Tuesday, January 14
Lots of us slept in this morning; others caught up on reading, writing, or work (Fr. Jay). We all found our way into the streets of old town for at least a couple of hours before meeting for our tour with Marcella at 1:00.
Wandering the old city is a delight. The architecture, the food stands, the stores, the bakeries, the bakeries, the coffee shops, the bakeries. Oh, and the bakeries. If I lived here, if I even spent a month here, my academic robes would be the only thing in my wardrobe that would fit. I’d have to try every single pastry and bread that they display, and re-taste to choose my favorites. Sandwiches are exquisite works of art. Different breads – crusty white bread, pumpernickel, or my new favorite – a very dark bread with sunflower seeds, and a variety of fillings: perfect little cones of ham with a piece of pickle in the center with fresh greens and cream cheese; small balls of fresh mozzarella with tomato; a soft chive-cheese with hard salami; prosciutto, brick cheese, and fresh greens. Yes. I am a foodie.
People have been friendly and helpful, which is a good thing because this language stumps me. As a Spanish-speaker, I can survive in those countries that speak a romance language. My father’s first language was German, and I studied German in grad school, so German sounds very familiar and I know words and phrases. But Czech is a whole different story. My grandfather was Czech and a polyglot, but my grandmother was German and preferred to speak German or English – so I had never heard it spoken before now. Alex is the only one of us who catches on quickly and who repeats words with an excellent accent. She learned quite a bit of Slovakian from her grandfather, and while Slovakian is not the same as Czech, it’s very close.
So. Now you all know: I’m passionate about both food and languages.
Marcella brought us up to the Castle District, where we learned quite a lot about Czech history (we now know the story of St. Wenceslas). She pointed out where the President’s apartments are in the castle, and told us that none of the three presidents have lived in the castle, but instead preferred less ostentatious quarters. The first was (as those of us of a certain age remember) Vaclav Havel, who bought a house rather than live in the castle; the next two followed his lead. We saw the Archbishop’s residence (splendid), and enjoyed the view of the city. In front of us was a wooded hill that is divided into an enormous public park and a smaller park that is owned by the U.S. embassy. The German embassy (a former residence of nobility), which abuts the parks, was the West German embassy during the communist era. Marcella told us how people would leave their cars in the street and run to the embassy, and jump the fence into the garden in order to escape communism.
We went into St. Vitus cathedral and learned that it had only recently been completed (using the original gothic plans!), and saw the remarkable mosaic on the outside wall of the church. We then hiked down the hill to Lesser Town and onto the Charles Bridge, where we took a group photo with the statue of St. Norbert. Back into Old Town.
Highlights of the day? *Walking on the Charles Bridge, *looking at the pastry shops (I know, I know, I’m obsessed) *Devan finding matryoshka dolls of NFL teams/players – and of course they had the Packers! Five players and Aaron Rodgers outer-most. The store also had baseball teams (the Brewers for Stacey), *hearing that Tess and Marge had (what foresight!) bought tickets for “The Best of Swan Lake” before they left the U.S., *seeing some the guys chow down on Prague-style churros, *catching sight of the Kafka museum – a must for me to visit, *realizing that Wenceslas Square is actually a boulevard, *walking in Prague!
Tomorrow we will visit Doksany – the Norbertine convent near Prague – and we will have our farewell dinner. Most of us are staying until Friday, but Brennan and Fr. Sal are leaving tomorrow to go to Philadelphia.