Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Prague Trip Report, Part 2

Photo at right of composer A. Dvořak's tomb.

Tuesday, May 3, 2005 –
Explored Vysehrad (“hrad” means castle); started with early-morning stroll (Pat and Gerald) by fort and marina, collected impressions of Prague beyond the normal tourist path. Vysehrad is an ancient fort that has been remodeled many times; it was strategically built on a steep dark rock outcropping that arises abruptly from the riverbank. Below the ramparts facing the river, are some old ruins known as “Libüše’s baths” named after the princess who was the granddaughter of an early king and founded the old Přemsylid dynasty near the dawn of Czech history.

The Hotel Ušemíka is named for Libüše’s legendary horse, Šemík, who, if I’ve got the legends sorted out, helped Libüše settle people’s complaints about being ruled by a woman by leading a delegation of councilors to select the Czech’s future king, Libüše’s buddy Přemsyl the ploughman, and later died to save his mistresses’ life. Something like that; there are details that I haven’t read yet and there may be multiple legends.

At Vysehrad’s base, by the river, a tunnel had to be drilled for the riverside road, which squeezes down to just a couple of lanes that have to be shared by cars, trucks, and tramcars. The brick walls of the old fortifications, which were extensively remodeled/ rehabilitated in the 18th century and during Napoleonic times, range from 20 to 60 feet high and are arranged in a sort of irregular star pattern and have underground passages and galleries, including a museum. The fortress complex is a sort of national park, with green spaces and sculptures, a cathedral, churches, an ancient Romanesque rotunda that is said to be perhaps the oldest building in Prague, cafés and pubs, a workshop for the handicapped, ecclesiastical offices, an art gallery, and a few of the many portions of Charles University that are scattered about the city. The place is also popular for dog walkers.

Proceeding eastward through two sets of gates, we left the fortress and re-entered the modern urban world, then made our way downhill to the south and west toward Podoli and out alongside the yacht harbor (pristavni jachtarsky) and to the gate of the Czech Yacht Club, which was closed at that early morning hour. Passage through the Vysehrad tunnel and back uphill to our hotel completed the morning exercise.

Breakfast (snídane) was part of the hotel stay, so we had toast, cereal, juice, ham, cheese, fruit, lots of nice bread and rolls, and more to choose from. In the morning, I tried calling the music school to make arrangements to pick up the rental cello (violoncello) for Gerald. Unfortunately (bohuzel), Andrea, the English-speaking secretary, was out for the day and the people I spoke with spoke almost no Engish, but their English and my Czech at least allowed us to communicate slightly. I passed on Andrea’s mobile phone number to Philee, who was in the meantime able to make arrangements about the cello. That is, after Philee got through his visit to the Foreign Police to take care of wedding-related paperwork, and he and Jerry got fitted for or picked up their tuxedos.

We took a tram to near Charles Bridge. Tram (or subway) tickets cost 8 crowns or 12 crowns (with transfer/restupni); the exchange rate during our trip was about 24 crowns (koronna/korunny plural) to the dollar. Upon entering the tram for the first time, a passenger validates the ticket (jizdenka) in a small machine that puts a time stamp on the ticket. Multi-day or long term tickets only have to be validated the first time they’re used. Trams 17 and 18 were our mainstays; 17 runs up the river embankment from the Viton stop near Vysehrad and the base of the street below the hotel and tram 17 ran from further uphill a few blocks away from the river and roughly parallel to 17; both would get us to the new town and the statue-studded Charles Bridge.

Ticket, a ticket a tasket…

We walked through Old Town, fending off folks handing out leaflets and touting shows (but at least they were handing out leaflets for (perhaps overpriced) classical music concerts and boat tours; much more classy than what’s handed out in Vegas), saw the old town hall and clock and old buildings on the royal processional route, and tried to not get lost in the narrow, angled streets.

Sadly, in a city renowned for music, we never got to a concert – we were busy most evenings and a daytime concert we were given leaflets for was aimed very much at foreigners, with a price of 450 k.c., or about $20 US per person. We also missed on chance to get to a concert at the Mozart museum on Saturday afternoon, and never got to the Mozart museum at all, or the national museum, or the Czech music museum, or a whole lot of other places. .

After I changed some more dollars into crowns, we all ducked out of the rain into a café near Wenceslas Square (Vaclav namesti) and the national museum for rest and refreshment and to await a rendezvous with Philee at the equestrian statue. Gerald and Pat walked toward Zizkov with Philee to pick up the rental cello from the administrative office of the “International School of Music, Prague”. Philee’s generous part was to pay a refundable cash security deposit, saving us the expense and hassle of doing an international money transfer. We met Andrea Vlachova, with whom I’d corresponded before our trip, school director Robert Schoenfeld, and teacher Christina, who brought the case and bow for the cello, and paid the fees for the rental and two hour-long lessons. The cello was a very nice Victorian reproduction of an old Italian cello and had a nice mellow tone that Gerald enjoyed. It was a very fine (hezky) instrument and later on Gerald was reluctant to part with it, playing it on Saturday evening for wedding guests staying in the Vlašska penthouse just before handing it back to Philee for return to the school. The folks at the school also suggested that Gerald might like to play in the “family concert” with young students of the school, to be held in a palace near where we wound up spending our last night, although this later turned out not to be possible because their program was too full.

Dinner was in the Ušemíka hotel basement restaurant with wedding group family and friends including Marianna's mom Jessi and stepdad Jiři, brother Miki and his fiance Lucy, and her half brother and sister, Jakob and Tereza, plus Tallaricos and Christmans, Marianna and Philee and Jerry and Phil and Barbara and our family. The Byrnes’ were near Miki and Lucy, so I got to practice a bit of Czech. The hotel basement had one moderately large room with several dining tables, with a couple of smaller rooms for overflow guests reached via short flights of stairs and a room for the bar, which was close to street level and had a street entrance. Because of the configuration of the hill, the dining rooms were quite a ways below street level. (The hill ran up as one moved from the hotel lobby and bar below toward the dining rooms and portion of the hotel where we stayed, as well as from the front of the hotel to the back.)

From Marianna and Philee’s wedding page: Family dinner in Dum U Šemíka, Prague 4, Vratislavova 36, this place is Philee’s parents favorite one. Hotel is located next to the Vysehrad fortification with a brilliant view of Prague. For more info take a look


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