Author Archives: hedera

Exploring Prague – Castle and Cathedral

July 1 was our last full day in Europe.  Could we sleep in?  No way – the bus to the Prague Castle, where we had guided walking tours set up, left at 8:30 AM.  And yes, I’m willing to get up early to tour a medieval castle dating back to the 9th century (rebuilt multiple times, of course)!  In fact, we didn’t get into the Castle at all; we spent most the tour of the hilltop in St. Vitus’ Cathedral, a Gothic building.  The first interesting thing I saw was this wall:

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Yes, it’s an optical illusion – no matter how it looks, that wall is flat.  It’s etched in a technique called sgraffito, to give the impression of a wall decorated with diamond-shaped plaques.  It’s flat.  I put my hand on it. 

Here’s our first view of St. Vitus Cathedral.  I don’t know why cathedrals in east central Europe have those checkered tile patterns on the roof, but I saw it in Budapest and Vienna, and here in Prague – but not in Cologne (which we visited in 2012).

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Like most medieval buildings, especially on European rivers, the cathedral and castle are on top of a hill.  Military defense aside, when the Vltava River floods, everybody can scramble up the hill and take shelter in the cathedral, the castle, or both, until the water goes down.  The brown slanted surface you see below the cathedral is the roof of a building in the sort of dry moat area below the cathedral.  The guide didn’t mention it.

Our route into the cathedral took us first into this courtyard. The round white building is the Treasury of St. Vitus Cathedral, one of the most extensive church treasuries in Europe.  If I’d known that  I would have tried to go in, but our tour didn’t give us much time there.

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You may recall from earlier posts that I like gargoyles, and collect them; here are the gargoyles from St. Vitus Cathedral.  Remember, these things are downspouts.  In the rain, they spit out water draining off the roof.

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I got one good photo down the nave, the classic cathedral shot.  Click on any of these photos and it’ll take you to the full gallery, where you can see photos of some of the stained glass windows, and a detail of an odd interior stairway.

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Here’s the full exterior view of the Cathedral, both towers, and the “Golden Gate”:

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The Golden Gate is worth a closer look; the west door, which is in the gallery, is classic Gothic, with pointed arches and detailed relief carvings.  The Golden Gate is a gilded mosaic of the Last Judgment, looking more like a Russian icon than like a medieval cathedral entrance.   It dates from the 14th century; the mosaics were restored in the 1970s by the Getty Conservation Institute.  The Golden Gate was the royal entrance to the cathedral, immediately facing the old Royal Palace across the plaza.

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Look again at the photo of the entire cathedral and you’ll see that the portion to the right of the Golden Gate is almost black, the whole building exterior.  That’s part of the original building – the black represents centuries of smoke from the entire city of Prague.  The mosaics on the Golden Gate probably looked like that before the Getty Institute took them on.

I did like the statue of St. George and the dragon, in the castle courtyard.  I normally associate St. George with England, but I guess he traveled more than I realized.

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Leaving the castle area, you encounter Prague Castle’s main gate, the Mathias Gate, which actually faces the other way; we came out through them.  Here’s what you see from the rear:

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These statues are described as “sculptures of Titans, made by I. F. Platzer in 1770.”  There are better views of the individual statues in the gallery.  Here’s the view of Prague, from the castle plaza.  Notice the haze, which wasn’t that bad at ground level.

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I think I’ll stop here and start another post on the next part of the tour.

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Prague Performances

On this stay we performed the day after we arrived – twice, in fact.  Our scheduled concert was at 6:30 PM, in the Church of the Holy Saviour, near the Old Town Square in Prague; but we had an appointment around 1 PM at the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence (the address is Ronalda Reagana, Prague 6), to perform at his Independence Day Celebration and attend the following reception.  This was on June 30, in case you’ve been counting, and I still don’t know if  he had the celebration early because we were in town or not.

On the 29th, we went out for our usual tour dinner at the cafe of the Municipal House, which was within long walking distance of the hotel; the walk took us through main downtown Prague.  The restaurant was an absolute Art Deco classic; I remember the restaurant as very noisy and the pork schnitzel as tough, but my was the room gorgeous.  In fact, it was gorgeous enough that we went back and had a much quieter lunch on the last day, during our exploration of Prague.

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Driving to Prague

We all packed up again, piled into the now familiar black bus, and hit the road for Prague.  I was surprised to find that, once we got out of Vienna, we were largely traveling on secondary roads – well paved and all that, but not freeways.  This gave us a better look at the countryside, and the countryside between Vienna and Prague is gorgeous. It’s some of the most beautiful, immaculately maintained farmland you could imagine, and almost all rural.  The photo below is just across the Czech border. (As always now, clicking on a photo will take you to the full Smugmug gallery.)

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Czechia (the new name for the Czech Republic) had more woodsy areas interspersed with the farms.  But I kept wondering about the road, until someone reminded me that, until the Soviet Union fell, Czechoslovakia (as it was then) was behind the old Iron Curtain, so you can drive from Vienna to Bratislava on a highway (Slovakia was not Soviet), but to Prague, you take back roads because nobody’s built the highway.

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Eisenstadt and Esterhazy

The date stamps on my photos suggest that the last photo I took at the Schönbrunn Palace was time-stamped 10:53 AM, and the first photo I took at Eisenstadt was time-stamped 2:19 PM.  We didn’t spend 3 hours on the road to Eisenstadt, as I remember grabbing a sandwich at the cafe in the palace courtyard and eating it outdoors; but we may well have spent 2 hours, including collecting, loading, and unloading all 70-odd of us.  Google Maps says Eisenstadt is either 62 or 68 miles from Vienna depending on which road you take.

Music historians will already know why we went to Eisenstadt, but for the less informed (didn’t know this before the tour), Joseph Haydn is buried in the Bergkirche (which means “mountain church”), in the town of Eisenstadt, which was the family seat of the Princes of Esterházy, whom he served most of his life.  He lies there now, along with both of “his” skulls, and if you’ve never heard that story (I hadn’t), you really must read the Wikipedia article on Haydn’s head.

Our first stop in Eisenstadt, after we found the Bergkirche, was – the restrooms, which were out at the back of the church, and not very large.  Here is the line for the ladies’ room.  All of these women are on the tour.

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Christmas Day Walk

Yes, I know it’s May.  2016 has been an extremely weird year, and one of these days I’ll blog it.  But I recently got the photos sorted, processed and uploaded from the walk I took around Lake Temescal, in the Oakland hills, on Christmas Day 2015. In a sense, this was the calm before the storm, because 3 days later, I came down with an awful cold (took 3 weeks to get rid of), which was the start of all the things that have gone wrong so far this year.

But back to the lake.  Here it is.  Click on this or any other photo to go to my Smugmug account and see the whole collection.

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Vienna and the Schönbrunn Palace

The day after the Stephansdom concert, we had a bus tour of the Ring, followed by an organized group tour of the Schönbrunn Palace, then a drive into the countryside to visit Eisenstadt, where Haydn is buried, and Esterhazy Palace, where he lived and worked.  Jim and I toured Schönbrunn Palace in 2012 with the Viking River Cruise, and we considered skipping it; but after a little thought, we realized there would be no way to catch up with the bus to take the rest of the tour.  So we got on the bus with everyone else.

If you want to see more photos on any subject, just click on one that interests you; you’ll be redirected to the photo on either my Smugmug site or Jim’s, depending on the photo, then you can move back and forth in a slideshow to see others.  In every case, there are more photos there than I show here.

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Singing at the Stephansdom – Concert!

Soon enough, it was time to put on the performance dress, collect the music folder, and head for the bus, for an 8:30 performance.  The bus dropped us off across from the cathedral, right next to the place where the horse-drawn carriages wait – remember them?  We gathered in the Curhaus to warm up, then filed in through the cathedral side door, which put us right next to the performance space.  They obviously handle performances in the cathedral all the time.

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Singing at the Stephansdom – Waiting to Sing

Jim and I found that we could only handle 2 restaurant meals per day on this trip, because the food in Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic is so rich.  So after our nap on concert day, I walked down the Rennweg from the hotel to a small grocery store, Billa AG, to buy some bread and fruit for dinner.  The store was immaculate, the fruit was beautiful and ripe, and the lady behind the bakery counter spoke English.  I was extremely interested in what an Austrian grocery store looked like.  I’ve been in U.S. groceries that were much worse.

After dinner we walked up the Rennweg the other way to visit the Botanical Garden of the University of Vienna.  I took a few photos here which you can see at the site (click on the picture); this is the one I liked best:

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Singing at the Stephansdom – Rehearsal

Our first day in Vienna was very full.  Rehearsal was at 8:45 AM, which meant, be on the bus by 7:45 AM, and off to the cathedral.  Since we had a different orchestra in each location (all arranged by the tour company), we had to have an orchestra rehearsal in every location.

Since I was singing, I didn’t carry a camera around.  All the photos in this post come from a gallery on my husband’s photo site entitled Singing Vienna.  The link will bring up a slide show.  I’ve posted a minimum of videos here but there are numerous videos in the gallery if you want to listen.

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On to Vienna

The day after our successful concert in Budapest, we packed up, loaded the bus, and set off for Vienna.  This is how a performance tour works.  We had no agenda except to stop in Györ, a small town along the way, for lunch.  I remember a sunny, pleasant day.  The bus dropped us in the center of town, just across from the impressive town hall:

Town hall, Györ, Hungary

Town hall, Györ, Hungary

I’m not sure Györ was ready for 70 people who all wanted lunch at once.  Jim and I chose the restaurant in a hotel next to the bus stop.  We and I think one other couple were the only people in there.  The service was fast and pleasant, the food was good.  When we finished, we strolled down the plaza and found several tables of our friends at an indoor/outdoor restaurant, all complaining that they hadn’t been served yet.

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