After that humiliation, I was happy to escape to the big, busy town of Trebic. It's another Czech gem with a wonderful main square. Just over the river is its historic Jewish district. While Prague’s Jewish Quarter is packed with tourists, in Trebic you’ll have an entire Jewish town to yourself.
Trebic’s Jewish settlement was always relatively small, and only 10 Trebic Jews survived the Holocaust. What's left, though lonely and neglected, is amazingly authentic. The houses have been essentially frozen in time more than 60 years ago. Among the 100 or so preserved buildings are two synagogues, a town hall, a rabbi’s house, a poorhouse, a school, and a hospital.
In the 1970s, the ghetto was slated for destruction; the communists wanted to replace it with an ugly high-rise housing complex. But because the land proved unable to support a huge building project, the neighborhood survived. Today, it’s protected by the government as the largest preserved Jewish quarter in Europe.
One of the most moving sights is its cemetery. This evocative memorial park is covered with spreading ivy, bushes of wild strawberries, and a commotion of 4,000 gravestones (the oldest dating to 1631). If you visit, note how the tombstones follow the assimilation of the Jews, from simple markers to fancy 19th-century headstones that look exactly like those of the rich burghers in Christian cemeteries.
Parts of Europe are getting crowded, tense, seedy, polluted, industrialized, hamburgerized, and far from the everything-in-its-place, fairy-tale land so many travelers are seeking. But traveling along Czech byways, you’ll enjoy traditional towns and villages, great prices, a friendly and gentle countryside dotted by nettles and wild poppies--and almost no Western tourists.
(Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at email@example.com and follow his blog on Facebook.)