The city of Prague was founded in the year 885. All the architecture here seems ancient to our group considering that Chicago was incorporated as a city in 1837. Prague is nearly 1000 years older than Chicago, and it shows. The Prague Castle has its origins in the 9th century. We walked across the Charles Bridge the other day; a bridge that is more than 600 years old. We watched as figurines moved inside the world's oldest functioning astrological clock. We stood in awe inside the New Old Synagogue that was completed in 1270, where it is said that the mighty golem from jewish fokelore was created. But the history is not just in the buildings, it is in the spirit of the people. The Czech people have seen so much more than we Americans have. They have seen many wars fought in their homeland. They have witnessed occupations and liberations. They have orchestrated the rise and fall of different dynasties and governments. I had a disscussion with my host family for three hours about what life was like during the communist era, I found the tales of struggle and hardship very compelling. I had never learned about this fragment of history before, and it made me wonder why we don't teach it in more history classes. But back to our trip: everywhere we go and everything we see here has so much significance. Back home we have some pretty important sights too, but none have this profound power in them. None of our sights are extremely old, nor have they really "seen" anything. Sure we have some bridges that are noteworthy for their engineering, but none are anywhere near 600 years old. We have the iconic Marshall-Fields clock, but it most definitely isnt the oldest of its kind that still works. Yes we have synagogues, but none of them have the names of 80,000 Jewish victims of the holocaust. To put it simply, none of our sights have this breathtaking power, none of our sights have the ability to leave you without words to describe how they make you feel. Many notable people have passed through Prague during it's 1,100+ year existence. Its fun to wonder: who has stood where I am standing, who has seen what I am seeing?
I have been told before that I am cold-hearted. I have been told that my insistence on keeping my feet planted to the ground when others drop to their knees at the sight of a cute puppy is a signal of some lack of feelings. I have been told that I am the only person in the world who has never cried while watching a movie. These declarations of being all point in the same direction: there is nothing in this seemingly boundless world that could possibly make me feel.
Admittedly, I tend to deviate from the norms of social behavior when it comes to things like cute puppies and love stories. However, for others to use these arbitrary actions as markers of my personality is, in a way, unfair. Instead of shedding tears in response to fictitious situatons, I prefer to save them for moments that truly deserve them.
This past week, my classmates and I took a tour of the synagogues in Prague. There was one in particular that is sure to later identify itself as unforgettab. Upon entiering this synagogue, you were immediately encapsulated by the names of the thousands of Jewish people killed during the war. Walls covered in yellow, red, and black ink, you could not help but recognize the vastness of the destruction. In every direction you were faced with death.
The second floor of the synagogue brought on another flood of emotion. With more walls covered, I pointed out the last names of people I know and wondered if these were their ancestors. I then waited in line to enter a tiny room. This room housed pictures children drew of the concentration camps. I glanced at about three of the drawings and as soon as I realized what they were, I left. It was so heartbreakingly sad to see such bright colors used to depict such gray scenes. This was a situation in which tears are necessary. I exited the room quickly feeling deeply disturbed and visualizing how happily those children must have drawn those pictures. As I write these words, my eyes are swelling with tears. It is an immensely depressing and joyous to think that these children had no knowledge of their fate and could live their last moments carefree.
Now, I would like to make it clear that I am not cold-hearted. My insistence on keeping my feet planted to the ground when others drop to their knees at the sight of a cute puppy is a fearful response indicative of someone that has been bitten long ago. When I don´t cry at happy endings, it is because I would rather focus on the happiness instead of the ending. And now I know that my philosophy for fictitious situations can now be applied to reality. So, for this one moment that is sure to identify itself as unforgettable, I will focus the childrens happiness and not their ending.
On Saturday we went to a town about two and a half hours south of Prague, Česky Krumlov. After a wonderful bus ride/nap, we walked up a hill and through a vast castle to the city center of Česky Krumlov. There, we were given an hour of free time where we could walk around town, shop and see all of the hand crafted items at the Easter Market. There we found such things as hand painted wood Easter eggs, fresh soap, glassware and sweets. After that, we enjoyed a traditional Czech meal of dumplings and pork and celebrated Hannah May's birthday by singing to her with the whole restaurant. Following lunch, we had a tour of the town and castle, where we found out there was not much heating and tapestries were very popular in castles. On the way home from Česky Krumlov, there was much anticipation for a soccer match many of us were going to later that evening between the top 2 teams in the Czech soccer league: AC Sparta Praha and Viktoria Plzen. The evening continued with a Sparta Praha win and a free day for Easter on Sunday.
Since public transportation is pretty much my life in Chicago, while in Prague I have had no problems traveling around by train and bus. Prague's transit system consists of highly efficient subways, trams (street cars that run on a track) and buses that integrate all parts of the city. Safety or impatience seems to be the least of the Czechs' concern. I have never waited longer than 5 minutes for my ride to arrive and even at 10pm on a Saturday night I rode the underground metro feeling much more at ease than I would have riding the red line. I found it odd how dogs were allowed on board with their owners or that it is not required to show your ticket every time you use the train or bus. Instead an undercover inspector might randomly check to see if your ticket is valid but this is a rare occurrence. I thought to myself, if I lived in Prague I would probably never pay. Who would ever know, right? Wrong. If caught without the fare, you may face a large fine. My host explained that most inspectors are not sympathetic unless you are young. So to avoid that trouble maybe I would buy a ticket. Overall my experience has been very pleasant and I am excited to explore the rest of city by public transportation because it gives you a perspective that can not be witnessed by car.
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