The Flags of Czech Republic and the United States
In May 2001, the band traveled to Plzen, Czech Republic (formerly Communist Czechoslovakia). The Czech Republic has had an interesting history even during the 20th century. The area was once known as Bohemia. In 1939, the German Nazis “annexed” the area as part of their “annexation” of Europe (mostly against the will of the “annexees). Liberated from the Nazis on May 06, 1945 (a REALLY BIG holiday there), the freedom was short-lived as the Communist party gained control and held a tight grip on the country until 1989. After 45 years, the Czechs were finally able to show their appreciation to the Americans for liberating them in 1945. Once considered a hard-line Communist bastion, the Czech Republic is undergoing an amazing transformation into a free-market economy. It is a country of remarkable contrasts between old and new.
I was so impressed with Pilsen and the Czech Republic that I took Beth and Spencer there for part of our summer vacation. The following pictures are a mixture from those two trips.
Standing at the German/Czech border. I had visions of Cold-War, Machine-Gun-toting Guards
ready to shoot anyone who looked at them funny. In reality, they were polite, but very strict.
Forget everything you read about or saw on TV about this being a bad country.
Five minutes inside the Czech border, the first sign of a free-market economy appears.
Easy to find your way -- just follow the signs.
Our first stop was the city zoo, located just outside the city limits. As we got out of the car, we were greeted by a beautiful view of Pilsen in the distance.
A view of Pilsen from the city zoo. St. Bartholomew Church is visible just to the left of center.
Spencer feeding an ostrich at the Pilsen zoo.
We checked into our hotel right on the main square, with a view of St. Bartholomew Church right out our window.
The hotel was nice and clean, but was 1960's retro like you wouldn't believe. Flashbacks to "GROOVY".
That's our hotel on the lower right corner.
(Taken from the observation deck of St Bartholomew church)
Our cool orange phone in the room.
Check out these glass doors to the restaurant. Grooooovy!!
Dominating the Republic Square in the center of Plzen is the St. Bartholomew Cathedral.
The original church was completed around 1340, but a fire in 1507 and a lightning strike in 1837 made renovations necessary.
On May 31, 1993, Pope John Paul II gave the church Cathedral status.
For those adventurers with strong legs, 298 steps lead you up to the observation deck just above the mid-point of the spire.
A beautiful view awaits you on a clear day, as you can see.
A view of Plzen’s Republic Square from the St. Bartholomew Cathedral observation deck.
Here, Spencer is taking pictures of his own to remember Pilsen.
A view of Plzen’s Republic Square from the St. Bartholomew Cathedral observation deck.
Another view from the tower of St. Bartholomew Cathedral.
Visible is part of the town square and a passing trolley car.
On the east side of St. Bartholomew Cathedral is a sculpture depicting Christ on the Mount of Olives, protected by an interesting railing with angels’ heads. One of the heads is glossy and half the size of the others. This is the result of centuries of rubbing by residents who believe doing this brings good luck. In this picture, you will notice the wrought-iron door has 3 sections. On the left-side section, the lucky angel is the farthest to the right, just above and to the left of the door handle.
The good-luck angel close-up. (The one most rubbed)
Spencer getting his dose of good luck.
We stopped in to explore the Pilsen Armory.
Here, we found weapons and interesting artifacts from centuries past.
Amerika Street - Pilsen.
A gen-yoo-wine cobblestone street. Pilsen Square.
The pharmacy on Pilsen Square.
Another view walking around Pilsen Square.
Our first view of the Great Synagogue as we came down the street.
The Great Synagogue. This is the third-largest synagogue in the world, following Jerusalem and Budapest.
Before WW II, there was a large Jewish community in Plzen. After the war, most of the surviving Jews emigrated to other countries,
leaving just a small fraction of the previous community. The last regular service was held in the synagogue in 1973.
Currently, the synagogue is slowly being restored with contributions and tour entrance fees.
I did not get a good picture inside of the Great Synagogue, as the lights were off.
Three of the beautiful stained glass windows in the rear of the Great Synagogue.
The Plzen Opera House. The band performed here one night.
A more photogenic side of the Plzen Opera House.
Inside the Plzen Opera House.
The main entrance to the Plzen brewery. What does “Plzen” sound like? How about Pilsen, as in Pilsner beer. This is the birthplace of Pilsner beer. Around the 14th century, there was a lot of BAD beer being made in this area, so the local Magistrates decided to establish a standard. They decided that each beer would be poured onto an oak bench and allowed to soak in. Then the Magistrates would sit on the bench for one hour in their leather pants. If they stuck to the bench, it was Pilsner quality. If they didn’t stick, you were out of business.
Inside the brewery gift shop. Inexpensive beer ($5 for 24 big bottles of the finest pilsner), books,
clothes, decorations, glasses, bottle openers, and much more!
With all of that good beer around, the local residents have acquired quite a taste for the brew.
Mere bottles or cans are not large enough to quench a thirst – they bring the beer to the beer tents in 5,000-gallon tank trucks!
For those who prefer soda, they sell that too.
We ate at this Italian restaurant the first night in Plzen. We had 2 delicious 14” pizzas (oops, only meant to order 1), spaghetti, sodas, and a large Pilsner beer on tap.
Total cost with generous tip – 400 Czech Crowns, about $11.00
The Italian Restaurant menu. Quite a selection, and the conversion rate
was about 38 KC = $1. Most selections here were about $2-3.
If you prefer American food, you-know-who is always nearby.
“Ahoy” from Plzen.
Some artwork in McDonalds. I guess the local monks brewed a good beer.
There are many parks and flower gardens around the city. In the background is the State Scientific Library section of the Institute of Physics.
The “Thank You America” Memorial downtown. Shortly after the Americans liberated Plzen in 1945, the Communists took control of the country.
They didn’t feel as warmly about the Americans as the Plzen residents did, so the memorial was not built until after the fall of Communism in 1989.
The memorial reads:
On May 6th 1945
The City of Plzen
By The U.S. Army
The Institute of Physics.
Outside the Institute of Physics was this weather station, with barometer, thermometer,
and a moving chart for the phases of the moon.
The musician/composer Smetana (spelled Smetna in the US) lived in Pilsen part of his life.
Smetana is the guy up on the stand, in case you're wondering.
Interesting painting on the front of this hotel.
One of the trolleys. “Hey, buddy, get off the tracks!”
When we travel, I love to wake up early and walk around as the city comes alive.
While out on one of my early morning walks, I came across this lady painting the daily specials of her butcher shop on the windows.
She graciously allowed me to take her picture, and was very surprised when I showed her the digital image on the back of the camera right away.
This area is also well known for it's brandy. I bought the tall bottle of plum brandy (second from right) and still have it on my display shelf.
I did have to empty it to ship it back to the states. I tried a tiny sip and thought I'd swallowed fire. Too strong for me. Cool bottle, though.
Some of the vodka from the area.
The bottles weren't quite as impressive as the brandy.
These two ladies ran a crystal/glass shop, where I bought a few souvenirs.
This area was once part of Bavaria, and is well-known for crystal.
Some storefront window shopping - ceramics.
More window shopping - ceramics and crystal.
Well, after walking around and seeing all of these beautiful sights,
I’m going to sit in a park bench and relax a while.
Our band (U.S. Air Forces in Europe) performed that evening on the main square.
We played a lot of Glenn Miller/WWII -era music and the crowd loved it!
The next day……………
The Pilsen Train Station. From here, it’s only a little over an hour (and only 70 cents for 2nd class
tickets/$1.10 one way for 1st class) to Prague. It’s the deal of the year! We bought
our tickets and boarded the train for the unforgettable ride to Prague.
The train traveled along the Beroun River toward Prague. Very picturesque.
Another nice view along the Beroun River.
A sailboat out on the water.
The train passed many villages like this on the way to Prague.
I'd love to stop and explore.
One of the stops along the way - Horovice (hor -oh - vee -chee)
One of the train station workers at Horovice.
OK, I'm no fashion expert, but, Dude, you need to get another tie.
Passing by Roxycany.
Zbiroh station, on the way to Prague. Nice.
We're here! The Prague train station. Let's go explore!
As we are leaving the station, it's like a flashback to the Communist 60's era.
Apparently, the hallways connecting different gates at the Prague train station
are not high on the list of renovation priorities of the new government.
Considering the cost of a round-trip train ride from Plzen to Prague, a distance of about 75 miles,
costs 74 Czech Crowns (about $1.85), I guess I shouldn’t expect luxury.
That changes as soon as you step out of the station and into the street, though.
Prague (Czech Praha) is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. It is located in the northwestern area of the country, in the region of Bohemia. First settled by Slavs in the 5th and 6th centuries, this area along the Vltava River was later settled by a group who identified themselves as Czechs between 870 and 880. In the 10th century, another castle, Vysehrad, was built on the other side of the river by the leader of the Premyslid dynasty. Under the Premyslids, Bohemia expanded its territory and came under the protection of the German-based Holy Roman Empire.
Prague developed rapidly under the leadership of Charles IV in the 14th century. He began a massive building program to turn the city into his imperial capital. Charles IV founded Charles University, one of the oldest surviving universities in Europe. In the early 1400s, Prague became the center of the religious reform movement of John Huss, who was later burned at the stake.
Education and culture have dominated Prague’s history. Dvorak and Smetana are two of the most famous composers born here. Mozart lived here and wrote the opera Don Giovanni (1787) there. There are several institutes of higher learning dedicated to economics, agriculture, performing arts, and applied sciences and technology. The Czech Philharmonic and Prague Symphony are both world-renown. In addition, there are over 50 theatres in addition to the National Theatre and the State Opera House.
Prague became the capital of the newly created Czechoslovakia in 1918. The city was occupied by German forces during World War II. Prague was one of the few cities in central Europe not seriously damaged in World War II. After the war, the Communist party took control of Czechoslovakia until 1989. That year, massive demonstrations in Wenceslas Square led to the downfall of Communism and the return to a market economy. Although industries such as aircraft and automobile manufacturing, oil refining, and electronics are very strong, tourism is promoted extensively.
Wenceslas Square is the main business street of Prague. About ¾ mile long, it is lined on both side with stores selling
everything from Bohemian crystal and fine porcelain, to McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
We didn’t even have a KFC in Germany!!! On the far end of this street lies the old city square.
Walking along Wenceslas Square, you can see people from all over the world.
Watch out for pick-pockets, though. Although serious crime (muggings, assaults, etc) are rare,
there are plenty of petty thieves preying on tourists.
The old Town Hall located in the Old Town Square. On the lower wall is the Old Town Astronomical Clock,
which was built at the end of the 15th century and is adorned with statues of the 12 apostles that rotate each hour.
From the tower of the Old Town Hall, the Old City Square and a statue of religious reformer Jon Hus.
St. Nicholas Church, Old Town Square, Prague. View from the Old Town Hall tower.
Looking toward the castle from atop the Old Town Hall tower.
Two more views of the town square from atop the Old Town Hall.
As we were leaving the Old Town Hall, I noticed this interesting
statue with the tower in the background.
Many artist set up shop on the Charles Bridge, which was commissioned in the late
14th century by Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, and was completed in the
early 15th century. It was later embellished with statues of saints along both sides.
Some of the many artists lining the Charles Bridge.
I bought a print from this particular artist – a drawing of the bridge and the
Prague Castle in the background.
One of the statues adorning the Charles Bridge
Period-costume musician on the Charles Bridge. The Prague Castle is in the background.
St. Gall church. One of many beautiful churches throughout the city.
I'm getting hungry. Walking along Kaprova St looking for a café.
Hey, this looks interesting. Food!!
After a good lunch, it's time to visit the Museum of Torture.
Inside they had music playing -- a bagpipe/oboe duet. (Just kidding!!)
Glad I had real food before I saw this. Every town in Europe has one.
Here, though, you can get a McBeer with your meal.
A Skoda convertible from the 60s or 70s. Excellent condition!
Skoda is a Czech company that built airplanes up until WWII,
then specialized in cars and trucks. Volkswagen now owns it.
St Wenceslas statue. After reading his bio below, I wonder why they erected a statue??
Wenceslas (1361-1419), Holy Roman emperor and king of Germany (1378-1400) and, as Wenceslas IV, king of Bohemia (1378-1419). His weak, ineffectual reign was marked by religious disorder, civil strife, and near anarchy.
The son and successor of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, Wenceslas made his capital in Prague and largely ignored his German territories, which were rent with wars between the towns and the nobles; the German princes finally deposed him for drunkenness and incompetence in 1400, choosing Rupert of the Palatinate in his stead. In Bohemia Wenceslas fared little better. Harried by relatives and rebellious nobles, he was imprisoned in 1394 by his cousin Jobst, margrave of Moravia, who compelled the king to name him regent in Bohemia. In 1402 he was again imprisoned and temporarily deposed, this time by his younger brother Sigismund. Wenceslas was an early supporter of the Czech religious reformer John Huss (Jan Hus) but did nothing to save him from the stake in 1415 and subsequently turned upon his followers
Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 2002. © 1993-2001 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
On our way back to the train station, we passed this beautiful view of the
National Museum on the south end of Wenceslas Square.
Within 2 hours, we were back in Plzen.
Hope you enjoyed Prague!
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