Strahov Monastery, Prague

Day 37, Tuesday, October 1, 2019

On the way to the Strahov Monastery we pass this memorial to the victims fo Communism.  It is dedicated to those who were executed and those whose lives were ruined by totalitarian despotism.  This sculpture makes us smile.  It appears to have a dog drinking dish at its bottom. Peering into a church courtyard we see this crucifix right beside a gift shop.  It seems strange to have an upscale gift shop in a church courtyard. Bob leads us down several little side streets to the John Lennon Wall.  Since the 1980s it has been filled with John Lennon-inspired graffiti, pieces of lyrics from Beatles’ songs, and other designs relating to local and global causes.We stop for a picnic lunch in this little park beside St. Charles Bridge… and sit on a dragon bench.
The streets in Prague are busy no matter where we go.  We wonder what they must be like during the summer months? It showers on and off as we arrive at the monastery.  Note the cobbled road.  All these uneven cobbled surfaces are quite hard on our feet and ankles. The Strahov Monastery was founded in 1143 and has many buildings and extensive gardens. First stop is the Strahov Library and I am delighted to find that there is an exhibit of Cabinets of Curiosities!  I love these cabinets and have several drawers at home with my own curiosities.  Perhaps I need to make my own Cabinet of Curiosities? Some of the contents are rather strange. We are told that this ‘might’ be a young dodo bird! These books are very unusual. This is a 68 volume Dendrological Library.  Dendrology is the science and study of wooded plants.  The covers of each volume are made of the wood of a particular tree, the spine has its name in Latin and German, and inside each volume are pieces of the roots, branches and twigs, as well as leaves, blossoms, fruit, and sometimes even insect pests.  As a paper artist and bookmaker, I find these unusual volumes fascinating and inspiring. Along the hallway between two magnificent libraries are display cases with very old volumes.  This 1632 woodcut first appeared in a compilation of English Alchemical texts.  This piece was printed by hand on Japanese hand made paper and the pass-partout, or mat, is covered in handmade marbled paper.   The John of Šellmberk’s Bible preserves the oldest translation of the Bible into the Czech language and dates from the 1400’s.  Notice how thick the volume is! This exquisite miniature book from the 15th century is only about 3″ x 4″ and would have belonged to a private citizen. A page from the Missale of Louka, 1483, illuminations from the Strahov Evangeliary, 860-865 AD and on the bottom right, a book for private use from the 15th century. The Theological Hall was built in the 1600’s and holds over 20,000 volumes. One whole wall is filled with various editions of the Bible, or its parts, in various languages. The ceiling depicts the life of the librarian.The Gothic wooden statue of St. John the Evangelist is holding a girdle book. Because the girdle book was a travel volume very few have survived.
There are several globes, both terrestrial and astronomical, in the centre of the room and the interesting device on the left is a book wheel from 1678 for the study and compilation of books.  The gear inside enabled the shelves to remain at the same angle when they are turned so that the books would not slide off the shelves. As magnificent as the Theological Hall is I think that the Philosophical Hall is even more impressive. This library, finished in 1794, is 32 metres long, 10 metres wide and 14 metres in height.  The ceiling painting, ‘The Spiritual Development of Mankind’, was created by a Viennese artist, and one assistant in just six months! The shelves of books in the gallery are only accessible from hidden spiral staircases in both corners, masked by false book spines.
The books are shelved two deep. At one time tourists were allowed to walk through the library but this caused too much humidity and put the paintings and volumes at risk.  Now we have to contend ourselves with peering in from the doorway.  Too bad but it is still wonderful to see these incredible libraries.The Philosophical Hall contains more than 50,000 volumes on Philosophy, all the sciences, history, law, and natural sciences. Next we visit the Convent Building which has galleries on two floors around this cloister with its unusual trapezoid pool.There is an exhibit of large restored paintings depicting the life of St. Norbert but they were difficult to see.  My neck got sore from looking up all the time. The ‘procession’ at the end of the room holds a reliquary with what appears to be part of St. Norbert’s skull. Another room has exhibits of beautifully embroidered church vestments and other liturgical objects including heavily jewelled monstrances. It does make me wonder just how much money the Catholic Church has? The second floor has a gallery around three sides of the cloister.   There were a few paintings I liked but most of them didn’t really impress either of us all that much. Bob notices another ornate old lock. As we leave the monastery grounds on our way to the Prague Funicular, we pass the 63.5 metre high Petrin Tower, which is reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower.  This tower was built in 1891, and is used as an observation tower as well as a transmission tower. The 383 metre long funicular takes us back down to Prague city streets. I didn’t get much of a view because some young people kindly jumped up to give me a seat, so instead of standing where I could see I sat all the way down!  The hazards of having grey hair! It has been a full day and we are happy to be home.  I had planned on going to life drawing again tonight, but we need to clean and pack for our trip to Vienna tomorrow so I decide not to go.

Prague Castle

Day 36, Monday, September 30, 2019

Prague is filled with many beautiful buildings.  We pass this one on our way to the Prague Castle. We had a good laugh.  Bob thought that the two guards in the guard-boxes were wax mannequins.  They were so motionless!

St. Vitus Cathedral is the first place we visit inside the castle grounds.  Our eyes are immediately drawn to the beautiful stained glass windows, and then to the hordes of people!

This sculpture is about a third of the way down this very large cathedral. Everyone has entrance to the cathedral with their entrance ticket to the Castle but they are only allowed into about the entrance of the nave.  We bought the next level ticket so we could walk around the whole cathedral and see all the side chapels and the altar up close.

The stained glass windows, created by 20th century Czech artists, are some of the most beautiful we have seen.  Each window is unique and their intense colours flood the interior of this Gothic Cathedral. 

Here is a close up of some non-traditional stained glass windows. Perhaps my favourite is the window designed by Alphonse Mucha.  You may remember we saw his design drawing for this window at the Mucha Museum yesterday. The beautiful rose window on the entrance wall of the cathedral was completed in 1925 and took two years to complete.  The inscriptions on the stained glass tell the story of Creation as told in the Bible. This wooden panel from 1630 shows the St. Charles Bridge, built in 1403, that we visited on Saturday. The city doesn’t really look all that different, does it? St. Vitus is portrayed with a rooster by his side, because he was boiled to death in a pot with a rooster!  These saints all seem to have had horrible tortuous deaths.  St. Vitus never actually even visited this cathedral, but a relic, or pieces of his body, was brought here and the Cathedral was built to honour him. St John of Nepomuk’s tomb is an elaborate baroque silver tomb with angels supporting a draped canopy.  It is said to contain two tonnes of silver.  St. John is the patron saint of the Czechs.  In hte latter part of hte 14th century, King Wenseslas tortured John with fire and then gagged him, put him in a goatskin and had him thrown into the Vltava River! He later declared him a martyr.  So much for ‘Good’ King Wenceslas!  There are so many people visiting this cathedral that I had to take this photo looking back towards the tomb to get a decent shot. 

This interesting fellow perched up high lighting the way is on the corner of a balcony that leads to the King’s private chambers.  The King was able visit the church whenever he wants without being seen by others. This is the chapel dedicated to St. Wenceslas, the king and patron saint of all the Czech lands. The lower part of the walls are decorated with more than 1300 gems and the joints between them are covered with gold.  The walls are covered in frescoes and the relics of St. Wenceslas are kept in the red draped case.   As we are leaving, the sun comes out for a bit and shines through the stained glass windows casting coloured light into the cathedral.  Note the lady posing behind Bob.  We seem to see her everywhere we go today and she is always posing ‘just so’ for a photo.  I’m not sure her and her husband are even looking at the cathedral as anything but a backdrop for her photographs. As beautiful as this cathedral is, I still love some of the simpler details that are easy to overlook with all the grandeur surrounding us. A view of the Cathedral.  This front entrance isn’t used by tourists, we entered on the end of the cathedral behind the building with orange panels.since the 16th century, the Vladislav Hall in the Old Royal Place, was used for coronation festivities and banquets, knights’ tournaments and markets for luxurious goods.  The Vladislav Hall still is used for state functions.  It is an enormous room. The Old Palace contained the Land Rolls, where all matters regarding property rights and criminal law were recorded.  An interesting door handle. One room had chairs which are almost the same as the ones my Swiss  grandfather used to make, only he put more carving and decoration on his.The present day appearance of St. George’s Basilica dates to the reconstruction after a devastating fire in 1142.  Now it is used for short-term art exhibitions.

We visit St. Georges 12th century crypt and see this rather bizarre sculpture.  I did some research and discovered that it is “a Late Gothic Statue of Brigita, representing a dead and decaying girl´s body.  It is a symbol of impermanence.  A legend says that it was made by a sculptor, who killed his girlfriend and wanted to create her statue before he was executed.  However, he was only able to make it as a dead body, because of his despair.” ~.www.prague.cz On the way out we see this collection of relics, but have no idea who they are.  These relics seem a bit bizarre.   Not only was the poor person usually tortured and killed but then their bones were carted off, often to several different locations and  put on display.  Hmmm. This is the Golden Lane.  This lane of tiny houses was built against the northern wall of the castle. These tiny houses were occupied until World War II and have been preserved so that the character of this lane has not changed.  From 1916 to 1917 house No. 22 was inhabited by the writer Franz Kafka. The name of the Lane is derived from goldsmiths who used to live there.  I struck up a conversation with a gentleman who told me that he and his father were both goldsmiths and that the tools have not changed at all. He also said his father died young and that he quit because some of the processes involved are very toxic. The houses are tiny and have tiny doors. This was a fortune teller’s house whose predictions about the early fall of the Third Reich resulted in her being arrested and tortured to death by the Gestapo. An amateur historian who saved many copies of old films that were intended for disposal during the Second World War lived here.  We watch one film that showed scenes of Prague and this Golden Lane.  It looks much like it does today.We almost missed seeing a huge display of old armaments and armour.  It was quite interesting.  Some the swords have pistols built into them, or axes attached! And then there is the torture chamber.  These places give me the creeps.  It is just so hard ot think of people subjecting each other to such pain and terror.  Bob is standing beside an Iron Maiden, which has spikes inside just long enough to pierce the body and make sure that the person inside dies a slow painful death.  There are two spikes placed so that they will pierce the eyes of whoever is placed inside, and take a look at that chair!  It is enough to give me nightmares.After the torture chamber we see some great views of Prague… can you spot our TV Tower?  It is hard to miss.
As we leave the castle the changing of the guards marches past.  A couple of the guards have their hats blown off by the wind but they just keep marching, although they did smile!  It was crazy windy today and a bit cold so it was a good day to be inside.Walking past the Cathedral towards the exit I thought to look up, and yes, there were gargoyles!  I love gargoyles, in case you didn’t know. This shrub was near the exit.  I have no idea what it is and wonder if anyone else might know?

Mucha Museum, Fred and Ginger and St. Nicholas Church, Prague

Day 35, Sunday, September 29, 2019

Prague’s combination of old and new buildings is interesting.  Sometimes the new buildings offer great reflections of the older buildings.
This knitted sculpture ‘Carmen’ is the creation of Eva Blahová, an artist and scenic designer living in Prague. 33 knitters from all over the Czech Republic were involved in this project and they knit over 50 meters of red ruffles to dress an existing sculpture.  It is pretty impressive. Walking towards the “Dancing House’ we pass beautiful Art Nouveau buildings with very grand entrances.
These entrances are on this block of buildings. Although Prague was bombed in World War II it did not suffer the catastrophic damages of Berlin and Dresden.  There are so many beautiful buildings with lots of carved decorations here. The Dancing House, or Fred and Ginger, as it is nicknamed, was built in place of a building that was destroyed during the war.  We think we know which is Fred and which is Ginger.  What do you think? We crossed this bridge and had our picnic lunch in a little park with this view.  Prague has lots of trees and parks. Here ae some more pastel coloured buildings we see on our walk along the river. These statues holding up a balcony are quite wonderful.   I think Bob might have been a locksmith in another life.  He is always noticing interesting locks. We arrive at the most famous Baroque church in Prague, St. Nicholas Church, at Old Town Square. The dome has a diameter of 20 m, with a  height of over 49 m, making it the highest interior in Prague. The church was completed in 1735, replacing a parish church dating back to 1273.  There is so much history everywhere we visit.  Canada is such a young country in comparison.
The ceiling fresco is over 1500 square metres in size and is one of the largest in Europe. We climb to the second floor balcony for some great views of the church.There are interesting things to see everywhere if you keep your eyes open, especially down the side streets.
These painted blocks are a fundraising project for disabled people.  You pay for a brick and then get to paint it.  We didn’t have time today but I see that someone from Canada contributed a brick.
At the Mucha Museum I learn the Alphonse Mucha’s name is pronounced mooka, not moosha as I thought.  We see many of his lithograph works that I am familiar with.  The Four Flowers.. Evening Reverie…
and the Four Arts, which celebrate Dance, Painting, Poetry and Music. I particularly loved being able to get close up to some of Mucha’s drawings.  Woman on a Bear Skin is drawn with a pencil and a white crayon on a brown ground.  It is amazing.  A photo does not even begin to do it justice.  It was also behind non-glare glass which does not photograph the best. Winter Night, or Siberia, may have been Mucha’s response to the terrible suffering of the Russian people after the Bolshevik Revolution.  There was a famine that killed millions of people. It is difficult to see, but in the upper left of the painting there is a pack of wolves.  The peasant woman seems to have resigned herself to her fate.  I was not aware of Mucha’s large oil paintings.  He completed a series of very large canvases called the Slav Epic, a series of 20 enormous canvases that show the ethnic roots of the Czech people.  Unfortunately we weren’t able to visit the Czech National Gallery of Modern Art  to see these paintings as it was under renovation. This short video shows the Mucha Museum and the Slav Epic. This collection of photographs was interesting.  It showed some of Mucha’s models, and the bottom two middle photos are Mucha in his studio and Gaugin playing the piano…without any trousers! Pages of his sketchbooks are on display.  I love seeing artist’s sketchbooks.  It is a way of understanding how they think about their art. Not all the sketches are detailed drawings.  There are some quick gestural studies as well.Another study using pencil and white crayon on brown paper.  Just gorgeous! This is a study for the stained glass window in St. Vitus Cathedral. Mucha was skilled in many areas of artistic expression. Mucha created this famous poster for the ballet named Princess Hyacinth.  I was happily snapping photos when near the end of our visit a docent told me that photos were not allowed.  I was surprised as we have been able to take photos, without a flash, every where else we have been.  I am very happy she didn’t see me until near the end of our visit! One of many flower stands in the city.  I often see both men and women carrying bouquets of flowers. We saw a toy store so took a peek inside. OMG! it was huge, very noisy and had a full size carousel! This made us think of the Hotel Europa we stayed at in Egypt a few years ago.  It certainly was not grand  and it wasn’t a pleasant experience at all! Walking back along Wenceslas Square I notice that someone has knocked over the horse sculptures we saw earlier.  I like this statue, all covered in sewn leather, with his hands sewn to his head and groin.  Not sure what it is supposed to represent but it does make viewers pause and contemplate.I keep trying to get a photo that shows how strange people look on these long metro escalators. There is an optical illusion that happens and everyone appears to be either leaning forward or backwards, depending they are going up or down the escalators.  Somehow it just doesn’t show that well in a photo.  The camera doesn’t see things the same way as our brain does.  It is very curious and I comment every time we ride these crazy, long, steep fast escalators.This church is in the park right beside the metro stop near our apartment.  We were curious to see inside but it is under renovation and the doors are locked.  We sat and had tea in this park the day after our flight into Prague over a month ago.I wanted to get a photo or two showing how people drink alcohol walking down the street, in the parks, and even on the metro (although they aren’t really supposed to drink on public transit).  We see that in Prague and it was especially prevalent in Berlin.  People walked around with their bottle of beer everywhere.  Not what we are used to seeing at home.

St. Charles Bridge, Prague

Day 34, Saturday, September 28, 2019

The Prague TV tower against a beautiful blue sky.  It is 18 above today, and the sun is shining.
This is another of those very long, very fast moving escalators.  We wonder why the metro is so far underground?  A little research reveals that “In the event of an attack on the city, they should close to turn the designated stations into hermetically sealed bunkers. The doors can allegedly withstand a nuclear blast on the surface as well as a “torrential” wave of water. Up to 300,000 people can allegedly take refuge in the system for three days.”  Who knew? Although I can’t imagine being underground with another 299,999 people!  These fellows gave a little preview of an evening performance in one of the many churches in Prague.
St. Charles Bridge is probably on every Prague visitor’s must-see list. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is also home to many Czech artists, musicians and souvenir vendors whose stands line both sides of the bridge. This Medieval bridge, completed in 1402 is now a very crowded pedestrian zone. 
Here is a close up of the entrance to the bridge in the photo above.  Just a few people!  Very crowded but such great people watching, which is one of my favourite pass-times.  The bridge offers a great view of the Prague Castle on the hill.   As well as views of some of the other bridges along the Vltava River.  Touching this statue is said to bring good luck and ensure a return visit to Prague.  There are 30 statues on this 516 metres long and almost 10 metres wide Gothic bridge. The sun was setting as we leave the bridge. On the way home we peek into a Thai massage studio.  I wanted to give this a try but we somehow ran out of time. Prague is famous for its marionettes.  Most of the ones we see are obviously made for tourists and not that great but I find this window display of really beautiful marionettes.  They had really ‘beautiful’ price tags too! There are lots of shops selling wooden products. We see Nemo every time we walk along Wenceslas Square.
The streets are jam-packed with people tonight.  It is St. Wenceslas Day today which is also called Statehood Day and is a holiday. Interesting to see a blacksmith working in the square. These pastries are sold everywhere in Prague. They are call Trdelník (which means a hollowed out log)  and they are made by wrapping  layers and layers of dough on a cylindrical spit. It is then baked on an open fire and dusted with cinnamon sugar and crushed nuts. They look yummy just like that but many shops fill them with ice cream and all sorts of fancy toppings.  Unfortunately they are not gluten free…so none for me. These little sculptures in the store window appealed, but they are too big and heavy to buy so I settle for a picture.

Prague, Czech Republic

Day 32, Thursday,  September 26, 2019

First thing we need to do this afternoon is return our car rental.  Because the rental office is in the train station it didn’t cost us anything for parking.  When I went to take photos of the car before we returned it I realized I had left my memory card in the computer at home!  Good thing we have a backup camera on our phone, but it isn’t as good or handy as my camera.

Bob is doing a great job organizing our days and finding information about what to see and do.  He went out for a walk this morning and discovers that, because we are seniors, we get free transit passes!  We just need to have a passport photo.  It costs us $6 CAD each for our photos and another $1.20 to get the card.  A transit ticket good for one day costs $6.60 so this is a great deal.

We go for a walk to Wenceslas Square and take a few photos.  These horses are part of an art exhibit in the square. The Prague Astronomical Clock, or Prague Orloj, is a medieval astronomical clock.  The clock was first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest clock still operating.  Crowds gather here to watch it strike the hour. We enjoy this street performer and the poor lady volunteer who is terrified by pretty much everything he does, including pouring lighter fluid in a circle on the ground around her!  He never does light it but her reactions made the crowd laugh. We find the Senat, where there is a free concert.  We were expecting classical music but a group of students perform and sing more modern songs, including Hey Jude, These Boots are Made For Walking, Can’t Buy Me Love and Cabaret.  Some of the songs are in Czech and some are sung in English, with a heavy Czech accent!  It started to rain during the performance but we had brought our umbrella so we stayed dry.
I tried to draw but didn’t manage much.

Walking through the gardens after the concert we saw this pretty white peacock, who walked along with us for a bit.

 

Life Drawing, Prague

Day 31, Wednesday,  September 25, 2019

Our Prague Airbnb is really spacious and close to the old town and the metro.  This is the view out our window.
Bob notices the neighbourhood pigeons roosting on the roof across from us.  We have a quiet day settling in to our new place.  It feels so roomy after the tiny little apartment we had in Dresden.  I found a life drawing group that meets tonight from 6:30 to 9:30 and decide I should go.  It is a thirty minute walk to the studio but the address opens up to an inner courtyard with lots of shops and doors.  No idea where I need to go…I ask for directions and finally the fourth person shows me where the atelier is.

We realized that we don’t return our rental car until tomorrow, so while I draw Bob goes to check on our car and then goes exploring until it is time to meet me.  It was a nice group and they made me feel very welcome.

Remember that walk home last night?  Well my drawing session was just a bit past the train station, so it is another long uphill walk home.

The length of the poses is circled on each page.

Prague and the Zizkov Television Tower

Day 2, Tuesday August 27, 2019

We go for a walk to explore our neighbourhood and notice this tower near our apartment. It is the Zizkow Television Tower which was once ranked as the fourth ugliest structure in the world!  The tower stands 216 meters (709 feet) high, and the observatory is 93 m.(305 feet) high. You can click on blue highlighted words for more info.

Three of the pods are used for equipment related to the tower’s primary function and are inaccessible to the public. The other six pods are open to visitors, and give a panoramic view of Prague and the surrounding area. The lower three pods house a restaurant and café bar.If you look down in the lower right corner you can just make out some of the headstones of the old Jewish Cemetery which located beneath all the trees in the bottom of this photo. Prague is a pretty city with lots of parks and green spaces.The old Jewish Cemetery is thought to contain more than 100,000 graves, some with multiple bodies stacked up to twelve deep.  There are ten six foot tall babies crawling on the tower. It is quite the sight, and it does make us smile, They were placed on the tower to help make it more appealing to the people of Prague, who were not in favour of the tower when it was built.

We sit in a park we saw from the tower, for a snack and I sketch this building for 45 minutes. Bob starts a crossword puzzle but then he has a little nap on the park bench.

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Walking home we passed these whimsical apartments. They look like they belong in a storybook.We go home to pack for the beginning of our road trip tomorrow through the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany,                                  .

 

On Our Way To Prague

Sunday August 25, 2019 and Monday August 26, 2019

We left Edmonton Sunday morning and arrived in Prague Monday morning. The flight was better than expected…we had been bumped to a Air Canada Rouge plane which is the economy airline operated by Air Canada for our 8 hour flight from Toronto to Prague. All the reviews on this plane were very negative so I was expecting a very difficult flight.

To our delight we had three seats for the two of us on both legs of our travels. This made a huge difference in our comfort level and we were both able to get some horizontal time which was wonderful. This was our first International flight that left in the morning. It was very strange to have two full days without any night time in between. We take a bus to the train station which is a enormous beautiful building. It is basically a shopping mall with a train station attached. We take a taxi from here to our apartment. We decided last trip that this is money well spent, as we are tired and in a new city. It is so nice to be delivered to our front door.This is the view from our Prague apartment. We have two nights here to rest and sort out our phone SIM card and pick up our rental car before we head to Brno. we have had some difficulties with internet so I am a bit late getting these first posts online. I should catch up tomorrow.
So glad you are following our blog and we hope you enjoy travelling along with us.