Wednesday, August 18, 2010

coda: hamsterdam

tummy troubles plus the impending 4:30am alarm clock made for a restless last night in prague. our taxi came to get us at 5:15 and we wanted to swing by the charles bridge to see if the crowds had cleared at that hour. there were still a few lovebirds on the bridge, but mostly it was all the eeriness that kafka described:

"people walking across the dark bridges pass by the dimly lit saints. clouds moving through the grey sky pass over the churches with their sombre towers. someone leaning on a wall hands resting on the old stones gazes into the evening water."

read more of the trial at the airport and napped, and then... hamsterdam! very different from prague. more urban, sprawling, bustling. city of bikes and waterways.

felt thoroughly disgusting by the time we got there and had to wait 45 minutes in the uber-chic lobby before our room was ready.

then it was off to the van gogh museum and the anne frank house. fascinating that the two most popular attractions in the city arose from people who were anonymous in their time. they would be so shocked that people were lined up around the block to pay homage to their stories and their contributions. it makes sense why so many people identify with them. good people who worked and struggled and had faith and saw beauty in the world. there was an especially moving video of otto frank talking about his reaction to first reading anne's diary. he said, "as parents we do not really know our children."

after these phenomenal exhibits, it felt pointless to go over to the red light district. anne frank was hiding in an attic, unable to even look out of the window during daylight hours. why would we go and look at women for sale in windows just a few blocks away?

so back to our swanky hotel for another sleepless night, and finally, our return voyage!

bonus pics of pot dogs at the philadelphia airport:

day 7: czeching out

woke up early, got breakfast, went back to sleep. on our way over to the john lennon wall, we stumbled upon the set of a bollywood film that was shooting in prague. we watched a scene of a girl getting on a motorcycle with a guy. i snapped this picture of the actress, nargis fakhri, who is apparently a famous model. the film is rockstar, directed by imtiaz ali and starring heartthrob ranbir kapoor.

then more pictures at the peace wall:

it was a hot and sunny day in prague. we took the funicular up to the top of petrin hill and walked through the gardens and orchards. i snacked on apples and cherries from the trees:

there seemed to be ten times as many people swarming around back in the city proper. we got lunch at a little health food store and restaurant called country life, then went back to the hotel. i had been hoping to make a trip to their little riverside beach, but time was short and truth be told, our bodies were about ready to give out from all the walking.

one final stroll through old town square, one final dinner at maitrea and a beautiful clear night with dramatic skylines:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

day 6: cesky krumlov

woke up extremely early to make the bus to cesky krumlov. the ride over there was uninteresting - no scenic views of the country side, just flat dull expanses of green. it was more interesting to watch cate blanchett playing elizabeth on the little screen a few rows up.

LOVED the town. i actually wish we had stayed over a few nights, rather than limiting ourselves to a brief afternoon. it was much smaller than prague, less opulent and less run-down at the same time. beautiful, well-maintained buildings, galleries, shops, cute little restaurants with terraces, people rafting down the river, amazing views of a fairy-tale castle and an egon schiele museum! actually, the schiele museum didn't have a whole lot of schiele's, but it was still moving to learn about his life. my image of him as a rebel bad boy was challenged as i discovered how encouraged he had always been in his art, how his uncle became his guardian after his father died at a young age, how klimt was his "spiritual father" and how schiele drew him on his deathbed and took over as organizer of a big art show in vienna that klimt had been working toward. schiele died shortly after the successful exhibition from spanish flu, following on the heels of his pregnant wife. so much tragedy and support in his short life! and i always thought of his imprisonment for making "dirty drawings" was like a badge of honor, but apparently he was shocked and disheartened by the experience.

i was also delighted by the large exhibit of work by alois mitter, co-founder of the schiele centrum. his art is wild, playful, spontaneous and psychologically complex.

after the museum, we walked around the town taking pictures and trying to decide where to have lunch.

day 5: kafka's prague

slept late from our exhausting experience the day before, then walked to the other side of town. the weather was beautiful. got lunch at a sweet little hare krishna place near the castle, and headed toward the kafka museum.

it was an unusual exhibit, though not nearly as unusual as kafka's writing. (the trial is totally insane!) there were photos in little streams of water on the ground, phones that you pick up and hear some authoritarian voice in german, hypnotizing films and displays that gave information about his family, relationship to the city of prague, his lovers and his work. after we left, luca wanted to browse the shakespeare bookstore again, so i sat in a comfy chair downstairs and dug in a little deeper to kafka's world of unease.

decided to forego our pilgrimage to petrin hill, since i wasn't feeling very well and instead rested at the hotel until it was dinner time again.

Monday, August 16, 2010

day 4: this is the museum that never ends

well, this day was a bit marred by an unfortunate email i received in the morning, which turned out to be nothing more than a practical joke, but nonetheless put a dark cloud over my mind. it didn't help that prague had an actual dark cloud over it either, making for a cold, damp excursion to veletrzni palace, a ginormous contemporary art museum just outside of the city. we had to take the metro to get there, which was a most nauseating experience. the trains run way way underground, so to get to them you have to descend into the abyss of prague by way of the longest, steepest, fastest escalator you could ever imagine. and to make matters worse, all of the would-be vertical lines, like the seems of the metal railing and posters lining the walls, were actually aligned with the slope of the steps, thus making it feel like you were dropping straight down. this also added the humorous effect of making it look like people riding upward were leaning back and those going down were leaning forward. luca tried to emulate this technique, thinking it might help with the nausea, but it was only an optical illusion he was mimicking. how cute is that?

anyway, we were not prepared for veletrzni palace, despite the fact that luca's lonely planet app stated very clearly that it would take about an hour just to jog through it. it had 6 neverending floors of extraordinary art. their massive collection included the most staggering range of visual styles i have ever seen exhibited in one place. there were some klimt's, schiele's, munch's, warhol's, beuys' and picasso's, even an alfred kubin drawing (!), but mostly just dozens of incredible artists i had never heard of before. we were determined to see every painting, sculpture, drawing and art object in the place, so we took water and larabar breaks between floors to re-fuel. here is a small sampling of what we saw:

the last three are by toyen, a czech surrealist artist i took an immediate liking to. her school was "artificialism" and she painted what she referred to as "irrational objects." i will have to do a bit more research on her.

we ducked into a little cafe on the way to the metro since it was raining and we had no umbrella. luca got a beer and i just kind of shivered. once back to the hotel, i read some more of the trial then ruminated about wanting to murder lauren while luca rested. en route to the restaurant my pride got us dreadfully lost, so we arrived freezing cold, 15 minutes late for our reservation and in a foul mood. the beautiful zen space of maitrea helped a lot. dinner was wonderful and i felt much better after eating. got an umbrella on the way home and walked through old town square arm in arm, feeling a little homesick. camomile tea awaited.

day 3: the castle

missed our wake-up for a potential excursion to cesky krumlov and the egon schiele museum, so we decided to make it a castle day. took a long walk to the other side of the river and up a million stairs to the castle complex, where hordes of tourists were gathered.

we again followed the frommer recommended tour, which was very helpful in a rather confusing layout of buildings and landmarks. most memorable, of course, was st. vitus cathedral, where we saw mucha's extraordinary stained glass window:

we also climbed to the top of the tower to check out the majestic views (287 stairs!):

wandered back down through vinyards and gardens, by chance discovering this mystery wall, embedded with all sorts of creepy crawlies:

stopped by the shakespeare bookshop, then crossed back over the charles bridge and to the hotel for a hearty nap.

dinner at clear head for the first really healthy meal of our trip, and back again to the hotel, where we watched naomi campbell in court and borat in german.