The End of Prague or just the beginning . . .

December 22, 2009

Welcome to our blog about our 2008 visit to Prague.  It is best read in chronological order starting with Hello World!

For our current Prague Blog please go to the link at the bottom of this post.

We’ve finally and sadly come to the end of our trip.  However, I want to mention a few things…about Christmas.

I had snuck Michael’s Christmas Stocking into my suitcase and surprised him a few days before Christmas when I had to let him know about it.  Why?  Because I knew he would be embarrassed to not have anything for me!  So I had brought with me a little Christmas bag "stocking".  I hung them off the knobs of the cupboard in our apartment living room,  with ample warning that as we walked around, he would have to find me some "little things" for Christmas morning!  Ha, ha. (I had found things already on Paros).

Which he did…in one of the interesting little markets we discovered.  A couple of times when tired of walking, we got on a tram and headed into the suburbs where we found a little shopping malls. (And walked around in neighborhoods to get the feel of real life away from the city.  In one of those malls I had to "look the other way" while he did my Christmas goodie buying! 

Besides the little Christmas Stocking Treats we both found that we had purchased some little gifts for each other!  For me  a Mucha Calendar, and a History and Picture book of Prague.  For Michael I found the hat he really wanted and a pretty brown shirt!  And together we gave each other the Gift of Prague!  I paid for him to go to Prague, he paid for me.  I paid for him to stay in the apartment, he paid for me.  I paid for events we went to, he paid for me.  I paid for Christmas Dinner, he bought me mine!  Etc.!!!

Oh yes, I also got a Prague bag which is very handy for grocery shopping in Alyki!  And I see a jar of peanut butter…Santa found that for Michael as well.  Santa had to be careful to not make our already heavy suitcases any heavier!

Our Christmas Dinner was a spur of the moment decision and we really lucked out.  We found the Mucha Museum to be open on Christmas Day!!! so I went there and Michael went to a Wi-Fi place to spend time waiting for me.  The Museum was fantastic!  He is one of my most favourite artists! 

alphonse-mucha-the-four-seasons When my daughter was young I bought a picture for her bedroom wall of the "Four Seasons" painted by Mucha, the man who started Art Nouveau.  I always loved his stuff.  He was born in the part of the Czech Republic known as Moravia.  The museum is now run by his grandson. There are Mucha shops all over Prague selling nice items.  That is how I learned there was a museum…I also asked at the Museum how to say his name correctly…she told me most Americans say Moo cha.  In Prague they say Mu ha.  But sort of make the H have a guttural sound.  Like saying the H in the back of your throat rather than a soft sound.  The sad part was the Museum Gift Shop was super expensive.  Ridiculously so…therefore I only bought a few postcards.  Oh yes, I did find in a bookstore a 2009 Mucha calendar MUCH cheaper than in the museum store, so I bought it!

Well, after I finished we met up and while walking and looking for a place to eat a nice young man came out of a restaurant (a tout) and invited us in…our first impression was, (sorry to say) "leave us alone!".  (We are not fond of touts).  Anyway, it was an Argentinean restaurant and had STEAK!  That grabbed Michael’s attention, as he has not had a good steak in years.  (Beef in Greece sucks).  So we discussed it and decided to go in and we are so glad we did!  We had a wonderful glass of wine each, a fantastic steak, and other goodies.  The service was great also.

Another event we managed before leaving was a concert inside a real church – not a little chapel.  I love the old Gothic and Baroque Churches.  Right behind us was a beautiful church called St. Ludmilla.  I noticed an advert on the door so went up and discovered on our last night, a free concert was to take place inside!  So we went, and really enjoyed it.  My head was turning all around and up and down, looking at the beautiful pictures, frescoes, and wood carvings and granite pillars with statues!  WOW, to think people actually call this a "neighborhood" church!  It was very cold inside, however they had heaters under the seats!  Michael had to sit in front of me, and I am glad he did, because every now and then I had to raise up and pretend to whisper into his ear…my butt was burning!  I really wondered if it was only mine that was so hot, because no one else was bobbing up and down to cool off!  They must be use to it, because Michael told me later on his was burning too!  I finally got up and walked around (lots of people had to stand as it was a wee bit crowded inside), so no one cared that I got up. 

ChristmasOldTown I might have mentioned that we also went to a free concert in the Old Town Market Square on Christmas Eve before the Mass.  It is an annual event.  You have to stand, of course, which we did not mind too much.  It rained a bit, but we had umbrellas, and the markets were open so we could get hot grog or mulled wine to sip on.  Besides, the music was so great, it was no problem at all…we felt like we were in fairyland what with the lights on the big Christmas tree, the markets all lit up, the steeples lit up on the big churches and the old baroque buildings.

It was with real reluctance that we had to leave the next day (26 Dec).  The apartment price became a lot more on Christmas day and stays that way through New Years.  (High Season).  Anyway, we had the wonderful 10 days build up to the holiday…so actually there was no REAL reason to stay longer.  All good things must come to an end…etc.

So to bed early, up very early, our taxi was on time, and off to the airport…where we were eagerly anticipating our first cup of coffee!  Wrong!  Nothing was open…and never did open!  So we sat there in a stupor…until our flight left, about 7:00 AM.  We had a 3 hour lay-over in Budapest where we drank coffee, ate breakfast, and bought a salami sausage to bring home!  A real Hungarian Paprika Sausage!  We enjoyed it for a week with red wine and crackers. 

So we got home…safe and sound.  Happy to be back…Sad to be back.  And now thinking how nice it would be to go back.  We have decided the perfect solution would be a few months in Prague and the rest of the year on Paros.  Well, who knows?

I have enjoyed "writing" my memories of this lovely trip, and sharing.

Yes, our holiday dream came true!  For 2009 and 2010 we are going back to Prague for three months.   For this adventure we expect to live in the city as expats rather than cramming every day with seeing the sites.  We also intend to take side trips to other parts of the Czech Republic as well as Budapest, Salzburg and other relatively close cities.

Read all about it at http://parosparadise.com/CzechMates/

Prague Christmas Carp

December 21, 2009

Christmas is almost here.  We have been keeping our eyes open for two things!  One was a restaurant to have a Christmas Dinner on Christmas Day…the other?  Watching for the selling of carp!  Carp?  The fish, carp?  Yes!  Tradition has it that carp is what Czech’s eat on the 24th, the night of the BIG DINNER!

The traditional Czech Christmas meal is fried carp, potato salad and fish soup.

clip_image001In the Czech Republic carp is bred in artificial ponds mainly in South Bohemia, and almost exclusively for the Christmas table. The most desirable weight of a carp is 2.5 to 3 kilos, and a family of four will usually buy two fish. Traditionally, the carp is sold in barrels on the street.  The carp thrash about while being weighed on scales and then are killed with a club.

clip_image001[5]Men in rubber aprons fish out the carp with a net and then weigh it and kill it for you if you wish. It’s done very quickly and the carp’s head is immediately cut off and the blood drained.

Some families, especially with little children, will buy a second live carp, keep it in the bathtub for a few days, and then go to a river or a pond in the morning on December 24 and release it back into the wild.

We were walking down a street when I glanced over and saw what appeared to be Carp Buying!  I saw big plastic buckets, men in bloody aprons and eager customers!  So we went over and watched it.  I was flabbergasted and astounded and mesmerized!  I have never seen anything like it in my entire life!  We watched customers come up an point to a fish in a huge barrel, the aproned men  caught it in a net, weighed it, and as quickly as a blink of an eye hit it over the head and slit it’s throat!  They were very quick and efficient!  While one man figures up the cost of your Christmas dinner (his calculator was inside a plastic baggie, as his hands had blood all over them), the other man starts to scale the carp.  It all is a bloody affair.  I don’t know who I felt sorriest for…the fish, or those poor men who had such cold hands!

After seeing this, we noticed these stalls appearing everywhere – outside markets, big malls and on street corners!  I think they are more now as Christmas is only a couple days away!

Here is a video Michael made:  It is a so so video, as he is still learning.  Notice one of the men stops long enough to poor himself a coffee (and later laced it with a bit of brandy!)  It IS a miserable cold job! 

Mozart Museum & A Taste of Egypt

December 20, 2009

Bertramka is the name given the Prague Mozart Museum.

In 1787, shortly before the premiere of Don Giovanni at the Estates Theatre, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart moved to Bertramka to finish his masterpiece.  The part of the villa that served as the living quarters is now a museum and features a permanent exhibition on W.A. Mozart and the Dušeks, his host family. Remarkably, Bertramka is preserved in more or less the same state as Mozart knew it.

This fine setting gave Mozart the peace and quiet he craved. Bertramka is situated about a mile from the city centre. In the late 18th century it would still have been well outside the walls of the city, beneath the vineyards on the slopes of Černý vrch (Black Hill). Today the villa with its grounds still maintains tranquillity.

clip_image001Michael coming to the entrance of Bertramka…We took a tram to below the hill, looked around us and could not figure out HOW to get up to a lovely villa we could see.  In fact we did not even know if it was the place we wanted to go!  Then Michael spotted a hand painted sign indicating the way to walk.  So up the hill we went….it was the house we could see from below.  Today it is truly in the middle of the city, and hard to believe at one time it was in the country!

clip_image001[5]A beautiful wooden gate to welcome us in…with a lovely cobbled path just wide enough for horse and buggy!  The barn is the building you see in the background…as this was a farm as well as a villa.

 

clip_image001[7]Closer look.  I was bitterly disappointed in our visit.  Not in the building, nor seeing Mozart’s things, but the fact that we were under the impression we could have lunch there.  But no, lunch was not offered.  And we had read where you can hear free concerts everyday!  Well, not this day, apparently!  It was the first museum we had gone to that the man at the desk seemed to wish he were somewhere else!  At least the loo was available – for free!  Ha, ha!  And again, NO PICTURES inside allowed.

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A lovely statue in the garden…the grounds were very peaceful.

 

 

clip_image001[11]And this is the villa.  The rooms that Mozart used are still as they were in his day with his piano and desk and bed, etc. 

 

 

 

We were very hungry, so off we went to find a place to eat.  Michael had spotted a very large shopping center on the way here, so he thought we should walk back and do some shopping (they had a big 2 floor Tesco supermarket) plus lots of clothing and electronic shops and restaurants.  So, we walked along a very very busy freeway and in no time got to the shopping center.  It was really fun to look around in the supermarket.  I bought a few items we cannot find here on Paros.  We found the food court and both spied a restaurant called The Sphinx!  Had a good lunch.  What was funny was that we could not read the menu.  It was Egyptian, but written in Czech!  With few pictures, we had NO clue what we were eating.  Ended up being delicious!

clip_image001[13]Overhead in the restaurant were beautiful lamps made from gourds!  Michael suggested I use my gourds on Paros to do the same!  Gosh, I think making such precise holes would be quite difficult, but it IS an idea.

What looks like lights flowing out of the gourd is clip_image001[15]actually Christmas lights in the center atrium!  But aren’t the gourd lights beautiful?

Fred & Ginger, The Dancing Building

December 19, 2009

Now we are going to walk down the street(s) and cross a bridge to go to the Mozart Museum.  We will pass by an architectural wonder of a building called: Fred and Ginger!  (The Dancing Couple) and also called the "Dancing Building"!!!!

clip_image001Coming up onto it…

 

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Interesting, no?

 

 

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Taken from the bridge…this building built in 1995 for A Dutch Insurance Company. 

 

 

 

 

clip_image001[10]And now we are crossing the river on another bridge just down from Charles Bridge, the one with statues.  The Vltava River has many bridges…just like Portland.  I liked the gift-wrapped building in the background.  These tourist boats offer lunches and dinner cruises.  I thought about taking one, but decided to just walk along the river and save it for a warmer visit!

Next stop…Bertramka, the Mozart Museum.

Dvorak Museum at Vila Amerika

December 19, 2009

One of the things we decided to do was visit a few museums.  There are so many to choose from.  Michael is not a Museum Person, so I chose three I wanted to see.  Dvorak, Mozart and Mucha.  Dvorak and Mozart for music, and Mucha as an artist.  I wanted to see the Communism Museum also but it looked depressing, as well as the Jewish Museum, so we decided to "enlighten" ourselves with music and paintings.

Anton Dvorak – was a Czech composer of Romantic music, who employed the idioms and melodies of the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia. His works include operas, symphonic, choral and chamber music. His best-known works include his New World Symphony (particularly the slow movement), as well as his Slavonic Dances, American String Quartet, and Cello Concerto in B minor

clip_image001The walk to the Dvorak Museum was not far from our apartment.  We did have a hard time finding it however, because the sign is quite little as you can see, on the right hand fence.  The neighborhood is quite elegant.

Hidden away behind wrought-iron gates, the Dvorák Museum is housed in an elegant early eighteenth-century baroque summer palace named Vila Amerika. The building has had a varied existence (having served as a cattle market and also a restaurant), but in recent years it has been carefully restored and now contains a permanent exhibition of photographs and memorabilia of the life and work of Antonín Dvorák (1841 to 1904) from the collection of the Dvorák Society, including documents detailing his time spent in the United States.

clip_image001[5]Here is one of his piano’s.  I guess it is more meaningful to actually be able to see and read about certain events, etc. than to just see a picture.  The entire house is so elegant, you can imagine him giving recitals to his closest friends, etc.  Although he never was in this house!

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Dvorak’s desk he wrote music at.  The book is turned to some of his handwritten music notes.  As we walked around, his music was played ever so softly in the background!  Nice atmosphere…imagine living in a house as elegant as this! 

clip_image001[9]Upstairs is a room with every inch of walls and ceilings painted in frescoes!  This is the room his piano is in. 

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Ceiling detail

 

 

clip_image001[13]Even columns painted on walls!

 

 

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The door on the right is the stairway coming up into this room.  The door on the left goes into a room of memorabilia – Note:  the museum displays photographs, newspaper cuttings, programmes and personal objects relating to the composer, including his viola and his piano. The building houses a unique collection of his manuscripts and correspondence.

Can you imagine sitting in this room in candlelight, listening to some of Slavic Dances concertos played by the Master himself?  This room had chairs set up for just such an occasion…without Dvorak himself, of course!  I did buy a CD of his music in the gift shop.

clip_image001[17]Gate house.  The church spire you see was one of the "landmarks" we were looking for when looking for this Museum.

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Back door guest!  Cold out!

 

 

 

clip_image001[21]Another guest house…one on each side.  Looks like a nice place for a tea party on summer days!

 

 

 

Next:  Between Dvorak and Mozart we pass The Dancing Building!

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