Tag Archives: czech republic

Prague 5: Photography in Prague

Prague Part 1: The Worst Train Ride Ever
Prague Part 2: Prague…My Favorite European City
Prague Part 3: Jewish History in Prague
Prague Part 4: Prague Castle

If you’re into photography, Prague is the city for you. It is breathtakingly beautiful. And we went to Prague in December…when I nearly lost my fingers to the freezing cold. I can only imagine how wonderful Prague is in the comfort of spring or summer.

I googled “photography and Prague,” and found countless maps and suggestions. Here are some of my favorite spots.

Prague Map copy

  1. Old Town Square
  2. St. Charles Bridge tower – Old Town side
  3. St. Charles Bridge – Mala Strana
  4. Santa Maria Boat Wharf
  5. Letensky Profil
  6. Walk down from Strahov Monastery
  7. Lennon Wall

Old Town Square: This is an obvious spot and full of charm. Sadly, the Old Town Tower was under construction when we were there, and I missed out of the aerial views I so desperately wanted. I made it up with bubble pictures.

***IMG_4955**IMG_5018**IMG_4896**IMG_5008St. Charles Bridge tower – Old Town side: There are so many great places to view St. Charles Bridge and they each offer something different. Even on a rainy day, it’s worth a climb up the bridge tower to look down on the bridge and the city from above.

***IMG_5156***IMG_5166***IMG_5169**IMG_5172**IMG_5189St. Charles Bridge – Mala Strana side: Different areas offer different vantage points of Prague’s most famous bridge. If you cross St. Charles Bridge and walk underneath it on the Mala Strana side, you can catch some lovely views.

***IMG_6967**IMG_7014**IMG_7043**IMG_5433Santa Maria Boat Wharf: Just under Manes Bridge, you can steal some beautiful views of St. Charles Bridge – especially at night.

***IMG_5475***IMG_5482***IMG_5483Letensky Profil: This is my favorite place in Prague. If you cross over Svatopluk Cech Bridge and hike up to the top of the park, you’ll be in the perfect place to see all of Prague’s bridges. Feast your eyes on this:

***IMG_6418***IMG_6430***IMG_6441***IMG_7155***IMG_7157***IMG_7170Walk down from Strahov Monastery: Strahov Monastery is situated on a hill, and the walk down offer beautiful views of Prague.

***IMG_6812***IMG_6815**IMG_6809**IMG_6832Lennon Wall: This is more of a curiosity than anything else. But it’s a fun curiosity.

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Prague Part 4: Prague Castle

Prague Part 1: The Worst Train Ride Ever
Prague Part 2: Prague…My Favorite European City
Prague Part 3: Jewish History in Prague

Perched high on a hill, Prague Castle is strategically placed and hard to miss. According to the castle’s website, it was likely founded in 880 and has been an important symbol of Czech nationality for over 1,000 years.

There are all sorts of strategies for visiting Prague Castle — Rick Steves provides a couple to avoid getting caught in the tourist throngs. We started early in the morning and walked from our hotel. It is mostly uphill, but you will get some beautiful views as you go.

We started with the famous and impressive St. Vitus Cathedral. Do not harbor any illusions that you will have this stunning gothic structure to yourself.

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Next, we headed to the Old Royal Palace.

**IMG_6596**IMG_6602The palace offers a beautiful view of Prague.

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Finally, we made our way to the Golden Lane, where defenders of the castle, servants, or important people lived. As you wander the multi-colored lane, you can pop into tiny houses (make sure to duck!) and read about the people who used to live here.

**IMG_6636**IMG_6668**IMG_6685*IMG_6637From 1916 to 1917, No. 22 was occupied by Franz Kafka.

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No. 14 is called the “Little House of the Psychic Matylda Prusova.” The plaque on the door tells the sad tale of how she waited for her son to return from the front lines during the First World War. Every day, she set the table and prepared his bed, but he never returned.

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After two and half hours at the castle, we left the castle grounds and continued south to Strahov Monastery. I desperately wanted to photograph the monastery’s elaborate library, but we forgot to check the monastery’s hours. Just our luck, we showed up just as the library closed for lunch.

Apparently, people need to eat.

Instead, I settled for some lovely photos of the outside buildings, and descended to Mala Strava with beautiful views in front of us and behind us.

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Prague Part 3: Jewish History in Prague

Prague Part 1: The Worst Train Ride Ever
Prague Part 2: Prague…My Favorite European City

Unlike many European cities that were bombed to a pulp during World War II, Prague is nearly intact. It’s a walking, living history book. We booked a three hour tour with Aharon Hribek, who came highly recommended by a friend. We had a lot to cover, and three hours was not enough. So consider that your warning…this will be a very long post.

The first stop was the Altneushcul, or the Old New Synagogue. M and I had already visited the synagogue for Saturday services, but today we got an expert’s guidance.

IMG_5574The synagogue was built in stages. The oldest part, the main sanctuary, dates back to 1270. As the synagogue expanded, adding an upper level and a women’s section, a plaque was added to commemorate each new section.

IMG_5551The inside is relatively small, and not at all ostentatious like some of the other synagogues we saw later, but hauntingly beautiful in its own way.

IMG_5595IMG_5607IMG_5623IMG_5640A artist friend of M’s designed many of the ritual coverings in the main sanctuary, like the navy covering on the bimah and the maroon covering on the Torah ark.

IMG_5644IMG_5653IMG_5659IMG_5663This seat bears the name the Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the revered rabbi known as the Maharal, who served as a rabbi in Prague during the 16th century. Our guide informed us that this may be the place where the Maharal sat, but the wood is not old enough to be the original seat.

IMG_5667A replica of the the Jews’ historic flag hangs from the ceiling. In 1357, Charles IV allowed the Jews of Prague to have their own city flag.

IMG_5671IMG_6309Next, we visited the Pinkas Synagogue, a gothic synagogue built in 1535. In 1955, it was turned into a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust from Bohemia and Moravia. The first floor contains the names of each victim, and the second floor contains a heart-rending exhibit of drawings made by Jewish children kept in the Terezin ghetto and concentration camp.

IMG_5676IMG_5685IMG_5693IMG_5696IMG_5699IMG_5719IMG_5740After Pinkas, we walked through the old Jewish cemetery, while out guide pointed out some of the more famous and interesting gravestones. Many of the stones are faded and crooked, victims of nature and time. Cemeteries are supposed to be depressing places, but I took some odd comfort in the preservation of history. Each stone, each name is a story that lives on as thousands of people come from all over the world to hear their tales.

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The most famous gravestone in the yard – it belongs to the Maharal

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The oldest identifiable gravestone in the cemetery belongs to Avigdor Kara who died in 1439. UPDATE: A kind reader has informed me that the gravestone in the cemetery is a replica. The original can be found in the Maisel Synagogue entrance hall.

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Hendl Basevi was the wife of a wealthy businessman and mayor of the Jewish Town.

**IMG_5935**IMG_5899**IMG_5843**IMG_5791**IMG_5814**IMG_5831**IMG_5834By the time we finished at the Jewish cemetery, we were running short on time. We made two quick visits to the Klausen Synagogue and the Chevra Kadisha – the small building next to the cemetery where Jews would prepare their dead for burial. Then, M and I checked out the Maisel Synagogue, the elaborate Spanish Synagogue, and the modern Jewish cemetery on our own.

Built in 1694 in early Baroque style, the Klausen Synagogue is the largest in Prague.

IMG_6096IMG_6103IMG_6108IMG_6134The Maisel Synagogue was originally built in 1592 by Mordecai Maisel, the mayor of Prague’s Jewish town. It was burnt down in 1689 and rebuilt several times. Today, it hosts an exhibit on historical Jewish life in Bohemia.

IMG_6267IMG_6290IMG_6283The Spanish Synagogue is a sight to behold. Built in 1868 for the Reform congregation (notice the organ on the second floor which would never appear in an Orthodox synagogue), it was called the Spanish Synagogue because its design was influence by Moorish architecture.

IMG_7091IMG_7098IMG_7107IMG_7109The modern Jewish cemetery is not a typical stop on the tourist route in Prague. Most tourists stick to the historical sites in the center of Old Town. Founded in 1890, the modern cemetery is in use today and a 20 minute subway ride from the center of town. M connected with a friend of a friend who publishes a Jewish newsletter on site and offered to show us around.

IMG_6193IMG_6210IMG_6212IMG_6224IMG_6236Yes, that is the Franz Kafka.

IMG_6242IMG_6251These plaques memorialize several of the musical and visual artists who were held in the Terezin concentration camp and perished in the Holocaust. Terezin was used by the Nazis as a propaganda tool to convince the Red Cross that their camps were humane and a cultural nirvana. They exploited the Jewish artists to churn out Nazi propaganda, but many of them secretly depicted the cruel reality of the camps through their art.

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Prague Part 2: Prague… My Favorite European City

Prague Part 1: The Worst Train Ride Ever

If you have not been to Prague, go now. Do not pass go; do not collect $200; go to Prague.

Prague is officially my favorite European city. No, it’s not one of Europe’s massive metropolises. It’s not Paris or London or Rome. But it is beautiful, and its size and low-cost makes it imminently accessible. I fell in love with Prague instantly – as we walked from the train station to our hotel and cursed ourselves for not realizing cobble stone sidewalks and wheeled suitcase do not mix.

Walking through Prague’s Old Town feels like being transported back in time.

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View of Old Town from the Charles Bridge tower

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A beautiful stone street in Mala Strana

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Bubbles in the Old Town Square

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View of Mala Strana and Prague’s many bridges

Our three and a half days in Prague felt insufficient. I could have easily spent more time there. Even in the freezing cold, I loved wandering through the neighborhoods, exploring random nooks and crannies, soaking up the charm, the colors… oh, I’m getting nostalgic.

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The Lennon Wall in Mala Strava

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The Prague astronomical clock in Old Town

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A trolley zooming past on Svatopluk Čech Bridge

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Bubble in the Old Town Square (I love photographing bubbles)

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More bubbles!

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Leafy view overlooking Mala Strava

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A beautiful reflection in Old Town

Prague is also rich in Jewish history, a stunning feat compared to nearby countries who saw historic Jewish communities laid to waste during World War II. The Altneuschul (the Old New Synagogue), for example, is the oldest active synagogue in Europe! In addition to the Jewish tour we lined up, M and I had the chance to attend services at the Altneuschul on Saturday morning, and M read from the Torah during services. It was a special experience to participate in the same traditions that have linked Jewish generations on the very same spot in the very same building since 1270.

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The famous Old New Synagogue

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The old Jewish cemetery in Prague dating back hundreds of centuries

I will post in-depth posts on each of these places, but wanted to share my love of Prague. Even in the freezing cold and dreary rain could not the dampen my  love for this city. So if you are thinking about going to Prague, go now. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Just go.

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What’s Next: Central Europe

The traveling circus is off to Europe again in two weeks, making this our third trip to Europe this year. Not that I’m complaining.

This trip began like a lot of our trips: me playing around on the computer, randomly looking up flights, and saying “Hey babe, you want to go to Berlin?”

Basically, there was a ton of United award availability to central Europe and we had replenished our points accounts since Amsterdam. So Berlin, Prague, and Vienna – here we come.

How did we do it?

Flights: I splurged on business class tickets to Berlin in the hopes that we will arrive well-rested and can hit the ground running (fingers crossed). We will fly United Polaris (sadly not the fancy new United hard product) to Berlin with a stopover in Dublin. There are no direct flights from D.C. to Berlin, and flying United requires less miles than United partners like, say, Austrian Air. Total IAD – TXL for two people: 115,000 United miles and $16.80.

On the way back, we’ll be flying economy from Vienna to D.C. for 30,000 United miles each. Business class would have been nice, but at 70,000 miles per person it was too much. At least, the flight is non-stop. Total VIE – IAD for two people: 60,000 United miles and $178.32.

Hotel – Berlin: Picking hotel rooms is my favorite part of traveling. I know, some people like the sightseeing, the food…whatever. I love the hotel analysis. It takes all kinds, right? Since I have diamond status at Hilton, my heart always gravitates there, and I had racked up a ton of points thanks to work travel. Berlin was easy. The Hilton Berlin is smack in the middle of the city, with easy access to major sites. I booked five nights, taking advantage of Hilton’s five for the price of four deal. Total Hilton Berlin for five nights: 161,000 Hilton points.

UPDATE: I occasionally check on my already-booked hotels to see if prices have gone down. Lucky me, the Hilton Berlin was going for 139,000 points for the same five nights. I chatted Hilton and they immediately redeposited 22,000 points into my account!

Hilton Map

The Hilton Berlin is the red icon, just a few blocks south of Berlin’s main drag, Unter den Linden.

Hotel – Prague: I had a free IHG night I needed to use before it expired in November so it made the Intercontinental Prague an easy pick. It’s not the best value for my free night, but it’s better than not using it all. In the end, because prices were relatively cheap, I paid for two nights with cash, one night with points, and one night with a free night award. Total Intercontinental Prague for four nights: 40,000 IHG points and $302.56.

intercontinental map

The Intercontinental Prague in the city’s old town. Super excited about the location and the proximity to the Jewish sites.

Hotel Vienna: This was a tough one. Vienna hotel pries are more western Europe than eastern Europe, and we were fresh out of Hilton points. It came down to Starwood vs. Marriott. Starwood offered a slightly better location, but my gold status with Marriott gives us more bang for our buck. So I transferred a bunch of SPG points to Marriott at a 1:3 ratio and booked the Vienna Marriott, where we got five nights for the price of four. Total Vienna Marriott for five nights: 160,000 Marriott points.

Marriott Map

Most of the key attractions in Vienna are located inside or around the ring. The Marriott is directly on the ring road. Looking forward to the lounge here.

Trains: We booked two trains from Berlin to Prague and from Prague to Vienna. Thanks to Seat 61 (the best website for anyone attempting train travel), I was able to find cheap prices on the Czech Republic train site. Total Berlin – Prague for two people: $65.63. Total Prague – Vienna for two people: $53.72.

So that’s how you do two weeks in central Europe on the cheap without slumming it.

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