Enjoying One Last Day with Tauck in Prague

For the first time in 12 days, we saw rain this morning in Prague. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Today, guests participating in Tauck’s Swiss Jewel Blue Danube river cruise tour got their first taste of an unusual occurrence: rain.  Yes, for the very first time in nearly 12 days, we woke up in Prague, Czech Republic to cool temperatures and light showers.

Not that that stopped anyone from having fun!

Viewing the amazing Astronomical Clock this morning – without the crowds from yesterday! Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Once again, here at the Prague Marriott, Tauck has taken care of breakfast at the hotel, along with gratuities where applicable, including the services of the Concierge.  They have also graciously provided guest who wish to do so with complimentary internet access, despite the fact that Wi-Fi is not free here at the hotel.  If guests purchase the one-day plan (valued at nearly US$40) it will be credited off their final bill. Naturally, that’s something that I in particular appreciate fully!

Exploring the Maisel Synagogue in Prague’s Jewish Quarter. It is one of seven sights of historical importance. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

This morning, I took in the tour of Prague’s historic Jewish Quarter.  Unlike most other Nazi-occupied cities, Prague’s Jewish quarter was largely spared the destruction that was inflicted upon other cities, which is why the Jewish Museum remains Prague’s busiest.

Even the rain couldn’t keep the crowds away: within ten minutes of our arrival, the museum was packed.  The Maisel Synagogue was constructed between 1590 and 1592, and today houses an important look into the lives of Jews living in Bohemia.  And to fully understand and appreciate what happened here when the Nazis rolled into town, you have to understand the Jewish history of Prague leading up to that point.

Photography was forbidden at the Pinkas Synagogue, but I felt it was important to highlight the moving aspect of the names of Holocaust victims on the walls, so I snapped this shot through an outdoor window. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

But for me, the Pinkas Synagogue was the most moving experience.  An important note: you don’t have to be Jewish to visit and appreciate this moving memorial. I’m personally not Jewish, but that doesn’t mean that the lesson to be learned here was lost on me: inside the synagogue – which was built in 1535 – are the names of the 80,000 Bohemian and Moravian Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

The amazingly moving Jewish Cemetary in Prague’s historic Jewish Quarter. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

When you enter the museum, the names are so numerous that it looks like fine mosaic tile from a distance.  But then it becomes apparent that they are names of victims of the holocaust – and their names, birthdates, and dates of death fill nearly every square inch of each wall.

Another equally-important site in the history of Prague: Wenceslas Square. The National Museum is in the background. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

I truly believe everyone coming to Prague should visit this site.  These were people who had hopes, dreams, ambitions, loves, desires, goals – all of which were cut short by the German “Third Reich.”  I saw surnames I recognized that made my heart stop. Could that really happen to people I know?  Could that happen to me? It’s an uncomfortable realization that we may not be fully in control of our own destinies.

The memorial to Jan Palach and Jan Zajic in front of the National Museum in Prague. Both young men set themselves on fire in protest over the Communist rule. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

The Nazi occupation of Prague, and the subsequent decades of Communism following the war years played a part in the rest of  my day, as I visited Wenceslas Square, the site of numerous demonstrations and uprisings through the ages.

Looking back on Wenceslas Square from the National Museum. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

One of the highest ranking Nazi officers in Prague, SS Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich was assassinated near here as part of Operation Anthropoid.  And in 1969, students Jan Palach and Jan Zajic set themselves on fire in protest of the Communist regime in front of the National Museum at the end of Wenceslas Square, where a memorial to them was added in the pavement following the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and the fall of communism.

The rain gave way to brilliant sunshine – perfect for a stroll across the Charles Bridge, at left. Prague Castle – and the Lobkowicz Palace – are in the background. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

As I wandered across the famous Charles Bridge, I realized that Prague is a city with a history that is almost unmatched within Europe; a history that continues to evolve and unfold to this day.

Prague Castle. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

This evening, our Farewell Dinner was held up at the princely Lobkowicz Palace, where our host was William Lobkowicz himself. After his family was forced our during the Second World War – and again following the invasion of Communism in 1948, he and his parents miraculously managed to regain control of their former palaces and castles following the Velvet Revoltion.

Corssing the Charles Bridge. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

The Road to Prague Castle. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Near the base of Prague Castle, facing the Charles Bridge and Prague’s Old Town. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

He said that regaining control of the palace and its related properties took decades of legal wrangling and countless sums of money they really didn’t have. Tracking down the original furnishings proved even harder, as they were scattered across 105 locations in Europe.

Another Dinner to Remember: fine dining at Lobkowicz Palace. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

But regain them they did – and tonight they invited all 107 of us to experience their good fortune firsthand, with a private tour of their collections.  Photography wasn’t permitted, and I did not want to abuse the privilege. Let me tell you one thing I saw: an original scorebook for one of Beethoven’s symphonies, complete with his signature and annotations. This famous song was originally composed for Napoleon, but when he declared himself emperor, Beethoven awarded the song to the Lobkowicz family.

I don’t know about you, but seeing something like that in person was life-altering.

Immaculate dinner settings. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

As with our dinners in Budapest and Vienna, tonight did not disappoint.  In fact, it is events and moments like this that are Tauck’s specialty; this is where they truly excel.  Dinner was a magical event, held in an opulent ballroom with all the expected trimmings.

Dinner, presented with a flourish: all silver lids were lifted off at the same time. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

At the end of the evening, each of us was presented with a present: a crystal butterfly purchased just for us, here in Prague. On each tour, they have a discretionary fund they can use for little extras along the way; this was a very special surprise, and a great way to cap off our evening – and our trip.

Dinner is Served! Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Finally, I want to end this Live Voyage Report with Tauck by introducing you – properly – to the people who make this experience so very special and personable: the Tauck Directors.  Without them, much of what we experienced in these past 12 days simply would not have been possible.

The three people who have made the biggest difference on this Tauck Tour: Staci, Christine and Andy. Best jobs in the world? I think so. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

On this voyage, Staci, Christine and Andy have been an invaluable source of information, tremendous purveyors of exploration, and perhaps above all else, patient, calm, and receptive to the questions, needs and wishes of each and every guest.

It cannot be an easy job – but they make it look so very effortless. And for that, I think they deserve the very highest praise.  These people have the best job in the world in my estimation, and for a few short weeks, you get to be the fortunate recipient of their knowledge and experience.

That, truly, is the Tauck difference.

The view from Prague Castle on the evening of October 7, 2012. A fitting way to end an excellent trip with Tauck. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report onboard Tauck’s Swiss Jewel has sadly come to a close, but be sure to check back on Tuesday, October 9th for a full Voyage Recap of our time with Tauck on the Danube, and on Wednesday and Thursday for exciting previews of our next Live Voyage Reports, right here on From the Deck Chair!


6 Responses to Swiss Jewel Live Voyage Report – Day 11

  1. Kim says:

    Amazing once again! See you soon

  2. Bob Herchert says:

    Linda and I were with you on the Tauck cruise. Thanks for keeping this great journal.


    • Aaron Saunders says:

      You’re very welcome, Bob! I hope you enjoyed reading it and had a safe trip home!

  3. Jeff says:

    I’ve been considering a Tauck Tour/Cruise for a while. After following your daily commentary on your Tauck cruise, I’m convinced Tauck is the way to go!

    • Aaron Saunders says:

      Jeff – they certainly lived up to their reputation for quality! I’d heartily recommend them to anyone looking to really experience Europe in-depth.

  4. […] October 7 – Exploring Prague & an Evening to Remember. Tauck even goes about picking high-quality, comfortable hotels for pre-and-post river cruise segments. This is the lobby bar at the Budapest Marriott. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders […]

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