Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday July 31, 2015

Today we drove to Southern Bohemia to the town of Cesky Krumlov. It's a good two and one half hours drive from Prague but we had an excellent driver and of course our trusty tour guide, Tereza. We encountered traffic on the way this morning due to the fact that the vacation season here in Europe is switching into high gear and Cesky Krumlov is a popular destination. The town, which is a Unesco World Heritage site, is organized around a double bend in the Vltava River.  The second largest castle complex in the Czech Republic is located on a rocky promontory above the town.

Castle gardens
Cesky Krumlov 

Tereza very smartly had the driver drop us off at the top of the promontory so that we would spend our day walking downhill. Our first stop was the castle gardens. They were organized in the French style with lots of clipped hedges and swooping beds of annuals. There was a wonderful viewpoint over the town and the river and then we entered the castle complex. This was not a royal castle however the owners of the complex were obviously quite wealthy and very close to the royal family. 

Typical surface embellishment
Main Square w/ Plague Column

The exterior decoration of the palace and of many of the buildings in Cesky Krumlov are Renaissance in style. They are embellished with frescoes, stucco-work and/or trompe l'oeil painting. The effect of all this surface embellishment is quite striking and apparently most of what one can see on the buildings today are the original decorations from the 16th century (when the town was renovated in the Renaissance style).

St. Vitus Cathedral 
Tereza, our tour guide 

We basically walked every inch of the town, crossing and re-crossing the river several times. The setting of the town is spectacular and many people were taking advantage of the fine weather to do some rafting/canoeing on the river. We had a good lunch sitting outdoors at a cafe with mercifully no smokers around us! Did some more walking after lunch before heading back home. We made good time getting home by five thirty. All in all it was a lovely day and I am glad that I can share Russell's beautiful pics of this special place with you all.

Bridge between the different sections of the castle

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Thursday July 30, 2015

A great day yesterday. We visited two castles outside Prague. The first one was called Konopiste and the second, Karlstejn. 

Got antlers?
All four walls in this room were covered with mounted antlers! 

The morning got off to a somewhat harried start as we did not schedule enough time to get from the apartment to Konopiste especially since we encountered traffic and then a long line at the ticket office. Fortunately, we had reservations on an English language tour that had already begun but had started late and thus we were able to join it in progress. 

Konopiste was a hunting lodge for Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria whose assassination provided the spark that ignited World War I. What I had not realized was that the Archduke's wife was also killed with him on that fateful day thus leaving their three children parent-less. It's a sad story that was well-told by our young but enthusiastic tour guide. 

The house looks as if the owners just stepped out and will be back at any moment. The docent said that the furnishings were reassembled based on photographs that had been taken. If so they did a mighty good job.

My sympathy for Franz Ferdinand was certainly tempered by his passion for hunting (and then mounting) more animals than I or I suspect anyone else could count. Whole walls and entire hallways were covered with antlers and then of course there were the obligatory hides and skins splayed about here and there. I am telling you this guy was a one man killing machine.

Town with castle in background 
A very castle-y castle

Nothing of the kind was in evidence at Karlstejn, the second castle we visited. This castle was certainly very castle-y looking. Like something out of Walt Disney's imagination. It was located at the top of a quite steep hill, with a town and shops down below. Again at this castle we had reservations for a tour. According to Rick Steves the only worthwhile portion of the castle is the Chapel of the Holy Cross so we were signed up for the tour that included it. According to Steves, the castle's other rooms haven't much furniture (I can't say since we did not see them).

Ceiling in Marian Chapel
Door latch, Chapel of the Holy Cross

But what we saw -- namely the Marian Chapel and the Chapel of the Holy Cross were both impressive, especially the later. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed. However, Russell did take some pictures and although I am loathe to use them since I asked him rather harshly to stop taking them (and after I did so he stopped which I very much appreciated) it doesn't make much sense to me not to share them with you if we in fact have them. So, now you know why some of the photos are at crazy angles as he was trying to be discreet!
Bridge from one section of castle to another
View from castle of town and further afield 

Today, we took the day off so we slept in, did lots of needlepoint, walked to an excellent lunch of pizza, took a nap, ate dinner in and watched some TV on the computer. We did not tour today partly because we have a long day planned tomorrow. 

Special Apartment Feature of the Day

Do you like plants? That's good because there are 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 seven in the bedroom alone!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tuesday July 28, 2015

Another tour of downtown Prague today. This time we focused on the Old Town area and on Art Nouveau buildings. First stop, however, was in the New Town -- Wenceslas Square where we checked out numerous Art Nouveau buildings including the Hotel Europa and Hotel Central.

Grand Hotel Europa
A neat facade with helmeted warriors and roaring lions, Wenceslas Square

Next we headed toward the Old Town passing through the Powder Gate and into the Old Town Square. My guide book calls the Old Town Square "among the finest public spaces in any city" and from my experience I concur. Tereza called it an "open air architecture museum" and that too is correct as the square is lined with impressive examples of many different architectural styles including Renaissance, Baroque, Art Nouveau, Romanesque and Gothic. The "vibe" of the place reminded me of the Grand Place in Brussels -- lots of people going to and fro whilst others stop to take it all in and still others become part of the square performing music, hawking goods or doing whatever.

Municipal Palace outside entrance to Old Town
Powder Tower (entrance to Old Town)
Architectural style native to Prague -- Cubist.

After looking at the amazing astronomical clock we stopped at Starbucks for quick refreshments. Russell, unfortunately, was not feeling well today. His stomach was acting up but he was a real trooper going with us after Starbucks to the Jewish Quarter and finally to a beer hall called Lokal where we stopped the tour and ate some lunch. 

Astronomical clock
How I spent most of the day -- looking up at the extraordinary architecture 
Mr. Jan Hus with neo-Classical building, Old Town Square

The cemetery in the Jewish Quarter was particularly interesting as it contained so many headstones there was literally no room to cram any more in. There are over 12,000 headstones and they have all been photographed, catalogued and transcribed. Also, one of the synagogues that we saw is, I believe, the oldest one in Europe. It has been in continuous use since 1270. Amazing. 

Jewish cemetery
Another Cubist-style building

The newer streets in this neighborhood include many fine examples of Art Nouveau style buildings of both the French and the Austrian varieties. It was a most interesting day and I am really glad Russell pushed himself to come with because it was nice to share it with him (even if he was kind of grouchy at times! I, of course, was a perfect angel! Hah).

Art Nouveau, French style 
Art Nouveau, Austrian style

A couple more photos I just couldn't leave out

Special Apartment Feature of the Day

Fortunately we have a wonderful tea set should the Queen stop by!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Monday July 27, 2015

Today we visited Terezin. It was a Nazi concentration camp located about an hour's drive north of Prague. People were interned there from all over Central Europe. Of course, the largest number of prisoners were Jewish people from Prague including, as it turns out, the grandmother of our tour guide, Tereza. So, it was an extra special tour because Tereza is both very knowledgeable about the camp and, of course, very passionate about telling its story. 

Our guide, grand daughter of Terezin survivor explaining to us where prisoners at Terezin came from
Terezin street
Terezin buildings 

Several facts set Terezin apart from the other camps established by the Nazis. For one thing, the camp was originally built as a military base to protect this part of Czechoslovakia from the Germans. It consists of a town set within the walls of a star-shaped fortress. It was chosen to become a detention center because it was both easy to control and it could house a lot of people in the military barracks. Another thing that set Terezin apart was the fact that, to some degree, it was used as a "model" camp to show the world (and the Red Cross) that conditions for Jews and other prisoners were not as dire as people were beginning to suspect. The Nazis filmed prisoners here playing soccer and seemingly enjoying themselves. 

There was a very active cultural scene at Terezin from visual art to music and theater. Also, some of the prisoners published a literary magazine. It was quite remarkable to see the art that was produced and to learn of the theater and musical programs performed. Of course the majority of these talented individuals did not survive the "Final Solution".

Recreated "social" dormitory 
"Secret" prayer space

I was especially moved by the graffiti etched into one of the gates by prisoners and also by the recreated living quarters. I was also touched by seeing the crematorium and mass grave sites. Even though there were no extermination facilities at Terezin the Nazis still had to dispose of up to 150 bodies a day -- people that died of "natural causes" (that's enough corpses to keep four incinerators going 24/7). It was an emotional experience.

Engraved messages from prisoners 
Crematorium, Terezin
Mass grave memorial 

Yesterday we went with Tereza to see the New Town section of Prague. In this case the term "new" is relative because I believe it was still established in the 14th century. We started at the Charles Bridge and moved on to wonderful views of the river. Later, in no particular order, we saw a tiny Romanesque-style church followed by a memorial to Jan Hus, a memorial to the Velvet Revolution, Wenceslas Square,  a WW II memorial, ending with lunch at Cafe Louvre. We even managed to get my sunglasses repaired (again) and on a Sunday to boot. Miraculous. 

Charles Bridge entrance tower
Memorial to Velvet Revolution 
"Fred and Ginger" building, designed by Frank Gehry

On a similarly miraculous note, the weather has suddenly turned positively autumnal here with highs in the low seventies and windows-closed evenings. It has been a most welcome turn of events.

Special Apartment Feature of the Day

Like the carpet in the spare bedroom which we are using as a closet? That's good because it continues up the wall!