Through the Eyes of an Educator: Prague, Czech Republic

Stacey Ebert's picture
Categories: 

For some reason, as a teenager, I dreamt of Prague. I’d heard tell of it in movies and books, and I really wanted to go. Maybe it was all those fairytales from my childhood that made me want to visit, or perhaps it was the history of my roots I knew attached; either way, I was intrigued. That’s the type of interest teachers wish for their students. Some have that innate desire to stand in the places of history or check out the culinary wonders of a new world. For many educators, a goal of teaching is to coax that desire to the surface or find a way to ‘hook’ students and let them find their own way there. 

Prague skyline view. From what to see and do in Prague

On Fridays in my year nine classroom, I used to play a geography game. On the board/screen were names of cities/monuments around the world and students had to discover in what country (or state) and on what continent that city resides. Then we’d throw a hug-a-planet (soft stuffed globe) around the room and they’d have to locate said spot. Some students’ eyes widened when they saw their ancestry location and instantly knew the answers. Some remembered movies, books, sports teams, or discussions in other courses that gave them the answers. And then there were the ones whose hands shot up because it was ‘their favourite city’ and they couldn’t wait one day to go to that place. You could see it in their eyes. A glimmer of desire, understanding, and the possibility of travel piqued their interest in worlds beyond their own. That’s what I felt for Prague.

At first, it was the ease of border crossings in Eastern Europe that got me. As simply as going from New Jersey to New York, we moved countries. Drive, rail, or fly, and you can taste new cuisines and hear new languages within mere hours. Nicknamed the ‘city of a hundred spires,’ this picturesque land is a living children’s pop up storybook. Thousands of spires and towers make up panoramic vistas that I had only seen with bits of Disney magic. Those interested in architecture may have their mouths agape the full duration of your stay! One of the few cities not to be fully destroyed during the war, Prague has a magic all its own.

Czech history is lengthy and full. With ups and downs and time under siege, Prague is a telling city. Much of the city is filled with marble. At Hradcany Castle, visitors can see the marble colours, red, white and blue, on the ground to symbolize the Czech flag. Wind your way through gardens, squares, churches and alleyways within the walls of the castle and each area seems to share a separate story. The lush gardens on hillsides drape the city making visitors feel even more as if they’re in a movie scene or childhood fantasy.

The Charles Bridge is a Prague icon. Flanked at either end by reinforced towers, the bridge, made out of sandstone blocks, has been guarding this city for over five hundred years. Think of the people who have traversed that path. As you travel from one side to the other, visitors are literally walking in history’s footsteps. Filled with buskers, artists, storytellers, hawkers, and travelers alike, the bridge is host to thousands of photos, moments, and memories daily. The photographers with you might not be able to tear themselves away.

Charles Bridge, Prague. From what to see and do in Prague

The Old Town square. From what to see and do in Prague holds its own mystique. Surrounded by cafes, tourist shops, and buildings filled with character, the cobblestoned square breathes life daily. Amidst entertainment, shopping, shared stories, cuisine, culture, and Old Town Hall (destroyed in 1945 and never restored), the Old Town Square is a traveler’s wonderland. There are people everywhere. While a myriad of languages fly through the air, stories are constantly shared. As the aroma of local deliciousness floats through the square, visitors seem taken with this special city. 

Nightly show at the Clock Tower, Old Town Square, Prague

Amidst the town hall complex sits a clock tower. Considered a medieval wonder of the world, the astronomical clock’s mechanical performance takes place nightly. Exactly on the hour (between nine and eleven), as they have for over six hundred years, the twelve apostles and other statues parade through the hands of time. As the mechanisms move, chime, ring, and spin, lenses are focused on the doors while flashbulbs simultaneously light up the night sky. Those interested in mechanics, science, math, physics, and robotics might feel the need to watch this historical scene more than once.

Clock Tower, Prague (it's over 600 years old!). From what to see and do in Prague

The Second World War is very prevalent in this city’s history. The Jewish Quarter is considered one of the ‘sights’ of Prague. Various synagogues/temples occupy this area of the city. The Old-New Synagogue is tiny but complete with all of the aspects of any Jewish temple. Standing where so many once stood to worship their beliefs, you can feel the history and stories through the walls. The pulpit and other temple necessities (the Ark and Aron Kodesh-where the Torah is kept) are all there. Many of the synagogues today serve as reminders of a time that once was. Some are more like museums, and contain gift shops sharing treasured reminders of an Eastern Europe journey. The cemeteries in the Jewish Quarter are different than any I’d seen before. On a tiny plot of land lie over twelve thousand people. Headstones contain many names to show the space where the dead are buried one on top of the other. In accordance with Jewish tradition, rocks are placed on headstones as a sign of love and respect. We did just that. This moving act still stays with me. Although times were difficult and land scarce, the dead continue to be honoured. Moments such as this are teachable. Standing where so much history has transpired, so many people have lived and so many continue to be remembered, this in-person account is one of the many that transcends books and texts and encourages learning. There’s no way around it, learning happens even if you don’t want it to.

The experiences in Prague have stayed with me. We got to eat in a traditional bohemian Czech restaurant where bread bowls filled with goulash are the specialty. We saw traditional Czech dancers and musicians playing local instruments implore strangers to be in the moment, rise and enjoy the music. We met with locals who shared their stories of life in a city different to our own. We got lost amidst the castle turrets, ivy-laden walls, and winding streets. We stepped through history, watched brilliant sunsets, and learned by doing. Pulling us in at every turn, Prague shared her story through architecture, nature, language and heritage. Those who visit leave changed.

Bread bowls filled with Goulash in Prague - yum! From what to see and do in Prague

Prague is an inspiring city. When children read storybooks of castles, moats, royalty, and all the in between…I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty…this is where that storybook is! As is the case in many cities, learning is everywhere and absorbing education through a visit is without question possible. Visitors wander the streets with almost the intent on getting lost just to see what’s around the next bend. Cobblestone walkways, hidden passageways, bridges, boats, knights, castles, princes and princesses, bridges and genuine people-it’s all here in Prague! 

 

 

Stacey Ebert, our Educational Travels Editor, is a traveler at heart who met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. Stacey was an extracurricular advisor and taught history in a Long Island public high school for over fifteen years, enjoying both the formal and informal educational practices. After a one year 'round the world honeymoon, travel and its many gifts changed her perspective. She has since left the educational world to focus on writing and travel. She is energetic and enthusiastic about long term travel, finding what makes you happy and making the leap. In her spare time she is an event planner, yogi, dark chocolate lover, and spends as much time as possible with her toes in the sand. Check out her website at thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com for more of her travel musings.
 
All photos courtesy and copyright Stacey Ebert

 

Share