Saturday, April 20, 2013

Churches and a castle

Though a light drizzle was falling, I decided today was not going to be the lazy day.  Maybe tomorrow, depending on the weather and how I feel.  I'll figure it out then.

Today instead turned into reconnoiter-Prague-Castle day.  The castle is fairly close to the hotel as the crow flies, but the crow doesn't have to walk up the hill.  Cabs can take you there, but that wouldn't be in the walking spirit of this trip, so with a pause for a quick lunch, in the early afternoon I walked the streets and switchback to the castle.

Along the way, I finally found myself at the front door of the church in some of my first Prague photos.  It proved to be the St. Nicholas Church, a baroque wonder.  The first version of the church came online in the late thirteenth century.  In the middle of the eighteenth century, a rebuilding project incorporated a Roman rotunda from the nearby church of St. Wenceslas.

The combination of the baroque architecture and the rotunda is quite stunning. 

Click on any image to see a larger version.

Every aspect of this place was highly decorated, frequently with images of saints and bishops and other clergy or people of significance; I could not identify them all.  The ceiling was simpler than Italian church ceilings but still cool.

The side chapels were consistently lovely as well, as you can see in this shot that includes two

and in this image of one of them.

I particularly liked the tombs under a few of the side chapel altars, such as this one.

The rear of the church wasn't too shabby. 

Nor was this pulpit.

Maybe Bill and I need a pair of these for PT company meetings.

Nah, probably not. 

The main altar was heavy on St. Nick and lighter on Jesus than I had expected.

As I walked around and examined the paintings and statues, once again the new-old nature of Prague became very clear.  Most of items were more recent than a quick glance might suggest, no doubt due to rebuilding after damage from time and/or wars. 

Prague is a city always reinventing itself, in dialog with itself, melding the fading and sometimes destroyed past with the present to create a new, always changing version of itself.

In this church, if you climbed a winding staircase to the gallery, you could see the ten original old paintings that it still contains.  Signs dated all of them from 1672 to 1674, but nothing said who painted them.  I found them generally good but no more.  Most moving, to me, was this Pieta

On the way up to the castle, I got a good, close look at some roofs for the first time.  It was interesting to see that whether the tiles were flat or curved varied, at least in this area, from house to house, not neighborhood to neighborhood, as I'd thought I'd previously observed in other areas.

The views from beside the castle were spectacular.  As a young American woman leading some friends up the street said, "And here's where it gets breathtaking."

People were everywhere, enjoying the day despite the occasional drizzle and the cold, staring at the castle, walking, talking, playing, laughing, thinking, in groups and alone, all united by the desire to see this set of national treasures.  A cellist (far away in this photo) filled the square with lovely music.

As if they were alone in the world, a man petted and stroked a dog who had eyes only for him, and then stopped, straightened, and stared into the distance as if a ghost had called his name, the dog waiting patiently beside him.  

Inside the castle grounds, the gothic St. Vitus' Cathedral towered over everything.

Up close, it was more impressive and more lovely. 

Today was reconnoitering day, so I did not buy any castle tickets.  That meant I could enter St. Vitus but had to stay in a small area.  I'll go back, probably on Monday, but even this glimpse inside made clear that this was a serious gothic church.

I assume I'll have more for you then on this lovely old building.

Outside, I wandered over a bridge across a deer moat.

I have a freakish inability to remember plant names, but I still sometimes enjoy strolling through gardens, so I wandered the castle gardens today.

They were not ornate, but they were well tended and lovely--and they had signs identifying quite a few of the trees, which I very much appreciated.  I was particularly interested in this dawn redwood, a tree, the sign explained, that was once thought to be extinct until discovered in Sichuan in 1941.  An American expedition in 1949 gathered seeds there and distributed them to many leading botanical gardens.  This tree is from one of those seeds.

The walk uphill brought me in on one side of the grounds, so I naturally descended via the stairs on the other side.  Here's the view uphill at about a third of the way down.

The view in the other direction.

Taking a different path back to the hotel, I couldn't resist stopping by the John Lennon Wall, which is on a wall of the Anglo-American University.

As you can tell, many of the contributions have nothing to do with Lennon, and from the way some of my fellow visitors were talking, not all of them knew or cared much about him.

Some, though, did, and I did, and that was more than enough for me.

The Lennon contribution in the middle of the above photo is clear.  To the left of it, midway down the picture, are these lines:
I don't know who wrote that, or even if someone wrote it for this wall, but I like it. 

This image with lyrics from "Because" also was lovely, particularly from a bit of a distance. 

On an entirely mundane note, Prague stores offer Lays chips with grilled bacon!

They were, predictably, yummy.

Friday, April 19, 2013


Each city I've visited is clearly European, a place you'd never expect to encounter in the U.S.  Each is also, however, distinctly different, with its own architecture, culture, and feel.  In both Vienna and Prague, places I've never been before, wandering the streets has helped me get a sense of the cities.  Doing so is particularly difficult here in Prague, where I cannot read anything not written in English; in Vienna, I could at least stumble through some bits of the German. 

Prague is a very new old city in that it is an ancient town that has been heavily rebuilt since the tremendous damage it sustained in World War II.  So, most buildings feel old, and in some ways they are, but they also frequently have many new aspects.

Certainly, lovely churches are everywhere (though I've gone inside only one of them; more on it below).

Click on any image to see a larger version.

I don't know the name of this one; I just liked it and took a photo as I walked by.

Prague is the historical capital of Bohemia, so I suppose this name is reasonable.  It still made me smile.

The main bridge across the Vltava river (aka the Moldau) is the Karluv, or Charles bridge.  Wide and jammed with tourists at seemingly all times, it is still an impressive span that features a great many interesting statues, such as this one. 

All of them are replicas, with the originals in the National Museum, but they were still intriguing and occasionally moving. 

A few boats full of tourists chugged along the otherwise pleasantly empty river.

A band was playing when I crossed into Old Town, working the crowd for a living from tips and the odd CD sale.

They were still playing hours later when I headed back to the hotel. 

Towers stand over each of the bridge's ends.  Here's the one on the Old Town side. 

The inside top of this tower's arch is lovely, if in need of restoration.

Why a straw chicken at the base of a church? 

It seems to have something to do with Easter, though I can't guarantee that.  The lack of words I can read here definitely leaves me sometimes without the data I'd like and frequently prompts bits of research. 

Though I know nothing as important as freedom is ever simple, I couldn't help but like these signs.

The Prague Astronomical Clock is a perfect example of my sense of the city:  lovely, esoteric, difficult to understand, and ancient (the initial installation was in the early 1400s).

The clock is also relatively new, necessarily rebuilt after German attacks in World War II basically destroyed it--but rebuilt to look old and to retain as much of its original sense as the builders could manage. 

From the top of its tower, the views of the city were excellent. 

On the hour, the clock puts on a show, with revolving figures and ringing bells.  The clock itself is better than the show, though the show is fun. 

Ah, street vendors roasting hams on an open fire.  I'm going to like any city square with that going on.

I found this Art Nouveau touch on this corner building quite lovely. 

The one church I visited today was the Staronova Synagogue, also known as the Old New Synagogue.  This gothic building, on which the original construction finished in 1270, is one of Europe's two oldest active synagogues. 

It's a relatively plain building, powerful inside in spite of, or maybe because of, the minimal decorations.  I complied with the rules and took no photographs, in part because of the feel of the place and in part, to be honest, because of the constant presence of old women patrolling it and watching all visitors for signs of bad behavior. 

Back on the streets, it was impossible to avoid noticing that, like the beach, Prague has the squeeze!

Yes, I treated myself to a small cup of red-streaked, kinda-sorta-cherry squeeze.

Prague is also obviously a very cosmopolitan city.  For example, if you feel like having fish eat the dead skin off your feet, you can do it here.

No, that's not for me.  Not ever.

It may rain here all day tomorrow, in which case I might just stay in and read and write and chill.  Or not.  That's one of the beautiful things about this trip; I don't have to decide right now what I'm going to do tomorrow.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Spring and moving on

Spring is in full bloom in Vienna, and the city is beautiful.  Today was new-city day, but before heading out, a walk in the nearby city park (the Stadtpark) provided a great way to enjoy the season.

Click on an image to see a larger version.

The river separating the two halves of the park appeared shallow but lovely. 

A tiny waterfall provided the sound of running water, which I always love.

Why a fountain with spitting penguins?  I have no clue, but I liked it.

Later, at the train station, I was tickled to spot the "Wiesel" trains, complete with namesake images on them.

The countryside during the ride in Austria was uniformly lovely.

Sorry about the reflection. 

As to where I was heading then, and where I am now, well, here are two clues.

It's a natural place to follow the art, and I've never been here before.

Not enough?

Okay, try this image of a traditional restaurant, which the concierge at the fabulous hotel recommended.

Got it?  If not, does this help?  The Caesar salad, which two of us were splitting, came with bacon and chicken--without the menu mentioning either one.

Still not enough?  Does this outdoor shot help?

For those who've guessed, yes, I'm in Prague.

Now, back to that restaurant.  The menu featured a mixed grill for two with potatoes and vegetables.  The price was very low, so I figured it couldn't be too large.  I haven't eaten much meat in quite some time, so we went for it.

That, of course, was before I had seen the huge Caesar salad.

This is what arrived at the table.

Yes, it was a special wooden plate with a giant mound of meat hanging from a curved metal pole.  What could be better?

I'm glad I asked.

The server, a surly twenty-something woman who clearly didn't want to be there, pulled out a metal sauce boat and a lighter.  She lit the liquid in the bowl on fire, and then poured it on the meat!

Oh, yeah, that's what's better than a special wooden plate with a giant mound of meat hanging from a curved metal pole:  a special wooden plate with a giant mound of flaming meat hanging from a curved metal pole! 

Even better, the drippings fell onto the potatoes.

Kyle, I wish you could have been there.

No, we didn't finish it.  I did, though, greatly enjoy it even though I kept my portion size under control.

On the walk back to the hotel, I stopped in a grocery store for some Coke Zero and still water.  The store was full of young people almost dancing in the aisles to some electronic music, and it had Vittel, my favorite water.

I am already loving Prague!



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