An orange-white bulb drips like honey off the tip of a metal pipe. Steam rises as the slippered craftsman catches the hot molten glass in a wet wooden mold before returning it to the glory hole. When the temperature is right, he pulls it back out and putting his mouth on the cool end of the pipe, blows air, expanding the glass like a balloon. Experience the life of a professional glassblower at the Moser glass factory in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic.
About two hours outside of Prague, Karlovy Vary is a spa town and home to the Moser Glassworks. The heat will take your breath upon entering the factory floor. A circle path is marked with lines on the warehouse floor for visitors to walk. Be sure to stop and pay attention. Craftsmen move swiftly around visitors, transporting hot golden rods of glass. I don’t see much in the way of OSHA. Craftsmen wear slippers, crocs and shower shoes around ovens that are hotter than 2000 degrees. Only some wear gloves, and the only form of eye protection is a 3x5 translucent colored card that is held in place in front of their eyes by a mouth piece. The glassblower holds the eye protector with his mouth. When not used, it hangs around his neck. Women are the runners and take pieces ready for cooling to the annealer furnace. Craftsmen lift the hot rods with ease, having incredible upper body strength. The five or six foot pipe weighs about 20 lbs with no glass on the end, and can only be lifted from the top 15 inches--it is too hot the further down you go. Craftsmen train for three years to learn the trade, but are not considered a master until after 15 years.
Three or four artisans, work together as a team to produce each piece. The design is decided and then produced throughout the day. Each team produces about 30 pieces in one hour. By the time a piece is completed it has been handled by 30 craftsmen and women. Only 30% of what makes it to the finish line passes quality control standards. Moser is the crystal of kings and queens and the political elite. In the 20th century, it was the most collected decorative glass from people around the world. Standards are high.
The on-site gallery and museum shares the rich 160-year history with videos, and over 2000 pieces of glassware are displayed. The creation of glass is magical and the Moser Glass Factory is a must stop hot spot!
Experience Travel Blog--
While I was wandering down Karmelistka street in the Mala strana district of Prague looking for fresh lemonade, a daily quest, I saw a sign that said “Gardens Open Today.” Intrigued, I walked through a long passage to a ticket office and paid my 80 Koruna for entry. On the other side of the door an urban oasis awaited me.
Vrtba Gardens is a Baroque terraced garden sloping up Petrin Hill. While Italian in its design, it has Czech influences as well. Originally created between 1715 and 1720 for the earl of Vrtba and designed by František Maxmilián Kaňka, the gardens are considered some of the finest Baroque gardens north of the Alps. During the 1990s, the garden was completely restored and is a quiet break from busy Prague sightseeing.
The gardens consist of three main levels and a look out. As I opened the large wooden door from the ticket room, something that always makes me nervous as I am afraid I will break the handles, the sight that greeted me was breathtaking. Water gurgled over the statue of Putto in the central fountain and a variety of colorful birds eagerly darted about the aviary on the opposite wall as the doves cooed mournfully. I later learned that the Prague Zoo chose the birds . The sculptures and statues throughout are the works of Matyáš Bernard Braun and on the ground level of the gardens you can also see frescoes by the painter Václav Vavřinec Reiner .
From there, stairs curved up to the next of the three main terraces. I walked up the left staircase trying to avoid becoming part of two different wedding photography sessions. However, aside from the photographers giving directions, the garden was quiet and finding a secluded bench to sit on under the overhanging trellises on the second level was easy. I admired the ornate statues looming above me on the support wall and the tranquil pool of water in the middle of this terrace.
Debating whether I wanted to leave the tranquility I had found on the second terrace and if my thighs needed the added burn of the third sloping terrace and lookout point beyond, I soldiered on for the full garden experience. The view that awaited me was well worth the perspiration. St. Nicholas church and Prague Castle as well as the gardens themselves, were laid out in front of me with a dazzling blue sky as the backdrop.
Getting there: Take the 12, 15, 20, 22 or 23 tram to the Malastranki namesti stop. Head south on Karmelitska and look for the entrance for the gardens right after Trziste.
Open: 10AM-7PM daily from April to October
Cost: 80 Kc for Adults, 75 Kc for Students and Seniors, 230 Kc for a family
by Sarah Tronic
By my 6th hour in Prague I was no longer sweating, but only because my body had run out of all liquid. I had, instead, achieved an appearance akin to Violet Bauregarde except I was a dry red tomato and not a juicy blueberry. My lips were cracking and my fingers had swollen into little vienna sausages. As I walked across the majestic Charles Bridge, the sun beating down mercilessly on my head, I looked at the gorgeous Prague skyline laid out in front of me, and wished I had stayed home.
Since I live in the Southern United States, I erroneously believed I could deal with heat and humidity. In fact, I went a whole summer with a temperamental air conditioner that worked only when it wanted. I was still completely unprepared for traveling during a heat wave in a country where air conditioning is rare and even getting ice in my drink isn’t a guarantee. I desperately wanted to love my experience, but on that first day I couldn’t even achieve like.
What I came to realize, was that what I needed most was time away from the hustle and bustle of the Charles Bridge and Old Town Square. I needed to be quiet and calm and appreciate some sites that were not in one of Rick Steve’s Pocket Guide tours. I needed to wander alone and embrace the city not follow behind a tour guide overwhelmed with information and people.
It was still warmer than I like, but I finally found my zen in Prague as I waited to board the Funicular and realized that it didn’t really matter that it wasn’t opening on time because it wasn’t crowded and I had nowhere to be and no time I needed to be there.
The funicular ride was calm and beautiful and deposited me in a garden atop Petrin Hill. From there, it was an easy and shady walk to Strohov monastery where although it was a little early for beer, it was not too early to visit their gorgeous libraries. As I meandered into the monastery grounds, an older couple approached me asking sweetly if I spoke English. When I assured them I did, they asked if I could help them get to Prague castle. Since I wasn’t in a hurry and centuries old libraries would still be there in ten minutes, I helped them navigate their way towards the castle.
Back in the monastery, I peered at the libraries that reminded me of Beauty and the Beast and listened to a tour in French to learn about the frescoes painted on the ceilings. Since I don’t speak French, this was a more or less futile task, but enjoyable nonetheless. The moment was magical and if I wanted to learn about the paintings in more depth, I could always google it later.
From the monastery, I wandered around the adjoining neighborhood and stopped in small quiet shops. I was slowly working my way towards Prague castle and dreading the crowds I knew I would encounter there. As I rounded a corner, the nice older couple bumped into me again, now trying to find a sight seeing bus stop. I got on my phone to help them and as we talked the coffee shop owner nearby heard us and also offered to help. She called a friend and between the five of us, we were able to locate the stop. As the couple walked away, thanking me for all my help, the coffee shop owner offered me an ice coffee with ice cream and asked about where I was headed. I said I didn’t really have a plan, so she suggested I visit the Loreta. Although it is directly on the way to Prague castle, many people miss it and she didn’t want me to.
Ice coffee in hand, I headed to the Loreta, which isn’t facing the main street, so is pretty easy to walk right by. It wasn’t crowded and as I meandered the complex which is a pilgrimage sight, the carillon bells began to play. As I paused to listen to their delightful chimes, I realized that I had surpassed like and I loved Prague. I don’t love the busy old town, despite its beauty. I don’t love walking tours surrounded by hundreds of other people, but I love the nooks and crannies. I find pleasure in the parks large and small and the centuries old history, in the safety of a city I feel fine exploring alone, in the resilience of a people oppressed for much of the 20th century. As one of my tour guides said, “Czechs don’t panic,” and so neither did I.
I know that Terazin is a common site for writing about, but there is a reason for that.
No matter how much we have read or learned about in school, as Americans we cannot begin to understand the impact of the “Final Solution.”
I was dreading this visit. I had already been to Berlin, where I went to a museum called “The Topography of Terror” which portrayed, in great detail, every aspect and step of the Nazi genocide against the Jews.
Thankfully, since Terazin was not a “concentration” or “extermination” camp, a beginner like me could make it through without a total breakdown (but not without a few tears). As it turns out, there are two parts to Terazin. The first is a prison, which housed political dissidents, resistance members, and actual criminals, but nobody was there just because of religion. The conditions were terrible; it’s true it wasn’t a death camp, but most everyone there did die either by disease caused by poor hygiene, starvation, or execution.
For me, the most powerful segment of the visit was to Terazin’s second part, the ghetto. In its time it was a mostly-Jewish village. In 1939, the Nazis in Czech Republic began shipping Jews there from other parts of the country as well as from other countries. It became a transfer spot for Jews who would ultimately end up at Auschwitz, Riga, Chelmno, or one of many other camps where almost no one made it out alive.
During its time as a ghetto, the people of Terazin tried to maintain as normal a life as possible, which included running a school. While newcomers were crowding into barracks and the conditions were killing the very young, old, or weak, the residents tried diligently to keep things as normal as possible for the children.
So now I come to the focus of this piece: the children. There are several spots on the property of both the prison and the ghetto that have displays of artwork by the children of Terazin. Among these are selections with a “Memories of Home” theme, which has children’s drawings of Christmas (I don’t know why; I know they were Jewish), kids sledding, kids playing soccer, and families together. They are typical of what you would expect children’s art to be with bright colors and simple drawings. Following that display is one of “Fairy Tales.” A common strategy used by the teachers was to redirect the pupils’ attention to happier subjects and have them draw fairies, shooting stars, knights, and princesses. These were, predictably, bright and happy in tone – fun to look at.
Then came the collection of reality. The pictures the kids drew about what they saw around them every day were horrifying. No child should be drawing pictures such as these. Not a smiley-face to be found; in fact, the sky was never blue either. Even the simplest, most basic drawing was effecting at conveying the misery encountered by these people on a daily basis. Grays, browns, and blacks were primarily the colors used. People crowded on bunks; people crying; even people leaving on trains. There is not a lot of realistic photo documentation from this time and place. The most you are able to find are the propaganda photos and movies that show people having a wonderful time singing, playing sports, and having coffee at the local café. These were all staged, so the children’s artwork is the testimony that is left.
When I think about all the kids art I have seen over the years I imagine rainbows, sports, and all the myriad of colors overlapping on my refrigerator over the years. What I cannot imagine is my own children, or any children that I know, having any experience that would prompt artwork as haunting as what I witnessed at Terazin.
Photo credit: Nichole Olbertz
site-based, less personal, more informative of a specific place visited during trip
Czech Republic is known for beer heaven, and its consumption is the highest in the world per capita. Beer Museum in Prague explains well about beer history such as the birthplace of beer and production process. Upon completion of the visit, visitors can taste four different local brewed beers.
When you type in Google search engine, “beer museum,” Google gives you three places: Prague Beer Museum, a pub, another Prague Beer Museum which is a restaurant, and Beer Museum, the actual museum. The pub and the museum are very close to each other, so do not get confused and go to the one it says “art museum” in the description. It is located at Husova 241/7, 110 00 Staré Město in Prague 1. It opens daily from 11 am to 8 pm, and the entrance fees are 285CZK for self-guided tour and tasting or 480CZK if you want a guided tour and to bottle your own beer.
The museum is not large; it has mainly two parts: history and cellar. When you enter the gate of the museum, there is a small courtyard with a few tall tables and chairs. Visitors can taste their beers (have to be 18 years old and up) there or stay in the cellar. The courtyard has tall trees and shady, so it would be really nice on a sunny warm days to sit there and enjoy your beers. When I visited, it was a chilly day, so I stayed in the cellar with an armless mannequin to accompany me.
According to the history information given, the first beer was born in Egypt and Mesopotamia in the 5th millennium BC. The first mention of beer in the Czech Republic was in 993 when a Czech Bishop started to brew beer in a Benedictine monastery. Since then, Czech beers have evolved into the present products. Now the Czechs are the world number one beer drinkers, drinking 142.4 liters per person (approximately a little less than 38 gallons) a year (in 2015 statistics). In 2011, the average monthly wage in Czech Republic was 23,144CZK and the beer 10.10CZK for a bottle beer. In 1960, the average wage was 1,303CZK and a bottled beer was 1.40CZK. In 50 years, the average wage increased by 17.8 times, but beer price actually decreased.
As soon as you enter the museum’s history part, you can smell something fermenting if you know what fermenting smells are; otherwise, it would be a very funny odor. In one of the rooms, you will see samples of malt (grain) and hops, the key ingredients of beer. This particular room smells like sweaty feet with a hint of cinnamon spice to them. You could watch a short video of how to crop hops and exporting beer ingredients to all over the world.
They also mention a long litigation between Amheuser-Bush and original Badwiser in Czech Republic. They taste nothing alike, but the brand names were the same. Czech’s Budweiser Budvar sued Amheuser-Bush in 1907 and went through a series of lawsuits in different parts of all over the world. Export of beers produced in Ceske Budejovice to the United States started in 1872-73 time range. Anheuser-Busch began producing beer in 1876 and trademarked Budweiser. Legal disputes held in many different countries. Now Amheuser-Bush is not allowed to sell its beer as Budweiser in Europe; they are Bud or Bush, and Budvar beers in the United States is called Czechvar.
The second part of the museum, the cellar is in a shallow cave, and you are greeted by a few manikins that are spooky...if you go there by yourself, be mind that you will be somewhat feeling scared when you encounter them in the chilly dark cellar. Yet, the overall experience I had there was great. I learned so much about beer and its history. Top and bottom fermented beer productions are interesting since I did not know anything about it. I would recommend to visit the museum and enjoy a tasting.
By Yuko Yoshikawa
The very second day in Prague, we went on an ebike tour. We split into two groups, and I was with Gary, a tour guide who came from San Francisco. First of all, this was my first time to be on ebike, plus, I had not ridden on a bicycle for a year. My saddle was too high, so I had to ask to lower it so that I do not fall. My bike did not have power levels, so I had to adjust myself to peddle very slowly so that I do not hit anyone. For the trial run, the cobblestone was narrow and bumpy, so I had to be very careful so that my bottom does not hurt too much. It was a very new experience.
I tried my best not to be left behind, but I was able to get used to it quickly. Once I got the hang of it, I could afford to enjoy the scenery and wanted to go faster. Heat waves had arrived in Europe a few days back, and a three hour walking tour on the previous day was hot, exhausting, and too much information to digest. It was another very warm day, yet the morning air was crisp and cool. Having had kept pushing forward, I felt my hair swinging in the refreshing breeze. I did not have to listen to a guide while on a run but just a nice view and enjoyed the cool air surrounding me.
Gary stopped and told stories and histories about places. We took pictures and the view of Prague from lookouts were spectacular. Break at the Letna Park beergarden was especially nice. We had fantastic scenery of the city, shaded large garden, and good beer. Then, I learned that in Czech Republic, dark beers are sweeter and lighter than the light colored Pilsner beers. I had a large dark beer, it was 40CZK, about $2 or slightly less than that. This experience gave me a headstart and ideas for drinking beers in Prague for upcoming 12 days of opportunities to taste the world's most famous beers in the beer kingdom!
Pebblestone gave me a headache at first, but it was managial when I lifted my hips a bit while on those roads. From one lookout to the other and once in awhile, Gary gave us information such as about communist era apartments on a horizon where still more than 50% of Prag’s population live. Government painted them in pastel colors so that they do not look too clumsy anymore. He said Czechs annual wage average is about $24,000, but they are not poor; they can afford and like to take vacations and go places. Holding more than one job is normal, and stay at home mother or father is rare unless they are on maternity leaves. He also said that the Czechs are very proud people and somewhat conservative.
We biked around pretty much everywhere in the outskirts of Prague crossing bridges. The only place we did not go was the city center. Prague has many hills which I did not know, but ebike is the way to go around the places especially for great views. I enjoyed the tour very much!
“That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don’t live in here,
In the ghetto.”
(Excerpt from poem The Butterfly, by Pavel Friedmann,
“I Have Not Seen a Butterfly Around Here: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin”)
Thirty miles outside Prague, sits a star shaped town and fortress, Terezin. Built over 200 years ago by the order of Emperor Joseph II of Austria, it is named after his mother, Maria Theresa. I am here today, not for the history of hundreds of years ago, but for the history of the last century. A history I feel close enough to that I can touch it--my parent’s generation. This is not a vacation destination for the faint of heart, but it is an experience that cannot be surpassed.
After visiting the small fortress prison, our hired driver dropped us at the Ghetto Museum in the town center. The ghetto square seemed desolate and overgrown. Older and disabled people walked by, but the feeling was that of a ghost town. I wondered if we had been left at a mental institution. (Upon further research, the current largest employer in town is the Prague Institute for Social Care. They own a building that houses the elderly and disabled).
Commandeered in 1940 by the Germans, Terezin became a prison for Jews and those who questioned the Nazi regime. The ghetto was staged as a model Jewish camp so foreigners could see how well the Jews were living and thriving. What the world did not know was that—like a Hollywood movie set—it was all fake, made-up and staged for the world to see. It was all propaganda. The reality--a holding camp. Just one stop in the passage to death for thousands of men, women and children.
In the Ghetto Museum, hundreds of drawings made by interned children are on display. Considered Terezin's "most precious legacy," students created drawings under the tutelage of artist Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. Dicker-Brandeis hid over 4,500 drawings and poems--records of life in the ghetto--into two suitcases before she was departed to Auschwitz and murdered. (These drawings can also be seen at the Jewish Museum in Prague).
An enclosed area that normally held 7,000 residents, held over 58,000 “prisoners” at its peak--about five personal square feet of space per person. Although not an extermination camp, thousands died due to disease and malnutrition--the adverse effects of overcrowding. Of the 15,000 children who passed through the Terezin ghetto, only 100 survived to see the end of War II. The Germans organized and implemented this hell hole quickly and efficiently. On January 9, 1942, the first group was deported from Terezin to Riga concentration camp. The last deportation occurred October 28, 1944, and headed to Auschwitz. In those 34 months of full operation, over 155,000 people flowed through this facility; 35,000 perished due to living conditions alone--over 30 people a day. It did not take long before room for the deceased ran out, and a crematorium implemented.
As uncomfortable as this environment is, it is nothing compared to the heinous acts witnessed, endured and lost by so many men, women and children. Who knows what they would have accomplished in their lifetime had this not happened. All world leaders need to visit places like Terezin before taking their oath of office. Terezin helped me to feel some of the magnitude of the holocaust. It is incredibly humbling. After the fall of Communism in 1989, the Czechoslovakia and Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel said, “Human rights are universal and indivisible. Human freedom is also indivisible: if it is denied to anyone in the world, it is therefore denied, indirectly, to all people. This is why we cannot remain silent in the face of evil or violence; silence merely encourages them.”
World leaders need to be uncomfortable. We need to be uncomfortable. Those who lost their lives, need us to be uncomfortable.
St. Cyril and Methodius Church -Last stand from Operation Anthropoid
On June 18, 1942, St. Cyril and Methodius Church was the site of the last stand for seven Czech and Slovak paratroopers who assassinated SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich. During World War II, Operation Anthropoid was the only successful assassination of a top Nazi officer. Heydrich, nicknamed the Butcher of Prague, was the mastermind behind "The Final Solution" or liquidation of all Jews. Hitler referred to Heydrich as "the man with the iron heart". An officer of the Czechoslovak Military Intelligence, Frantisek Moravec, and Winston Churchill's British Special Operations Executive proposed an assassination of the top Nazi official.
On October 28, 1941 two men were selected out of 2,000 exiled in Britain and Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis dropped from a plane intended for Pilsen but accidentally landing in Nehvizdy. From that point on there were numerous obstacles for the operation to overcome. The consequences of an assassination attempt were expected to be severe and disastrous for many in Czechia. Months later on May 27th, Gabcik and Kubis enacted Operation Anthropoid by intercepting Heydrich's car on a sharp curve in the road. Dramatically as Gabcik stepped into the road, his gun jammed. Kubis, seeing the failed attempt, threw a grenade into the back of the car that caught him in the explosion as well. Both soldiers fled and managed to escape. Certain that their assassination attempt had failed, the men were unaware that shrapnel from the blast had been driven into Hedrich. The Nazi leader suffered from a collapsed lung, a fractured rib, torn diaphragm, and a ruptured spleen and died several days later due to sepsis.
As Hitler learned of Heydrich's death, he retaliated by annihilating the small town of Lidice and murdering thousands. The Germans made it clear they would continue the extreme punishment of Czechs until the assassins were found.
The resistance fighters remained hidden in the crypt of the St. Cyril and Methodius church for three weeks but were eventually betrayed by an associate of the resistance. The orthodox church still bares the signs of the fierce battle complete with gunshot marks and a preserved crypt in tribute to the patriots. Jan Kubiš and Josef Gabčík as well as five other soldiers fought over 700 Nazi soldiers. Eventually after hours of gunfire, teargas, hand grenades, and even an attempt to flood the men out of the crypt, all of the paratroopers died from gunshot wounds or suicide to prevent being taken hostage by the Nazis. St. Cyril and Methodius Church is now open to the public complete with access to the crypt below and a detailed display of historical artifacts.
On a cool Bohemian night we caught the #231 bus up the hill to Teresa’s airy flat overlooking Prague where we would learn to make traditional Czech Dumplings in her modern kitchen. To avoid being late we arrived early and discovered a Jewish cemetery filled with vines and protected by a friendly cat. After visiting the cemetery in the Jewish Quarter, this smaller one appeared to have been the burial grounds after the other closed in 1787. Walking back to her simple four-story apartment complex, Tereza greeted us at the door and led us up several flights to her flat where we removed or shoes and wore simple guest slippers. Tereza had purchased a couple beautifully designed open-faced sandwiches, a Czech staple, decorated with ham, peppers, cucumber, pickles, mayonnaise, and herbs. She shared a slideshow of different types of Czech dumplings from savory to sweet describing each one, when they are eaten, and where we could find them. We then explored the ingredients for our dumplings: strawberries, apricots or other fruit, soft flour, baking powder, farmers cheese, egg, milk, and a pinch of salt. The initial awkward “don’t know you” atmosphere quickly became more comfortable as Tereza assigned us cooking duties. The methodical work of cleaning fruit and kneading dough naturally led to an at-home familiarity. We discussed our experiences thus far and asked questions about cultural norms, routines, and customs. We caught a glimpse of the generational divide between her parents that lived through communism and the younger generation traveling the world but working three jobs to pay the higher living expenses. Tereza retold the now-familiar story of Airbnb taking over the Old Town city center and locals being forced out. The irony of the Czech freedom after the Velvet Revolution collided with the reality of 21st century capitalism. After extensively working our dough and wrapping the fruit our dumplings were bathing in a pot of boiling water. We then shared a meal of fruity pillows covered in melted butter, sour cream, and powdered sugar. At twilight, thoroughly stuffed, we said our goodbyes and began the hike down a long stairwell back to our hotel in Andel with a warm package of homemade Czech dumplings. It was a lovely experience.
By Abbey Wood
Maybe this is breaking the rules but this site is not in Prague, or even the Czech Republic for that matter, but thus far, the Bastei in Saxony Switzerland is my favorite place from this trip. First of all, it is not in Switzerland. It is about a 40 minute train ride from Dresden, Germany.
Primarily, this adventure was a source of pride in that we navigated multiple towns and modes of transportation with no cellular data service. Major. Accomplishment. See below.
6. Walk through town to start hiking up to Bastei
7. Hike up approximately (ha) 68 flights of stairs to the top of Saxony (Apple Watch Data)
8. Take lots of pictures
9. Wander around lazy person’s parking lot/village for posted trail map
10. Hike down amazing trail through various nooks and crannies of lush, green beauty
Repeat steps 1-6 in reverse. One of the best hikes and maybe adventures in my life. Amazing day.
Props to Sweet Sydney for this amazing find!!!