A Weekend in Prague by Jacob Betzner

Jacob is a Junior majoring in both Journalism and Economics.  He is participating in the Scripps summer study abroad program to Leipzig, Germany.

A major selling point for Ohio University’s study abroad trip to Leipzig, Germany? The freedom to travel on weekends.

Several Bobcats and I journeyed to Prague, Czech Republic after finding a round trip train ticket for just under $70.

I never imagined myself traveling to Prague or eastern Europe after hearing so many scary things about the area and watching gory horror movies like Quentin Tarantino’s “Hostel” and “Hostel II” filmed and set in the area.

Prague turned out to be an extremely beautiful and interesting city and a place I hope to visit again someday.

A small village just across the German border.

The train ride proved to be one of the highlights of the weekend. The autobahn carved through mountains and valleys of eastern Germany and the western half of the Czech Republic.

A hilltop castle in the Czech Republic seen from the train.

The train sped past gorgeous hilltop villas with elaborate irrigation systems running down mountainsides, through leafy mountain ranges and tiny valley towns with houses built before the establishment of the United States, and around forgotten industry towns still scarred from wars fought decades ago. Gazing out the window helped pass the time quicker than any movie or book.

Part of the gorgeous Ore Mountains separating Germany and the Czech Republic.

After arriving in Prague and checking into the hostel, we quickly found a local restaurant advertising authentic Czech food.

For an appetizer, we ordered “Devi’s Toast,” toasted sourdough bread covered in a spicy pork and onion spread. The excellent starter proved to be a sign of good things to come at U Pravdu.

The vepřo-knedlo-zelo main dish (roast pork in gravy, dumplings and sauerkraut), called the national dish of the Czech Republic by the menu, proved to be one of the tastiest meals in my travels this summer. Maybe ever. I nearly entered a food coma after the final bite.

Any restaurant that serves a meal in a trough is okay with me.

The only downside of the meal? The bill!

Look at that tab.

Luckily Kč 1314 (Czech Koruna) equals about $65. Not bad for four meals, two appetizers, eight beers, two pitchers of water and a steep 20 percent tax.

The breathtaking Church of Our Lady before Týn overlooks Old Town Square in Prague.

We checked out some local clubs and pubs and met many people from all over the world, as near as Cleveland and Philadelphia and as far away as Tokyo at Karlovy Lázně, a downtown nightclub with five floor and ended up helping an English duo sing a karaoke version of Oasis’s “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova.”

The next day we checked out the city, and took advantage of a free tour included with the price of the hostel. We saw a lot of the city and learned a ton of history and culture over the next three hours. Our tour guide grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, moved to Prague a few years ago to teach English and never left.

One of Prague’s most notable landmarks, St. Nicolas Church, a separatist church only a few hundred meters from the city’s most famous Roman Catholic church.

She briefed us on the history of the Czech Republic, which like most countries, especially in Europe grew out of religious tensions. The country thrived under King Charles IV in the 1300s, but his dynasty diminished after his death and disappeared in the 1500s.

Strict Catholic King Ferdinand II tried imposing Catholic teachings on everyone in the country in the early 1600s. Protestants responded with a mass defenestration or shoving Ferdinand’s friends out windows of the Prague Castle. This sparked the 30 Years’ War and tension among the Czechs and entered the country into a Dark Age marked by wars, famine and disease.

After World War I, the Czech Republic joined with neighboring Slovakia to form Czechoslovakia. The countries peacefully separated in 1989 after the “Velvet Revolution,” forming the current Czech Republic and Slovakia.

From 12th century churches, the famous astrological clock, a Jewish cemetery with over 100,000 tombstones for corpses stacked 12 layers deep in the ground, and the arm of a thief who tried to steal from the St. James Church in a piece of Prague legend.

The famous astrological clock in Prague.

The clock celebrated its 600th, yes 600th anniversary in 2010. The clock indicates current time in Roman numerals, Bohemian time in Bohemian numerals and the lunar phase by the black moon.

The Old Jewish Cemetery holds corpses from as early as the 1400s.

Different monarchies banned Jews to a small section of the city and allotted only a small sliver of land to bury the dead. The Jews decided to stack layers of coffins to accommodate for the small space. As many as 12 layers of coffins make up the cemetery.

A warning to any soul thinking of stealing from the church.

According to legend, a thief broke into St. James Church in Prague in search of gold. While trying to remove a gold necklace from around the neck of a statue of the Virgin Mary, the statue sprung to life and grabbed the robber. The next morning the priest found the robber trapped. The thief begged the priest to cut off the arm of the statue, but the priest decided to teach the criminal a lesson by cutting through his arm. After the last pull, the thief fled in fear and shock, leaving the priest with a freshly severed arm. The priest hung the arm in the church to warn anyone else planning a robbery.

Nicknamed the “Golden Church,” St. James still holds services every day.

The tour finally wrapped up after three hours of walking in the near 100 degree heat, but I enjoyed every minute. I learned a lot more than I thought I would ever know about Prague and the Czech Republic.

We wrapped up the final day with some shopping and one more delicious Czech meal, but ran into some sort of giant parade along the way. It appeared to be a celebration of nations across the world.

Fellow Americans in the Czech Republic!

Nobody wanted to return to Leipzig after such a short stay in Prague. The city sucked me in after only a short stay, and I hope to return today to, ahem, Czech it out again!

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