Archive for October, 2008

12:21 pm


I celebrated Czech Independence Day with a trip to Národní Divadlo, to see a performance of Smetana’s opera, Libuše. Národní Divadlo’s website says this about the opera:

Smetana’s Libuše, dealing with the mythical story of the fabled Czech princess who prophesies glory for the Czech nation, is inextricably linked with Czech history and that of the National Theatre, where on many occasions in the past it has been presented as a work quite extraordinary in its humanistic and social message. The title role has always been performed by the ensemble’s principal soloists. In the current production, Libuše is sung by the Czech soprano of world renown Eva Urbanová.

Urbanová, who sang Libuše, was excellent, and I also especially liked Martin Bárta, who sang Přemysl. The opera itself was a great favorite with the Czech audience, who enthusiastically applauded Libuše’s first act prayer, invoking the blessings of the gods on the Czech nation, as well as the series of prophecies that closes the opera, concluding with the line, "My beloved Czech nation will not perish; gloriously she will vanquish the terrors of hell!"

3:24 am

The Day of Establishment of the Independent Czechoslovak Republic

Today is the 90th anniversary of the establishment of an independent Czechoslovakia. The official website of the Czech Republic has this to say about the holiday:

Exactly one month later (than September 28’s "Day of Czech Statehood"), October 28, perhaps the most important day is remembered, which is associated with the existence of the Czechoslovak Republic itself. In 1918, after several decades of effort of Czechs and Slovaks for recognition of their national rights and the end of the World War I, the independent Czechoslovakia was established, one of the succession states of Austria-Hungary, consisting of Bohemia, Moravia, part of Silesia, Slovakia and Under-Carpathian Russia. On this day each year, the president of the republic, together with eminent state officers, places bunches of flowers on the grave of the first president and the leader of foreign revolt at the time of the World War I, Tomáš G. Masaryk, at the castle in Lány, and also at the monument in Vítkov. In the evening of this day, the president honors eminent personalities of cultural and social life.

Because of the Tuesday holiday, the schools are closed through at least Wednesday (some are closed all week, I’m told), so a lot of people are enjoying long weekends right now.

This doesn’t, alas, apply to English teachers, although we are off today.

Aside from it being a day off, there apparently isn’t much by way of traditions for celebrating this anniversary, although several of the concert halls and theaters are featuring particularly patriotic programs. Municipal House, for example, is playing Smetana’s Má Vlast (My Country) this evening, and his Libuše (an opera about the legendary princess who prophesied glory for the Czech nation) is being sung at Národní Divadlo this afternoon. And so I am off to the opera today.

3:24 pm

Good Deed for the Day

On the tram this morning was a group of American students, four girls. I wasn’t paying much mind initially, but I soon realized that they were paying close attention to the display board that shows the upcoming stops. I finally asked one of them where they were going and was told "Krymská". I pointed out that they were headed in the wrong direction and needed to hop off an catch a tram going the opposite direction.

One of the students complimented me on my excellent English (!), before asking me where I was from. I admitted to being an American myself, living in Prague for just over a year, and was immediately pumped for advice on sights and food.

Turns out that they’re exchange students at a university in Rome. They have a 10-day holiday and are spending it travelling. They had just arrived from Germany, and will be in Prague 2 days before moving on to Budapest.

I certainly hope they found their hostel and manage to enjoy themselves!

6:49 am

Playing Tourist: Sunday at Konopiste

Last Sunday was not quite as grand as Saturday had been: it was a little hazy, but still bright and crisp. So I took advantage of the fine weather to visit another of the local castles, Konopiště.

The inner courtyard:

Konopiště’s main claim to fame is that it was home to Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire whose assassination in Sarajevo set off World War I. Franz Ferdinand was an avid hunter and so the grounds attached to the castle are extensive and quite lovely:

Perhaps because it’s fairly late in the tourist season, only one of the three tours of the castle was available in English, which was a pity, as I would have liked to have seen the private flat. The castle brochure has this to say about the tour that was available in English:

Unforgettable hunting corridor with almost 900 trophies proves Ferdinand’s hunting passion. Throughout his life Francis Ferdinand killed almost 300,000 animals. As for representative salons situated on the 1st floor in the southern wing of the chateau, most significants guests such as the German emperor Wiliams II were accommodated there.

The hunting corridor in particular was really unnerving. Just getting up to it required climbing stairs panelled with hunting trophies before being confronted with hundreds more trophies, each with a little plaque detailing when and where the animal in question had been killed. The sight of all these trophies prompted me to observe that Franz Ferdinand had not been killed by Serb separatists, but rather by a PETA precursor!

The tour guide even pointed out the trophy for a kill attributed to Franz Ferdinand’s daughter Sophie when she was 2 years old! (Apparently, her daddy helped her.)

Franz Ferdinand was also an enthusiastic collector of guns, stamps, and St. George images. There is even a "Museum of Saint George" at the castle. Besides the expected figures, paintings, and tapestries featuring St. George, there are also belt buckles, medallions, beer steins and goblets, a bed, and several items whose function I couldn’t begin to guess. According to the castle brochure, 900 different pieces are on display.

Statue on the southern terrace:

There’s a bear named Kazimír in the moat:

Kazimír is 20 years old and is a long-eared bear (ursus thibetanus).

The park has some fine statuary, although I don’t know the significance of this piece:

An urn, for no real reason that I could tell:

The Neptune fountain:

This time of year, the Rose Garden is rather bleak:

It must be lovely in the summer:

The autumn colors helped to make up for it, though:

As at Wallenstein Palace, peafowl roam the gardens with no fear of or interest in the human visitors:

Konopiště was seized by the Czechoslovakian government in 1921 as a Hapsburg property. However, one of the conditions of Franz Ferdinand’s marriage to Sophie Chotek was that their children would not be allowed to inherit the throne. As a result, one of Franz Ferdinand’s descendants has recently filed suit to get it returned on the grounds that it wasn’t Hapsburg property.

Getting There

Supposedly, there is a bus that runs from the Florenc station directly to Konopiště, but I couldn’t turn it up on a search. Instead, I took the train to Benešov and then walked to Konopiště. I’ve noticed this before when using search, though, that direct routes that I later find out existed were not displayed. I speculated to one of my students that perhaps my problem is that I use the English-language version of the search and maybe if I were to stay with the Czech version, I’d get more complete results. Seriously, there must be some trick to getting better results; I just can’t figure out what it is.

5:32 am

Playing Tourist: Saturday in Mala Strana

Prague Castle

Last Saturday, the weather was so perfectly glorious that I had to go out and do something, so I wandered over to Malá Strana and Prague Castle. My ostensible goal was the Three Women Sculptors: Věra Janoušková, Eva Kmentová, Alina Szapocznikow exhibition at the Summer Palace.

As art goes, I’m not a great fan of painting: I prefer my arts to be more tactile, and so I (usually) particularly like sculpture. However, my taste in art is sufficiently old-fashioned that I also like things to look more or less recognizeable. And so, I was not way thrilled with the exhibition.
A piece by Eva Kmentová, outside the Summer Palace:

But it was still a nice day for wandering around the gardens:

After last month’s trip to Plzeň with its requisite Marian plague column, I started to wonder about whether or not Prague had a plague column. After Googling™ around, I found references to one that had been in Staroměstské náměstí, but that had been demolished as a symbol of Hapsburg domination shortly after the Republic was declared in 1918. But I also found a reference a reference to this one, in Hradčanské náměstí:

There’s also supposedly one near sv. Mikuláše (St. Nicholas) in Malá Strana, but I haven’t seen that one yet.

Hradčanské náměstí is also where the Archbishop’s Palace can be found:

A statue of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia, looks towards Prague Castle (the residence of his successors):

I’m not sure what these guys were about, but they were attracting a lot of attention on their stilts:

Wallenstein Palace

On leaving the Prague Castle complex, I decided to visit the grounds of Valdštejnský Palác (Wallenstein Palace), the seat of the Czech Senate. There’s an entrance to the gardens conveniently near the Malostranská metro station.

The gardens are really lovely, with a huge pond:

There were a lot of people taking advantage of the fine weather to visit:

The gardens are populated by peacocks and peahens, who seem to have no fear of, nor interest in, people. They roamed the gardens every which way, paying absolutely no attention to the humans doing likewise.

Are there albino peafowl, or is this something else?

Perhaps the most striking feature, though, is the dripstone wall:

From a distance, I had thought it was just moss, but the color was wrong. On coming closer, I could see that it had been created and there were the faces and forms of frogs, snakes, and other unspecified animals in the wall:

I can’t imagine what effect that wall might have on Senators if they come out to wander in the garden between sessions, but I found it rather creepy!

The Senate website has some very nice videos of the palace and gardens, if you’d like a closer look.

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