25 October 2018
Heavy rain woke us up early, but by the time we had breakfast it had eased off a bit. I had the fun today, because it was my birthday, of choosing what we did, so I went to town. First I covered myself with confusion and embarrassment by getting on the tram going the wrong way! That was fairly easily rectified, so then we went the right way, further into the city, and we began to tick off my wishlist for the day.
I had spotted a street called Navratilova, so as Martina has always been an icon of mine, we headed for it and got my photograph beside the street sign! Our next target was the metro system, which I wanted to have a look at. OK I'm a geek or a nerd, and I am unapologetic about it. Our search for a metro station was epic. They are not particularly clearly marked, no big logo, so you have to track them down on a street map, and persist! There are three lines crossing the city, with only two stations at which you can change from one to the other. We were on the yellow line for two stops, then the green one for one. The hike between the two underground was considerable. But the trains were fast and clean, so that was that box ticked.
The next up was the old town, where we hoped to have a look at some of the synagogues marked on the city map. After struggling with directions - we tended to head off down streets the wrong way a lot, then retrace our steps. It didn't occur to us till later to use Google maps on the phone. Anyway we came upon the Spanish Synagogue, where the entrance ticket was quite expensive, but on further questioning turned out to be for all the synagogues and the Jewish Museum, so we bought our tickets. The Spanish synagogue was spectacular inside, every inch decorated in gold and deep red and green patterns, stunning. Ju took loads of photographs, and so did I. Flash not allowed, but not really necessary.
Then along the street to the museum, a large two storey building with no exhibits as such. But on the walls in half-inch high characters and very clear black and red script were the names, birth and death dates of all of the Jewish people from this country who died in the camps. All the death dates were 1943-45. It was the saddest thing to look at. These tightly packed names filled every wall of the building, on both floors. Then we were guided into the huge Jewish cemetery beside the building, with gravestones crazily leaning, some with small pebbles laid carefully on the top by passers by. We watched one young man in a yarmulka do that, picking the stone from the path first. I confess I had a similar impulse, in Auschwitz the other day, when I bent down and picked up a stone from an area between the buildings. I will keep that one, though.
A final building gave us an insight into Jewish life, and how the Burial Society cares for people close to death, then organises the funeral. The Jewish community have been in this country for centuries, and they are still here, whereas in the Baltic States the community has not really recovered since WW2.
Time for lunch, so we were at first tempted by a restaurant which boasted Michele Obama and Guy Ritchie as satisfied customers, offered kosher cuisine, and generally had a very high opinion of itself. We went in, it was lunchtime, there was one client, and a waiter who looked at us and left. So we did too, and found a much friendlier place across the road!
After lunch we let Google maps take the strain and headed for the Estates Theatre, where Mozart's Don Giovanni premiered in the 17 hundreds. A beautiful building, sadly not open to the public today, but we took external photographs anyway. I have vague memories of a text in my German course at university called 'Mozart auf der Reise nach Prag'. Apparently he visited the city briefly five times.
Back to the number 22 tram back to the hotel for some R and R before the opera this evening. And a surprise, Michal had bought me a birthday cake, complete with candle! That was lovely! Technically the tour we won finished this morning, all the more reason that this was a very nice gesture by a very nice young man,
We had a beer and a light dinner in a restaurant beside themopera house, before finding our seat in a box, together with an Australian lady who felt we should really know the plot of the opera so started to tell us what it was, and a very nice quiet young Czech man who sat on a plush stool behind our three seats, and leant on a shoogly armrest to catch what glimpse he could of the action on stage.
The opera was an amazing production, with the full range of ballet, shadowplay, mime, and weird creatures, which moved inexorably slowly across distant backdrops, while the music led the singers through aria after aria, beautiful and lyrical, but not in the least memorable. Dvorak's characteristic style was there, with occasional Wagnerian echoes, but we didn't leave the theatre humming any of the tunes. The main character, absurdly, in a three-act opera, was struck dumb by a spell for most of the second act, during which she draped herself self-consciously round the prince, the object of her desires, or any piece of furniture that appeared. As Rusalka, the eponymous heroine, was a water nymph, there was a shallow pool of water towards the front of the stage. At one point three of the nymphs sat with their feet in it, flicking water towards the pit and the unlucky members of the orchestra within range, who must have thought it had started to rain! But opera is always an artform that requires a huge suspension of disbelief, and as such it was a great success. There were numerous curtain calls, and everyone including us went home feeling they had been really entertained all evening.
A late tram home to the hotel, and that was it.
We are sitting in departures at Prague Airport as I type this, and wrap up this latest adventure, only to point out that Bagshaw enjoyed it as well. Home again home again jiggety jig. Look out for our next adventure on the blog, whenever we embark on it!
Bye for now.