Visiting the Jewish Quarter
Instead of leaving the gardens the way we had entered we excited through the gate near the metro stop of Malostranska. From there it was a short walk across the bridge to the old Jewish quarter. With my morbid obsession of cemeteries I knew before we even came to Prague that we had to visit the Jewish cemetery, but also to find out more about the history of Jews in Prague since there is a whole Quarter of the Old Town dedicated to them. The old Jewish cemetery is one of the oldest in Europe and dates back to the 14th century and it is believed to be the burial ground of more than 12.000 Jews. The entrance to the old cemetery is via the Pinkas Synagoge but we first had to queue for tickets when we got to the entrance. There are three types of tickets available, depending on how many of the sights in the Jewish section of the town you would like to visit. We chose the most basic ticket, which included the cemetery and the Spanish synagogue.
In order to get into the cemetery you first had to enter the Pinkas Synagogue. The entire walls of the synagogue are covered with the names of all the Czech and Moravian Jews who perished under the Nazi regime in WWII. The 80.000 names were hand written over a timeframe of 4 years and are not only meant as a reminder of the holocaust, but also to give human names to victims, who were only marked by numbers at the moment of death. The rooms are definitely a thought provoking exhibit and reminder about the horrors of the war.
On the first floor we found the many drawings of children from the Terezin concentration camp. These drawings and the names on the wall drew many curious comments and questions from Jerome who has some knowledge of the holocaust and World War II but has yet to lean about it in detail in school.
The Old Jewish Cemetery
Upon entering the Old Jewish Cemetery we were surprised by how green and overgrown it was. We had visited the Jewish cemetery in Marrakesh and expected it to look similar to the graveyard there, with its white painted mounts of graves. Instead we found traditional gravestones in a flower meadow with the names and inscriptions of the deceased in Hebrew writing. Some were so old that the writing, even to a native speaker would have been illegible, due to the withered state of the stone. The cemetery was an oasis between the apartment blocks of the old town and a peaceful place for a final rest. Wandering along the path, it became apparent just how large the cemetery is, winding its way through the many graves. Again, the boys were already far ahead, not sharing my fascination for the places of the dead. After enjoying the peace I got to the exit of the cemetery where every visitor should wash their hands at the water basin upon departing the place of death to entering that of life.
The Spanish Synagogue
Strolling past the old synagogue, which we sadly did not visit on this occasion, we walked on to the Spanish Synagogue. This Jewish house of prayer was actually built on what used to be the oldest Jewish synagogue in Prague. This was our first ever visit to a synagogue and I was in admiration with the beauty of the interior. The spectacular decorations imitate the interior of the Alhambra. The surfaces are covered by stucco motives, taking inspiration from geometrical and vegetative motives by Islamic architecture. It was quite dark inside, despite the glass ceiling dome and the stained glass windows due to the dark colours being used.
I would have loved to explore more of the Jewish quarter but I could see that Jerome had enough of sight seeing for the day. We found a little café around the corner from the Spanish Synagogue with tables outside on the pavement. The fresh lemonade cooled us down, however the food was a bit of a disappointment, especially for the price we were charged so it is not one I will recommend.
Hiring Pedal Boats on the Vlatava River
Jerome had wanted to go onto the pedal boats since he had first spotted them from Charles Bridge and we had promised him an hour long ride on one of the boats. Strolling along the river we noticed the difference in tourist numbers from Sunday to Monday, there were considerably less people, individuals and groups around. The pedalos can be hired from different hire stations on the Slavic island in the Vlatava River. It can be accessed from the Masarykovo Nabr via a narrow bridge. We chose the hire station Slovanka, straight across from the bridge, based on the fact that the prices were the cheapest and they had plenty of swan pedal boats for hire.
I had always wanted to ride on a swan, ever since our first visit to Tokyo, where they charge ridiculous money for half an hour’s ride. Children will not only love the swans, they also had a beetle and oldtimer car but also traditional pedal boats and for those who prefer to use their arms, rowing boats. The charge for an hour was a bargain at 220 CZK, at that price you could almost hire one every day and try all the different styles. They can also be hired in the evenings at a slightly higher rate, which must be very romantic with Charles Bridge and the other historic buildings lit up around you.
Our Pedal Boat Ride
The little hire kiosk conveniently sells drinks and ice cream as well, which is useful if you think about a longer hire. We got into our swan, and were given a map with a suggested route and Chris and Jerome pedalled first, while I sat back to enjoy the view. Our route first took us towards the Charles Bridge, sadly you cannot go as far as to go underneath the historic bridge, due to the difference in height with a weir in between. We circled the next island along, Shooters Island, in our pedal boat. At the far end we could see some kids playing in the murky river water while the parents enjoyed a picnic in the shades of the trees.
We spotted some crazy tourists who jumped off their boat and went for a swim in the river. On our way underneath the Legii bridge, we watched a tour boat go into the weir and come out at the other side. To our surprise we were met by one of the cruise boats that circles the area. While we were warned to watch out for bigger ships, we did not think they would be able to access this part of the river, but soon found out otherwise. When we nearly reached the upper part of the closed off section of the river, we could see the Dancing House by Frank Gehry at the end of the next bridge. Chris and I swapped at some point as Jerome wanted to pedal with me. The heat was getting to us, being out in the glaring sunshine with no protection, we sought the shade of the middle island, before pedalling back to land.
After our exertions we treated ourselves to an ice cream and strolled along the edge of the island before returning to the hotel, via the Charles Bridge.
It was hard to believe that our three days in Prague were already at an end and we had to leave this beautiful city behind. We all agreed that we had a fun time and that the town was surprisingly child (and adult) friendly compared to other major tourist places. We would definitely like to return sometime to explore more of the building, gardens and museums but maybe at a time of year when it was less busy. Our concierge suggested January and February to be a good time to explore without crowds, despite the cold weather.
Goodbye Prague – Sbohem Praha.