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Posts Tagged ‘Travel in Prague’

Saturday 25 August

Today we plan on crossing the Charles Bridge again to visit the Lesser Quarter (Mala Strana). We take the tram to the Town Square (Malostranske namesti) and head for St Nicholas Church. You can see its dome from across the river and from Prague castle. It must be a large church but nothing prepares us for the interior. Wow! It’s unlike anything we’ve seen so far! It’s light and airy … And dramatic. Every piece of the ceiling is painted with frescoes. It matches the Sistine chapel in magnitude if not in detail (and talent). Light pours in and the huge polished white marble statues glow. Four larger than life sized statues round the altar represent the Eastern Church Fathers. They are a bit weird, with one of the priests holding a staff and pinning a man down on the ground by his throat.

Around the base of the dome are four large white marble (all the statues lare of white marble) statues of women, then  in between them are six smaller statues, life sized, recessed into the base of the dome.

The floor is made of slate and white marble flagstones.

I notice that the altar is set up so that if a priest were saying mass, his back would be to the congregation. I assume that the church is no longer used as such. Peter confirms this when he notes that there is no tabernacle light. Also, there is a charge to enter, something that can’t happen in a church. (Though once you’re in the church you’re often charged for climbing a tower, or visiting a crypt …)

 The pipes of the vast organ are white with gold finishing. Apparently Mozart played this organ during his stay in Prague. (Much seems to be made in Prague of Mozart’s stay here). The gold finishing on the organ and elsewhere is more understated than in the other churches and, instead of dark wooden decorative features, the columns and pulpit are made from coloured marble. Above the altar, is another larger than life sized statue, this one a gold plated copper statue of St Nicholas. The dome is huge, with windows set in it. Around almost the entire church runs a balcony made of marble. We are able to climb to the balcony and see how it has alcoves that may have been used by dignitaries perhaps, rather like boxes in an opera house. The alcoves are decorated with large paintings.

Downstairs again we look at the side chapels, some of which are a bit gruesome with boxes containing plaster skeletons in odd postures, probably symbolising something that is lost on us twenty first century westerners.

We make our way to a garden I read about. It’s supposed to be behind the Wallenstein Palace (which is now the Czech Senate), which is only a few hundred metres away. There is a large ornamental pond near the entrance, a few peahens roaming about, some gardens, and a fountain in front of a frescoed stage …. And the melting wall! It’s a sculpture! A wall somewhat pretentiously described as dark and mysterious, supposedly a blend of synthetic and nature. The crevices hide animals, snakes and faces. The wall extends around an aviary in which there are half a dozen sleeping owls … The wall is supposed to contrast with the sound of birds. Well these birds won’t make a sound during daylight so I suppose the sculptor means silent birds.  It’s bizarre, but I’m glad we’ve found it.

Next stop is the Vrtbovska gardens. They’re not far away either. But I’ve read that they can be easily overlooked because they are hidden behind a gate that simply has its street address, number 25 Karmelitska. 

These gardens couldn’t be more different from the ones we’ve just visited. They are beautiful. The gardens rise in terraces and on each level are small renaissance style gardens. A wedding is about to begin, and we enter to violins being readied to perform Ave Maria, Vivaldies Four Seasons and more. It’s exquisite. The gardens are a natural amphitheatre and as we climb we hear the music clearly. 

At the top we among the roof tops of Prague. It’s surreal. The view is stunning. Look down, we see the gardens, look to the left and right, we see into people’s apartments, look across and we see the spires and domes of churches. The gardens are tiny, but in this cramped city, they are a gem.

We’re suddenly so tired! It’s barely mid afternoon, and we could do so much more but we’ve the Mozart concert and dinner tonight so we head back to the hotel for a senior citizen nap. 

The concert is at the Mozart Cafe. From the first floor where we are sitting we look straight across at the astronomical clock, not even thirty metres away! What an unexpected delight. The windows are open because the evening is so warm. It’s very pleasant. We watch the eight o’clock “performance” and later the  ten o’clock. The colours of the clock seem to deepen or brighten according to the time of day. It’s a thing of beauty, as well as a feat of mathematical engineering – built over 600 years ago! It’s amusing to look down from behind and see the lights from all the cameras and videos playing on the clock.

The musicians enter the “salon” a few minutes after eight. They’re dressed in period costume, their wigs perched perilously on heads. Two violins, a viola and a bass. The musicians are having a ball, laughing amongst themselves …  You get the impression that they’d be just as happy to play without an audience as with one. Though after every piece at least one of then acknowledges us. There are only eight at dinner. Ourselves, another couple and a group of four. 

The music is wonderful. I can’t believe that such talented musicians would play at a dinner concert. Perhaps they are retired, or this is a form of practice, or maybe they just love performing. Eine kleine nichte, Mozart’s symphony number forty. I love the finish – a fabulously plucking of strings. The food is pretty good too. It’s one of the. Best dinner out I’ve ever had. 

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Friday 24 August

We’re going to spend all day exploring Prague castle.

We catch the tram up the hill and enter through one of the many gates. First though we watch the changing of the guard. It’s great to watch the precision marching and the drill. 

I want to see the palaces that are supposed to be outside the castle grounds, but with so many gates I’m not sure outside which gate. We find the first courtyard and exit the gate there. We are surrounded by the four palaces! I know that down an alley next to the Archbishop’s palace we will find the Steinberg palace which I have read holds a major private collection of European art. It does. Much of the byzantine art is by florentine and Sienese artists. It is exquisite. There is also Etruscan work.  There is an enclosed courtyard outside. There were very few people looking at the art, and nobody is outside. It is an oasis of solitude. Everybody is in such a rush to get to the castle that this marvellous art and garden are overlooked.

As we approach the Matthias gate to re- enter the castle, the noon changing of the guard is about to happen. The street outside the gate is cleared before a group of soldiers come marching through. First, the two guards at this entrance are changed, then the troop continues through the castle to provide the guards for the rest of the day. The guards are changed every hour, but this procession only happens at noon.  It’s impressive.

From the first courtyard we move into the second where there is a  big fountain, then on through  the  third and, wham! There is St Vitus!  It soars upwards,  just fifty metres away from the archway. Its proximity is sudden and awesome.

The nave is long, the vault high. The stained glass windows behind the altar are tall and narrow. I turn and look back at the huge, beautiful rose window. The organ is massive. Everything about this cathedral is on a grand scale. There are twenty one chapels, all ornate. The sarcophagus of Charles 4th is almost unbelievably ostentatious, but the solid silver casket with over a thousand gems is gorgeous. 

Engineering had clearly not caught up with the dreams and designs of the architect. Outside, the main entrance before the cathedral was completed is known as the golden portal because there are numerous solid gold knobs on the wooden doors. But the effect is somewhat diminished by the need to have a rib down the centre so, rather than having one big entrance, there are two quite narrow doors separated by the rib. Nonetheless the doors are beautiful.

The cathedral and its clock tower can be seen from all over Prague. The view from the tower is said to be spectacular, so I climb all 297 steps of the spiral staircase. On the way down I can feel the Odstock electrode on the back of my knee. It’s quite painful as I bend my knee on every step. This is probably not good … 

Next we visit the Old Royal palace. I particularly want to see the Vladislav Hall. It is impressive with its high vault, wooden floors and it’s sheer size. I can imagine great banquets here. The Diet room next door is interesting. It’s some sort of court where decisions were made. The only woman ever allowed in that room was Marie Antoinette the Queen of the Austro – Hungarian Empire. She was the mother of Marie Antoinette who was guillotined during the French Revolution.

There are other Palaces within the castle. They hold art collections and museums but the only other place that I’m interested in is St George’s Basilica, a Romanesque church. It is made of stone with a high wooden ceiling. There are remnants of friezes on arches. Its simplicity is beautiful. It was built in the tenth century, but renovations have uncovered a first century crypt (with skeleton) under the foundations. 

We wheel/walk down the hill from the castle to the Lesser Quarter then along to the Charles Bridge and back to the hotel. 

Tonight, at 10pm we are going to St Salvatore for a candle lit concert. The organ is magnificent, as is the tenor. The absolute highlights were Schubert’s Ave Maria, and Bach’s Toccata in Fugue – brilliant!

St Salvatore is opposite the Charles Bridge. As we approach the bridge we can see the statues are a brilliant white under the floodlights. Somehow the lights have turned even the grey statues into a startling white. As a flock of birds fly past, through the lights, they too turn white. The whole scene is surreal.

It’s been a great day!

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Thursday 23 August

PRAGUE

We’re here! The hotel is quite close to the Charles Bridge and to the Old town Square, but I’m not sure I can explore the area walking. We wheel/walk to the river. The sun is on Charles Bridge and there are few people around. We go over the bridge toward the Lesser Quarter, then turn and go back toward the Old Town Square. The towers at either end of the bridge are impressive. They are made of dark stone with grey statues and decorated with shields and bits of gold. Along the bridge are larger than life statues with religious significance, some saints, a crucifix and so on. 

We continue on to the Old Town Square and the first thing we see is the astronomical clock on the Clock Tower. It’s fantastic in every sense of the word. No wonder it’s such an icon of Prague. It has a fairy tale appearance but it’s nothing of the sort. The clock must have seemed a wonder at the time it was built, and six hundred years later it still is. It had to have been the product of a Mathematical and Engineering genius, a genius who also had an artists’s eye because it is beautiful. The colours …. The shapes … The figures … The parade of the apostles … It’s as much a sculpture as a clock. The heraldry is great too. After the mechanical performance on the hour, a trumpeter plays from the top of the tower from all four walls. It’s a real spectacle!

I decide to take the lift to the top of the tower, rather than walk up the steep ramp. From the top there is a great view over Prague, especially towards the castle. St Vitus dominates the skyline, but there are domes and spires of churches everywhere as far as the eye can see … Well almost … There are big concrete apartment blocks that were probably built during the time of communism. Apart from these ugly blocks there doesn’t seem much left to mark their legacy. There are large tracts of forests near the castle, and these make Prague seem quite green.

Our Lady Before Tyn is on the opposite side of the Square from the Clock. It’s twin towers are massive, but inside it is spectacular. The vault is really, really high and long. The main altar and the chapels are all made of black wood with lots of gold. Gold. Gold. Gold. On Black. There are friezes on the ceiling but my greatest impression is of lots of gold on black.

On our way to the Halveska, Havel’s market, we wander into a few galleries. One has fabulous original oil paintings of scenes around Prague. These originals have been reproduced by the tens of thousands and their prints are sold everywhere. I’d like to buy one of the astronomical clock, I love the way it’s painted, but at over one thousand euro it’s a little pricey! Its interesting that none of the street vendors seem to know who the original artist is, yet the gallery that sells his work is only a few hundred metres away.

Some of the vendors at the market sell their original art as well as the prints. I love the work of one artist, and given what it is, I think that one hundred euro is a good price, but Peter doesn’t much like it. It’s a collage technique using old paper, calligraphy, gilt, and textures. She happily shows me her other other work knowing that I won’t buy anything, but perhaps likes my enthusiasm for her work. There are so many talented artists in Prague! I am amazed!

We head off to Wencelas Square, not knowing what to expect. It’s a sort of strip mall with nice shops leading ultimately to the National Museum. It’s closed for renovations so we only walk halfway down. I find the H&M shop where Amy bought some inexpensive tops, but other than buying Peter a cap in one store and an a tie in another,  our money stays in our wallets.

We go back to the hotel to check in. We’re tired from the long flights but want to see the day out so that our bodies can adjust as soon as possible to the time difference. So we visit St Jilji. It’s a smaller version of the Tyn Church, but just as OTT. 

Between 4 & 5 we go round in circles within the old town centre. We find a bakery, yum, and eventually break out of the narrow winding lanes. 

We’re in bed by 6.30. End of day one!

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