I wasfamiliar with Prague, so I thought. I stumbled upon a TV programshowing a video of Bedrich Smetana’s secondsymphonicpoem in ‘Ma Vlast’ (My Country). The video opens with smallstreamsswirling through the Bohemian countrysideandwidens towards thecity of Prague. Asthetemporises, the video zooms in on thecity of Prague. Thecityseparated by theriver Vltava andlinked by themanybridges, thehistoricbuildings, theimposingmonuments, thecastleandthetowers that rise over thecityprovide a stunning backdrop to Smetana’s music. Conversely, themusictempomatchesthemoodandprovidesthebackground to stunning cinematography. I wassointrigued by themusicand cinematography that I recordedtheprogramandplayeditoverandover. Prague, Czech Republic is steeped in historythat to talk about Smetana’s music in terms of cinematography is deceptively simple. Maybethesound of a swirlingbrook, the ripple andthewave in "Vltava", thesecondsymphonicpoem, is a metaphorforhumanstruggleandtriumph. I may have to gobackandread on thehistory, butfornowthismentalsnapshot of a breathtaking viewinspired me to travel to Prague (click on the link below to watch it on You Tube).
Wearrived in Prague lateafternoon. Thisafternoonwasgray with threateningrain, not thebestforexploring an unfamiliarsurrounding on our own. Besides, our hotelwas outside thecitycenter which wastypical of thistour. Earlierthatday, my sistersigned us up forthe ‘Czech Dinner and Music’ with trepidation, cognizant of theoptionalexcursionsoffered by thetouroperators as touristtraps. Under thiscircumstance, signing up fortheoptionaldinnerexcursionseemed to havebeen a gooddecision. Thecoachtook us to Restaurant U Marcanu (advertised as one of thebest venues of thecity). Theprogramincludedfolksongsanddances from Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia andsomegypsymusicand dancing. Itincluded a 3 coursedinner with specialty of thehouse - pancake with ice-cream andfruit - andlimited wine, beerandsoftdrinks. Itwasbasically a touristtrap. Butthebusride to therestaurantgave me a chance to seethe non-tourist area, thedullanddarkapartmentbuildings (a hintthatthecountrywasonce under communism). For a briefmoment, I wasno longer a tourist, but a travellerobservingtherealities of living in a bigcity: theentertainers at therestauranttrying to put on a show, andthesweatyrestaurantstafftrying to serve a bus-load of tourists.
My Smetana Moment (Part 1 - The Scene) Wewereblessed with a beautifulweatherthenextday. I thought I would not be totallydisappointedif I didn’t get to check out themuseums. I wastherefortheview. Asitturned out, thecitywas a museum in itself. With a localguide, weexploredthecity on foot. Wevisitedthe Old Town and Jewish quarter, the Town Square and Charles Bridge.
I had a specialrequest to send a postcard from Prague. But our walking tourwasfascinatingthatitwaseasy to bypassthesmallshops (yes, evenfor a postcard). Besides, whoneeds a postcardwhenyou can take a lot of snapshots? My mentalsnapshot of thecitycame to life at Charles Bridge. Theview from thebridgewas breathtaking.
Town Square, Astronomical Clock and Pastries I did not paymuchattention to our localguide’s narrative about the Astronomical Clock in-front of us. Instead, I reveled in thesuccession of differentbuildingarchitectures. Prague has a mix of architecture – from Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque andart nouveau.
So I did not understandthefuss about the Astronomical Clock until a hugecrowdstarted to gatherandtheclockstruck 11:00am. Thenthebellrangand 12 figurinesappearedabove. Itwaspart of the” Walk of the Apostles,” a clockworkhourlyshow of the Apostles andothermovingsculpturesandthecalendardials.
After theshow, my new-found friendsand I decided to havelunch. One of thecoffeehouse (Grand Hotel Cafe) counterpersons overheard us talkinghowwedid not want to go to thecoffeeshop in-front of theclocktower, a primetouristspot. Smiling, hesaid, “No, it’scheap” andled us upstairs. Surprisingly, wehadtherestaurant to ourselves. Thewaitersweresoaccommodatingandrearrangedthetablessothewholegroup could sittogether. The ambience wasgreatandthe ‘pastry’ lunchwas surprisingly good. Wegot to know our fellow tourists over coffeeandpastries. Theclocktowerandthe ‘Walk of the Apostles” provided a stunning backdrop to our pastryadventure.
The Biggest Castle Area in the World Of course, a visit to Prague is not complete without a visit to thebiggestcastlearea in theworld: St Vitus Cathedral with thecrypt of the Czech kings, the Old Royal Palace, St. George Basilica, thepowdertower of Mikulka andthefamous Golden Lane.
Soaring behind the Prague Castle is the St Vitus Cathedral, wherepart of thestructuredatesback to 14th century, andtheothercompleted in the 20th century. Of themanychapels in thecathedral, themostlavish is thechapeldedicated to St. Wenceslas (patronsaint of the Bohemia), wheretherelics of thesaint are kept. Theotherchapelshonorandhousethecrypt of the Czech princessandkings. Now I understandwhy Prague is usuallyincluded in pilgrimagetours.
St. George Basilica founded in the9thcenturywasrebuiltfollowing a majorfire. Thefaçadethatwesaw there dateback to 17th century. Thebuilding is nowused as a concerthall.
The Royal Palace wastheresidence of the Czech kingsandprincesses from the 11th to 13th century. Itwasalsowherethefirstelectedpresident, dissident writer, Vaclav Havel, wasinaugurated. Anothergreatattraction in thecastleareawasthe “Changing of the Guard” at noon, and a smallceremonyeveryhour. Butifyoumissedtheceremony, check out theguards in their designeruniform. Theguarduniformwasdesigned by Theodor Pištěk, the Oscar winning costume designer from themovie Amadeus. (I thoughtthetourguideswererequired to mentionthis).
Walking through thepicturesquehilltown, provide breathtaking views of theriver, Charles Bridge, andtheskyline of spires of thelower Old Town.
After dark, wewentback to the Prague castleareaand Strahov Monastery (famousfor its libraryanddarkbeer) for a wonderfuloverlook of Prague. Obviously, thelibrarywasclosedthisevening, but our eveningwas highlighted by a drink of beer at thepub.
Krizikova Fountain showwassupposed to be a well-knownshowwherethefall of water is synchronized with musicandlightshow. Themusic is supposed to be differenteveryshow – could be classical, pop andsometimes with liveperformers on thestage. Although I’veseenthe dancing fountain in Las Vegas, The Impression of West Lake in Hangzhou, andthe World of Color in Disneyland, I wassold on the ‘music’ part. This is Prague after all: theland of Smetana, Dvorak andhad Mozart as a resident. Butthisevening, thefountainwas synchronized to thesound of Michael Jackson. Notthatwewere not warned.
Now I can check off my bucketlist on Prague, but I don’t want to put an end to Prague. I would like to gobackandattend a musicfestivalandexperiencethemusic that complemented thescene - something I can call ‘Smetana Moment (Part 2 – The Music).'