Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Prague Blog

Touring Prague
 Prague was our last destination, a three-day extension, on our splendidly fantastic river cruise on the Danube. It's the freshest in my mind, so I figured I'd start my city blogs with the "City of 100 Spires." If you know your geography, you know that Prague is not on the Danube River, it is about four hours by bus away from our last Danube destination (Passau, Germany). If you know your music history, you know that the Danube doesn't bisect the city, the Vltava River does. Some Bedrich Smetana might be appropriate here--this is his musical depiction of that river, part of a larger work dedicated to his homeland (Ma Vlast). (It's easy to get confused: the Czech name for the river and this movement is Vltava and the German name is Die Moldau.) By the way, the building shown in the beginning of the video is the Municipal House, and inside there is a hall named for Smetana. It was a few steps away from our hotel.

Old Town

Next to Municipal House is the Powder Tower, built in the 1400s to house gunpowder.
The Powder Tower
Municipal House and the Powder Tower are considered to be in New Town, but just on the other side of them is the Old Town where we find the mammoth Gothic Tyn Church which was Catholic, then Hussite, and then Catholic again. Construction of this church began in 1365.
Tyn Church
It's difficult to get a good picture of this church because buildings stand right in front of it. I'm standing in Old Town Square to take the shot of Tyn Church, and it was lightly raining at that moment. Rain is not always a bad thing: as long as your photographic gear is protected, interesting shots are possible!

Old Town Square with the Tyn Church and a different tour group
Another view of Old Town Square...with bubbles!
The most famous attraction on the square, and possibly in all of Prague, is the 15th-century Astronomical Clock. This thing marks every hour with a grandiose show of chimes and a parade of twelve apostles inside the little windows above the clock. Please note also that the sun and moon revolve around the earth here, and Prague is the center of the earth. The zodiac signs were added in the 19th century.

Oh yeah, I took a video of the clock, too, at 10:00am. Look for the Apostles moving past the two windows under the arch.

 The writer Franz Kafka was born practically in the shadow of the clock, and lived in Prague most of his life. His birthplace is now a cafe bearing his name, but the building is not original.
Cafe Kafka gets ready for business
Rott House nearby is the location of the printing press which printed the first Bible in Czech in the 15th century.
U. Rott House

Charles Bridge

The Charles Bridge traverses the Vltava River and brings us to the other side of Prague. It was the city's only bridge for 400 years. Built in the 14th century, the bridge originally had no statues. The imperial Hapsburg family had many religious statues built in an attempt to re-convert Czechs to Catholicism in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Bridge statue with St Vitus Cathedral
This is a sample of the activity on the Charles Bridge
The Vltava River from the Charles Bridge
Charles IV, for whom the bridge is named

Prague Castle

Eventually, our group wound its way over hilly cobblestone streets to Prague Castle. This is actually a megalopolis of smaller palaces, houses, and the imposing St. Vitus Cathedral, built over the centuries around Castle Square.
Castle Square

From a distance, and you saw it from a distance in some of the Charles Bridge shots above, it looks like one giant castle, spooky at night. Franz Kafka's novel, The Castle, is thought to have been inspired by the spooky nighttime castle. Our group cruised through Castle Square, inside the main gate where we saw the guards change, and briefly stopped in St. Vitus Cathedral. We were headed to Lobkowicz Palace for a tour which I blogged about on my Music Monday with Margaret blog here: (Check it out!) Back to Prague Castle, visitors may buy a ticket to tour some of the buildings, and see more of St. Vitus than just the free zone just before the nave as we did. This cathedral is very important to Czech Catholics as many of their local saints and kings are entombed here. The stained glass windows are impressive, but the one most visitors crane their necks to see was created by Czech artist Alphonse Mucha. Without a ticket, though, we can only see about half of it:
Alphonse Mucha window
St. Vitus Cathedral Rose Window


One of our tour guides told us a funny story about a couple returning home from a Viking River Cruise of the Danube. The man went into his study and began to write, "ABC...ABC..." The woman asked him what he was doing, and he explained that he was writing about what he saw on their trip. This made no sense to the woman until he explained: "Another Bloody Church, Another Bloody Castle..."
Ha. Ha.

But maybe you are interested in shopping opportunities in Prague. What does one typically buy there?
Garnets are popular, and reportedly inexpensive. (I was tempted, but I didn't.)
Czech crystal. (I didn't.)
Marionettes! (I didn't.)
Pencils? (I didn't.)
These pastry cylinders with chocolate syrup inside. (I did!)
These pastries had no name from what I could tell except for "Bavarian Treat," and they were sold all over town. They are baked in long tubes on metal cylinders and cut down to about six inches for the customer. The chocolate is spread inside just before you eat it and the thing is still warm and fragrant.
Here they are cooking.
If you go to Prague, it is this sign that you have to look for:


In case you want to read more about Prague, I have two suggestions for you beyond the usual tour guides. Look for Prague: A Traveler's Literary Companion, edited by Paul Wilson (Whereabouts Press, 1995), for stories about Prague from the best Czech writers. I was reading this one on the tour bus, and fellow travelers were intrigued. I found Prague in Black and Gold by Peter Demetz (Penguin, 1997) in the Prague Airport. It focuses on Prague's history.


Anonymous said...

Welcome Back, Ms. Montet! Or are you gone again already?? ;)
What a great glimpse of a great city! Thinking back to Evolution of the Symphonies, I am struck by a whole new appreciation for Bedřich Smetana. The kind that is perhaps gained only from a truly contextual experience, (if that makes sense..) So, thank You for YET another invaluble lesson!
The music is fantastic, which has both helped and hindered my writing obligations for Comp II this summer. I hope you enjoy yours!

Margaret said...

Thank you, Anonymous! I couldn't resist attaching a soundtrack to this blog as this particular piece was looping in my head the whole time I was in Prague! Keep an eye on this blog because there will be more posts soon accompanied by relevant music! Good luck with COMP11!