First part of the trip was Prague. What felt like a very foreign city for the first day turned into a very friendly city by the second. The people are pretty western, and the entire culture, both physically and spiritually, seems to have thrown off any spectre of the Soviet era. The city was largely spared during WWII, and what was Czechoslovakia was treated pretty leniently compared to other Warsaw pact satellite states during Soviet puppet rule. The people seem to want to make up for 40 years of lost capitalism in quick time. The city is bustling all the time, very tourist friendly.
A couple of quick points relevant to our whole trip. The skin trade is in full effect throughout central Europe, with nudie bars and stuff advertised all over the place and physically located right next to chic boutiques and stuff. Strange. The other thing is graffiti. Holy cow there is lots of graffiti.
This abstract looking picture is the ceiling of the Spanish Synagogue in Prague. Jewish history runs strong throughout Prague, and the Spanish Synagogue is a good place to learn about a lot of it. I found myself just staring at this beautiful ceiling and took a covert picture of it. As cool as the picture is, it is 10 times cooler in real life.
The cemetary shown here is the only place where Jews were allowed to be buried in earlier times. Again, there is a metric ton of Jewish history throughout Prague and I'm not qualified to comment much. Because this plot is so small, generations of people have been buried in layers. The headstones were all brought to the surface, which between ground settlement, hundreds of years of foot traffic, tree roots and other miscellany, the ground grade is all screwy. The effect is otherwordly when you look at it.
This clock is in the center of the old town, and has a cool story. In the middle ages, town clocks were all the rage. The Prague city elders commissioned a clock which they hoped would shame all of the other clocks. They got what they wanted. At completion, they were so happy with what had been achieved that they didn't want any other city to have its equal. So they blinded the clockmaker. He then threw a spanner in the works (literally), which caused the clock to stop working. It took about 100 years before anyone could be found with the talent to fix the clock.
Prague has a beer factor of about 100 out of 100. They love it, and their product is good. Urquell literally owns the right bank of the city, everyplace serves it and it's great. Budweiser (the real thing) is available throughout the city on both banks. Kravovice owns the left bank. Kravocice Dunkel (dark) is as good a beer as you'd ever want to have. Slightly hoppy, slightly sweet, very full flavor but not one of those tastes that hangs around and becomes nasty. No, it vanishes and in about 5 seconds your tongue is asking for more, please.
We went running on the outside of town one day and discovered the Soviet era housing blocks. To be fair, western architecture in the 60s and 70s went through some pretty bleak times as well, but these places were especially uninspiring. There is just enough on the outskirts of town to know that the Soviets were there, but well and truly they are gone now.
Everyone rides Scott mountain bikes. All of the nicer bikes we saw were Scotts, all mountain bikes. The riders were dressed up in full road kit, but they were all on mountain bikes. My mom saw a road race in action when we were driving out of town to Vienna, but I missed it. She said it was a big bunch.
Would definitely visit Prague again, but perhaps because they do such a good job of making their city tourist friendly that I kind of feel like I got it. All in all, great town.