Getting Engaged in Prague

(note: this blog was updated in January 2019)

We left Vienna and jumped a 5-hour train ride to Prague to continue our whirlwind trip through Europe.

The most amazing day of my life, June 30, started with Steve telling me, “Happy Birthday.” Now, June 30 is not my birthday, it’s my half birthday. But if you do the math, you’ll discover that my birthday is December 30–the worst day of the year to ever have a birthday. Everyone forgets it, no one has any money, and every one is waiting til Dec 31 to go and party. So, I’ve celebrated my half birthday for almost 30 years now, and it’s something I cherish. I replied, “Let’s make it a great day!”

Visiting the Prague Castle

Off we went. When I mentioned Prague to any friends or reviewed it on websites, the big kicker is the Prague castle. Not to be out-kicked, we journeyed on. The castle sits on top of the hill, of course, and has fabulous views. The problem was that every tour group in Europe was there.

Every one of them.

It was swarming with tour groups. Obnoxious ones, too. We couldn’t get into the place. Every door was jammed, every view was looked over, and no where could we find a place to enjoy by ourselves. So we took a few pictures of the church housed on the castle grounds and headed to the castle gardens.

We strolled through the gardens, and I began to think that perhaps Steve was up to something. Wouldn’t it be romantic to propose in the castle gardens? We admired the trees and the buildings and stated how much we loved each other, but we kept walking. The castle had been underwhelming and the gardens really didn’t help recover.

Sidebar on.

Back in April or so, Steve and I had looked at engagement rings together. We came to consensus, but I did not know whether he had purchased one or not. In addition, Steve had flat out told me that he was not going to propose to me in Europe. Even still, I had my hopes, and I truly thought that if he were going to propose to me in Europe, it’d be in Prague. The stage seemed to be set.

Sidebar off.

Prague Doorways

On the way out of the gardens, we passed one of Prague’s old houses. Before they started using house numbers, they used symbols. Here is a symbol of a horn in this picture. We continued walking and eventually ended up at Josefov, the Jewish ghetto.

A Must Visit–Josefov, the Jewish Ghetto in Prague

Hitler, as we know, wanted to eradicate a race. But he felt that it was his responsibility to preserve the best of the Jewish race, and that’s Josefov. We bought our tickets, and through the ghetto gates we traveled. The first stop was a small synagogue. On the walls within, a documenter had painted the names of all the Jews who had perished during World War II. First listed was the town, then the surname, then any first names, followed by birth dates and death dates. We began perusing the walls.

As mentioned earlier in my post about Budapest, we learned Steve’s last name was actually German. The first Gutfreund we found was listed in Brno, a small city we had traveled through by train on the way to Prague. Steve wrote down the name and details and we continued to look. Eventually, Steve came across the Prague section. Suddenly, we found ourselves looking at a listing for Gutfreund and then a good 20-30 first names of his actual family members, followed by death dates of 1945. When I realized why all the dates were 1945, I was completely overcome with sadness and broke down in tears. All of a sudden, the Holocaust became personal and I could only grasp how lucky I was to be hugging Steve.

Drying tears, we moved on to the cemetery. This ghetto housed tens of thousands of Jews at one time, and Hitler forced them to bury their dead on top of each other. The cemetery’s head stones stacked one on the other, only inches apart, made the height of the cemetery be almost five feet tall. All the head stones were in Hebrew and many scripts were unreadable. We continued through Josefov, stopping at the ceremonial hall to see fabulous examples of old menorahs, alms, and other Jewish silvery.

I needed a break, as I was both emotionally and physically tired. We enjoyed a lovely lunch at an outdoor cafe next to the ghetto. I had a cheese sandwich–loaded with four types of European cheeses–and Steve had yet another brat of some kind. Relaxed, we continued our journey through the ghetto, ending up at another synagogue. Here, they outlined the history of Jews in the Hadburg empire, and we learned again how complicated surnames can be within Austria/Hungary/Czech geography.

Exhausted, we walked back to the hotel and took a luxurious nap. When we woke up, Steve said that he wanted to take me to a romantic place for my dinner birthday. For the second or third time that day, I started to wonder if maybe he had something up his sleeve. Again, we headed out to the Old Town Square, where I pointed to El Toro Negro as the place I wanted to dine. It sits underneath the astronomical clock on the square. But first, we went to a puppet show.

Don Giovanni, Puppet Style

Prague is known for its marionettes. It is also the first place that Mozart conducted his Don Giovanni opera. So we figured, heck, we missed the opera in Vienna, and it makes perfect sense to go to a puppet show of Don Giovanni. We entered the small theater, grabbed our seats, and enjoyed a very humorous interpretation of Mozart conducting the show. Of course, it was in Italian, and not knowing the story line, we could only conclude the Giovanni is a skirt-chasing womanizer who gets caught many times. We left at intermission–sorry Prague–I vowed to read the Opera first, and dinner was calling our names.

Prague Dinner on the Old Town Square

We returned to El Toro Negro and got a table right under the clock. It was very romantic. As we waited for our Paella for Two, we enjoyed people watching and tried to figure out how the dang clock tells time. I still don’t know. But at just the right time, Steve proceeds to tell me how much he loves me, how beautiful and smart I am, how caring, etc, etc, etc…and the entire time I’m thinking to myself, OMG, he’s going to propose. And he doesn’t.

By this time, we’ve finished dinner, my birthday is almost over, it was close to 11 o’clock, and I had resigned the fact that Steve was going to stay true to his comment that he was not going to propose in Europe. He paid the bill, and we left the cafe. But first, Steve said he wanted to look at something on the face of the clock. So, back to the clock we went.

An On-time Engagement at the Prague Astronomical Clock

At the clock, I had my back to him as I was pointing up to the face saying something about how the zodiac portion of the clock appears to work. Suddenly, I find Steve saying, “What’s that?” He had bent down to pick something up. Confused, I turned around, and I found him on his knee. Holding my hand, he held out the ring, I gasped, he proposed, I said yes.

But wait! Because we were under the clock, there were hundreds of tourists under it as well trying to figure out its mechanisms. When they saw Steve get down on his knee, they started clapping and cheering. One Asian group even broke out in song with, “We Are the Champions.” Realizing they were all clapping for us, I broke my embrace with Steve, curtsied to the crowd, and off we went, engaged in Prague!

I couldn’t have had a better birthday ever nor be happier! Tomorrow, we’ll head for Munich.