Sunday, May 1, 2011

Spring in Praha

View from Sarka Park

Hiking in Sarka park - part of Prague but it feels like you're in the middle of nowhere.  It's great
and just 45 minutes from our flat.

This spring has been unseasonably warm (according to several Czech friends) and with it has brought beautiful flowers and flowering trees all around Prague.  As the city comes out of hibernation, I am continually amazed with the beauty of this city.  It has been several years since I experienced a true spring like this, where the world goes from sleeping and/or dead to alive in what feels like a matter of minutes.  One day the world is brown and drab and the next, the grass is so bright green it almost hurts your eyes!  Tulips and daffodils are everywhere (along with many other flowers I just don't know the names of), so everywhere there is color.

I'm especially enjoying the Cherry Blossoms as this is something I've never experienced in person.  Petřín Hill is near the Prague Castle and where many cherry trees are blooming.  I took a walk through there after a class I have nearby and was just astounded by the smells and colors of these gorgeous trees.

St. Nicholas Church from Petrin Hill

Under communism, celebrating Easter as a religious celebration was discouraged, so it became a celebration of the welcoming of spring.  The Easter tradition is that the women spend Easter Sunday decorating their eggs while the men prepare their pomlázka.  The pomlázka are made of pussy willow branches and are woven together and then brightly colored ribbons are attached to them.  The pomlázka is a sign of youth, beauty, health, and fertility.  It was originally a pagan ritual to fight off illness and bad spirits and to bring good health and youth to whoever was whipped.  So, on Easter Monday (which is a public holiday here), men carry around their pomlázka and whip ladies.  The ladies then thank the men by giving them their decorated eggs and/or sweets.  Thankfully this is more of a tradition in the smaller villages or amongst people who know each other, and therefore, I was not swatted by anyone.  :)

Namesti Miru Easter market and Easter tree

Pomlázka of all sizes
The final, and official welcoming of Spring celebration occurs on April 30 - Pálení čarodějnic, which means Witches' Night.  This celebration also has its roots in Pagan traditions.  It was originally celebrated on the full moon which is exactly between the spring equinox and the summer solstice.  To protect against witches, fires were built on top of a hill (the highest in the city or village).  It is also said that ash from these fires had special powers to increase fertility.  It is interesting how many spring time rituals have fertility as a common theme.
Bonfire with witch before...and...

So, on Witches' Night/day, we trekked up to Ladronska Park (high atop a hill in Prague with amazing views of the city).  There was a wonderful festival there, so we spent some time admiring all the festivities and all the kids dressed as little witches.  
I'm not sure what they're saying, but this cracked me up.  I could totally see my mom and aunts doing this with my cousin Joel beatboxing.  :)

Practicing their bonfire building skills

Inline skating contest for the kids

They even had a hair booth where the kids could get their witch looks perfected.

Even adults were dressed up - next year I'm totally dressing up!
Then we wandered around (as we do) and walked to Petrin Hill which overlooks the city and had dinner at the Strahov Monestary which is probably my favorite place in Prague, because they have the best beer ever.  After dinner, we went back to the Ladronska festival to listen to music and just enjoy the bonfire.  It was a truly fabulous day!

Cool sitting area

Neat housing area overlooking the city - love the wall made of cobblestones

I'm not sure what this is, but it's in Petrin park, and I just love these spires.
They are everywhere in Prague.

Petrin Tower.  It is a replica of the Eiffel Tower and if you measure the tower from the base of the
hill it stands upon, it is the same height as the Eiffel Tower.

Petrin Park

Strahov Monestery Steeples

Everyone enjoying the campfire.  People had guitars and were singing.  Many also brought their own
food to grill.  We commented that it was amazing you could do this.  This festival was free to enter and they
were selling food and beer there, but no one questioned anyone who brought in their own food or drinks.  And also, look how close
everyone is to the fire.  There is no perimeter set up - people are just enjoying it like a big family gathering.  
Another moment where I remind myself this would never happen at home, and I love it.

Sausages on fire....but not really.  :)

Czech Firemen "managing" the fire

And on the way home it started pouring rain.  Our tram or something very, very, very close to us got hit by lightening. I have never heard anything like it!  We decided to walk home the rest of the way since the tram wasn't going anywhere.  And since we were getting wet...we decided to jump in several puddles along the way.  Truly one of the best days!

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