Posts Tagged ‘travel’

2:57 pm

Svata Hora

On Sunday, I took myself on a little pilgrimage to Svatá Hora (Holy Mountain), in Pŕíbram. (Pŕíbram is about an hour from Prague by bus.)

From the website:

"The most well-known, as well as renowned, place of pilgrimage consecrated to the Virgin Mary in Bohemia – Svatá Hora (Holy Mountain) – has been, in its present-day form, towering high above the old mining town of Pŕíbram offering a majestic panorama for more than 330 years. Svatá Hora is a vast baroque complex of buildings with a multitude of towers with its severe external look and corner chapels reminiscent of defensive bastions giving the impression of a fortress, of a castle of the Virgin Mary to whom it has been consecrated. Because of its location in the center of the nation, Svatá Hora has been considered as the spiritual heart of Bohemia."

The main color scheme of the complex is pink and cream.

A closer view of the complex from the main plaza:

The statue of Madonna and Child in the middle of the plaza:

A side entrance to the complex:

The grounds are lovely and quite extensive. I’m always a little surprised at how much wealth the Church apparently managed to hang onto despite 40 years of Communism. But then, I suspect that land (at least outside of Prague) is pretty cheap in the Czech Republic.

This structure houses "Mary’s Well":

The notice regarding the well is in Czech, and I can’t find any other information on it, alas.

There is other fairly predictable statuary on the grounds, including two different Crucifixions. This one is along the path leading up to the complex from the town:

This one is on the hill itself:

On entering the complex through the main entrance, there is a main outdoor chapel:

The altar of the outdoor chapel:

There are indoor chapels at each of the four corners of the cloisters, as well as outdoor altars lining the cloisters, each dedicated to a different event in the life of Mary. The roofs of the cloisters are covered in stuccoes depicting miracles attributed to the intercession of Our Lady.

The main altar in the Church is rich with silver and gilt; not surprising, perhaps, as Pŕíbram was a mining town. A scanned postcard:

It’s not readily apparent from the picture, but to the right, just in back of the altar rail, there’s a short pillar with a notched top. I couldn’t make out the purpose of it, but it became apparent later.

The real star of the show, though, is the statuette of the Virgin Mary. (I swiped this picture from the Svatá Hora website):

At the risk of sounding irreverent, I have to say that the way in which the robes cover the limbs of the Virgin and Child makes it look as though they’re Siamese twins! And, as with the statue of the Infant Jesus here in Prague, the statuette in Svatá Hora has multiple changes of robes, corresponding to the different liturgical seasons. The statuette typically resides in a niche above the tabernacle (as seen in another picture swiped from the Svatá Hora site):

I attended the late afternoon Mass (which was in Czech, of course). People didn’t leave immediately after Mass, and I soon found why and also the reason for the pillar: after Mass, there was veneration of the statuette. The priest removed the statuette from its niche, covered the robe with a tulle cape, and set the base on the pillar. This picture, another pinched from the website, shows veneration taking place at the outdoor chapel:

There were several groups of pilgrims visiting at the same time, mostly Germans (or German-speaking, at any rate), but there didn’t seem to be very many Czech pilgrims.

3:30 am


I visited Tábor ("a historic town with a Hussite past", according to one of the brochures from the tourist office) last Friday (the 10th) for no real reason except that I hadn’t been there before.

This historic center, centered on Žižkova náměstí, isn’t very big. The tourist office offers a free audio-guided tour which takes about two hours. It starts at the Town Hall:

The Hussite Museum also serves as entrance to (part of) the system of medieval tunnels that runs under the historic center. Kind of dank and gloomy.

Houses facing the square have been well restored:

These frescoes are (understandably) a little faded:

Such a strong color is unusual:

A statue of Jan Žižkov stands in the square:

There’s also a Renaissance fountain crowned by knight:

Going down Pražská, you can find this Renaissance house (the street is too narrow to get a really good shot):

And then you arrive at the Oscar Nedbal theater:

Jordan Reservoir is the oldest such artificial lake in Central Europe. These days, it’s popular for boating and swimming.

The city fortifications included paired walls, one inside the other. Now the space in between is used for parkland:

Another house I just happened to like:

The tour loops on back to Žižkova náměstí and the Church of the Transfiguration:

After the Battle of Bílá Hora, Tábor needed to be re-evangelized and the barefoot Augustinians* were invited in. The monastery, with the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary:

St. Augustine is to the left of the church door:

His mother, St. Monica, is to the right:

*I’m not sure whether or not the "barefoot Augustinians" are distinct from the Augustinians we have at sv. Tomáš.

Kotnov Tower exists only in part now, but is home to an interesting exhibit on "Life and work in medieval society". Below the tower is a park, which was converted from a cemetery.

There’s a WWI memorial in the park, too:

According to the guide, there’s a Shoah memorial in the park, but I couldn’t find it.

I had lunch at U dvou koček (At the Two Cats’), just because I liked their shield:

Wandering away from the center, I visited the Baroque church and monastery in Klokoty – a renowned pilgrimage spot.

There’s an extensive cemetery attached:

Returning to the train station, I passed this fountain, which I happened to like:

And, I’m not sure what this building is, but again, I just happened to like it:

Tábor is home to a botanical garden, but I can’t say I was much impressed:


There’s a little park near the train station. I don’t know who this is: I tried asking some of the kids in the park, but they just shrugged.

1:55 pm

Visiting the States

I visited the States for the first time since leaving more than two years ago. It was Little Brother’s birthday, which seemed like a reasonable excuse.


Since my putative excuse for the trip was LB’s birthday, I started my visit on the Oregon coast, near Lincoln City. I made LB a seafood lasagne and blueberry cheesecake (his favorites!) for his birthday, and we just hung out. We did make one little excursion to the Rogue Brewery in Newport, where I discovered their Hazelnut Brown Nectar. That is one seriously excellent ale.


The second part of my trip took me the Bay Area, to catch up with friends and the rest of my family. There were excursions to Marin County and Sacramento for family, dinners, lunches, glasses of wine with old friends, and a few days just wandering around revisiting old haunts. I was not, alas, able to visit my favorite bookstore, Staceys, as it closed its doors for the last time before I arrived:

The California Academy of Sciences

I took one day to play tourist in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. I was thinking about paying a visit to the new DeYoung Museum:

First, though, I made my way across the Music Concourse:

My destination was the new California Academy of Sciences, where I ended up spending the day.

The new Academy is significantly more expensive than the old one: $24.95 for the day’s admission. Although, since I was able to show a bus transfer as evidence that I had dutifully taken public transit to get there, I did receive a $3.00 discount. Unlike the old Academy, however, the admission price included free admission to the planetarium show. This was something of a mixed blessing. While I appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to pay yet again to see the planetarium show, the fact that it was already included meant that everyone seemingly attends a show. It is necessary to have a pass, but at 10 AM, passes were available only for the last show at 4 PM.

Even though it was a weekday, this new Academy was also much more crowded than I ever remember the old one being. And it didn’t appear to be due to school field trips either: it looked as though it was mostly families.

My favorite part was the new Rain forest exhibit: four stories of flora and fauna:

Some of the birds dining on a bit of melon:

The route through the exhibit goes in an upward spiral. Looking down from the midpoint:

They very carefully control access to the exhibit to make sure that no butterflies or birds slip out when people enter and leave. On leaving, there’s an attendant at the elevator to help you check:

Another feature that I liked was the living roof: 2.5 acres planted with close to 2 million native plants.

I also attended the 4 PM Planetarium show. The old projector is gone, and with it, the silhouette of the San Francisco skyline. Instead, there is amphitheater style seating and the effect is more akin to an IMAX theater. Indeed, as with IMAX, the effect can be a little dizzying at first. I enjoyed the show.

I was particularly disappointed that the fish roundabout is gone. And, generally, I was unimpressed by the new Aquarium, though some of that undoubtedly had to do with the crowding.

They devoted a lot of exhibit space to self-congratulations on how green and sustainable the new building is. I appreciate their virtue, but I could have done without the self-righteousness!


The new cathedral, Christ the Light, which was still under construction when I had left, was recently dedicated. And so I stopped by. I have to say that I was less impressed than I expected to be. I found it rather stark and not particularly welcoming. On the other hand, my first impression of Our Lady of Lourdes, my old home parish, had been similar. It was only when I went to Mass there that I warmed to it, so I’ll reserve judgment on the cathedral until I can attend a service there.

A friend had expressed disappointment with the central image of Christ Pantokrator above the altar, saying she thought it too stern. Since that space is usually occupied by a crucifix, though, which doesn’t exactly portray a cheery Christ, that didn’t bother me.

As luck would have it though, my visit to the cathedral coincided with the tail end of the press conference in which the newly appointed bishop, Salvatore Cordileone, was introduced. And so it was that I got to see the new bishop in the flesh before most of his new flock even knew about the appointment.

Back to Prague

By the end of my two weeks in the States, though, I was starting to get homesick. While it was lovely to see family and friends and to be in familiar surroundings, it’s just not home anymore. At least not for now, it isn’t.

3:25 am

Adobe MAX Europe in Milan

I took a three-day holiday from teaching to go to Milan for Adobe MAX Europe: I was feeling the need to reconnect with my techie roots.

I had an early morning flight on Sunday, and I was amazed at how deserted the airport was:

There were also scads of posters announcing the upcoming Czech presidency of the European Union:

I knew that the sugar cube is a Czech invention (what, you didn’t know that?), but I was a little baffled that this apparently represents the Czech view of their greatest contribution to European civilization. Turns out that this sugary ad campaign has stirred a little controversy, mainly because of its slogan. "To vám osladím" translates literally as "I’ll make things sweeter for you", but is more often used in a negative sense to mean "I’ll make your life hell".

The models in these two posters are chemist Antonín Holý and architect Eva Jiřičná. There’s also a amusing TV commercial featuring Mr. Holý, Ms. Jiřičná, and the other "Faces of the Presidency".

Playing Tourist in Milan

Because it had been such an early flight, I was checked in to my hotel by 10 AM, so I had time to play tourist. I headed first for the Piazza Duomo. The Duomo (Cathedral) itself is the most striking structure on the square:

Because it is so wide relative to its height, from a distance it looked smaller than it is, but close up it is indeed huge.
One of the doors:

I arrived at the Duomo in time for 11 AM Mass, which was celebrated according to the Ambrosian rite. This change in rite was disorienting, since it was in Italian (of course), and so I couldn’t follow all of what was going on. According to the cathedral’s website, the Church in Milan defines as one of its essential tasks the preserving and defending the Ambrosian ritual. I had to turn to Wikipedia to find this description of the differences between the Ambrosian and Roman rites.

Besides the Duomo, the Piazza also features a statue of Vittorio Emmanuel (first king of the unified Italy):

The Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel adjoins the Piazza Duomo. Since I’m not a recreational shopper, I wasn’t all that interested in the shops, but I did admire the looks of it:

And what must surely be one of the classiest homes for a McDonalds:

I don’t remember which church this was: I just happened across it while wandering through the streets and liked it.

The afternoon I spent at the Castello Sforzesco. It hadn’t sounded all that interesting, so I didn’t set aside a lot of time for visiting it, which was a mistake. It is home to about a dozen separate museums and exhibitions, and in the four hours I had before it closed, I was able to visit only 6. I particularly liked Musuem of Ancient Art, although the Pinacoteca is probably the most famous.

The Castello from the street:

And an approach to the courtyard:

To the right as I came in:

To the left:

And looking back the way I came in:

There’s even a statue of St. John of Nepomuk in the courtyard, which made me feel quite at home:

The Conference Itself

Sunday afternoon, I dutifully presented myself at Registration to pick up my badge and other materials, and snooped around the convention center a little. They were still getting set up:

The conference, which began on Monday, didn’t really lend itself to pictures. It was very Flash/Flex-heavy, which was fine, because that was what I was most interested in. I picked up a lot of useful hints and came away with some new ideas: now I just need to find time to implement them! I also collected a bunch of business cards, just in case I decide to go back to web development in earnest. (Yes, teaching is getting a little old by now.)

The day two keynote was fun, although the "Men in Black" theme was a little forced at times. But I’m easily amused.

Unfortunately, I forgot the charger for my cell phone. However, the folks at the Nokia booth were very kind about recharging it for me. I think all tech conferences should have a collection of cell phone rechargers hanging around. And spare USB cables, too.

I liked the Adobe bus:

8:51 am

Week in Frantiskovy Lazne

After my birthday weekend in Mariánské Lázně, I was curious about what the real spa experience was supposed to be like. And I was also in the mood to get out of Prague for a little while. So, I booked myself a one-week stay in Františkovy Lázně. Of the three main spa towns in that district, Františkovy Lázně is the least well-known (and the smallest); Karlovy Vary is the best-known, with Mariánské Lázně coming in between.

It’s a very pretty town, with extensive parks:

There’s even a "miniature golf course":

This is the first miniature golf course I’ve seen in the Czech Republic.

One of the parks has a bandstand which was host to a (free) afternoon concert:

The official color scheme of Františkovy Lázně, or at least the spa district, is yellow and white. It’s very stylish, but it starts to get a little boring after a while. I forget which hotel this was:

The Catholic church, which was also home to a very nice concert one evening:

The colonnade, with its attendant sphinxes:

And where is it written that all Czech spa towns must have a colonnade?
The Božena Němcová Theater does not follow the yellow and white rule. Though it’s not readily apparent from this shot, the theater is actually pale green and white:

I was staying at the Hotel Imperial:

It’s not as big as the picture makes it look: it’s only a few dozen rooms, but it is, for Františkovy Lázně, very grand. English was in short supply, although the clerks at the front desk managed to get by pretty well, and the doctor spoke surprisingly good English. (On my last visit, she asked what I did for a living. When I said that I’m an English teacher, she exclaimed that that was why I spoke so slowly and carefully and was so easy to understand. She was touchingly grateful that I was so easy to communicate with. It made me wonder what her experience with other English speakers had been like.)

As at Mariánské Lázně, the treatments were very clinical: the treatments rooms feature lots of white paint and tile and bright lights, and the attendants are all in white uniforms. It’s not at all like the muted and tranquil environment that I usually associate with days spas in California.

The treatments I had were pretty ordinary: baths and massages and one mud wrap. The one treatment that I found novel was the "underwater massage". In this one, the attendant uses a high-pressure hose to do the massaging. Kind of like an hand-held shower massage, but dialed up about a hundred-fold!

It was a relaxed week, though. I walked a lot and caught up on some reading. (The limited Internet service coupled with a problem with my computer’s power supply kept me largely offline for the week.)

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