Central Europe Discovery 1: Update #1

Dear Friends and Families,

Central Europe #1 reporting from our last evening in Prague! We are starting to get to know one another really well after a full day of travel and two full days of touring. We are all thankful that everyone’s luggage came and we arrived on time!

Once we loaded up, we met Dima, our Israeli tour guide who will be with us through the Central Europe portion of our journey. He has already started turning up the fun with Hebrew “Word of the Day,” accompanied by a fun song we are learning together. We then met up with our local tour guide to begin our exploration of the capital city of Prague.

Our first stop was a visit to the gardens around Petrin Hill and a viewing of the Czech version of the “Eiffel Tower.” As we worked our way around the hill, we arrived at a spectacular view high above the city. Matthew, the local guide, began to point out various landmarks to help us become acquainted with the layout of the city. We then began our trek down the winding streets and cobblestone alleyways to reach Prague Castle.

Our group walked around the Castle as Matthew taught us about the history of the country from the kings to the current president. Charles IV was among the most notable rulers, which is why so many statues, buildings, universities, and landmarks are named in his honor.  From the Castle we walked to Charles Bridge, which took us back in time to the Old Town area of the city. We had beautful weather on Monday afternoon for walking and taking in the sites, as the sun was shining and the streets were filled with locals and tourists enjoying the early evening.  Musicians and artists filled the Bridge, and our  group was given time to explore at our own pace.

Dinner was a relaxing respite, as all were exhausted from traveling and taking in the first of the sites.  We checked in to our hotel, Hotel DUO! and called it an early night to prepare for another full day…

Tuesday morning we began learning about the Jewish history and culture in Prague.  Matthew met us in Josefov, the city’s historic Jewish quarter, to explain how the Jewish quarter was settled and how Jews prospered and suffered during the different eras in Czech history. We visited three synagogues during the morning: the Old New Synogogue, the Pinkas Synogogue, and the Spanish Synogogue.

During evening debrief, some members of our group noted that they were suprised by the long Jewish history in the city and the beauty of the architecture within the quarter. Several said they were expecting the area to be gloomy and gray, but were delighted by the colors of the buildings and the vibrancy of the area. Many were taken in by the differences between each of the synagogues – the tight spaces of the Old New Synogogue compared to the grandiose style of the Spanish Synogogue. It was also interesting to learn about the Old Jewish Cemetery, which dates back to the 13th century and had a unique method of determining who was buried within the cemetery grounds. All of us were moved by the memorial to the victims of the Holocaust when we bore witness to the more than 80,000 names painted on the walls of the Pinkas Synogogue. In addition to the names, an upstairs gallery had drawings and paintings from the Children of the Terezine Ghetto during the Nazi occupation of World War II.

With the somber mood of remembering victims, the rain began to drizzle down. But we did not allow weather to stop us from climbing the Charles Bridge Tower to get a superb view of the city from above the Vltava River. We enjoyed free time to explore the streets and grab some lunch before moving to another portion the city for the afternoon.

We made it to Prague’s Astronomical Clock for the hourly procession, but we were sorry to see that much of the tower was under construction for renovation. That didn’t prevent us from having fun when several professional cheerleaders began to perform tricks in the nearby square. Two of our own were chosen to join them in high flying acrobatics – be sure to look out for those pictures!

After visiting our final Synagogue, the Jerusalem Synagogue, we had time to explore the new and more modern section of the city. We enjoyed local delicacies, souvenir shopping, and the opportunity to socialize and continue getting acquainted with each other. Dinner was a welcomed chance to sit and eat as a group and share our stories of the day.

As I end this first installment of Central Europe #1, the staff were able to organize a fun and thought provoking evening program back at the hotel consisting of a “speed dating” ice breaker game and a Prague wrap-up discussion in small groups. Our teens were able to share their thoughts about our first destination and make connections to their learning and experiences within the first two full days of travel!

You will hear from us again soon… from Budapest, Hungary!

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