To Prague and Beyond
First, the weather report:
Rain, wind from the north-west 18 mph, Temp 6c (42.8f) at 10:00 pm on 9/16/08
Last Wednesday morning we left for Prague, Czech Republic to renew our visas. It is a 4 hour flight to Moscow and we gain 3 time zones on the way. Then we enjoyed a 7 hour layover and a 2 1/2 hour flight to Prague landing around 8 pm, but being on the "road" for 15 plus hours.
Prague is a beautiful city with many locations over 1000 years old. The skyline is attractive with 600 year old churches mixed with modern buildings.
We were met at the airport by the courier who was to take our passports to the Russian Embassy for the visa renewal. She escorted us, by bus and then by Metro (subway) to our hotel and took the passports, to return them on Friday afternoon. We stayed at the Marriott near Wenceslas Square which is a business district leading from the old city to the National Museum in the New Town section.
Before we made the trip I contacted the District President of Prague and asked if he knew someone who might want to earn some money by guiding us around the city for a couple of days. He suggested Martin Matejda, who turned out to be a 20 year old university student who was studying to be a tour guide. This was to be his first year of university and we would be his first clients. He was a delightful guide and companion for two days and we enjoyed his first attempts as a guide. He had notes from class and from research on the internet and really did a good job. Here he is with Cindy in front of the Town Hall in the Old Town Section of Prague.
We met Martin for the first time Thursday morning and off we went to see Prague Castle and the old town. We walked several blocks to a main street and caught a Tramvie (streetcar) for the ride down to and over the river to the north side and over to the Strahov Monastery, the oldest continually occupied monastery in Europe, that houses an extensive library of ancient books and paintings dating back to the 8th and 9th century.
Prague began as 4 small settlements starting in the 8th century. Prague castle, Hradcany, Lesser City or Old Town, and New Town were all built independently and were later joined by wooden bridges over the Vltava River and eventually merged into one city, retaining the individual character of each.
Martin took us through the monetary, to Loreta and other churches, Prague Castle (seat of the Czech kings), down the hill to Charles Bridge, and across to the edge of Old Town and the National Theater before he had to leave to attend Institute at the church. We ate lunch at a street-side cafe near the castle and watched the castle guards come out of their barracks and go on their way to relieve other guards at their posts. The flag was up, symbolizing the presence of the Czech president in the castle.
That night, after Martin left, Cindy and I took two river boat cruises to see the town from another angle, ate dinner at a river=side restaurant, and attended a concert in one of the Old Town churches. It was a great day.
Martin taught us a number of new things. For example, Wensaslas was not a king. He was a count, a prince of the royal family who was a patron of the arts and the old city. Also, we learned that the symbol of the Czech Republic was a two-tailed lion, seen here on a crest held by a lion in the monastery courtyard.
Friday we toured Old Town, the Jewish Ghetto, the Old Town Square (we both thought we could spend an entire day in and around the square) and walked about 20 miles (actually only about half a mile) to Wensaslas Square and the National Museum.
The city was remembering the Soviet Union's invasion of 1968 and had poster=size pictures, placards, and editorial cartoons from the time mounted in the center of the square. They also had a captured Soviet tank on display in front of the museum. It was a solemn reminder of the Cold War days and the USSR's relations with its neighbors.
Saturday was poor weather and we were bushed, walking everywhere and feeling our age. During the morning we went out to a local mom-and-pop market and got some supplies for the day. On the way we stopped a the church at the end of our block to look around. This picture of a side door to the church symbolizes the condition of christianity in Prague. A neglected door with over-grown wild plant does it for me. There must be over 100 churches in the greater Prague area and almost none of them have active congregations. They are monuments to the former religous greatness of this beautiful city; witnesses against the disinterest of its citizens. It is a start contrast to the beauty and grandeur of this great place.
On Sunday we attended church in the only Branch in Prague and met many Americans, both missionaries and others there for various reasons. We also me a senior missionary couple who were assigned to Georgia and left during the crisis there. We also met Martin's mom, brother (a counselor in the Branch Presidency) and his girl friend.
We finally headed for the airport and spent until 6 am the next day getting to our home airport where president Gushin picked us up. On the way, we met a local Novo couple who helped us through the process of transfer to the domestic airport, getting checked in, and finally on the plane. It was a lot more complicated than it sounds, but I'm too tired to go into detail.
This could go on forever with pictures. In fact, I am attaching a large sample of our pictures tomorrow, so check back.
This is a unique mission in many ways. Where else could you be sent where the government invites you to tour neighboring countries every 90 days. It is so considerate of them to break up the normal missionary work to let you tour its neighbors.
What a country