>The joys of travel!
Breakfast this morning was the most fun yet, because all the tables were taken, so I sat with a threesome and yakked for an hour. The guy was Chinese but now American, married to a lady I thought was British. She spoke perfect British English, but I found out later that she was an Italian from Rome. The old grandma was also Italian, and only spoke a little English. The guy sells pharmaceuticals for some big company. He was here 2 years ago, and says the change in that period is amazing. Then everyone drove old cars, now there are mostly new cars around. It is so hard to realize these people are only 15 years out from the grey of Communism. The Grandma had always wanted to see Prague, so when the last of the 5 family chow dogs died, they brought her to see this beautiful city.
Today the only thing I really had to do today was go to a bus station across town and buy my bus ticket with reserved seat for my ride tomorrow morning to Cesky Krumlov. My hotel lady got on the internet and found me the easiest way to get to the bus station. The younger people here use the internet for everything, just like we do. She found me a route that took a streetcar a few stops, get out at the Tesco, take the Metro across town to the bus station. Pretty simple compared to what I was going to try. Nice internet. . .
I was amazed at the Tesco. In England Tesco is a grocery store, but here it is a huge, 5-story downtown department store in a “modern” (read: old communist) glass and steel building. I went to the top and explored every floor on the way down. I bought a Viennese lace table runner and a doily (surprise) and they are really nice. I asked if the lace was made here in Czech Republic or in China, and was told it’s all made here. Everyone claims their stuff is made locally. One guy in Italy was insulted when I asked if his stuff was made in China!
I finally found the bus station, after walking completely around it and coming out the exact wrong subway exit and turning the exact wrong direction! It won’t be hard to find tomorrow, which is good, because I will be dragging suitcases then. It’s not such an elegant area as the old town, with lots of 1960’s ugly modern buildings but there are still some nice buildings. The breath of Communism hangs heavier outside the tourist areas, I suppose. There was a little market on the back side of the station, selling the typical things from Afghanistan: suitcases, bags, cashmere scarves, etc, but I did not feel safe there so did not really enter the market.
I wanted to go back to Wenceslas Square and read more about the history of that place. I found a shady seat on the base of the horse statue (at left) of Good King Wenceslas and sat and read my guidebook for awhile and was even more amazed. Wenceslas was a rare light in the medieval 900’s. He Christianized his country and educated them.
Wenceslas Square is at least a half mile long and about 100 yards wide and goes from the top of the hill down to the old town. There used to be a streetcar down the center, but now there are flowers. This is where the student demonstrations were held during Prague Spring in 1968.
That really hit me because I
was a university student that year. In January 1969, a philosophy student burned himself on the steps of the museum at the top of the hill behind the horse statue, and died later in the hospital. The movement had begun. Twenty years later, the university students were having a memorial demonstration for his death. They marched to the cemetery and had some ceremonies. When that was over, they decided to march to Wenceslas Square. They were very careful to be completely non-violent, because that would have been just the excuse for the brutal police to break them up. The police were nowhere to be seen. Then, as the students turned the corner to go toward the square, they were met by a 3-deep blockade of policemen! Police blocked the exit streets, too. Tanks pulled up behind the students and they were trapped. Police squeezed in, beating the students and hauling them off for interrogation. As I read my guidebook, I realized that this had happened right at the Tesco where I had been shopping earlier!
The street where I rode the tram was where the tanks had come in and the police line was just before the Tesco (picture above.) Oh my gosh! You cannot understand how hard this hit me!
Anyway, the next day, students and actors all over the country of Czechoslovakia went on strike. The second day the parents and adults filled Wenceslas Square with 300,000 people and every evening after that. Freeom lovers spoke to the crowd from the 3rd floor balcony of what is now the Marks & Spencer department store.
A rock star provided the sound system. By the end of December that year, they were able to elect Vaclav Havel (Pulizter prize winning author) to be their president. WOW! Called the Velvet Revolution because it was fairly peaceful.
I remember hearing something about this, but I did not really understand it, because that was the year the Berlin Wall came down and also the year Heidi was born. How much else important is happening in the world and I am not really aware of it?
So as I sat at the base of the King Wenceslas statue and read all this, I decided to go back to Tesco and look at the place again. It was about 8 blocks, and my feet were tired, so I hired a rickshaw! It was made of plastic and looks very sleek, but nevertheless, it was a pedal-powered rickshaw! A cute 20-ish girl pedaled me over to Tesco for about $6.50.
After checking out that spot more carefully, I wandered back toward the old town and happened upon Bethlehem Chapel. I was so pleased to find it, because this is where Jan Hus had been the pastor, preaching Sunday Sermons for the last ten years until they came and took him away. Jan Hus was like Martin Luther, only 100 years before
him. Both were university professors and preachers. Both got in trouble with the Catholic church and got excommunicated. Martin Luther lived. Jan Hus they hauled off to Germany, away from his people, and burned him at the stake.
He is still today a Czech national hero and one of my heroes, too. I was so happy to find the place where he preached! Behind the blue screen in the picture is a statue of him which is being restored. The advertising on the screen pays for the restoration.
This afternoon I found 2 little parks. One must back up to my hotel, but you can’t get in from there, because of a high wall.
I have a “free” ticket for a ghost tour of the old town. It came with my tour yesterday. I think I’ll go, and it starts in 22 minutes, so I have to get across the river to the meeting place by the Astronomical clock on the old church tower.
I wish you could all see the wonderful things I am seeing!