My goodness, we had a good time! Never mind that we had to leave campus at 3:00 AM. Never mind that it was drizzling when we landed. Never mind that I didn’t get quite enough sleep. I had a WONDERFUL holiday in Prague.

We ten started our 5-day sojourn in Prague with a bus-tour-on-foot. That was a bit of a shock, as a few of our group had their warm clothes tucked away in suitcases. Inaccessible suitcases, as we wouldn’t be able to check in until afternoon. Luckily, the drizzle had subsided, and our Turkish-speaking tour guide (yes, another problem) did his best to communicate with us in English. Hmmm… So much for booking through a Turkish travel agent!

Anyway, we navigated our way through the Prague Castle and St. Vitus’ Cathedral (OH, my goodness, it was splendid!), then on down through narrow cobbled streets to the famous Charles Bridge that crosses the Vlatava River.

We gaped, gasped, and shivered our way across the bridge with throngs of other tourists, all enjoying the many statues, musicians, and artists along the way. I guess that’s why it’s such a hit; there’s plenty to see along the Charles Bridge.

Our favorite was the statue to Prague’s Saint John of Nepomuk, who we had also seen in St. Vitus’ Cathedral. Friar Nepomuk had been a confessor to Queen Sophie and refused to reveal her secret lover to “Good?” King Wenceslas IV. After being tortured to death, his body was thrown from the Charles Bridge, and legend has it that bright light and five stars appeared from the water below the bridge. He was canonized in 1729, over 300 years after his death. His statue is a favorite on the bridge, and people wait in long lines to touch two brass reliefs at the foot of the statue for good luck. We were told later that touching the dog picture brings bad luck. Go figure!

Speaking of dogs, they are on leashes everywhere in Prague. How different from Istanbul, where a leashed dog is a rarity. Libby would have been in heaven!

We were chilled to the bone by the time we reached the Old Town Square and the Astronomical Clock. Some settled into a warm restaurant for coffee, while others of us hit the Christmas market for mulled wine and pork sausage. HEAVEN! You have NO idea how delicious a fat, juicy pork sausage tastes if you’ve been deprived of it for months. Hog heaven!

We finally found our way to our hotel, which was lovely. The restaurant was cozy and had a delicious and reasonably-priced menu, and the newly-renovated rooms were tastefully decorated and spotless. Laura and I scored a spacious corner attic room, which she dubbed “the nicest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in!” Remember, though, that Laura has been living in hostels for the past month.

Laura and I had a bowl of soup, dropped our clothes, and headed back into the city. Our hotel was near a tramline, and we found our way around the city easily using trams and metros. There was a noticeable absence of traffic, too, probably due to Prague’s convenient and inexpensive public transportation system.

We wandered through the Christmas market again and across the Charles Bridge, then rested our weary feet in a little pub that served us “Christmas crepes”, which were over-priced Christmas cookies from a tin—the kind that all taste the same. The mulled wine and hot chocolate were good, though. After an hour in a used bookstore (a veritable treasure trove) we took in a music concert at the Lichtenstein Palace (they let Laura in free because she was Laura–my inimitable, charming niece), then stopped afterwards for hot ham sandwiches before heading back to the hotel.

Sunday dawned clear, and four of us (Dee, Terri, Laura, and I) headed off for Kutna Hora, a town famous for a number of churches, including a Bone Church. Hmmm… It was fascinating–though a bit macabre. Most everything was closed, so we had a hard time finding our way to the Cathedral of St. Barbara. Our reward was an evening mass, complete with organ music and a children’s choir. It was spectacular to experience that 14th century splendor in the glory of worship. We felt a little like interlopers, but we kept our hands folded as we gawked at the workmanship of 500 years of effort.

We got back to Prague just in time to be overwhelmed by the New Year’s Eve festivities on Wenceslaus Square. A brilliantly lit stage throbbed with music just below the National Museum, also lit and decorated for the event. Even at 7:00 crowds milled as the evening’s celebrations began. We wandered through the area and then on to the Old Town Square, which had its own celebration well in hand. We indulged in another meal of pork sausage and mulled wine–why not?

We gathered at the hotel to ring in the New Year with our friends, amazed at the MASS of fireworks going off in the street as well as overhead, especially at 12:00. Young men sang in bass voices from across the street, and one climbed out on the roof just after 12:00. Maybe not such a good idea for someone who’d been drinking! A few of us finished off the night with a trek to the local pub, where we were warmly welcomed by an artist, his wife, and their grown daughter. That evening rubbing elbows with the locals was a real highlight for us.

Another highlight of our trip was a tour of the Jewish Ghetto. We hired a private guide (for a whopping six dollars), and this elderly woman fascinated us for two hours with information about the history and lives of the Jews in Prague, trekking through the synagogues, through the streets, and around the Jewish Cemetery. It wasn’t until she finished her tour that we asked where she had been during the war. She’d been in hiding with her father until near the end of the war, when they were sent to Terazin Concentration Camp. The rest of her family had been deported sooner, and none of them survived. Hitler’s troops anihilated all but 15 percent of Prague’s Jews.

The rest of the week was replete with shopping, eating, a boat tour, museums, a jazz club, and a pub crawl. We stayed busy every minute, yet somehow found time to sleep. I’m not just sure how.

Our last stop in Prague was the grocery store. We came back with pounds of ham, bacon, sausage, and cheese. Of course, Prague has MUCH more exciting things to offer. It’s just that we live in Istanbul.

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