Reflections on... the Czech Republic.
I knew next to nothing about the Czech Republic before visiting. I could tell you that Prague was the capital city, but that’s about it. The free walking tours that I did in Prague and Český Krumlov helped me tremendously; I was so hesitant about signing up for one (I hate walking around in a group) but it turned out to be enriching and a great way to meet new people.
Thanks to a bad case of food poisoning, my time in Prague was not fully enjoyed. I powered through, because I decided that feeling nauseous and throwing up in a random bathroom in the middle of the city would be better than spending the day in bed. I learned that the nicest bathroom in Prague is, without a doubt, the one in the InterContinental Hotel. I also learned - from my walking tour! - that the InterContinental is one of the ugliest in Prague, due to being built during Communism, but is absolutely stunning on the inside. It even has a Rolls Royce dealership on the ground floor!
I was expecting to fall head-over-heels in love with Prague; it’s a city that everyone raves about. The hoards of tourists, complete with selfie sticks and a complete disregard for how much space they take up, definitely put a damper on the city for me. I was able to seek out some less touristy spots where I felt more calm – Letna Park, the Petrin gardens, and the up-and-coming Holesovice neighborhood where my hostel was.
It’s pretty impossible to experience Prague without wandering around the Jewish Quarter. I found the history of this neighborhood to be fascinating – it went from being a walled-in ghetto filled with disease and crime to the center of the city’s Jewish community, and now is home to the city’s most affluent residents and most expensive shops. Five buildings make up Prague’s Jewish Museum and one can easily spend half a day there. Today, there a few thousand Jews make up the thriving community.
The Jewish community in Cesky Krumlov, however, was not as lucky and has ceased to exist post-1938. There is a renovated synagogue – with a café and a sukkah! – that had an interesting temporary exhibit of Mark Podwal, a Jewish artist famous for his New York Times Op-Ed drawings. Thanks to the photos of former resident Josef Seidel (whose own home has been turned into a museum), the town was able to perfectly recreate the building at the turn of the century. There may not be an active Jewish community but I found it really humbling that the synagogue is there at all. It’s in a beautiful part of town, right next to a popular park. Like Berlin, the willingness to give up prime real estate in order to honor lives lost is a much-appreciated gesture.
So long for now, Europe!