(Full ridiculous scads of photos can be found here for Day Three and here for Day Four)
After Wednesday's mad run about town, I proclaimed quite vociferously that Thursday would be a mellow day. Mellow perhaps not to the full extent of YELLOW, but maybe like a mellow cyan. Something that left us with a little energy to interact at the end of the day and maybe swap a little more than chance drops of drool as we passed out in our chairs. And I can say that Wednesday tired Andrew out, because he actually didn't want to go on a run on Thursday morning. Andrew. This is unlikely.
Operation "don't go totally nuts "was in effect. I think ultimately the more relaxed pace of the day was largely powered by an improved sense of direction. Literally. We got out the GPS. And I started writing out google map directions before we left the hotel. Between those tools, and having wandered away the couple of days before, our desperately lost trudging time was minimized from "untold hours" down to maybe "forty-five minutes." It also helps we didn't stray quite as far from the hotel, but most of our wandering time was quite well within ten minutes' walking distance (if you walk in the correct direction, anyways).
After yet another hearty breakfast (and unrepentant purse full of "the things I'd eat if I had a larger stomach for a single sitting"), we started the day at one o the most interesting of all galleries: the local grocery store. This one was in the Paladium (big mall) next to our hotel. Not very large, but it had enough weird junk food to satisfy me. And weird Milky Way Bars (nothing in Europe is the same candywise as in the states). With the help of my handy Czech dictionary, I identified some milk and we made our minimal purchases
We gradually wound our way to The Museum of Communism, which I'm told is an excellent starting point for understanding recent Czech history. And for seeing the enormous Lenin monstrosity that once was atop the Metronome. How appropriate that this area is now a heavily graffitied skate park. I can say that the museum seemed pretty cold on Communism. Possibly a little biased. And it was quite embarrassing to get to the display on Secret Police and wire tapping that read "unlike in American where tapping is strictly controlled and requires court review and warrants..." yeah I'll stop there.
We had flirted with the idea of taking an Underground Tour yesterday, and more or less found the location where the tour commenced. But naturally after we located a place to eat lunch (yes, that discussion was kind of mooted in Andrew's favor yesterday, but I did eat a perfectly functional salad and we got to sit down in mid-travel frenzy, so it was a win). The location of the tour was right off Staroměstské náměstí (Old Town Square and/or "Starosomething Namaste" if you're up to butchering the Czech language), and thus a hive of harried tourist swarming. The restaurant we went to was only about a block North, but what a difference. Apparently tourists stay pretty close together and are all too busy either oohing and aaahing at the Astronomical clock or trying to buy the many "My__(relationship goes here) Went to Prague and All I Got Was This Lousy Shirt" shirts. Andrew had something appropriately Czech. In other words, it involved potato dumplings, some kind of meat, and a lot of shiny cabbage. By the time lunch was finished, we'd missed our tour time and had two hours until the next one.
Instead, we went to the stunning Municipal Hall, an art nouveau dream of a space most famous for its gorgeous Smetana Hall. None of the concert times really worked with our plans, so I'd suggested we see an Art Nouveau exhibit in the upper gallery instead. It got us in the door. And I'm a fancier of that particular style, so seeing very much Mucha was a definitely plus. There were paintings, posters, gowns, drool-worth furniture offerings, jewelry glassware, and photographs.
Here's where we broke the wandering mold. We came home. We napped. We showered. Nobody spent any hotel down time talking to cell phone carriers in the US. It's amazing what a difference that makes.
For dinner, it was back to "weird Adellafied restaurants and enough of this traditional Czech nonsense." We went to Maitrea, another vegetarian place that would have terrified me in the states with sheer hipness factor. Despite not having a reservation, we were allowed to sit at a small table in the bungalo area (only if we promised we wouldn't be there for more than an hour and forty minutes, when the table was reserved). The music was ardently ambient. The chatter was resonant. The waitstaff all wore pink and purple t-shirts, sneakers, and flowered drop crotch pantaloons.
The menu of actual offerings was reasonable, but the menu itself was a small Tolstoy novel. A page dedicated to different kinds of water "on tap" (in bottle, trust me... tap was not an option). An entire page for the legend to all the different symbols accompanying the food descriptions. I recall some of the more ordinary ones - gluten free, vegan, raw - but there were several more. That said, it was damned tasty food. And, being the Czech Republic, our entire meal (that includes Andrew's water, which always costs extra at restaurants here) was the equivalent of $18.
Our main destination for our evening of "dinner and a show" was the National Marionette Theater's production of Don Giovanni. What an experience. It is, as it sounds, a puppet rendition of the classic Mozart opera (fitting, since apparently DG premiered in Prague). The marionettes are large. Roughly 4 feet tall at the tallest. The auditorium and stage were scaled a bit down to accommodate this, so they looked quite full-sized until - in just one of many clever little nods to the opera - one of the puppeteers became quite bored with the final musical piece and walked onto the stage to encourage the puppets to stop singing. For those unfamiliar with the opera, there's quite the dramatic scene in which Don Giovanni is dragged to hell, followed by a lengthy piece of music in which the remaining characters sing about how nice their lives are now. It's a little... anticlimactic. Having Leporello's puppeteer actively trying to hurry the closing first via the puppet looking at his watch and eventually with the puppeteer coming onto stage, putting the puppets up to hang and starting to clean, was a perfect wrap up.
The performance was infused with little head nods and cheeky jokes at the expense of the old 4th wall. The overture was commenced by a Mozartian conductor who reappeared several times during the opera in various stages of discombobulation. After the storm scene, he had an umbrella. Later on, he came out with an empty wine glass and proceeded to interrupt the patter onstage by singing, snoring, and making kissy faces at the opera. Eventually the "actor" puppets became impatient and started trying to get the conductor's attention, all while carrying on the opera fairly competently. They also played with the artificiality of the sets, having several intentional "mechanical failures" while switching scenes. All in time to the music. And, as a final note, the Statue at the end was something else. I believe it was a small person in costume, but the face was so evocative.
We found our way back home, very happy for the lull in traffic that ten o'clock (no longer high tourist time, but not clubbing tourist time yet either). And slept. Boy did we.
This morning we started out with a run along the Vlatva to make up for yesterday's abstention. I'm thinking that the nap will become a regular part of our routine. I'm also thinking that we're seeing the beginnings of the European holidayers invasion. The balance has tipped between largely American overseaers who naturally would be here during the week to those nearer by looking for a fun long weekend. Should make the tourist spots remaining extra bustling.
Prlog Day Four: Tears of the Raver Clown and the Mutant Dogs of Slav Island
Our Friday started with a jaunt and a jolt (after we elbowed past the influx of Euro-holidayers anyways) and a quick jog aside the Vlatva. A decidedly lovely place to run and a handy (ok, more "footy" har har) way to actually get a touch furtherafoot of the main tourist enclaves. Oh, and to work up an appetite for that breakfast buffet they've got going on here. I'm not gonna say I stuffed less into my purse today, but there was definitely a couple more trips of immediate gratification for my repast.
Keeping with the theme of "slow the heck down... but not totally" we took a brief spell of post-prandial repose in the room before tearing off in search of novelties and photo-ops. Fortunately the brief wait hardly deprived us of those and we were in the thick of tourist stew by 10. That's right, today was the day for a very thorough Stare Mesto kinda morning.
Stare Mesto (starry metro in Adella's adled mind) is the Old Town Square (literally) known for being home to the Astronomical Clock, Church of Our Lady of Tyne, The Hard Rock Cafe, and several enterprising buskers. Oh and about five million people with cameras hovering outside of the Astronomical clock's general purview in wait for the hour to chime.
Legend has it that the man who made the clock was subsequently blinded so as to never make another clock quite as exquisite. Legend further has it that he jammed his hand into the clock in revenge, debilitating it for a full Century. It does remain unique whatever else is true about the story. It is the only working astronomical clock (a form of medieval astrolab) indicating both time and phase of zodiac as well as lunar phase, and time in the old Czech time scale. It's pretty flippin' neat, although after all the build up, the procession of apostles popping out of their window like little cuckoos is a bit hoaky.
Across from the Astronomical Clock is The Church of Our Lady before Tyne, putative burial ground for Tycho Brahe (but good luck identifying his stone), and most concerted elaborately lavish Gothic church. It's quite beautiful in a bit of an overly lavish sort of fashion (photographs are not allowed inside, but you can imagine the mix of gold and black and several sacred items of deep complexity.) On the outside, of course, there's an ice cream shop, several cafes and some graffiti.
An interesting blend of sacred and profane that echoes the inevitable experience of entering a functioning church as a mere gawker surrounded by other buzzers with cell phone cameras. As you may also expect, it has a pretty rockin' organ.
The entire square is laden with architecturally sterling entries of relic-turned-profit-making-machine, but underneath there's an entirely other life from when Prague was one story lower than it is now. Yep, we took a guided tour called Prague Underground or something like that. Prague to this day is quite vulnerable to flooding (the 2002 flood was perhaps as devastating as Katrina was to New Orleans).
It also was vulnerable to attackers before a moat was built around some fortifications. According to the guide, their solution to having stirred up dirt and huge flood risks was to built up the city on top of itself, leaving the original ground floors in the cellar.
Nowadays much of the city has underground architecture dating back into the Gothic and Romanic times. We visited a few, some currently in use as little galleries, aquariums, you name it...
Most private businesses along the area have some archeological dig in their basement that they use for storage. In addition to a little spelunking, we got a nice crash course in Prague's bloody defenestrating history and met a few of the bit players in the Ghost Tour also run by the same company (skeletons mostly).
Our guide kind of dropped us after the last stop, so we turned towards Tynska yet again for another of Adella's mad vegetarian tour-book destinations, Bea's Vegetarian Dhaba. One of many Bea's, this one was set inside a little courtyard housing a youth hostel and a gym. It was one of the first eateries we've been at that was mostly populated by Czech's and in which people did not immediately speak English towards us. It was also one of few that advertises free water and keeps pitchers on all the tables. Little joys... the food is pay per weight vegetarian Indian (and other... I'm pretty sure Andrew had potato gratin in addition to his dal and pakora). Oh and it's really deeeelish.
We had some vague designs on seeing the Jewish Cemetery until we realized that it was part of the Jewish Museum and we're kind of cheap and sort of not that committed to a full tourist-laden excursion, so we "saw" the cemetery by peeking in windows and fleeing back to the hotel room via the water front.
We had more explicit designs on seeing a Black Light Theater show. Black Light theater is HUGE in Prague. It riffs on what was originally an Asian art form to mix lighting techniques and live theater for a surreal show experience. Especially with Andrew's background in stage lighting, it seemed appealing. After a great deal of research, Andrew decided that the one associated with the National Theater would be a good bet and we got tickets... I'm sure one day it will be a good show. My experience of Black Light Theater so far involves sitting in a medium sized theater, facing a stage strewn with glowing circus props, wondering why nothing is happening, hearing some apology for the wait and citation of "technical difficulties"in several languages, watching test pattern lights show up on various parts of the stage, eventually having performers come out to apologize and offer refunds or tickets for the next evening,and finally standing in a very confused and increasingly churlish crowd of disappointed theater-goers.
Andrew wants to try again tonight. We'll see. We left without getting a refund or replacement tickets, because we kept hearing announcements saying "money" and "tomorrow" and figured at worst, Andrew could cancel the charge on his credit card.
The excursion did provide an excellent excuse to dally about the Nove Mesto. That technically means "new town" but these things are all relative. Like the "New City Hall" is actually pretty old and mostly known for being the cite of the several "Prague Defenestrations" (ruling Prague really wasn't a long term career path). Since we'd already eaten out, I suggested we dine al fresco and/or "out of several re-used sandwich bags and ziplocs" in Charles Park. This was mainly a destination that would allow us to walk down the water front and see the pretty fantastic architecture on the way (Dancing Building, of course, being one of the more prominent).
Oh and some kind of mutant dog that looked like it should be several sizes smaller than it was. Roughly the size of a large St. Bernard. It stopped to pee for me, so - like a good tourist - I took a photo.
After eating and lingering over the guide book, we moved our peripatetics on the road and a bit over the sea to visit Slov Island for yet more ubiquitously eidetic views across the Vlatva (yawn at this point, right?)
|They are no fun at all on Slav Island|
At any rate, the impromptu cancellation also afforded a chance to walk yet again through the Stare Mesto and past the slightly less teeming Charles Bridge. We hadn't ventured there at night and such excursions are quite rewarding. As was returning home for an evening of restive tossing and turning in our bed away from bed.
Which is not quite as comfortable as it first appears. Might be a mix of the odd choices in bedding. First there are the slender his and hers comforters. These are the only real bedsheets of which to speak and become too warm by midway through the evening. There are then two sorts of pillows just begging for a Goldilock's "just right" solution. The one sort is long and overly large in such a way as to allow the stuffing to perpetually spill off to the sides and leave a crater where your head it. The other is a demi-pillow, quite small and not particularly useful beyond some hint at ornamentality. Very strange.
But more likely than not, it's just the stimulation of the day and the anticipation of the next, as we reach the "what have we done and what shall we do with our final few days" portion of the trip.
I do know for sure there shall be ballet today! Oh and it's Prokofiev, so I'm expecting Andrew's set for a good narcoleptic bout or two at the State Opera House this afternoon!
Hope all are having a great start to the weekend (wow, weekend? Already? Weird!)