We were thrilled to wake up the next morning and see that the sun was shining and the rain had stopped! We decided to get up early and get started on our day because we had a lot of plans. We ate a quick breakfast in the hotel, then headed out to the Old Town Square on our way to the Jewish Quarter. What a different experience this was from the night before! We were out early, like around 8 in the morning, so there were practically no tourists anywhere – very unlike the previous night when you couldn’t walk without touching someone else. And boy was it suddenly even more beautiful when it was empty and sunny!
We both were so relieved to be able to take some nice photos, have more of a personal experience, and not be so stressed about pickpockets within the huge crowds.
We made our way to the Jewish Quarter, a section of the city surrounded completely by the Old Town. It’s believed that Jews settled in what is now Prague as early as the 10th century. The first crusade and pogrom occurred in 1096 and then Jews of the area settled into a concentrated area within a walled ghetto. In 1389, one of the worst pogroms occurred in which 1,500 were murdered on Easter Sunday. Towards the end of the 16th century, Mordecai Maisel became the Minister of Finance and extremely wealthy – he used his money to help further develop the ghetto and make it more prosperous. In 1850, the quarter was renamed “Josefstadt,” or Joseph’s city, after Joseph II, the Holy Roman Emperor who emancipated Jews with the Toleration Edict in 1781. Between 1893 and 1913, a lot of the quarter was demolished and only six synagogues, the old cemetery, and the Old Jewish Town Hall remained – those are now all part of the Jewish Museum in Prague, which is where we went to visit that morning.
The Museum was founded in 1906. We were able to look around multiple old synagogues (unfortunately no photos were allowed in some). One that really impressed me was the Pinkas Synagogue in which the walls are entirely covered with tiny written names of those who had been killed in the Holocaust. There are 77,000 names of perished Bohemian-Moravian Jews on the walls as a memorial.
We were able to walk through the Old Jewish Cemetery, which was used from the 1400s until 1787. It is unclear how many people were buried here and how many grave stones there are because several layers of tombs exist. The people who once lived here were only given so much land in the city and more land cost more money, so they used what they had. It has been estimated that around 100,000 people have been buried here with approximately 12,000 visible tombstones. The oldest grave in the cemetery is for the rabbi and poet Avigdor Kara from 1439. There are 12 layers of graves.
The synagogues have beautiful detail in the architecture:
After seeing so much, we kept walking and suddenly the rest of the tourists were out and about. We walked past the entrance to the synagogue as we left and the line was so long! When we had arrived there was one other person there. Sometimes it’s worth getting up early.
We walked across a bridge towards the Prague Castle and the views were breathtaking.
We took a seat by the water to absorb everything around us. It was wonderful to just relax and enjoy the moment and take everything in. That’s definitely one of my favorite parts of traveling.
Then we decided to walk towards famous Charles Bridge. Its construction began in 1357 and it was the only means of crossing the Vltava River until 1841. It was once the most important connection between the Castle and the Old Town.
But as we were walking we stumbled upon the Franz Kafka Museum! As an English major, of course I have read and written about some of his work and I really enjoyed it. Kafka was born in Prague and it was exciting to see a place dedicated to him.
And of course we couldn’t help but laugh at the goofy statues relieving themselves outside the museum:
We finally got to the Charles Bridge and it was a mob scene of tourists! We had been warned to watch our pockets and purses very carefully while walking there because it is a pickpockets dream location. People were trying to sell things, street performers were everywhere, and people stopping for photos when there was no real place to stop among the crowds.
Although it was beautiful, I think we both felt a little overwhelmed by crowds – especially with the contrast to our peaceful morning, so we walked back to the hotel to grab lunch. I needed a little more money so I went to an atm, but my card was repeatedly declined without reason. This is always scary and stressful, but happens often during travels. I called my bank and probably sounded a little frustrated, but it turned out it wasn’t my card or my account, just something strange about that specific atm machine with relation to my card. It sucks but there’s not much you can do. Luckily I had leftover euros and because of the major tourism in Prague I was able to get by with that the rest of our visit and my cousin was helpful in the situations where euros didn’t help.
So we ate a quick and easy lunch because we had scheduled a tour with Prague All Inclusive Tours to visit Theresienstadt, an extremely moving experience that deserved its own post. We had made reservations on our own and not through the hotel the day before. Visiting a place like this is something you can do on your own, but we figured it was worth going through a group – one of the only times our entire trip we did that. The tour guide actually picked us up from our hotel and then we got on a van with only 6 other people. It was an hour long ride outside of Prague to Theresienstadt and the whole way we were given tons of historical and background information, so we really learned a lot before we even got there. We saw a cemetery, museums, the camp, the ghetto, and an exhibit of artwork made by the Jews forced to live there. We even heard a recording of children singing a song composed by someone who had lived there – all of those children were eventually murdered, so this was haunting to hear.
Our tour guide was fantastic and we met some interesting people throughout the day including a father and son from Los Angeles who had been biking around Eastern Europe. We were really moved by the day and everything we experienced, but it was mentally draining and we both fell asleep on the ride back to the hotel.
After resting some, we decided to eat dinner at the hotel because we both felt a little too exhausted to try and find dinner. It turned out to be significantly cheaper than the night before, something that doesn’t usually happen when you eat at a hotel versus venturing out. While we ate our meal, we planned our next day and which trains to take.
Then we decided to head out and walk around a little to relax as the evening kicked in. We tried some traditional baked goods that were yummy and very sweet.
And we ate them while watching a street performer sing and play guitar (typical European tourist moment).
Then we looked at all the shops nearby that were slightly tempting:
There were homeless people everywhere and police monitored the area a lot because of how infamous it is for theft and pickpockets. We were happy to get back to the hotel, clean up, and get to bed because we had more adventures waiting for us the next day!