town Hall tower tells the time, day, month, position of the sun, shape of the moon, and the times of sunrise and sunset. On the hour, a parade of Apostles pass by the 2 rectangular windows above the upper dial.
The Charles Bridge spans the Vltava River. Gothic towered archways sit on opposite banks and statues line the rails. During the day, souvenir vendors display their goods to the pedestrian traffic.
Claimed to be Prague's most beautiful building, the colorfully tiled exterior mosaic of the Municipal House is gorgeous.
Looking across the Vltava River along the Charles Bridge, the spires of Prague Castle peak the skyline.

Terezin, The Hoax

The fortress of Terezin was built by the Hapsburg Emperor Josef II in the late 1700s to protect the Holy Roman Empire from Prussian attack. The attack never came.

The fortress became notorious in 1940 after the Nazi occupation of Czech lands. Terezin became a transit camp for persecution, but had the artificial appearance of a Jewish refuge. International Red Cross inspectors were fooled twice. In just a few years, over 150,000 people transited Terezin to their death at Auschwitz.

Walking through the compound, seeing the holding rooms, and reading about the atrocities gave us a headache and drained us emotionally.

From Prague, we reached Terezin by bus. The ride is 1 hour and costs about US$1.50 each way. The visit has impact and is worthwhile, though there is little to photograph.

The entrance courtyard to the Terezin concentration is bleak. The archway reads arbeit macht frei or "work sets you free". Masami walks along former administrative offices.

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