A Prague Christmas: December 2000

Part II

At the Church of Our Lady Victorious in the Mala Strana section not too far from Charles Bridge, the visitor can see the famous "Holy Infant of Prague."  This small wax figure, less than two feet tall, was brought from Spain in the 17th century.  In the past, its reputed healing powers attracted many pilgrims to Prague, but today it's the costumes that attract the modern tourist.  Outfits have been sent from around the world for the statue, and many of them are on display in the small museum that adjoins the church.  What is amazing is that a figure of wax has lasted almost four-hundred years without having melted at some point or other.  The Church itself, named for the victory of the Catholic troops over the Protestant troops at the Battle of White Mountain, is the oldest Baroque Church in Prague.
Wenceslas Square is really not a square at all but is instead a long boulevard that runs uphill from the Mustek subway stop to the National Museum at the top.  Good King Wenceslas, the patron saint of the country, overlooks the square from horseback in front of the museum.  In more recent years, the square has been the scene of protests that eventually led to freedom for Czechoslovakia from the Soviet Union.
Choosing the perfect carp for Christmas Eve dinner is a shopping tradition in Prague.  Large tubs can be found throughout the city filled with carp for the careful shopper.  After the shopper points out the perfect fish, it is netted, scaled, cleaned, and wrapped on the spot.  Brenda and I had our Christmas Eve dinner at the Seven Angels and (reluctantly) decided to try the carp.  It was not to our liking.  Afterward, we were walking past a restaurant that had their menu posted in English-- with some interesting results.  The Christmas Eve specialty was listed as "Fried Crap."  We decided that would have probably been about as good as the carp!!
Before we left for Prague, we were a little concerned about what might be open during the Christmas season.  We knew that Prague had an active Christmas Market, but we were led to believe that it would close on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. We were happy to find that the information we had was wrong; the market stayed open until late on Christmas Eve, and most of the booths did not dismantle until late on December 26th.  In addition, we found many of the stores stayed open throughout the holiday. 
By whatever name it's called, the gluhwein is a delightful addition to Christmas markets throughout Europe.  This hot wine mixture warms the body and the spirit, but the careful shopper will always seek out the stall that offers the option of a real cup (even if you have to buy it or leave a deposit.)  Too many vendors now offer it in cheap plastic cups that are impossible to hold even with insulated gloves.  At many of the markets, if you look around you can find it being sold in souvenir cups-- enjoy your wine and get a nice, cheap souvenir of your visit.
The guards at the castle complex sometimes seem to be more interested in either (1) eyeing the young girls that visit the site or (2) planning their evening of revelry at one of the nearby establishments.  The castle complex in Hradcany is only a short walk from the Domus Henrici, so we actually visited it on several occasions.  The sites that are of most interest to the visitor are the Cathedral (with its stained glass window by  Mucha), the palace interior (where one can visit the site of the Defenestration of Prague), and the Golden Lane with its dozens of little shops.
Wittmann Tours offers one of the best tours of the city with the walking tour of the Jewish quarter of the city (Josefov).   The Old Jewish Cemetery is one of the most remarkable sites in this part of the city.  For more than 300 years beginning in 1478, this was the only available burial space for Prague's Jews, so people were buried on top of each other as many as twelve deep.  More than 12,000 gravestones are crammed into the tiny space, but more than 100,000 people are probably buried here.
We also used Wittmann for a tour to the former concentration camp site at Terezin, about an hour from the city.  The trip, taking most of the day, included the cab ride out and back, the services of our excellent guide (Sydney), and lunch.  What we knew of Terezin we had learned from the book and movie "Holocaust."  In that story, one of the brothers was sent to this camp because he was an artist.  Terezin was the camp that the Germans used as a showplace for when the Red Cross made inspections.  One of the most remarkable things we saw there was the row of sinks in the bathroom area.  They  had been constructed specifically for the inspection and illustrated the "humane" treatment given to the confinees.  If the Red Cross personnel had taken the time to turn the faucets, they would have discovered that none of the sinks even had water connected to them!

Part I
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