Friday, July 6, 2012

Praha: Chorale Tour, Days 7-8

I'm writing from home, and yesterday was a grueling 24 hours of airports and airplanes. I won't bore you with that, so let me give you a recap of the last two days of our tour.

We transferred from Vienna to Prague on Tuesday morning, and it was immediately clear when we crossed the Czech border. The language was totally foreign to me, and the roads were rougher. In larger towns like Brno and Praha, you could see the remnants of the former Communist regime: featureless residential towers that have, since the fall of Communism, been painted many colors. The climate was also markedly different. Unlike sunny Austria, the weather in the Czech Republic was cooler and wetter. I won't go so far as to say that this is typical, but the rain of Praha made me miss the sun of Salzburg and Vienna. We were all grateful for the cooler temps.

Tuesday afternoon, we toured Prague Castle (Vysehrad) and St. Vidus cathedral, with its incredibly intricate stained glass windows. The castle afforded stunning vistas of the River Moldau and Old Town Prague. My friends were right; Prague is stunning. We crossed the Charles Bridge - you haven't been to Praha until you cross the bridge - and walked through the Old Town Square. I should mention at this time that our tour guide was named Vladimir, a man in his retirement, and whose voice surely bore testament to his smoking history. Then we checked into the hotel to enjoy our dinner. A few of us on that first night wanted to be adventurous, so we took the metro back to downtown to wander a bit, maybe find a bar. Well, we got lost. The streets are tiny and twisty, and signs are not in English (or German!). And it was cold. And rainy. And dark. After an hour, we find a group of Americans to direct us to a Metro station, and we were all wet and tired. To be honest, I was bit discouraged, but Wednesday was a new day.

On Wednesday morning, we toured Terezin, the concentration camp and Jewish ghetto situated about an hour north of Praha. I don't know how to write about this place; one does not "enjoy" or "admire" a concentration camp. Our tour took us through the entrance of the prison, a tour of the tiny cells, the interrogation and torture chambers, the showers (which were showers; this was not an extermination camp), the underground garrisons, and ultimately the execution field. A place like Terezin is a visceral reminder of dark history and man's own sinfulness. How the hell could one nation - Nazi Germany - justify the systematic destruction of an entire ethnicity? What reminders and lessons does a place like Terezin and her counterparts at Dachau and Auschwitz offer us in the 21st century? Terezin is unsettling; I don't know if it can offer many answers but only a reminder: Don't let this happen again.

Our afternoon was simple. Three free hours to do what we wanted, so I museum the Kafka Museum. His messed up life explains twisted nature of what he wrote (EG Metamorphosis  and The Penal Colony). We gave our final concert at St. Francis Church to a full and appreciative audience. We enjoyed our final meal together. And finally, I and some of our twenty-something basses and tenors (four of us in total!) went back to downtown Praha to find a bar and celebrate Fourth of July late late late in the night.

So now I'm home. Did all that really just happen? Did I really tour Austria and the Czech Republic? Yes. I miss it already, but I'm glad to be home where it is quieter.

The Moldau, looking towards Vsyehrad.

St. Vidus Cathedral. This nave was built in the 14th century.

One of many beautiful windows at St. Vidus

Beautiful Praha as seen from Vysehrad

The entrance to Terezin. "Arbeit Macht Frei" means "Work makes you free."

Praha. What the hell is this?

St. Francis Church, scene of our final concert.

Astronomical Clock and Tyn Church in Old Town Square

Chales Bridge by night, as seen from our Fourth of July bar.
Until next time,

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