Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Prague castle

Visited Prague Castle (Pražský hrad). Went into St Vitus' cathedral, saw the Alfons Mucha window (beautiful). Saw the tomb of St Johannes Nepomuk (seriously over-the top, with silver angels holding a red baldachin over the massive silver tomb) and Rudolf II and family. Then saw the Wenceslas Chapel, encrusted with gems, agate, and gilt bits, also with medieval wall paintings. Apparently it was here, clinging on to the door-handle ring, that he was murdered by his brother Boleslav.

Then we wandered about a bit till we found the Royal Apartments, and went in Vladislav's Hall of Homage, so eloquently described by Patrick Leigh Fermor in A Time of Gifts (p244) - we sat in in a windowseat and I read it out and we both looked at the ceiling. The ceiling ribs were elegant curlicues gone wild. It's nice to read a literary description of a place whilst looking at it - it deepens the experience. At the far end of the Royal Apartments is the room where the second Defenestration of Prague happened - the angry Protestant nobles threw the prevaricating councillors out of the window. Luckily they landed in a muck-heap, so their fall was not fatal. We also passed through the doorway described by Patrick Leigh Fermor as the entrance where the knights would sometimes ride in with trailing lances to joust in the hall.

Outside again, we saw the church of St George (Romanesque interior with a Baroque façade) and walked along the Zlatá uličká (Golden lane). It was very pretty. Kafka's sister rented no 22, and apparently he wrote some short stories there. It is now a shop with lots of Kafka books. Then we went to the tower where Dalibor was imprisoned in 1498 (he was a Czech noble who sheltered some rebellious peasants). He learnt to play the violin whilst imprisoned in the tower. The whole of Prague was enchanted by his playing, but they knew he had been executed when silence reigned once more. Smetana wrote an opera about him.

After lunch in the Lobovický Palác, we decided to go back to the Royal Gardens, but got massively lost and went down Kapucínská, where we saw a church dedicated to Sv Johannes Nepomuk. Then we found a lovely street called Nový Svet (it turned out later that both Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler lived at No 1). There was a pretty yellow pub and a little blue house with wonky walls that we were quite taken with. Then we slogged back up Cernínska and saw the front of the Cernínský Palác and the Capuchin monastery (Loreta). Then we saw that we were back at the end of Loretanska and had come full circle. Walked back to the castle and saw the statues of the fighting Titans over the gate to the first courtyard. Finally found our way back to the Royal Gardens, where we found a lovely building with a sort of pargetting effect, apparently called sgraffito. There were figures of Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and all the major virtues (Temperance, Faith, Hope, Charity, etc, all labelled in Latin). Then we walked down to the Belvedere and across the road, where we stumbled upon the wonderful Hanavský pavilon, which had great views over the river Vltava. Apparently the pavilion was created for an exhibition in 1891 and donated by the generous Hanavský afterwards to the city of Prague. Had a much-needed cup of tea and a sit-down.

Walked down the hill and back across the Charles Bridge, enjoying the craft stalls. Saw the statue of Sv Johannes Nepomuk with his crown of stars. Then walked back via the Kampa, admiring the water-mill in passing. We had dinner at U Karlův most restaurace - very nice, baked duck with caraway seeds and sauerkraut and three different kinds of dumpling. On the way back we saw a wonderful musician on Charles Bridge, playing the glass harmonium. He was quite a character, and very talented - he played Stairway to Heaven, a Bach piece, and then Schumann's Ave Maria. It was quite magical seeing and hearing him play on the Karlův most in the gathering dusk.

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