Friday, June 26, 2015

Prague? Czech.

A great shot for the Czech Lonely Planet Guide blog taken by our new friend Bara.
We left Austria in the rain and arrived in the Czech Republic in the rain. The downpour seemed more ominous there - maybe because our destination of Brno (pronounced Bruno) is a gritty city with a dark history. Why, you ask, would the Nomads visit a city with a name that sounds like the moniker of a pit bull? It has to do with the Lord. Our quest to meet the organizers of The Late Night of Churches throughout Europe resulted in this short side trip on our way to Prague. The event, held in 1,500 churches all across the Czech republic is organized from here. If you read the blog I wrote from  Salzburg last week you'll know more about this event. That meeting is the only reason, and will remain the only reason for this stop. However, as consolation, we were able catch the Eurovision 2015 Finals on TV live from Austria (but that's it's own story).

A damaged photo mural in Brno summarizes the state of the city.
This country has a history of conflict that goes back hundreds of years, including the last century where the Balkan wars, a Nazi occupation and 45 years under Soviet rule brought them to ground zero. Many Czech cities other than Prague, with it's tourist draw and subsequent income are still dealing with outdated infrastructure, dilapidated buildings and a struggling economy. Brno is no exception. When we emerged from the dark underbelly of the train station we met our host Daniel who drove us to his apartment. The drive took us much further from from the center than we expected and ended in a neighborhood crammed with bleak concrete housing blocks. Welcome home! Here's the link:

Brno is a "a study in gray." This was taken next to our front door.
The view from our apartment looking towards abandoned buildings
As it turned out, we weren't that far from the center if you don't mind a 20 minute walk through blighted neighborhoods. Once we reached the main square things looked up a bit. We scoured the tourist office for things to do during our four days here and found a concert by The Ranger's - a popular Czech folk rock group from the 60's! It turned out to be a fun evening and even though we didn't know the words, it was still "groovy". And we got to go "back stage".

We spent a fun evening with these old Rockers.
The information at the Museum of Roma Culture was eye-opening
 Around the corner from our Airbnb we found the Museum of Roma Culture. Not something we would normally sought out, but our afternoon there was moving and very insightful. We had a private tour with a very knowledgeable young man who walked us through the history and current plight of the Roma people. Throughout Europe Roma (or Gypsies) are blamed for most anything crime related, especially pick-pocketing. You find them begging on the streets usually holding babies, and small children dart everywhere trying to sell packs of tissues - and of course they do commit petty crime. It breaks your heart and makes you angry at the same time that these people have been reduced to such a sad state. Unfortunately, they been persecuted for hundreds of years and have lost hope. Efforts to assimilate them seemed half-hearted, and it doesn't look like the children will be all cleaned up and sent to school any time soon. Our takeaway from the guide at the museum was these people have a rich culture and heritage, that they are no longer connected to and have been relegated to the margins of all the European cities where they live. There are organizations that are trying to help but progress is slow.

In most every major city we've visited there have been Roma on the streets.
Our meeting with the Late Night of Churches organizers was the other highlight. We must have spent two hours in the offices of the Catholic Diocese near the imposing Cathedral discussing the event, the state of the Catholic church and life in the Czech Republic. Afterwards we had lunch with our hosts in a convent where the food is prepared and served by a rotating coterie of nuns from around the world. They arrive with their recipes and blend them into the menu as part of their mission to nurture the community through food.

A meeting of the minds between Michael and Zlata at the offices of the Brno Dioceses.
A large and stunning painting of the Good Samaritan at the convent.
We were ready to leave Brno behind and looked forward to a week in Prague. The last time we were there was in 1990. The Berlin wall fell in 1989, but Czechoslovakia had already had a peek from behind the Iron Curtain and had seen the bright lights of freedom. I remember the young tour guide that walked us around the city - he was still twitchy about openly sharing information. Fast forward to last week when we took a kitchy walking tour full of outlandish stories that could have gotten our lively guide arrested and tortured just 25 short years ago!

Amusing baby Alfred while waiting for dinner.
Our Prague Airbnb adventure was one for the record books. In a good way. Our hosts Hana and Lukas own this apartment and live there with their two small children, Lola 4 and baby Alfred, 9 months. They were heading to Grandma's house in the country while we took over their home, but they were intrigued by our story so they invited us to join them for dinner before they left. That's a first! Hana made a delicious goulash. Here's the link:

Goodbye Host family! See you in a week.
We enjoyed a good visit and played with the kids while she cooked. As the evening progressed it got a bit chaotic, as it does with small children nearing their bedtime, and while it was odd to shoo residents out their own front door with a promise to do the dishes! We were happy to finally collapse after a long travel day. The apartment was great, and once again the Nomads scored a great location:

A happy group setting up for some rousing folk dancing under rainy skies.
A less than subtle call for tips on the world famous Charles Bridge.
It was a quick 10 minute bus ride from our front door to old town and the center of Prague. From there, we enjoyed large market squares where you could down a fat sausage and a frosty beer, jostle your way across the Charles Bridge, watch the amazing astronomical clock do it's hourly thing, and breath in the pungent aroma of horse droppings from hundreds of carriages.

Our best day out took in a free three hour walking tour with our most exuberant guide yet - Sarah, a fiery red head from the states. Prague is a city with a complex history, a lot of it brutal, and Sarah used some mean kick-boxing moves to illustrate some of the many battle scenes that took place here. Somehow the city has come through intact, and there is a sense of pride that you can feel in its citizens.

Sara and her puppet. She was an excellent tour guide.
The New York Times article about our travels has peaked the interest of our potential hosts as we inquire about renting their homes (we now include the link on our profile) When we book a property, we often hear back from hosts we sadly declined hoping they can still meet us for coffee to hear about our adventures. This interaction has opened new opportunities to meet people living in the cities we visit and we love it!

Bara and her mother and sister. We had a great time together.
In Prague we met with Bara, a host who couldn't take our booking but wanted to interview us for a blog she writes for the Czech language Lonely Planet blog. It also turned out she and her mother and sister would be exploring the Late Night of Churches so we met them for a drink and then enjoyed a wonderful evening wandering the city together and got to witness the event through their eyes. The perfect end to our stay. Here's a link to the story she wrote: We haven't translated it yet, but if you speak Czech let us know if she got the facts straight!

Could this be Mona Lisa II? Portraiture on the Charles Bridge.
Our next adventures takes us to Budapest! See you there.

Debbie and Michael
The Senior Nomads

No comments :

Post a Comment