Thursday, February 05, 2009

Prague on Ice

While this Spinster Travelogue is long overdue, it's cold enough in NYC today to bring back sharp memories of Prague two weeks ago, during the coldest of the cold snaps. (During which, I might add, people in Slovakia had NO HEAT, thanks to a natural gas dispute between Russia and the Ukraine. Something like fourteen people died, so I tried to keep my complaining to a minimum.)

With its embarrassment of architectural riches and compact historical center, Prague is ideally suited for long outdoor walks, but kind of miserable on frigid January days. During any other winter, I'd happily stroll the city's snow-dusted cobblestone lanes for hours at a stretch, but on this trip our flaneur time maxed out at two hours or less.

A complicated timepiece

From Kampa we caught Tram No. 22 up the hill toward Strahov Monastery, a medieval marvel founded in the twelfth century. The tram ride is a tour in itself, winding up Petrin hill over pretty Mala Strana and offering breathtaking views. Strahov's stunning medieval library is open to the public, and I was completely captivated when I saw CALL NUMBERS on the books' spines. From there it's a healthy walk to Prague Castle, but a charming one, on a street called Nerudova, which is also known as the Royal Way.

Rooftops in Mala Strana

Prague Castle's enormous complex of museums and galleries is familiar to both my mother and I -- she absolutely refuses to go to Golden Lane, because she thinks it's too commercial -- but we did stop by the recently restored Lobowitz Palace. The Palace is owned by Czech-Americans who were granted restitution of their land after the curtain fell, and their audio tour is hilarious. They take turns talking about all their priceless treasure and what a bitch the upkeep of all *that* is, and at one point when the matriarch of the family hands off the mic to her son, he actually says, "Thank you, mummy!" It's kind of sickening, but then there are original Beethoven scores in glass display cases, which are guaranteed to awe (if you're not awed by the original score of Beethoven's Fifth, you have no soul).

Strahov Monastery is in the background

The Museum of the City of Prague was next on our tour, and I completely loved it. It's my favorite museum in the city right now, and it has a fabulous scale model of the town in the early 19th century where you can actually see streets you walked down, like Nerudova (and you'll be forgiven for saying things like, "Look, there's our hotel!") Architecture students should love this place, and they get a student discount on admission (your MA in Cinema Studies will get you nowhere with the ticket lady, unfortunately). This was a far, far better museum than the cheap-o Mucha Museum in Old Town Square, which consisted of a few slapped-together posters, and totally sucked.

Finally, what wintertime jaunt would be complete without cozy places to eat and drink? For my money, you can't beat Café Slavia, a grand old-world café where Vaclav Havel used to dine. Located across the street from the National Theatre, you can soak up some history while your hearty dumplings soak up some beer, and you can do it all under a gaudy oil painting of a man drinking absinthe with the Green Fairy. You can probably get absinthe, too, if that's your thing.

Or you could go to the Kinomat

Later in the week we went to a small town called Trinec to pack up my grandmother's things and prepare her apartment for sale (she passed away in November). I couldn't help but notice a few things, notably:

Czech peasantry (note the poppies):

My grandma's town:

= I am a peasant

... which explains a lot of things about me, like why I really want that country house, and why I think potatoes are "neat."

Na zdravi!


P.L. Kerpius said...

Wow. Just wow. When I go to Prague I want you to be my tour guide. This is fantastic!

Anonymous said...

i just want to express our solidarity with potato peasanthood.. keep the faith