Thursday, December 8, 2016

Prague's treasures, part 1

Day 6: A tour, a lot of Mucha, a palace, and a ballet

In any new city, when feasible, I like to plan time with a tour guide.  They are the experts and can educate us on their city better than any book.

We had a date with Jason of for his Hidden Secrets of Prague Old Town and Jewish Quarter tour.  We started at 9am on Old Town Square and ended back there at noon.  Jason is a Brit who lives with his wife and family in Prague.  We learned a lot--which now I've forgotten--and felt it was time very well spent.

We stopped at a very hidden memorial to Jan Palac whose self-immolation helped trigger the Velvet Revolution.

We learned about the Old Jewish Cemetery and why it is multilevel.  We walked past each synagogue.

We learned how and why this Franz Kafka memorial was placed here.  And that it is based on his short story Metamorphosis.

We went into Basilika Sv. Jakuva (Church of Saint James).

Under a garbage can, he uncovered tiles that marked the Jewish residents who lived in that building and died in concentration camps.

 We ended back at Old Town Square.  We really enjoyed the tour!

Afterwards, we wandered about Old Town Square's Christmas Market, ate some tasty sausage and chicken and washed it down with delicious beer.

We parted ways with J & G and headed to one of my "must see's" in Prague:  Mucha's Slav Epic.  It is housed in an ugly building, called the Veletrzni (Trade Fair) Palace, with a super cool glass elevator to modern art galleries and beautiful views of the city.

Doesn't look much like a palace

Cool, modern interior

Great views of the city

Mucha's massive masterpieces are his vision of Slavic history.  Our Rick Steves Prague guide had great descriptions/interpretations of each canvas.   I lingered over each canvas; I felt the pain, the sorrow, the joy, and the glory depicted.  This collection was overwhelming and wonderful.

We took a coffee and desert break in the cafe before (with difficulty) finding our way to the Prague Castle complex for a quick visit to Lobkowicz Palace.  We trudged our way up the hill arriving just in time for a magnificent sunset.

We only had an hour at the Palace and made the best of our time.  I enjoyed seeing painting by Brueghel, Canaletto, and the weird Velazquez canvases.  But my favorite collection were the hand-annotated manuscripts by Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn.  The rooms seem kind of bare and the only room I was blown away by was the grand ballroom.  I'm glad we went but it was missable. The views were amazing, though.

Handel's Messiah as arranged by Mozart

Beethoven's Symphony in B
Masterpieces by Herr Beethoven

Ballroom ceiling

Private chapel

Those hinges, wow!

 We made our way back to the hotel to meet back up with J & G who'd had a lovely relaxing afternoon.  After a couple of drinks, we walked to the Narodni Divadlo Theatre where J & I had prime seats for the Nutcracker and husband and G had cheap, standing room only spots.

The guys in the nosebleed

Our vantage point :)

Husband and G left at intermission and were tasked with finding us a place for dinner after the show. I have seen the Nutcracker at least 15 times in my life.  I love the music.  I don't always love the performances.  This was a very different take on the traditional Nutcracker.  The costumes were modern; the mouse was a stuffed animal; the nutcracker was not the weird man with a big mouth but an actual steel implement to crack nuts; the pas de deux was the parents performing for the kids to get them to sleep; the ethnic dancers were the Christmas ornaments. It was "narrated" by a gold woman and silver man who held up various signs throughout the performance.  I really wished I knew Czech! It was very well danced, inventive, and fun.  I loved it!

The guys didn't find any place for us to dine so I pulled out my trusty list of nearby restaurants and we headed over to U Medvidku brewery.  We sat in a copper kettle and enjoyed the food and beer.  We bought a mug in the little shop then made our way to the hotel.

It had been a long and wonderful day in Prague.

1.  Good tours, like ours this day, can really bring a place to live.
2.  Don't miss Mucha's Slav Epic if you're ever in Pragu
3.  Skip Lobkowicz palace
4.  The Narodni Divadlo is a beautiful intimate setting to see a performance
5.  The Nutcracker was wonderfully non traditional

Next:  A day trip to Dresden

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