Dottore Gianni stops me at this point to remind me that our roots more than likely lie not in the Czech Republic but in Slovakia. I always listen to and respect the good doctor, but while theories abound (among me and my relatives only, it's not exactly of national or international importance) as to exactly where in the land that was once Czechoslovakia, and before that a portion of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Pastir clan lived before a few of them emigrated, we are still not, and may never be, sure. A lucky accident via the social networking site known as Facebook (do any of you know it? A rather insipid cyber-place, for the most part, though on occasion it can prove useful), pointed us to the exact village in Croatia...well, make that Herzegovina - the map of Europe has been re-drawn more times than almost anyone would want to count - that is the root source of the Hrkach clan. Alas no such luck from the Pastir side of the family.
So while a true search for our roots might better have begun in Bratislava, Prague is the jewel in the crown of this part of Europe, that one-time capital of the Hapsburgs and Holy Roman Empire was our destination.
|Prague, in particular the Hradčany complex from the Vltava|
Once again, I quote from my journal scribbled during the trip, accompanied by photos from the week we spent there as well. Ground rules, again, for anyone who's not yet read this series of the ups and downs of my international travels: all journal notes are enclosed in quotation marks. If I choose to comment in the midst of the quoted notes from the present, I will enclose those remarks in brackets ([ ]), and in separate paragraphs not enclosed in quotation marks discuss in abbreviated form what I wrote in the general. Admittedly not every word is eloquent!
Let the Prague blog begin! Or Bloggo Prague-o...My earliest notes on the trip are for the most part eminently skippable, but to start at the very beginning, which is, as Dottore Gianni likes to put it, a very good place to start:
Saturday 16 May 1998: "Arrived in NYC last night after far too long a bus ride - note to self: NEVER catch a 12:40 bus from Ithaca that arrives in Manhattan during a Friday rush hour!"
Looking back from 2014 I fear that for me at least the trip began in the key of Giù! But the rest of the journal entry for that day is not of interest, unless you're dying to know that my waitress at an NYC restaurant was Eastern European and walked with a slight limp (hmmm...sounds like a character out of The Sopranos! think she was also in Mad Men), or that I met two former students for lunch, or that I dined Will and Mary on Sunday...no? thought not. So we'll skip the rest of Saturday's notes, and all of Sunday's and move on to the day of our flight:
Monday 18 May 11:30 pm: "We are at last flying over the Atlantic! I met mom and Judy at the airport [Judy flew in from LA, mom from Florida], and after a little madness - at LAX the ticket taker tore the wrong portion of Judy's ticket and she had no return ticket from Prague! [potential Giù!] Fixed now [whew! A Su!] - we boarded the Czech Air flight...and then we waited...we were delayed two hours because the rear toilets on the plane were not functioning! [potential poo-poo Giù!] But now we've dined aboard the flight and after a very late start we are approximately four and a half hours from our destination - PRAHA!"
|NO fear! My sister Judy and my mother on the plane waiting for take-off!|
Tuesday 19 May: "We are in Prague at last! Our guide Alex picked us up at the airport and drove us to our hotel, offering a good bit of description about the city on the way. He'll pick us up tomorrow at 9 am for a three-hour walking tour. Mom and Judy are sharing a room, and I'm in a room of my own - a very nice one. I had a terrific shower and immediately after went out to reconnoiter. I found the nearest Metro stop, Dejvická, only ten minutes' walk from the gigantic soviet idea of splendiferous hotel [I remember from 2014 that it was called the President, at least I'm fairly certain of that, sad to say a tad out of the center of the old town]. Once there I used my almost non-existent Czech to buy a ticket and rode the Metro to the Hrad stop, walked towards the castle, then walked back down, found my way back to the hotel and met Judy and mom there, We dined at a restaurant called Harlekin (nice theatrical name, yes?), an unassuming place where we ate excellent pork - a real find, only two blocks from the hotel!"
"Looking very much forward to the tour tomorrow morning as it will give us a good overview of the city. I also hope to buy some opera tickets...I'd be more descriptive, but I am falling asleep writing..."
Wednesday 20 May, 3:30 pm: I awoke feeling pretty awful, but felt better after breakfast at the hotel. We met our guide - named Alex - who took us on a wonderful tour of major sights/sites of Prague, starting at one of its highest points, first to Loreto, then a stroll around St. Vitus Cathedral and Hradčany Castle. [I'm not sure why I didn't mention this in my journal, so I will now in 2014. I was worried that mom would tire very quickly on this long walking tour, so I asked Alex to begin the tour at its highest point, so that most of the actual walking would be downhill or on a flat, and he readily obliged.] He also took us through Zlata Ulička [Golden Street - a collection of tiny houses on the castle grounds, one of which Kafka lived in for a time] then down the long hill from the castle into Malá Strana [on the same side of the river as the castle, below it], then over the Charles Bridge into Staré Město [Old Town] and its famous central square, finally to the edge of Václavské Náměsti [Wenceslaus Square], where the old town ends and the new begins, the final stop on the tour."
|Judy, our guide Alex and mom at the end of the tour|
"After the tour we strolled around a bit, then mom fell - oi! We picked her up and ducked into a nearby restaurant, to make sure she was all right as well as to eat. The restaurant proved a lucky choice - and it was filled with musical instruments, a delightful sort of decor.
|The imposing church of Our Lady|
"Stumbled on through more of Staré Město until we found a taxi, and, after a sight-filled ride back got to the hotel, for the rather hefty rate of 570 Kč. [See below for much more on Kč.] And now I'm ready for a nap before we head to the opera! We're seeing Verdi's Don Carlos at the Státní Opera tonight at 7. [While the real Don Carlos was Spanish the opera, written in Italian, is usually called Don Carlo - not so at the Státní production.] Both shows I tried to get us into at the Estates Theatre were sold out - VERY unfortunately - and for now, that's all!"
|The Narodni Divadlo, or National Theatre|
[fyi, Prague has three major theatres, the National (see above), the Estates and the Státní that present opera, though the first two feature a good bit of theatre as well - the history of these theatres is very interesting, but I won't go into detail here. I was so sad about not getting into the Estates because it's said to be the most beautiful of them, and more importantly for me, it was the theatre at which Mozart's Don Giovanni premiered. Much later I did get in, to see that very work on Christmas Day, 2011.]
|Státní Opera exterior|
Thursday 21 May (barely) 12:03 am: Just got back from a lovely evening at the Státní Theatre. I hadn't seen Don Carlos before, and while this production could hardly be called revealing, it served very nicely as an introduction to the piece. And it was placed in a little gem of a theatre, perhaps a bit tacky for some tastes, built in the late nineteenth century (1888) to look a bit like those of a century earlier. We had excellent seats just off center seven rows from the stage for less than $30 a ticket!"
"Tomorrow morning we head back to the Hrad [Hradčany] to see the interiors of all the exteriors we were teased with today...and now to sleep!"
21 May, in the evening: "Well...a long day of touring, and unfortunately a rainy one as well. We took a taxi up to the castle at 10 am, sorry, make that to Loretánské Náměsti, very near the castle, to see the interior of what had been the first stop on our walking tour yesterday, the Loreto Shrine, a baroque into rococo church with a replica of Mary's (mother
of Jesus) House in Nazareth. The house had been transported by angels, so the legend (or lee-gend, as our guide Alex pronounced it) goes, to Loreto, Italy in the thirteenth century. [Note from now: I did not mention in the journal that several replicas of that house had been built throughout Europe, Prague's version in the sixteenth century.] The shrine was crowded with tour groups [and probably some on pilgrimage] and was only of marginal interest to me. Then we continued on to the castle, through a series of squares that leads to it. On the way we stopped to buy souvenirs, and for an emergency early lunch - mom suddenly had to pee, there was nowhere to do it, so in we went to a lovely looking place that had the least good food we've had in Prague...which is not to say it was bad. The garlic soup was tasty, the cheese platter that I ordered was nice, but it was over-priced. It seems that, near the castle, everything is!"
The pic above shows part of Loreto - the Casa Santa (sacred House) is on the left of the photo)
|Hradčany Castle straight ahead, behind it St Vitus Cathedral, and on the left the|
elegant Bishop's Palace
|The great hall at the Royal Palace|
"From the palace we entered the Basilica of St George, from the Romanesque era, the first of those I've seen, with a facade from a later date. Lovely interior, and concerts are played there - we missed one today, actually, by exhausting ourselves before it started. Hmmmm...it's set to start just about now as I write...ah well...that kind of day."
|Basilica of St George, with mom and Judy|
We headed back to the castle gate to look for a taxi - bad idea, as it turned out. As I've frequently noted, it was raining, the tourists were out and so were the bilkers. The taxi driver we chose told us, after we were out of the square and heading toward the hotel that it would cost us 1500 Kč - a trip that on the way TO the castle had cost 350 Kč! So I started screaming, said I'd pay no more than 500. Our taxi driver called another driver and took us back to the castle gate, where our new driver very pleasantly agreed to 500 Kč. That of course was 150 Kč more than we had paid on the way over, but I was forced to take it. Of course the two were in collusion - good cop/bad cop kind of scam. Oh well, I say again, it was that kind of day!"
FYI from 2014: Kč stands for Czech koruna, or crown - to give you a sense of the conversion to the dollar, 350 Kč at the time was about $12, $500 about $16, and 1500 nearly $50. I just checked and today in 2014, 1500 Kč comes to about $75.
"It has clouded up again since I just wrote that it was sunny - the weather is very volatile, in fact I think I'll turn on the television to see if I can find out the weather forecast, so we can make some decisions about what to do tomorrow. But more soon, I promise - and with all the problems we had, with it being (as I seem to keep repeating) 'that kind of day' I must say that it wasn't all that bad a day!"
So, if Dottore Gianni may sum it up to suit the theme of this series: What seemed a largely Giù day became, in retrospect at least somewhat Su!
|Mom and Judy haggle for lace on the steps of|
St Nicholas Cathedral
|Smiricky Palace on Malostranské Náměsti|
|Cheery, isn't it? This relic is in St Nicholas Cathedral, not Thomas Church, but you get|
|Charles Bridge (on a later trip I took to Prague)|
|Another shot of Charles Bridge, to the left as it enters Staré Město - and of course the Vltava River, or the Moldau, the German word for it|
"We left the gallery - it was later than we realized and we were at the height of lunch hour in
|the clock on Staroměstské Náměsti|
Hello again from 2014. I should explain what i mean about "workings" of the famous astrological clock on the square. Installed in 1410, it is the third oldest such clock in the world and the first one still in working order. On the hour the clock puts on a sort of show, with mechanized figures doing a sort of march around it. But if you don't get to it ON the hour and you're on a schedule, you tend not to waste time waiting for this show, and keep walking. I don't think we ever saw the show on this trip, though I did on subsequent ones.
|The Jewish cemetery in Josefstadt|
"Well, nearly time for wine, pork, and Slavic dancing! But more from me, of course, tomorrow."
Saturday 23 May, morning: "The entertainment was great fun last night. We started with an aperitif, Becherovka; then a young man with wine habers on each shoulder, one containing red, the other white wine, poured the first of what would become seemingly endless drafts. I chose the very young red, mom and Judy the Riesling-esque white. We had delicious pork, an amazing potato concoction and mushrooms - whoops! Sorry, nearly forgot the main course - halishki, I believe - mom will remind me [though I never asked her, or if I
|Dasha dancing, and the boys in the band|
"A slick entertainer who spoke in French and English to the crowd, led a great traditional band, string bass, two violins and a cymbeline, and two beautiful young dancers (Dasha - whom I fell in love with almost immediately - was the female's name0 performed excellent folk dances. The most exciting moment for me came when Dasha asked me to dance the mazurka! Others too were brought from the audience, and I brought mom - oh yes! And we did it, simple at first, then in a circle, switching partners, so that I got to dance with Dasha. Then Dasha chose me for the polka and others danced it too - I was placed with a beautiful and slightly triste French woman...ah! Then more wine, palačinky [a crepe-like pancake - yum!] for dessert, and the evening was quite complete. I should say that the band minus the dancers came back for an energetic set - this was my favorite part of the music. The band played soulful Bohemian melodies and sang them - a lovely end to a grand evening!"
Su! But, a question from time present: or was I just completely snockered?!? Either way, I still remember it as a great time. But I fail to note one thing I remember all too clearly - I really screwed up the polka! "I can't dance, don't ask me!" with apologies to Fred Astaire and any dance partner on whose toes I have clumsily trod.
|Obecní Dúm - one of my favorite buildings in Prague|
|Mom and Judy at one end of Wenceslas Square - |
note the Marathon sign on the left - this is hardly
a square, instead a long rectangle
then took the metro to Wenceslaus Square and spent a good bit of the morning wandering through it - a bit disappointing actually, to my surprise. Then we headed west to the river and the National Theatre, after which we trekked back to the Obecní Dúm [the Municipal House, beautifully designed in the Art Nouveau style]. We had lunch in a pivnice there, Czech family style, seated with a friendly group of Germans. I had the old Bohemian plate, which proved a winner - duck, pork, ham, sausage with dumplings and sauerkraut. After lunch we wandered along Celetná Ulice where I found a little theatre bookshop that sold beautiful puppets. I bought a couple of books and chatted with the nice cashier who told me, sadly, that Czech theatre was in real danger with no state support."
|Obecní Dúm - lunching in the Pivnice!|
|St Havel's Church, where we saw our concert, is in the background - great veggies in front!|
Well, not quite the end...seems there's more to tell, Dottore Gianni notes in April 2014...
"Today we took a taxi back to the castle, heard some lovely Czech melodies played by a street corner band, then went to the Cathedral, which was 'closed for technical reasons.' Before we could decide what to do next, I spotted an Ithaca College alum, Jonathan Tilley, fabulous dancer who left the U.S. for Germany and never looked back, works constantly all over
|Pleasant surprise meeting alum Jonathan Tilley on the|
|Baba (aka mom) hits on a guard at the palace gates -|
is he the one who let us in to mass?
|The oldest section of St Vitus|
|Judy at Kafka's house on Zlata Ulička|
|Our last full meal in Prague - and oh it was fine!|
|Beautiful square near the Kampa - Amadeus, anyone?|
"There was a view of Charles Bridge from our table (it was nice enough to dine outdoors), and as luck would have it the route of the Prague International Marathon, which is being run today, passes through our little square - we saw the very last contestants run (if that's the word) by on the last leg (on THEIR last legs) - less than a kilometer for them, over the Charles Bridge and into Old Town Square."
"After lunch we made our way along a charming stretch of Malá Strana, very near the water, many of the apartments, I'm sure, offered views of the river and bankside. Then we arrived at the Malostranské Metro station. A short ride and a limping walk, for mom at least, and we were back at the Hotel. We'll probably just have a sandwich downstairs tonight, then off to the airport, with the help of Alex, who will pick us up at 9:45 am...at which time, really this time, farewell to Prague. Well! All for now, one or two more entries perhaps, to wrap up. Loooong day tomorrow!"
|I wrote above of the Waldstein Gardens, but there were so many photos in that section I thought that instead I'd include a few here - one part of the elegant, sculpted gardens|
From 2014: Na shledanou, as you can probably guess (Dottore Gianni cannot, I had to explain it to him) means "Goodbye," but also "See you later." For me it meant the latter, as I visited there on my own twice more - and would return in a jiffy...if...if...if only...
|Another of the Waldstein Gardens, this one featuring the quasi-stalactites that cover some of its walls, as well as a peacock!|
Tuesday 26 May, NYC: "Prague was golden, as all the guidebooks say, though I can understand the title of Peter Demetz's excellent book on the city: Prague in Black and Gold. There's a dark side to its history that Prague has retained down to its present. Our guide Alex told us of President (and former dissident playwright, who spent much of the 1970s in jail for his beliefs and writings) Vaclav Havel and Alex's own anger and frustration as he
|One of the many "golden" buildings in Prague|
on Wenceslaus Square
"And yet, it doesn't hold the same allure as Rome, for me at least. I can't really say why, except that for me Rome was a more sensuous experience...ah well, one cannot choose the person one loves (at least I don't seem to be able to). Prague is golden, an eminent city and a grand choice for the likes of me, mom and Judy to have visited. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I loved Rome."
"Spoke to Mom on the phone. Everything went smoothly for her, thank God, after I left her and Judy at Newark Airport. I hope the same was true for Judy, and I hope I find that out soon."
|Three Slavs on a bench in prague - I think this was taken using the timer|
on my camera
A few after-thoughts from 2014: Mom proved a real trouper on this trip! In her mid-70s (I only hope I'm still able to travel anywhere at that age) she endured long walks, fell once, at least (am near certain she fell more than once, as Judy and I darkly and somewhat sacrilegiously joked that "Ethel falls for the third time..."). We'd be walking along one of the cobble-stone streets, look around and there she'd be, down on the ground. Oi! But she always picked herself up, dusted herself off, and started all over again. She also put some strain on her leg and foot, and I don't remember complaints - Judy may, as she roomed with mom. She did rather well on our subsequent trip to Italy (with Judy and our Aunt Roseann), though not so well on the final trip I took with her, to Munich, Salzburg and Vienna - more about that trip, on which Aunt Roseann again accompanied us. But particularly as I look back to earlier years where I was much more spry than I am now (as I am about to embark on another trip, this one to Ireland) I really admire her on every one of the trips abroad she and I took!
|A great shot of mom and Judy at St Vitus - I'm so glad they made the trip with me!|
Finally, I seemed to have left out of the journal and encounter - and near arrest - I had on the Metro. Police patrol regularly as many people apparently get on the service without tickets. We were stopped by three or four police, one of whom asked to see my ticket. Had I UNDERSTOOD what he was saying I'd have gladly shown it to him, but all I could tell was that he seemed angry with me about something. His voice grew louder, as did mine trying to protest that I didn't know what he was saying - finally he held up a ticket, a light snapped on in my brain and I showed him mine. He laughed, I laughed and they ushered us on our way - whew! But why I left it out of the blog I do NOT know! Unless of course that happened on my next visit to Prague - but I seem to recall that mom and Judy were with me...as Nabokov wrote, SPEAK, memory...if only it would...
So! Discounting crooked taxi driver, rainy weather, mom falling and my near arrest, all in all I can testify that this trip was much more Su than Giù! And more from me and the good doctor very soon, I hope!
|Another grand building on Wenceslaus Square [ featuring two of my favorite things about Prague - Pilsner Urquell and the REAL Budweiser, much, much better |
than the U.S. (per-)version