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March 28, 2002
Praha: Staré Mĕsto (Russell)

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Staré Mĕsto

On the evening of March 27th, Russell spent some time at the pay phone in an attempt to prolong our stay in Praha.  Unfortunately though, we were unable to move our Berlin accommodations (we will be there during Easter weekend, and we are actually lucky to have found anything at all).  So we will stay in Praha for three nights as originally scheduled, with only one more full day for excursions tomorrow.

While on the phone, Russell also took a chance and called an American family we had met while standing in line in Wien for the Lipizzaner Stallions.  Jim and Betsy Armstrong have a 16-year-old son who is a foreign-exchange student here in Praha; and with their daughter Lily they have come over to visit him.  They had arranged a private walking tour for the next day and invited us along if we should meet up again.  Russell spoke with the Czech student, who provided an address but added that the family might not have arrived back from Wien yet.  The address turned out to be only a block away, so Russell went there to ring the bell.  After getting no answer, Russell turned to leave and suddenly saw Lily -- by an incredible coincidence, the family had come off the train and arrived at just that moment.

So on March 28th at 9:00 AM, we met up again with the Armstrongs and their son Will.  With the help of Karel Schneider, a professional tour guide and Praha native, we proceeded to explore the Staré Mĕsto (Old Town) on the east side of the Vltava River across the Karlův Most.  On this gorgeously beautiful and sunny day, we saw:

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The Astronomical Clock

During our three-hour tour, we also followed some pickpockets around (identifiable by their long and bulky trench coats), but we didn't catch them doing anything except walking up and down the same street over and over.  We had packed sandwiches for the boys: Cameron ate two and Joss ate three.  And we had some fascinating conversations with Karel, who has lived in Praha for 50 years and been through an unimaginable amount of change.  As we have heard from many others, he is gently bemused by how much Americans take their liberties and freedoms for granted.  He loves life and thanks God every day for the good fortune that has come to his people.

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Gail with Karel on the Karlův Most

At noon, we said goodbye to Karel and the Armstrongs and went on to do some more exploring.  We spent some more time just strolling around and people-watching -- the Karlův Most is full of people, tourists, and street musicians all out enjoying the sun.  We especially enjoyed the "Bridge Band," a group of men who sing and play old American jazz standards (in Czech) with instruments and washboards (they are so well known, they are even depicted on postcards in the souvenir stores).

We experienced a bit of culture shock as well.  In the Česká Republika, there is a definite difference between a "cheeseburger" and a "hamburger with cheese."  If you order a "cheeseburger," you will get a bun with cheese.  Also, Russell tried purchasing some new AA batteries.  He saw a four pack with a price of 52 korunas, and asked the clerk for two.  She took down one four-pack, ripped it opened, and took out two batteries -- each one costing 52 kčs.

After a rest break in the apartment to wash laundry and pack, we set out again at 5:30 PM to catch the sunset.  We decided to head back up the hill to Pražský Hrad where we would have a nice, high vantage point.  The film crews from two days ago were gone, and we were able to explore Hradčanske Námĕstí (Castle Square), which had previously been roped off.  With the light fading and the crowds gone, we heard the church bells pealing the 6:00 hour, we saw the changing of the guard, and we saw the sun set behind the houses at the end of the square.

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Hradčanske Námĕstí at twilight

We met up again with the Armstrongs for one last time and had dinner out together at the Restaurace U Čerta, another local restaurant where we had our last meal in Praha.  Overall, we are happy to report that Praha is very bit as wonderful, historical, and friendly as everyone had told us.  If you ever plan a trip to Europe, you absolutely must visit Prague  -- it's one of the most beautiful citiess in the world.  We did not have nearly enough time here -- we would have loved several more dayss just to watch people and absorb the ambiance.  We envied Jim and Betsy being here for an entire week, and we have very definitely added Praha to our short-list of places to which we will return someday.


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