Prague Will Introduce ‘Singles Only’ Dating Cars On Subway

Riding the rails through Europe is an often-romanticized journey – unless, of course, you’re referring to a subway system. In that case, the only time people bump into each other tends to cause annoyance, with most choosing to sit alone and stare at a book or advertisement in a desperate attempt to avoid eye contact with fellow travelers (not to mention buskers).

But an initiative by the Prague public transport system intends to change the way people feel about getting from here to there by introducing singles-only “love trains,” Spiegel Online is reporting. A spokesman for Ropid, the city’s public transport authority, told the news outlet the initiative is part of a long-term campaign that aims to bring to light activities you can do while riding public transport that you cannot do inside your car (like reading or playing games on your cellphone … or in this case, getting to know a complete stranger). Ropid plans to work with dating agencies to help facilitate the program, which will only operate on nights and weekends – cause as GOOD points out, you don’t want to risk running into Mr. Right before you’ve had your morning coffee.

[via GOOD]

Powerful Explosion Rips Through Prague’s Tourist District

Anyone familiar with Prague’s postcard-perfect Old Town will be saddened to hear a powerful blast tore through the tourist district this morning, reducing one building to rubble, shattering windows and – worst of all – injuring up to 40 people.

AP is reporting the blast, which is believed to be a gas explosion, stranded tourists on street corners and caused evacuations in the surrounding buildings. Windows were blown out of the 19th-century National Theater, one of the most important cultural institutions in the Czech Republic. According to the news outlet, the center of the explosion was a row of several-story tall brick buildings that date back about a century.

Prime Minister Petr Necas likened the blast’s destruction to an air assault or a bomb explosion, but mayor Bohuslav Svobodo ruled out a terrorist attack. Only two injuries were serious, but two or three people are believed to be missing. Rescuers are searching through the rubble, while the blast has also caused major traffic disruptions and confused thousands of tourists in the area.

[Photo credit: Smtunli, Svein-Magne Tunli, Wikimedia Commons]

Prague: A City With Claws

I was at a laundromat in Santa Cruz, California, reading the New York Times travel section. It was the spring semester of my senior year of college, a period of complete uncertainty for me. I was about to graduate. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I only knew what I didn’t want: to stay in Santa Cruz or move to San Francisco and get an office job of some sort. I needed a purpose. I needed a direction.

And that’s when a life-changing thing happened to me at the laundromat. When the guy next to me, who was reading the main news section of the Times heard the buzzer to his dryer go off, he dismissively tossed the paper over his shoulder. It hit me in the face. Well, okay, it skimmed my face. Alright, it almost hit me in the face.The point is … I picked up the newspaper and the first article I saw was about how bird poop and pollution (poop-lution?) were combining to rot the statues on Prague’s Charles Bridge.

I’d been to Prague three years earlier. I was only there for three days but I was almost paralyzed by its beauty. It had a down-on-its-heels feel to it, having just come up for air from 41 years of Soviet negligence. I met a young American couple that told me there were thousands more like them there. Young yanks just hanging out. They had planned to open a pizza-by-the-slice placed and call it Brooklyn Pizza. I moved on to Berlin a few days later but I couldn’t stop thinking about Prague.

And then here I was reading the article about the city and its eroding statues. What was in the article was unimportant to me. I was having an epiphany, a realization that was so simple I never thought it was possible. I thought my life needed direction and I was going to take that literally. I needed change and it almost hit me right in the face. I would move to the capital of poop-lution: Prague.

So that’s what I did. I spent my days teaching English and my nights drinking beer with drunk old men in smoky pubs. I wandered the city’s narrow streets, gawking at the Baroque palaces. I took classes on the art history of the city. I stood around Charles Bridge – yes that same bridge that was supposed to be dying from asphalt cancer, and one of the most beautiful bridges in the world – staring up at the Prague Castle with the gothic St. Vitus cathedral plopped in the middle.

OK, so I still didn’t have a purpose. In fact, in Prague I had less of a purpose in life than I had in Santa Cruz. At least there I was getting a college degree.

But, while sitting in a café in Prague on a random Tuesday afternoon, I realized, that was sort of the point. Prague let me exist there; it let me hang out and do nothing except for live a rather debauched life, and it didn’t care. It didn’t judge me.

To be fair, though, I didn’t exactly move to Prague to live like a bohemian (and I mean that with a capital “B” and a lowercase “b.” I actually wanted to go somewhere slightly out of my comfort zone. I wanted to struggle a little – to learn something about myself. Yes, I could have chosen a more challenging place (Afghanistan, anyone?). But the beer and sausages are so much better in the Czech Republic. Anyone ever had an Afghan sausage? They’re TERRIBLE.

And so for three years I lived in Prague. I traveled around the country. I made friends. I even learned Czech. How I didn’t come away from there with a gorgeous Czech wife is a miracle. It doesn’t sound very challenging but three years later, I was a profoundly different (and, I hope, a better, stronger, wiser) person. And then one day I woke up and realized my life was so great in Prague there was nothing left to do but to leave it, to find another challenge.

And so I waved goodbye to the City of a Hundred Spires and did something else. But now over a decade since then, I still go back again and again and again.

Why? Because Prague is me. I am Prague. Prague is the reason I’m a traveler and a writer and a travel writer. I go back to get that reminder of the lesson that Prague first taught me: it’s OK to not live a normal life. It’s OK if you don’t have an office job and live in the suburbs (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It’s OK that I’m not making a six-figure salary. It’s OK to go out in the world and let yourself drift. You’re not a loser for doing that! Unlike my mom and dad, Prague never said: What?! You want to be a travel writer?! But they make no money and, really, they’re just losers who can’t do real journalism.

Kafka likened his home city to a mother with claws that won’t let you go. Perhaps. But to me, Prague is more like your friend’s cool mom who lets you party at her house. And after you drunkenly jump off her roof into the pool, she’s standing there waiting with a towel to wrap you in.

So, who else is ready to jump in the pool?

[Photo Credit: David Farley]

Visiting Synagogues Around The World

Places of worship have long been points of interest for travelers. Solemn and usually quite ornate, these buildings provide a window onto a community’s history and values and often give visitors a much-needed pause while pounding the sightseeing pavement. Cathedrals are typical for this kind of touring. But have you ever thought to pay a visit to a synagogue?

My fascination with exploring synagogues began on a trip to Willemstad, Curaçao, home of Mikvé Israel-Emanuel, the oldest active Jewish congregation in the Americas built in 1651. Several years later, I had the opportunity to visit the Paradesi Synagogue in Cochin, Kerala, India. Constructed in 1568, it is the oldest “active” synagogue in India – “active” because there are fewer than 20 Jews left in Cochin, most having emigrated to Israel. Coincidentally, I learned about the Jews of Cochin from an exhibit at the 6th and I Synagogue, a historic synagogue in Washington, DC, that is now used primarily as a community center and arts space.

The Jewish diaspora is thriving in many parts of the world. Yet in places like Cochin and Mumbai, the local Jewish community is dwindling, giving impetus to visiting some synagogues before they are shuttered or left to become museums. The following are some of the synagogues I have seen or wish to explore on my travels.


Prague’s astronomical clock gets a makeover

The famous astronomical clock that is Prague’s most popular tourist attraction has lost some star players for the next two months. The four outside figures, including a skeletal Death, have been removed and are being repainted to protect them from the elements.

The clock was built in 1410 and is the oldest working astronomical clock in the world. Dials show the position Moon, position of the Sun on the zodiac, and other astronomical events. Every hour there’s a parade of painted figures representing the 12 Apostles. Four other figures, representing vanity, greed, death, and pleasure, stand outside. As the bells chime the hours and the Apostles do their walk, Death shakes an hourglass to remind you that everything is transitory.

It’s quite a show, as you can see from this video by the folks at In Your Pocket: Essential City Guides. They have a free downloadable guide to Prague and many other cities on their website.

The clock will continue to function as the four figures are repainted. Legend has it that if the clock stops, disaster will strike the city.