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08/13 Praha (Prague), Czech Republic

The morning was bright, sunny and a little bit hazy. We met Larry and Joan at the hotel breakfast downstairs and talked about plans for the day. We all were going to the Prague Castle first thing, so we decided to go together.

We bought transit tickets at the hotel. They were 12 Korun (about 33 cents) for a 90 minute ticket. That ticket allowed us to ride any part of the transit system -- tram (streetcar), Metro (subway) or bus -- for 90 minutes from when we first board and time-stamp the ticket.

We hopped a tram two blocks from our hotel and rode to the connection to the subway. Then we transferred to the subway for the quick ride into the centrum (center of town.)

The Metro is clean, comfortable, spacious, fast -- and it comes every few minutes. The system consists of three lines that all cross and interconnect in the centrum. That way they serve six outlying neighborhoods.

Praha is a beautiful city with many old and interesting buildings. We learned from talking to locals that great renovation and restoration work has been going on during the past several years. Unlike Dresden and Berlin, there is no evidence of excessive construction work going on now.

And the buildings are really beautiful. Many with spires. Many with fancy sculpted statues on the eves and/or on the faces of the buildings. Many more with designs or pictures in or on the plaster walls or pilasters.

Following Rick Steves (a great guidebook) recommendations, we took the subway to the far side of town. Then we took a tram back through town, intending to get off above the castle and walk down through it. During the tram ride, however, a tram cop came through checking tickets. A few seats in front of us, an English-speaking tourist apparently didn't have a stamped ticket and she was arguing with the cop about it. That made Larry nervous so we got off early and walked to the castle.

The castle is reputed to be the largest (by some measure) in Europe. It surely was large in area. There was a beautiful cathedral there, a large palace, and many other buildings along with many tourist shops. The castle was on a hill, so it afforded us the first overall view of "the city of spires" so named because of steeples of the many churches, cathedrals and gothic buildings it contains.

We split from Larry and Joan at the castle. They hurried over to catch the afternoon walking tour of the Jewish Quarter. We headed for the older part of the city for lunch.

We walked through really narrow cobblestone streets that wound in, out and around, and ended in stairways and tiny tunnels. We found several Embassies, each with armed guards out front. We found a few neat little shops. We found a restaurant named "David's" but it was not open for lunch. We found a really nice tea room that had many varieties of loose-leaf teas. We had tea and apple strudel there while we people-watched.

From there we walked along the river toward the famous "Charles Bridge." We came upon an operation that gave river tours in small motor boats. Sounded like fun, so we took the tour. We saw and heard about many things that could be seen from the river. One that was notable was a gigantic metronome that kept 10-second beats. We found out that it replaced a large bust of Stalin that used to look out over the river toward Prague. "That bust is at the bottom of the river!" the tour guide told us.

From the boat tour we walked over the Charles Bridge into "Old Town." It is a section of town, centered around the city hall and town square, that is thick with tourist shops, money changers, street hawkers, tourist traps, overpriced restaurants . . . and TOURISTS. We looked into a few shops and restaurants, then we walked North into "Josefov," the Jewish section of town.

There are five synagogues in the Josefov. Four have been turned into museums -- collectively called "The Museum." The fifth, called "The Old New Synagogue," (so named when it was first built in 1280!) is the only one still in use as a synagogue. It is one of the oldest Gothic buildings in Prague.

We checked out the synagogues and the Jewish cemetery, but we didn't buy tour tickets because we planned to take a tour of the Jewish ghetto tomorrow. We did find out, though, that the small cemetery was designated as the only burying place for Jews for almost two centuries. We wondered why the surface of the cemetery was from ten to twenty feet higher than the surrounding land. We found that in order to fit the 20,000 bodies into the very small land area, the graves had to be stacked up to 12 deep!

After that tour, we headed back to camp to catch dinner which is normally between 7 and 8:30.

We arrived about 7:20 and found no one there but Anthony (from Chile). He told us that dinner was earlier, it was in town, the riders were bussed to dinner, and that the last bus had left before 7:15 when he had arrived -- and he was pissed!

We joined Anthony for pizza at the camp cafe, then we walked back to our hotel.

Love to all,
David and Lisa

08/14 Missing this entry - I'll add it when it's received.
08/15 Prague, Czech Republic to Passau, Germany

This morning at breakfast Larry & Joan proposed that instead of riding, we should all drive to Terrazin and visit the old concentration camp there. We agreed and off we went.

Terezin was the Nazi's "showcase" of concentration camps. In 1942 the Germans evicted all 1700 residents of the fortress town of Terezin so they could turn it into a concentration camp for as many as 8,000 Jews, mostly from Passau. It was primarily a holding place before they were sent to Auswitz. The concentration camp was in use until late in 1944.

In 1943, under pressure of world opinion, Hitler agreed to allow the International Red Cross to visit. In preparation, he did several things. One was to step up the "export" of Jews that might be "problems" during the show and tell. This also cut the overcrowding at the camp. Another was a big cleanup and paintup campaign. Finally, propaganda films were made to show how Terezin was a fine place for Jews to live.

We visited the museum. We saw how the very crowded living conditions. (30 to 40 in a classroom size room about 18 by 18.

We saw how the Jews had created a community and tried to make life more tolerable for themselves. (For most of the time they were not aware of where their compatriots were going when they were put on trains and trucks for Auswitz.) There were drawings, poems and stories done by the children of Terezin. There were pictures and drawings of the various community activities created to make life more complete -- like shops, a theater, a playground, soccer fields and the like.

Finally, we visited the crematorium where people who died in the village were cremated. Their ashes were kept in urns with the hopes that some day they would have a decent burial. We read how the Nazi's tried to cover up how ....many had died in the village by burying the urns with the ashes.

It was a moving experience. Of course we know of the horrors of the holocaust, but to actually be in one of the places it happened....

After Terezin we hoped in the car and headed directly to Passau. Joan drove and Larry navigated. Unfortunately, the navigator fell asleep and we got lost several times, so we arrived about 10:30 at night.

Love to all, David and Lisa

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