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Journals from Austria Program Fall 2012

2012-10-02 Our Trip to Prague


Wow, it's October already and our Fall Break is right around the corner. Our time in Vienna is almost half up, I cannot believe it. It feels like we just got here, but we have seen so much in the few short weeks we've been in Europe. We've had so many opportunities and our German skills are improving with every day. 

The last couple of weeks have mostly been full of school: classes, tours, etc. One very exciting thing was that Annika, Addison, and I were on PULS 4, an Austrian television channel for a talk show about the Mohammed video! This was just an opportunity that randomly came up and the director of AAIE asked us if we wanted to be in a studio audience and we jumped at the chance. It was definitely very difficult to understand what was going on, but it was still an amazing experience and now I can actually say that I've been on a television news show!

What I would really like to talk about in this blog entry is our amazing school trip to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. On the weekend from the 21st to the 23rd we all went to Prague with our Ethnic Diversity teacher Frau Heuberger. We all had an exceptional time; Prague is truly a beautiful city with a rich history.

We traveled to Prague in a double-decker bus and we sat on the top level at the very front.

Getting into Prague, it was at first a little unsettling to be surrounded by an incomprehensible language again (like when we traveled to Slovakia) but soon we realized that Prague is such a big tourist destination and everyone speaks English making the weekend trip much easier than our trip to Bratislava in terms of communication!

The first thing we had to do upon arriving in Prague was get money. They don't use the Euro in Prague, rather Crowns, and it was interesting to say the least trying to figure out how much a 1000 crown bill was worth!

We had a nice lunch with Frau Heuberger right next to Powder Tower and then met our tour guide, Teresa. Our first tour was on the inner city and we entered the old city through the Powder Tower and on the way to the famous Old Town Square we saw buildings in several architectural styles including Art Niveau and Cubism. We passed where Mozart first performed Don Giovani in the Stavovske Theater and stopped in the Wenceslas Square where a philosophy student commited suicide as a martyr for the anti-communist movement.

One of our favorite places was Havelska, the Havel Market, which was like a mini Naschmarkt (the famous market in Vienna) where there are many souvenir stands.

Definitely the highlight of Prague is the Old Town Square. There is the beautiful old town-hall and astronomical clock. There is also the Tyn Church (which I have been calling the Maria Church because there's a Maria figure on the top). What is interesting about this church is one of the towers is bigger than the other and they symbolize Adam and Eve and when the sun rises, Adam casts a shadow on Eve.

We also went underground and saw old Romanesque structures. I found it interesting because they had 21st century technology like holograms and projectors showing a film about Renaissance style. This kind of symbolizes how old European cities like Prague are really living history with all time periods prevelant in structures right next to each other on the streets.

Our first night in Prague we went into town again to take night pictures. Most beautiful was the Tyn Church and I took several pictures of it (see photo above)

In Prague they have a lot of street musicians in the squares. They range from terrible Native American impersonators with plastic feathers on their head, to amazing string quartets.

We all went to dinner at a restaurant just off the square and I had a very delicious lasagna. One thing that's different about Prague, and Europe in general actually, is that good service is not as important as it is in the US. In the US, the customer is always right (even when he or she is wrong.) Here, the servers do not treat you that well, they're not nice and they will try to dupe you. It's also the hardest thing in the world for them to split the bill for you. Some will make you say it before hand, some won't, and every time it is complicated and a catastrophe! You just can't's a fact.

Our second day in Prague we went on a tour of the Prague Castle. This castle has been used for a very long time by nobility including Rudolf II, an Austrian Habsburg. Because she thought it was ugly, Maria Theresa rebuilt the outside in Baroque style. Nowadays, the president works here but doesn't live here.

The Cathedral here was ordered to be built by Charles IV (just like the University and Charles' Bridge). It is built in the gothic and neo-gothic styles and I swear I have never seen so many people in a church before! There was also a wooden carving of a perspective view of Prague inside and an original fresco. It was interesting to compare the older part of the church which is Gothic and the newer part which is Neo-Gothic. The new stained glass also has some Art Niveau influences and the Prague town symbol can be found in lots of places too.

Charles and his four wives are buried in the cathedral, and in the castle the famous “Defenestration” or “Fenstersturz” took place. This is the action that started the 30 Years War where protestants threw Habsburg (catholic) secretaries out the window.

Right outside is a beautiful Golden Lane, where old middle-age houses have been repainted and redone and are now really cute tourist souvenir shops. Franz Kafka lived in one of these houses.

Our last night in Prague we took more night pictures and went out to dinner, again near the square.

On our last day in Prague we did one more tour of the Jewish Quarter. This really was my favorite part of our trip! I loved going inside the different synagogues. It's interesting because in the US I've never been in any actual “synagogues,” mostly just community centers, but these were actual synagogues and temples and they were rich with history and absolutely beautiful! Unfortunately, we couldn't take pictures of the inside of most of them.

The first synagogue we went into actually isn't used as a place of worship anymore; it's a museum, rather a memorial about all the Czech Jews who died in the Holocaust. All the names are handwritten on the walls throughout the first and top floors of the synagogue. On the top floor there was also an exhibit of drawings done by children living in the ghettos and showing how life was for them.

The next synagogue we went to was the Old-New Synagogue, and this is the oldest synagogue in Prague, built around 1280. It's setup is quite old-fashioned, men had to wear a head-covering to visit it, and one could see where women were allowed to watch services from because they were not allowed inside the main hall with the men.

We then visited the Jewish Cemetery, which just seemed to go on and on forever. There are 12,000 graves and it was used from the 15th-18th centuries. People are actually buried on top of each other, with five-hands space in between them.

Just outside the cemetery there were many souvenir stands, and I bought a yarmulke that was hand made by the Czech woman selling them.

We also visited the Spanish Synagogue where we learned about the differences between Ashkanazi Jews in Germany and Sephardic Jews that came from Spain. This Synagogue is done in the Moorish style and looks “exotic.” We learned how during the reign of Franz Josef I the Jews had a pretty good life and weren't forced to convert during the last few decades of the Austrian Empire (Golden Age of Jews.) The Synagogue was built in the 1800s and services are still held here.

After our tour we went to a restaurant nearby for typical Czech food and beer (a Pilsner). Following lunch we had our last few hours in Prague to ourselves and we went back to the Havel's Market to buy souvenirs and then to the Jerusalem Synagogue. We couldn't go inside, but this synagogue was absolutely stunning on the outside!

Our time in Prague was very special, and I am so happy to have explored a very historical and beautiful city in Europe (some believe it's even older and more beautiful than Vienna but you're not allowed to say that here!) Though the restaurant service is sub-par and we could have learned more from our tour guide, our experiences in Prague were excellent and I'm so glad we had this opportunity!

Again, I also have a personal blog that I have been writing about my time here in Vienna which you can find here:

It has a lot more pictures of the things I have described here as well as mini-adventures and activities that I am taking part in on my own. Some entries may not be interesting for some audiences, but I am including the link here in case anyone wishes to view more pictures of Vienna, Prague, and other places or read about my personal excursions. Enjoy, and bis bald!

--Ariana Lipkind


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