Posts Tagged ‘Little Brother’

Saturday
October
11th
2008
3:16 pm

Little Brother’s Visit, Days 6, 7 and 8: The (Inglorious) Conclusion

Sixth Day

Monday was the day I resumed teaching, so Little Brother was on his own for the day. When I got home, LB mentioned that he had revisited some favorite sites in the historic center of town. He also mentioned that he had had a sausage at one of the sausage stands on Václavské Náměstí and that it wasn’t setting well. We had earlier agreed that Monday night we would have an early celebration of my birthday, and I suggested postponing our celebration to the next night so he would be feeling better. But no, LB insisted that he’d be fine, and so we returned to U Básníka P&aacutenve.;

This time, I badgered LB into ordering something properly Czech, and he got the svíčková, sirloin in a cream sauce. He was very pleased with the results. I think he had been dubious about the cream sauce bit, but he enjoyed it.

After dinner, we tried going back to Bar and Books, but for some unspecified reason, they were opening late, so we came home instead to open my birthday presents. And now I have lovely new copies of Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna, FDR and Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals About the Mind. Thanks, LB.

Unfortunately, by the time he went to bed, LB’s earlier sausage had already started taking its revenge and LB got sick.

Seventh Day

The revenge of the sausage continued on Tuesday, and LB stayed home with 7-Up and canned soup.

Eighth Day: The Departure

LB had a 9 AM flight to Amsterdam, so we had arranged for an airport shuttle to pick him up at 6:15 AM. He was still not feeling well, but we packed him off anyway. I had a brief text message from him later that day saying "Made It. Lagos. It’s crazy here. Will text u tomorrow". By the next day, he was indeed fully recovered, but alas, his Prague stay had an inglorious conclusion.

Saturday
October
11th
2008
5:34 am

Little Brother’s Visit, Day 5: Plzen

Plzeň

It had pretty much always been a given that Little Brother and I would visit Plzeň, primarily so that LB could check out the Pilsner Urquell Brewery. Admittedly, after LB discovered Budvar Super Strong, we were toying with České Budějovice to visit the Budvar brewery instead, but Plzeň is only an hour away, while České Budějovice is three hours, so…

We arrived in Plzeň at just about noon and promptly proceeded to get lost looking for the tourist information office. Turns out the tourist information office at the train station is tucked in the back under the stairs going up to the train platforms.

After getting our maps at tourist information, we headed for the historic center of town to take in the sights. There was the West Bohemian Museum:

And there’s the cathedral of St. Bartholomew, which boasts the tallest tower in the Czech Republic:

I believe that this is the entrance to the old Franciscan monastery:

The Renaissance city hall:

And the Marian plague column

LB admiring the buildings:

And taking in the sights in the main square:

According to our little guide brochure, the Big Synagogue is the third largest synagogue in the world and also serves as a concert and exhibition hall:

The Old Synagogue, down the street and around the corner, is hard to find, tucked in an alleyway as it is. It has fallen into disrepair but is being restored. Alongside the synagogue is the Monument to the Disappeared:

A cobblestone marked with the name and date of birth remembers each of the Jewish citizens who “disappeared” during the War:

It appears that they go through periodically and refresh the names and birthdates, since the writing on the stones in some sections of this rock garden appear fresh, while others are virtually illegible:

The Josef Kajetán Tyl Theater is another of the highlighted sights:

And there’s a pretty little park, Smetanovy sady, that runs down from the back of the theater:

"Daddy" Spejbl and his son Hurvinek were the creation of a Plzeň theater professor named Skupa and are here as reminders of Plzeň’s puppeteering tradition:

The Brewery

All this was largely by way of killing time before the 2:15 English tour of the brewery of course.

When we got to the visitor information center for the brewery, we found that, in addition to the fee for the tour, there’s an additional charge if you want to take pictures. That seems very odd to me. I could understand not allowing pictures at all, if they were concerned about industrial espionage, say (though that seems pretty implausible). But allowing picture-taking only on payment of a fee (I think it was 150 CZK) seems pretty stingy. On the other hand, some people (including LB) were willing to pay it, so I guess it makes good business sense for them. The following pictures were taken by LB, since I declined to pay for the privilege of taking pictures.

The complex is a large one. Not only is Pilsner Urquell brewed and bottled there, but it shares its bottling facilities with several other beers owned by the same parent company. We were taken to see the facility where the bottles are filled (there are separate facilities for filling kegs and cans). We also got to see where the beer is brewed, in their vast copper vats:

While the beer is aged these days in stainless steel silos, once upon a time, it was aged in wooden kegs, and they still keep these to show the tourists:


They do in fact still age some of their beer this way, but it’s strictly for consumption by visitors taking the tour!

LB also liked their railway car:

And their old delivery truck:

Absinth

The daughter of a friend had told LB, most emphatically in fact, that he had to try absinth while he was here. I tried to discourage him: Czech absinth is little more that grain alcohol with green food coloring, I told him. But after dinner that night, we saw absinth on the drink menu, and he insisted on trying it.

The waiter appeared with a pack of matches and two glasses: one glass with the shot of absinth and the other with a couple of envelopes of sugar (one white sugar, the other brown) and a spoon. We looked at this ensemble for a minute (I know the French way of serving absinthe, with the slotted spoon, sugar cube and water, but I’ve never paid any mind to the Czech approach), and called the waiter back. He emptied the packet of white sugar into the spoon, set the absinth on fire, and held the spoon over the flaming absinth to caramelize the sugar. Needless to say, we attracted a great deal of interest from the neighboring diners. We also got a couple of other waiters appearing at our table to watch the show. After a few minutes, he emptied the sugar into the absinth, covered the glass with a coaster to extinguish the flame, and urged LB to drink up. Of course, after having been filled with flaming absinth, the glass was too hot to the touch, so LB poured the absinth into the other glass. After a tentative sip, which didn’t appear to be much to his liking, he tossed the whole thing back, which prompted a coughing fit. A glass of water and 20 minutes later, though, and he was good as new.

I had a very nice sipping rum instead. No coughing fit; no need for a glass of water.

Friday
October
10th
2008
4:42 am

Little Brother’s Visit, Days 3 and 4: Karlstejn

Third Day: Karlštejn

For Friday, I had made reservations for the second tour at Karlštejn. Because this tour takes in the Chapel of the Holy Rood (Holy Cross), they strictly limit access and it is necessary to make advance reservations. The tour also "passes through the Marian and Great towers and offers visit to the Church of Our Lady, Chapel of St. Catharine, former Sacristy, suspension wooden bridge, museum of lapidary, castle’s picture gallery, library with exposition of the last reconstruction of the castle."

The train from Prague takes about 40 minutes. Of the former royal castles, this one is the closest to Prague (next after Prague Castle, that is), so the guidebooks warn that it is overrun by tourists. Friday midday, though, this late in the season, there were no hordes of tourists.

After the previous day’s extended walking tour, neither LB nor I was really eager to do a lot of walking. However, the castle is a 20 – 30 minute walk from the train station. I had warned LB that the castle was a bit of a hike, but the first 15 minutes or so was at no more than a gentle incline, and LB commented that this wasn’t so bad. But look where the castle is relative to where we are was my reply:

And yes, that last 10 minutes was steep!

We arrived at the castle with just a few minutes to spare before our 1:15 tour was to start. The inner courtyard is not particularly interesting:

However, the walls offer superb views of the valley below:

And peaking around the side of the castle:

Karlštejn’s main claim to fame (beyond its convenience as a day trip from Prague) is that it was built as a place for safekeeping of the royal treasures, especially Charles IV’s collection of holy relics and the coronation jewels of the Holy Roman Empire. Of course, these treasures are no longer stored at Karlštejn, and the castle itself is frankly not all that interesting. The tour guide did his best, though, to make the tour interesting.

The real reason to visit Karlštejn, and particularly to take the second tour, is to visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross: it is totally amazing. The upper walls are lined with a collection of 129 panel paintings dating back to the 14th century, collection by Master Theodoric. The lower walls are encrusted with gold and precious and semiprecious stones. The altar is separated from the rest of the chapel by a screen; on the altar are replicas of the the crown, scepter and orb from the Czech crown jewels (which I had missed seeing in April). We weren’t allowed to take pictures, of course, but the virtual tour on the castle website gives something of the feel.

The chapel had fallen victim to extensive vandalism and looting when the castle was reopened to the public following the fall of Communism, so it had been closed for several years for renovation before reopening just a few years ago. But the damage done by tourists accounts for why reservations for tour 2 must be made in advance and the number of tourists for any given tour is limited to no more than 15. The tour guide was very particular about making sure that we did not stray from the carpet!

Aside from the castle, there’s nothing much to see in Karlštejn, though LB did browse the souvenir stands and picked up a few trinkets before we headed back to the train station.

Burčák and Dinner

On our return to Prague, there was a wine festival set up in Náměstí Míru, and I was able to introduce LB to burčák, Moravian new wine. It was utterly packed and was to relocate the following day to Havličkovy Sady, so we didn’t spend much time. Instead, we went on to dinner at U Básníka Pánve (which I blogged about recently). LB had the "Velvety Velvet", described on the menu as "chicken breast filled with lean English bacon strip, blue cheese, walnuts and golden pear". It was, he said, the best chicken dish he had ever had in a restaurant. (I had my favorite boar goulash.)

After dinner, we went across the street to Bar and Books (which also featured in a recent posting). Since LB is a big James Bond fan, I felt that he should have a "Vesper" (Bond’s signature martini), and I knew he would appreciate the fact that they play Bond movies (sans sound) constantly. Unfortunately, he didn’t much care for the Vesper and the Bond movie was one of the Timothy Dalton flicks.

Fourth Day

After all the walking we had been doing and with me needing to take some time to prepare for the start of teaching, we kept Saturday low key. LB went out for a walk, returning to the tank at the National Museum and wandering along Václavské Náměstí, while I stayed home, poring over course books and virtuously doing my lesson planning.

When LB returned, we went out to the wine festival at Havličkovy Sady. However, crowded as it had been at Náměstí Míru the previous day, it was even worse on Saturday. And at all the wine stands, the lines were 20 deep (and moving very slowly), so we didn’t buy anything or stay for long.

Saturday
September
27th
2008
2:27 pm

Little Brother’s Visit, Days 1 and 2: The Orientation

Arrival and First Day

So, Little Brother arrived on Wednesday the 17th for a one-week visit: his first overseas flight! (Way to go, Little Brother! Yay!). I went out to Prague Airport to meet him. As is typical in our family, he couldn’t sleep on the flight over, so he was dead on his feet. I had already told him, though, that I was going to make sure that he stayed up until at least 7, if not 8, PM to help him adjust more quickly to the time difference.

By the time we left the metro at Náměstí Míru, though, the adrenalin of his new surroundings was starting to kick in, and he was fascinated by the architecture.

As luck would have it, there was a vacant room in the flat where I’m living, and my landlord agreed to let LB have it for the week (Thanks, Jarda!). One of our first stops, after we had gotten him settled into his room, was the local Albert’s to pick up some of the basic necessities (Coke and beer mainly). LB was particularly taken with the sight of Budvar Super Strong, Budvar being, of course, the real Budweiser:

The concept of bacon-flavored Lays also caught his attention, and he had to get a bag of chips as well:

Lays also comes in a roasted chicken with thyme flavor in France, I told him. (For some reason, neither flavor can be found on the Frito-Lay website; I’m not sure what to make of that.)

After our shopping trip and walking around the neighborhood, we came back to the flat and sat up talking and watching xXx, which, since it’s largely set in Prague, seemed like a good way to introduce LB to the city.

Second Day: The Walking Tour

The next morning, LB was up by about 10:30 and at about noon we set off on a walking tour of central Prague. Our first stop was the National Museum, at the top of Václavské Náměstí. Because of the current exhibition commemorating the 40th anniversary of Prague Spring, there is a Russian tank parked in front of the Museum. Needless to say, that caught LB’s attention.

We moved on down the Square, pausing to admire the equestrian statue of King Václav. I also took LB into the Lucerna so that he could get a look at the inverted statue of Václav. Wandering in and out of a few stores on the way, we meandered on down to Staroměstské náměstí, stopping briefly at the Sex Machines Museum ("the first museum in the world devoted to sexual gadgets").

From Staroměstské náměstí, we wandered down Pařižká, the high-end shopping district. From there, on to the Rudolfinum to stroll down the bank of the Vltava to cross Karlův Most (the Charles Bridge).

Crossing the bridge, we paused to listen to a Dixieland Jazz Band play; a little ways down, a violinist was playing Dvořak.

Arriving in Malá Strana, we stopped to visit Vrtbovská zahrada (Vrtba Garden). We walked in on the preparation for a wedding, but they didn’t try to keep us out, so we were able to wander through the garden and admire the view from the top.
The lowest terrace:

One of the fountains:

LB on the second terrace:

We also made a brief detour by Panny Marie Vítězné (Our Lady Victorious; home of the statue of the Infant of Prague). My goal in Malá Strana, though, was the Lanova Draha (funicula) up Petřin Hill to get to the Observation Tower (Prague’s answer to the Eiffel Tower). There is no elevator in the Observation Tower: just 299 stairs, so we decided not to climb up the Tower to admire the view.

From Petřin Hill, we hiked more or less cross-country to Hradčany, which is a lot harder than it appears from just looking at a map. But once there, we were able to wander through the castle complex and visit St. Vitus Cathedral.

By this time, we had been walking for about five hours, so it was time to head down the hill to catch the tram home. After dinner (tomato soup and pizza at Matylda), we went home to rest up for a planned Friday trip to Karlštejn.

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