Prague, “the golden city of spires”
Our first impression of Prague was that it was a cool medieval town resting on top of modernity…literally. The first floor of buildings have all been transformed into popular “western” shops with matching face-lifts, while the rest of the building seemed to have preserved their historical architecture (different areas of Prague have architecture that spans Medieval, Baroque, and Renaissance, Art Nouveau, and Cubist influences/designs so I can’t slap one label on it). Compare the Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral to the modern Dancing House and you’ll see what I mean. Bad boy artist David Cerny has also contributed to the aesthetic of the city with his controversial sculptures. We had the pleasure of viewing the giant crawling babies as well as the peeing men. I’m only sad I missed the sculpture where you climb a ladder, stick you head into a rear-end, and view the “president” being fed baby food. Cerny has painted a soviet war tank (a memorial) pink, created a Saddam Hussein floating in formaldehyde, and recently been under fire for his contribution, “Entropa” at the European Council building in Brussels. (Yes, I’m fascinated and have done some research on him.) Before this entry loses its tangent, I’ll just post some links and get back to business.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXzEMAEKT8k Cerny speaks out on Entropa…view of sculpture
http://www.sporcle.com/games/GateauChocolat/entropa_countries Quiz on Entropa
http://www.boredpanda.com/bizzare-sculptures-by-david-cerny/ Some of his work
Classic(al) Music in Prague
I have read that Prague’s beauty attracted many classical composers during the Romantic and Baroque periods. Brahms and Mozart (I was able to see a piano he played on) were both regulars. Mozart actually fell ill in Prague before passing on in Vienna. Dvorak (New World Symphony) is one of their own. Sadly, we did not pay our respects to him, but we did visit the Beatlemania exhibit at the Czech Museum of Music. The exhibit was very well done and included history behind the band, songs, and corresponding political events happening behind the Iron Curtain in Prague at the time. The Beatles and everything “western” were banned by the government, but that didn’t stop their influence and music from penetrating the youth and becoming a symbol of hope and peace. Upon hearing the news of John Lennon’s death, young Czechs decorated a wall near the st. Charles bridge with lyrics, grievances, and messages of peace. The police of the communist regime saw this as a “subversive activities against the state” and threatened imprisonment, but it didn’t stop the “long-haireds.” Late in 1989, the peaceful protests of the Velvet Revolution brought about the first democratic election since 1946. To this day, artists continue the tradition and the wall lives on.
Although we wanted to visit the Kafka and Veletrzni Palace (they had a GREAT exhibit on display), we went outside the box and visited the Medieval Torture Museum. We saw 60 authentic torture devices used on heretics, witches, and state enemies. It was quite macabre and a bit hard to digest, so I will not go into detail. I most surprised by a chair used as recently by the Spanish (Franco regime) in 1975. I know torture exists today, but I have to say I’m glad I wasn’t around during the 5th-15th centuries.
Besides the museums, we walked to the palace, satisfied out taste buds with traditional goulash, and tried out Czech beer and wine. from Prague, we flew to Budapest.
Budapest *Due to travel time, we really only spent 1 day in Budapest. We tried to change our ticket to stay longer, but to no affordable avail.
We staying on the “Pest” side of the city, opposite the castle. Alex wanted to go to the Holocaust Memorial Center, and I wanted to visit some Turkish baths. “It’s pretty heavy stuff,” he warned me, but I agreed because we had already been to the Anne Frank House and Resistance Museum in Amsterdam and I didn’t think this would be much different. When we arrived there was no line outside and only desk workers inside. The exhibit began with family histories, a few artifacts, and the history of Jewish people in Budapest pre-1940. Apparently they had already overcome segregation discrimination before German occupation and were equals in all aspects of culture. As we walked to the next room, the sounds and sights of marching soldiers lead us along as if we bore the Star of David. The deprivation of rights began in the next room and built through 3 more rooms until genocide. The photographs and videos accompanied by a harrowing soundtrack lined the dark walls. They surrounded me and were completely uncensored. The Josef Mengele experiments and Warsaw videos were especially hard to digest (even though I had read about them and seen a few pictures in high school). It was laborious and disquieting experience. The exhibit emptied me into a synagogue, where I sat in silent solitude.
After leaving all three Holocaust memorials this trip, I have seen the cities through a different lens. I could see Jews behind marched down the streets, their belongings being tossed into giant piles and raided. I looked at businesses and could picture the signs claiming “This is a REAL Christian place business.” As we passed run-down neighborhoods on the train, I got the chilling feeling they were once Jewish ghettos. I still cannot seem to wrap my head around the proximity and timeliness of this event.
(Insert transition here….I am incapable)
Later that day, we went to the Szechenyi Bath (the first and largest in Budapest) for a relaxing late-night soak. Even though it was cold (maybe 17 degrees?), and we didn’t have towels or flip-flops with us, we enjoyed the outdoor, natural thermal baths at 90-100 degrees Fahrenheit.
I mentioned earlier that we wanted to spend more time in Budapest and skip Madrid. Due to finances, we kept our flight out of Budapest and went to Madrid only to catch our flight home to Almeria. We were welcomed back with 60 degree weather, a busy beach, crappy internet, a stinky fridge, and sleep. Oh, and we’re planning out next adventure. The possibilities are: Qatar, Tunisia, and Morocco (these are just samples). There are still many other places I would like to visit in both Spain and Europe, but time and money will be the deciding factors!
I have some final thoughts on Europe, but I’ll save them for next time 🙂