Month: April 2013

Prague Day 4: The Castle

(Been back in the US for a few days, but have been struggling with allergies and jet-lag, so just now catching up on the photos from the Prague visit.)

After several days in Prague we decided to start tackling the castle.  While you can freely roam the castle grounds without paying, there are a couple of ticket options to see some of the sights of the castle compound itself.  Thankfully all tickets are good for two days, so you can split up your sightseeing.  We decided to see St Vitus Cathedral first, on a Friday afternoon.  That turned out to be a wise decision.  In contrast to St Nicholas which we’d seen earlier in the week, St Vitus is primarily from the High Gothic period of architecture.  (Although the cathedral wasn’t really complete until the early 1920’s, I believe.) High Gothic is one of my favorite periods of cathedral architecture (along with Romanesque), so I was excited about this visit.

(A reminder that you can view a larger version of any photo by clicking on it.)

This is from Stare Mesto (Old Town) somewhere.  My eye was first caught by the architectural details on the building, then I noticed the pony in the window.  Lovely.  🙂IMG_2091

Anyway, moving on to the castle.  The single best piece of advice I read in the guides was to take the #22 tram up to the Hrad (Castle) stop and walk down to the castle from there.  Then after hours of castle viewing you can enjoy the stroll down from the castle grounds to Mala Strana.  Downhill = good.  We were doing plenty of walking, so I didn’t feel the need to exert myself to get up to the castle.

One of the entrances, with the Czech guards.  The castle is actually in use by government offices, so there’s a security presence.  (Nothing like the US, where you have to have your bags searched and go through metal detectors, though.)IMG_2098

Our first view of St Vitus Cathedral.  I have about three photos that I need to stitch into a vertical panorama.  This is only about half of the building.  The way the castle grounds are constructed, this is as far away as you can get and see the entire front facade.  Still, it’s breathtaking.
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This is Alfons Mucha’s stained glass window in the cathedral.  Clearly my favorite.  His use of light and color in the window is phenomenal.IMG_2132

Some of the interior details.  This little guy was hanging out on an interior staircase.IMG_2141 The Rose Window in the Western facade; the photo doesn’t do it justice.IMG_2166

Taking care of evil.
IMG_2190The ceiling in one of the side chapels.  Beautiful!  I think I’m just a sucker for lapiz lazuli and gold together.
IMG_2197IMG_2216 IMG_2228“Oops, I lost my head.”
IMG_2235IMG_2236Some of the silver in the cathedral.  This was about as excessive as it got.
IMG_2247 IMG_2253IMG_2267 The inside of the Saint Wencelas chapel on the south side.  IMG_2277 Standing at the western entrance looking up.  After seeing the dim, cramped little rooms that people lived in, cathedrals must have seemed like miraculous buildings: so tall and filled with light.  IMG_2298

Always some little detail on the cathedral to notice.IMG_2308 The eastern (apse) end of St Vitus Cathedral.  Gosh, I love flying buttresses.IMG_2314 Chimney detail on the old palace building.  You know, because.IMG_2320

My favorite gargoyle of the cathedral, the creepy monkey.IMG_2324 Some of the layers of detail on the exterior of St Vitus.  Stunning!IMG_2326 The southern facade of the cathedral.IMG_2337 The main entrance to the castle grounds.  Behave or you’ll get it.IMG_2346 We decided to take one of the routes down to Mala Strana, from which we’d catch the metro home.  This is why you start from the top and work your way down.  There were plenty of people going up.  Breathlessly.IMG_2350About half way down we were arrested by this wonderful smell of pastry and sugar.  As it was well past snack o’clock (and we were both thoroughly chilled by the wind) we stopped for hot chocolate and trdelnik.  It’s a dough that shaped onto a hollow metal tube and baked, then rolled in cinnamon sugar.  So tasty.  This is how much Cloyce liked it.
IMG_2355The baker could barely keep up with the demand; the shop was definitely in a good location.
IMG_2356 Further down we spotted this statue of Winston Churchill.  We thought it strange to put a statue in the middle of Mala Strana, but then realized that we were just down a lane from the British Embassy.  (All of the choice former palaces were snapped up as embassies.)IMG_2358 IMG_2360 And this lovely architectural detail, spotted on just another building in Mala Strana.  It was one floor up off a busy road, so I doubt many people actually stopped to notice it. Lovely.IMG_2365

We had gotten a late start that day and had spent several hours in the cathedral, so that was it for our sightseeing that day.  We joked that we could see a lot more if we didn’t spend so much time looking at things.  We’d see some people cruise through the cathedral in 15 minutes.  I guess that counts as having “seen” it, but….

Anyway, more castle grounds to come on Day 5.

Posh hotel fail

So on Saturday we moved from our nice apartment rental in Prague to the posh hotel where hubby’s conferences are taking place.  And discovered that their internet is so horrible that it is practically unusable.  I mean, I can barely download e-mail, let alone try to post blog updates.

Thank goodness for our iPhones.  We bought unlocked ones, so that we could get sim cards when we travel abroad. They’ve been our primary source of internet communication the last three days.

That said, there seems to be a moment of quick internet, so I uploaded a couple of photos from the last two days to share.  We’ve been wandering around Prague, seeing various museums and exhibitions.  It’s been lovely!  We’ve also been enjoying David Cerny’s public art around the city.

Below, Cerny’s statue of St Wenceslas, just off Wescelas Square in Prague.

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And his ‘Babies’ which were added to the (IMO) horribly ugly Communist TV tower that spoils the Prague skyline.

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In any case, I’m heading home tomorrow (Lufthansa strikes willing, that is), and will be able to upload photos and blog about the last several days when I get home.

In any case, it’s been a wonderful visit.  I would come back again, if only for the art.  There is so much to see and I feel I haven’t even scratched the surface.

Prague Day 3: Baroque excess and Communism

Day 3 in Prague started out at St Nicholas’ Church in Mala Strana (the Little Quarter of Prague).  We had been by there the first day, but the blasts of arctic air coming from the church dissuaded me from entering.  We were in short sleeves, as befitted the 70F/21C weather, so at the time I thought it would be better to wait until we were carrying jackets to enter the church.  Correct decision.

Yesterday we arrived at St Nicholas and spotted the gold Porche again.  Same spot.  After finishing in the church, we joked that it must go with the church, being gold and all.  We paid our small entry fee and ducked into the darkness of the church and were met by cold and… amazing!  The frescoed ceiling of the church will stop you in your tracks.  (Just as it was intended to.)  The photos I took can in no way convey the scale and beauty of the painting here.  It’s simply beautiful.  The trompe l’oeil is masterful, you really do have a hard time figuring out where the architectural elements end and the painting begins.

(Please remember that you can click on any image to see a larger version of it.  I use the smaller images in my posts to save space.)

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After getting a crick in your neck staring at the masterpiece of a ceiling, your eyes begin to travel downward and all you see is gold.  Gold, gold, gold.  Everywhere.  It is so visually noisy that your eyes cannot rest.  It’s excessive, in the true style of the Baroque.  (Which has never been one of my favorites.  Give me a nice Romaneaque or High Gothic arch any day.)  Still, it is quite the sight to behold.  Awe and majesty, for sure.  Add to that some carved saints peering down at you from above and you’ve got a great toolkit for keeping the masses in line.

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We do not suffer fools here.  Or sinners, either.
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And he’s holding the Holy Handcuffs of Antioch.IMG_2023

Every last detail is seen to.  The tassels on the confessionals?  Carved from wood.IMG_2019

The floors change with each chapel and area.  There is always visual information to let you know where you are and when you enter another sacred space.  It really is a masterful arrangement of an entire space.IMG_1966

And in the balcony, the bored scratchings of the 1820’s tourist.  Yawn, another church.IMG_2005

 

After that excess, it was time for some lunch.  We found a Czech restaurant that had been recommended and it turned out to be quite delicious.  And a different kind of excess.  (Needless to say, we haven’t been eating like this the entire time we’re here.  We usually do breakfast and dinner at the apartment we are renting.)

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Near the restaurant, another threesome, the House of the Three Emu.  Or Ostrich.  I can’t really tell.IMG_2035

And a bit of the Charles Bridge showing the two major floods of the last 150 years, the lower (around hubby’s waist height) from 1890, the upper (about a foot above his head) from 2002.  IMG_2039

We walked across the Charles Bridge to get to the Old Town section, where we were heading to museums.  There are 22 (I think?) statues on the bridge, each representing a different figure or saint.  The bridge is absolutely packed during the day, with vendors plying their arts, musicians and thongs of tourists.  It being a nice, sunny day, it was packed.  (And they say tourist season doesn’t really start until May.  Ha!)

I call this Madonna of the Pigeons.IMG_2058

Another beautiful building, by the riverside.IMG_2063 A view of The Castle from the Old Town.   IMG_2067

And we were trying to follow the Golden Mile to the Old Town center but took a wrong turn somewhere.  Which allowed us to happen upon this.  Art.  Probably David Cerny?  In any case, it was a providential wrong turning.

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Our destination for the afternoon was The Museum of Communism, an eclectic collection of information and articles from the beginning of Communist era in the Czech Republic until the Velvet revolution.  With a special section on the cruelties and excesses of North Korean Communism out on the balcony.IMG_2072

I had to get a souvenir there.  I mean, it’s hard to refuse a Matroyshka doll with fangs.IMG_2074

Prague Day 2: Dem Bones

With the weather unseasonably warm in Prague (~20C/68F), we decided to head out to Kutna Hora on Day 2.  It’s about 75 km from Prague, “easily reachable by train.”  Well, that’s half true.  Buying the ticket was the easiest part of the journey.  We received our round-trip ticket for two, good for two days.  And that was it.   On the one hand, it’s extremely handy, as you can use it for any train you want.  On the other hand, you have to figure out what train to use it on. And then find said train in the central station in Prague.  Let’s just say we were running to the train with just a couple of minutes to spare.  The train we caught to Kutna Hora was pre-Communist, for sure; everything was solid metal or something sturdy.  There was heat (so not needed), but for air you had to use the windows.  Which we couldn’t really do as we were sharing a spot with another man, who didn’t seem  bothered by the warm.  Urgh.

And off we went to Kutna Hora.  To see St Barbara’s Church (Cathedral?) and the Sedlec Ossuary.

The Kutna Hora central train station is nothing much.  (Really, none of the train stations there are much.  When we first arrived, the train stopped and we were looking for the platform.  We finally realized (before the train departed again) that you just stepped out onto the grass between the tracks.  Yup.  A wee bit different than train travel in Japan.)  From the central train station, it’s a bit of a walk up to the central part of town and St Barbara.  Thankfully the ways are helpfully marked.  (In English, too.)

Three important figures in Czech history on the side of a building in Kutna Hora.IMG_1805

Pigeon protection or the beginning of restoration?
IMG_1807 The standing thinker.  Again, just a random building in the center of town.IMG_1808

Where we were heading: St Barbara’s Church.IMG_1814Look at those flying buttresses!  High Gothic was always one of my favorite periods in architecture.
IMG_1824 Some of the ceiling detail in St Barbara’s.IMG_1831 IMG_1839 Putto detail.IMG_1848 The frescoes adorning the chapels and ceilings.  It was my first time seeing a fresco in person, so it was pretty breathtaking.IMG_1850 Candelabra in one of the chapels.  Kutna Hora was a prosperous silver mining town at one point, so there are references to mining and miners throughout the church.IMG_1867 One of the many stained glass windows.  We were lucky to be there on a sunny day to see them lit so beautifully.IMG_1869 Shadows on the floor at St Barbara’s.IMG_1879 One of the many statues on the way to St Barbara’s.  We jokingly called this The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.  IMG_1891 The sign on this door reads, “Entrance to church through club house.”  ??IMG_1904 After the High Gothic splendor of St Barbara’s, we headed for something a little different.  The Sedlec Ossuary, in Kutna Hora-Sedlec.  It looks fairly unimpressive from the outside, doesn’t it?IMG_1909

Yep, those are bones.  Human bones, to be exact.
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About 40,000 of them, to be more precise.  It’s an interesting story this ossuary.  The cemetery at Sedlec was vast at one point, holding the remains of victims of plagues, etc. during the middle ages.  Then things happened and the cemetery grounds were reduced to almost nothing.  So the bones were removed to this vault.  And used for decoration.  (This, of course, is a simplified version of the history, so if you are interested in this, I highly recommend doing a little more looking on the internet.  It’s really quite fascinating and not very macabre.)IMG_1927

IMG_1930 Well, ok.  Maybe a little macabre.  It’s one thing to stare at a huge pile of skulls and leg bones, but being face to face with skulls is another thing.  Especially skull candelabra topped with putti.IMG_1933 Putti playing their instruments.IMG_1935The Schwarzenberg family crest.  In bones.

IMG_1939 One of the secondary crosses near the main altar.IMG_1944 The impressive chandelier that dominates the vault.  Every human bone is represented in its construction.  IMG_1945Sedlec is really in the middle of nowhere.  This is the train station.  I kid you not.
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Prague Day 1

I really want to write up about each day of our travels, but am finding myself utterly exhausted each afternoon when we return to our apartment.  So, rather than trying to write up a comprehensive daily journal, I’ll be posting photos from each day, with a few notes here and there.  I hope you enjoy.

After a jet-lagged, pretty sleepless night, we ended up taking a three hour nap in the morning, waking up in time to head out around lunch time.  We headed to the castle area of town and found The Maly Buddha (I think it means the Little Buddha), a great little asian restaurant.  It was in the dark basement of a building, so our first meal out in Prague was by candlelight.  (And none of those safety tea candles, thankyouverymuch.)

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Poster seen near the Loreta Chapel.  A museum on our to do list.IMG_3444

I love the faux windows next to the real windows.  Providing symmetry, of course.

IMG_3451 Just a random fresco on the street.IMG_3455 The Loreta Chapel.IMG_3460

Hand-wrought drain cover.  Nice.IMG_3463

Another view of the Loreta Chapel spire.  IMG_3466

In Prague central, cobblestones are everywhere.  In all sorts of patterns.  It’s quite lovely.IMG_3471

I’d heard about the naming of buildings in Prague.  Threes seem to be popular.  This is the House of the Three Lilies.IMG_3475 Thanks, Norway, for helping to preserve Prague’s history for visitors like us.IMG_3484 Some of the ironwork at the Stahov Monestery.  I rather thought the flower-like bits looked like they should shoot lasers.  (I’ve seen to many Bond films, I think.)IMG_3489 IMG_3490 View over Prague from the Stahov Monastery.  The Castle looms on the left.IMG_3501

Who knew?  Prague has cool drain covers, too!IMG_3504

I adore this little wooden room off the side of this yellow building.  Beautiful.
IMG_3507 Very cool windows.  IMG_3510 Layer upon layer of history in the buildings in the castle district.IMG_3515

This building blew my mind.  Click on it for a closer look, as all of that stonework relief that you think you see is actually paint.IMG_3524

Lovely little alleys everywhere, with even more to see.

IMG_3526 Art?

IMG_3527 Beautiful doors on some building.  IMG_3534 The Italian consulate.  Most of the consulates in Prague are in some of the oldest, grandest buildings/former palaces near the castle.  They are spectacular.IMG_3537

Detail from the Bulgarian embassy.IMG_3540

House of the Three Violins.  IMG_3541 Sgraffito on the side of buildings!!  This is the stuff that I used to see in my art history books.  All together.  In one city. IMG_3548 Modern traffic barricade soldiers.IMG_3550

View towards the castle from in front of St Nicholas’ Church.IMG_3553

And around the corner, the golden Porche.  Because.  (We have been in the neighborhood on two consecutive days and it has been there both days.  It always has a crowd around it taking photos.)IMG_3554

Even the turn indicators are cobblestone.IMG_3558

We’ve seen quite a few of these sundial paintings on buildings in the Mala Strana (the Lower Town area below the castle).
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Grotto at the Wallenstein gardens. Creepy and cool.IMG_3566

How to hide your satellite dishes: put them in the window bays of your old palace.IMG_3573

The white peacock at the Wallenstein Gardens.  Some lady was pestering him mercilessly, prompting me to thinking unkind thoughts as, “I hope he pecks her.”  We left before there was any incident.IMG_1794

The very cool subway wall decor at Malostranska metro stop.IMG_1797