Yep, that's right: our trip to Prague was a journey to my ancestral homeland. I don't know where exactly or what city the Houdeks came from, but I know they were Czech! For the first time in my 24 years of life...I was in a country where every single person could flawlessly pronounce my last name. Let's give that thought a reverent moment of silence, shall we?*
It was my genius idea to leave Vienna on a train at 6:30 in the morning. We left our hotel at about 5:30, so that was pretty rough. After a long week of traveling we were tired and fell asleep right away on the train. The train was different from most that I've been on because it was made up of little compartments (with 6 seats each) with their own individual doors. We took advantage of this by closing the curtains, spreading out our luggage, and even locking the door haha. We figured they wouldn't put locks on the doors if you weren't allowed to use them, right? This was our very first foray into Eastern Europe and we didn't want to take naps with random Eastern European men.
One of the most awkward moments of my life was when I opened my eyes for a second and made eye contact with a guy trying to come into our compartment. He looked pretty annoyed that the door wouldn't open, but eventually he walked away. After that I unlocked the door to avoid that awkwardness again, but we still left our stuff (and ourselves...) sprawled over all of the seats to discourage people from joining us. It worked! #teamantisocial
Wait, that's probably why people don't like American tourists, right? Hmmmm. Well, Olimpia's Canadian, and it was her idea. So I don't think this should count against us.
It was a 5 hour train ride. When we eventually woke up, we were surprised to realize that the Czech Republic looks exactly like Kentucky. Who would've thought? It's green and hilly, and we kept seeing hick-looking houses and people doing activities like chopping wood while wearing denim shirts. This led to a conversation about what other European countries are like which states. For example, Germany is a fairly Wisconsin-y country (down-to earth people, beer, lots of trees, more beer...)*. I don't know if we came up with any other great examples, but we did firmly establish that Belgium in Canada (the people are chill and bilingual, and they're often made fun of by the slightly more awesome, monolingual country that's south of them).
When we finally got to Prague we felt pretty confused. At least in Germany and Austria we can speak some 'baby German' and make out SOME of the signs and things people are saying. In Prague, we couldn't even pronounce any of the signs! There's a real lack of vowels coupled with a love for long words in this country, let me tell you. Every sign says something to the effect of Vflkîjwfkëfbska. Thankfully, some of the signs had pictures, so we were able to find the locker room where we could leave our luggage.
Also, we had to get some Czech money. We've been so spoiled by the euro that it was pretty much impossible to wrap my mind around how much a Czech koruna is worth. I kept trying to calculate it in my head, but that just wasn't working and it didn't seem like real money to me. Maybe that means I'm not mature enough to be a world traveler. Opps, too late!
By around noon, we made it to the main city square. Now, you finally get some pictures of beautiful Prague!
Darn it. When it's sunny I never like how pictures of myself turn out because I'm so squinty! However, it's nice to actually see a blue sky in my pictures! No more grey winter sky.
This statue is of a Martin Luther-type character who fought against the concept of selling indulgences.
We stopped in the church that's in the background of those last few pictures.
We were planning on doing a walking tour at 2:00, so we had a little time to explore by ourselves first. We set out to find the Jewish cemetery, which was supposed to be cool, and found this pretty view along the way.
The building on top of the hill is Prague Castle, which I'm dying to see someday! Another place we didn't quite make it to (but could see from here) was Charles Bridge.
There's supposed to be really good views from there. I guess my view was alright too, though!
After some trial and error, we found the cemetery entrance. I had to pay extra money to be able to take pictures. It cost 40 koruna; your guess is as good as mine as to how much that is. Bottom line: these pictures better be worth it!
It was a pretty cool place. The oldest headstones are from the 1400s. I looked it up afterwards, and found out that the reason they're so close together is that as the cemetery filled up, they just kept making more layers of graves underground and bringing the headstones to the top. There are 12 layers of graves underground! Ooooh, creepy! You can see about 12,000 headstones, and there are about 200,000 people buried here. I had fun trying to decipher the Hebrew. It was at least easier to read than the Czech signs! !בתח
By the time we finished up there, it was about time for our tour to start. We met up with our group in the main square, and it was nice not to feel lost and confused anymore haha. Our tour guide told us that this building was the town hall. The rest of the building was bombed out during WWII, so only this tower part is left.
Around the corner from the tower is one of Prague's most famous sites, the astronomical clock.
I don't particularly understand the huge appeal of this. I guess if you think astronomy is cool than you will think this is cool.
Another thing the tour guide pointed out is this "Black Madonna" statue. My first thought was that this proved that we were in Kentucky and this was the equivalent of a Black Jesus, but it turns out that this statue is just really old and it survived a fire ;)
It was great walking around beautiful Prague for a few hours in the sunshine with our tour group!
Man, my people really knew how to build a city. Yes, I am shamelessly taking credit for Prague's architecture because I have some Czech blood. The tour ended back in the Jewish Quarter close to the cemetery. We saw two synagogues- this ancient one:
And this one, built in the Moorish style. (Wait...or was it the Moops? Can't recall).
At about 5:00, we had to leave the tour early to do some quick souvenir shopping and head to the train station for our overnight train back to France.
We got to see a lot of Prague's Old Town, but our time here was so short! Honestly, it almost made me sad to be there because I was seeing so many things I wanted to do but didn't have the time to. I have a great analogy for this. At least, it's a great analogy if you have a shopping addiction like I do. My trip to Prague was basically like window-shopping. Okay, maybe that analogy wasn't worth all of that build-up. But that's how I felt!
In one case, it was literal window-shopping. I saw a Zara, and I didn't have the time to go inside :( It would have been my 13th country of Zara!
At least I did get to up my official country count...the Czech Republic makes #17.
Out of all the places I've seen this year, Prague is the place I'm most determined to come back to. It lives up in every way to all the hype it gets. Houdek family reunion next year in Prague, anyone? It would be perfect, the people even have long legs here so we would fit in. Everyone seemed pretty nice too, so I don't even think Uncle Andy would end up in prison or anything.
I have one last picture collage of this great week I spent running all over Europe. Westies are very popular over here, and me and Jenna started a tradition of sending each other pictures of the ones we see. This week I saw one in Munich, one in Vienna, and two in Prague! I was in Prague for half the time that I was in the other places, so I think that means that our love of westies must be genetic or something.
It always makes my day to see a little European Daisy walking around!
*Yes, it does grate on you a little bit when your name is always mispronounced. I don't mind when people can't say it the first time, but I hate when people can't remember it after that! Contrary to popular belief, I am not Marissa Hoodek or Marissa Howdeck :)
And for the record, I confirmed the pronunciation of 'Houdek' with my Czech tour guide and we totally pronounce it correctly. So proud of us.
*Daniel Tosh said it best: "Wisconsin is Germany, but without the horrible past."