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CENTRAL EUROPE: part four… PRAGUE

We have been anticipating Prague for its current popular comparisons as “the new Paris” so when we pulled up in front of the Intercontinental Hotel there I was mildly disappointed for its concrete bunker modernity… particularly after the charm & old graciousness of The Grand Hotel Wien. Still, its situation & the views from its roof terrace over the old city center began to make it grand in its own way.

[NOTE: Click your cursor on any photo to enlarge it… then click the Back Arrow to return.]

My photograph above shows, through the glass railing up there, a faint reflection of the huge metronome on the hill beyond the Vltava River, or the Moldau, which was the river we saw boats on in Cesky Krumlov & over which our room gave view. This tall oscillating needle marks the site of a huge stern Soviet style stone monument which was dismantled after the Czech Republic was established. The replacement with simple understated symbolism of new timing seemed quite poignant to me.

Further down the river, in the rooftop evening view, the Hradcany Castle/Palace complex glows, crowned by Saint Vitus Cathedral, beckoning us toward a postprandial walk along the Charles Bridge below it.

I came to rather like the furniture in the hotel lobby… made to harmonize with a series of tall columnar, rather primitively carved wooden sculptures, urban totem poles perhaps…

Here is another city reclaiming its glory after decades of oppression & neglect. But, as with Budapest, much has been preserved which would have been destroyed by the usual “city planning” of the late 20th century further west. I found a trove of nouveau architectural details on handsomely maintained & restored buildings. I would be tempted to make a page of only those, but I’ll begin by taking us into the city via one of the sidewalks I found so handsome.

Like large mosaics these appeared in numerous parts of our trip. They seem to be an ideal way to solve what in Seattle is attempted to accomplish in concrete, scored in two-foot squares, which still often lose that battle of simple regularity due to the constant digging to underground infrastructure… patched with single slabs of sorta smooth concrete… even asphalt! How much easier to simply lift, work under & replace these manageable stones with artful craft. Beautiful idea!

Our tour of the castle took us through its varied parts realized over centuries & retaining many styles. My favorite was this ancient hall which is all about its gorgeously vaulted ceiling, enclosing a space large enough that it once hosted jousting matches! There is a delicious simplicity in its proportion & detail.

I became enamored with our guide Rotka who through her passion & erudition about her country’s deeply noble history as it maintained & evolved through even the coarseness of recent eras made her especially beautiful to my eye inside the gorgeous vaulted light.


Other stunning spaces she introduced us to, well off the usual tourist trail, were the grandly decorated Baroque libraries of the Strahov Monastery nearby. The ceiling of one library was like being inside a wedding cake of wild Baroque gesso swirls & mouldings surrounding contrastingly colorful painted panels. The ancient volumes were themselves dusted white with talc to protect them, making them seem a bit ghostly.

The ceiling of next room was more typically painted but its rich woodwork was the fascination for me. There was a collection of globes & fine furniture inside yet more of that special light, several unusual pieces designed for specific bibliophilic functions, including ladders:

We are shopping ladders for the loft in Stephen’s writing studio, the Forge, at home… this one, however, isn’t quite the right scale… but, the next one folds out of a desk!

through which the tour approached it… an old The Jewish Cemetery is a moving site, helping to ground the emotions stirred by the chapelsynagogue now re plastered & covered with thou sands of square feet of precisely hand calligraphic names… those of the city’s Jews murdered during the Holocaust. The sheer mass of these names, like those on the Viet Nam Memorial on our National Mall in Washington, only begins to hint at the wasted value of life. The much older, over crowded, stones in the traditional burial ground tell a longer history…

Since deep in prehistory the area celebrates being cross fertilized by the flow & slosh of human traffic along such major rivers as the Danube, to which we’ve been interestingly tethered as modern temporary nomads. Pagan Romans, long indeed before Rome became Christian, joined Celtic folk out of the Steppes here. Since Medieval times Jews & Muslims, have called this territory home. How long will it take to better learn cohabitation on earth? What bars do we need to see through?


Iron work as window bars in Europe has fascinated me since a significant encounter my first time in Venice. Security is important to those of us who hold value in certain metals… even as we must ultimately accept the impossibility of such dream. What a palette ultimately then, for certain kinds of art!

Gates, doors… hinges & locks, from most basic to most elaborate… all seem to capture my eyes & intrigue my mind for their craftsmanship in stuff mechanique.


The art of everyday function seems so true to me. To be visually delighted on the street is to be fed more regularly than if one must enter the precincts of a museum. Doorways are iconic, deeply symbolic & often personal. They demarcate boundaries at innumerable layers. They can be viewed as bows on the giftwrap of architecture.



Some doors invited appetites…

Doors were equally mystified by inviting modern bats & imposing cythonic titans. The banner suggests the potential completion of this series of travel posts with the notion from Praha that there will be “Chicago Revealed”… when I get ’round to sharing photographs made on our trip to that city soon after we returned to the US, which is the travel atop this travel in the title.

I drink my coffee every morning, since first I visited this home we call Soundcliff on Vashon Island, out of this cup. Stephen brought back two as souveniers from an earlier trip to Prague. Its flowerpot shape undoubtedly used to fit into some metalic base with a handle which we’ve not got, so I’ve developed an art to picking-up & holding this sturdy porcelaine blossom with my jeweler’s heat-toughened hands, dancing it with my fingertips as part of my morning’s ritual.

The logo demarcates the hotel I wanted to see & which we discovered across the street when we visited the Mucha Museum… it has rather deco versions of those male caryatids, which ought more properly to be called telemones, which become so common here, each holding a lamp on either side of the canopied entrance. I now add these visuals to my morning meditations with caffeine .

Still, the most arresting facade with such Atlas figures was that of the Romanian Embassy. We could hardly avoid the energy of these guys on our way down the hill from castle to bridge. Stephen & I had declared an afternoon for ourselves, so we could explore with our own sensibilities. I looked up into this face, with exotic lips & muscles enough to hold up more than this lintle & balcony…

Adding Stephen to this voluptuous scene was inevitable…

This example of a similar vibe, if with less finesse, was quite close to our hotel. I saw more loin cloths on buildings in Prague, I think, than in many movies depicting American Indians or Roman gladiators. I am curious what mindset caused this to be…

In contrast, an unexpected row of stauntions like this one greeted us with modern impunity along one side of a square… like chess pieces… perhaps pondering some game in the traffic of people & cars.

Here Stephen purchases a gift for a friend who had requested an “icon” saying we would “know it when we saw it…” Indeed that happened so truely that we wanted a commemorative photo.

I offer this gallery of buildings to share more of the flavor of the streets I enjoyed so much…



A late night apparition on one of our walks was a pissing contest… as a fountain. These articulated sculptures swung their torsos slowly left & right, lifting their nozzles realistically up & down in a humorous “swordfight.”


Patterns on this roof & inside the niche next become inspirationally instructional toward clever division of curving surfaces… useful when thinking bells.

An exuberant shop window once again caught my eye at night without my camera. Like the one in Vienna it did not photograph so well in daylight…

We would not see the interior of St Vitus Cathedral… it being closed to tourists on his feast day. I fully respected that, particularly when we were treated to the tolling of a huge bell only rung for such important occasions. We could but barely see a body pulling its cord behind the golden screen from outside, but the sound continues residual in my bones…


Instead I offer my interior resolutions of St Nicholas’s gilded unctuousness. The low light on these reflecting surfaces made a fine challenge testing & educating my camera skills!

While the several examples of Baroque exuberance I’ve shown are certainly spectacular, I generally appreciate Nouveau & Deco with more genuine gusto. Ceramic details like these in a restaurant in the lower floor of the Obecni dum or Municipal House were difficult to catch for their reflective surfaces & low light at our quick pace. Notice sturdy girls happily heisting sheaves of wheat & a boy chasing butterflies…


Making use of my fascination for reflections I shot myself in the elevator…

I’ve shared an equestrian statue from each of these cities. This bronze one atop a building in Prague, not unlike the one in Budapest’s Heroe’s Square. shows a bit of potential real life disaster… look for the “saw horse & sling” supporting its sagging stance, obviously awaiting repair… it will be interesting to come back one day to see how this problem of metal fatigue, so familiar to me as a bellmaker & jeweler working with cast metal, will be solved…

The last evening of the tour we were taken for dinner to Nelahozeves Castle, well outside the city… on the Moldau river, made famous by the composer Smetana, whose home we passed along the way. The castle has been repatriated to the heirs of the original family. They do a wonderful job bringing it back to life with feasts such as this, complete with musicians greeting us in the courtyard with a fanfare of horns before then making lively period dinner music to accompany courses of beautiful plates.

Here Mark & Stephen converse with others in our group over menu cards.



I sought a view of the Moldau River out a dining room window… it was screened.

Details on the castle join another building in the city’s palace complex, with yet more reference to some walls in Cesky Krumlov in the last posting, to show a technique which involves several layers of color in plaster which are then scratched through to create visual decoration known as scraffitto.

After the larger Tauck Tour ended, our family was scheduled for a drive to “the village”, which is the native home of Stephen’s great grandfather. Maria is the current matriarch of a story too complex for here & now. There is a 300 year old farm house where we had a wonderful lunch of soup followed by platters of meat & savorily colored sweet pepper salads fresh from the garden… all prepared by daughter Jaruna & grand-daughter Jana.

This is but a smattering of the photographic record I made recording this meeting of family branches over two continents.

We stopped at the chapel great-grandfather Silha caused to be built when he returned home from Chicago. There was a bell in that cupola, rope hanging down inside which we were cautioned not to pull. It was the village alarm…

There was a fine rooster in the farmlot & two versions of chain cemetary, similar to one I remember seeing in the city of Prague… all which I still ponder.

Farewell Prague…

Hello Greenland…

Welcome home…

We could only celebrate our reluctance to return… June 19th.