A last minuet decision and an early morning rush through the Berlin underground saw us boarding a train to Prague. This train was more what we would expect from old world European travel. We had our own compartment with sliding doors and our reservation on a little ticket outside. The scenery was magical rivers and castles on clifftops, cute little villages and dark woods. After disembarking and being confronted with more underground confusion we arrived in the old town of Prague. Not without some help from a kind older gentleman who didn’t speak a word of English, but was amazing at gesturing. Here we were reminded of something which we love about European cities, but which can be an impediment to any form of wheeled baggage. We thought we had experienced cobblestones in Berlin but Prague has taken them to a whole new level, with most streets made up of not just one kind of cobblestone, but as many types as possible within a small space.
Clanking our way through a maze of uneven streets and alleyways we found our accommodation, a small guesthouse tucked away in the centre of the old city. Our time in the Czech Republic was limited so we headed out to see the city and to eat a giant bowl of stew embedded in a loaf of bread.
Our first discovery about Prague was it’s rich history of alchemy. Through the sideshow Museum of Alchemists and Magicians of Old Prague enclosed within the original home of Edward Kelly we learnt about a number of famous alchemists who’s ancient art form was encourage by King Rudolph ii of Bohemia. Up the original spiral staircase into a dark and spidery attic a theatrical bonanza awaited, ‘recreating’ scenes from the days when science and magic co-existed.
With our ticket from the Alchemy Museum we were given a bonus offer to see the Prague Ghosts and Legends Museum 10 minutes walk down the road. How could we refuse! Not only was Prague host to a lot of Alchemists (turns out there are multiple museums and tours for alchemy alone) but has an incredible amount of dead people and faeries roaming around. It was overwhelming how many folktales of water spirits, nixes and ghouls there were, let alone gory tales of citizens from the past who came to gruesome ends and haunt many of the buildings around town. Many of the displays were interactive and silly, but we are both fans of a good story.
Heading home we encountered a sign to another museum exhibiting in the Czech Republic school of film which was about film techniques and the Czech film industry. Interested in both those things we decided to take a look. It was amazing! Fun and incredibly well presented exhibits with interactive elements and fascinating information. Better than most professional museums we have visited. It started with a room about foley recording techniques, that is recording a sound effect which sounds like the intended on screen action. They had set up a room with a silent film playing and a bunch of different materials and toys to create the sounds to match the movie. There was a tiny room with holes in the ceiling which you stick your head into to be standing in a tiny theatre. Headphones then played movie scripts for you to imagine, which proved to be a fun exercise. One of our favourite sections was a model train set which you could control. The train had adjustable headlights and speed and as the train rounded the track looming shadows were scattered across the wall.
The way home was filled with hordes as we took the Charles bridge across the river through market stalls and selfie sticks. Still it is a beautiful bridge and a beautiful view, but we much preferred the less popular bridge with a better view of Charles from a distance.
It was on this journey that Emmily noticed the constant barrage of shops selling swirls of sweetness. Caving into her sweet tooth in the justification that it was her duty to taste a cultural experience, the sugary, buttery, chocolaty, bready goodness became too much and Emm was beaten by Trdelnik.
The following day we hired a car and took a well-earned respite from city living. One of the main reasons we decided to come to the Czech Republic was to see the Sedlec Ossuary. Featured in a film by one of our favourite animators Jan Svankmajer the Sedlec Ossuary is a church crypt an hour or so out of Prague. What makes this crypt unique is its incredible arrangements of human bones. The ossuary is said to contain between forty and seventy thousand human skeletons and it features a chandelier constructed using at least one of every bone in the human body, a coat of arms, candelabras and an alter. It was truly amazing, beautiful, morbid and reverent.
After having our fill of bones we hit the road to drive through small villages in search of the demon heads of Želizy. Two giant stone heads carved in the 1800’s looming over a beautiful mountain village. We found the town and a parking spot to begin our walk which took us through a beautiful dark forest and spent some time clambering amongst the rocks and gazing out over the picturesque valley.
On our way back we came across a strange local who ignored our presence to the best of his abilities and an inquisitive black dog and black cat. Perhaps an omen that it was time to leave Zelizy.
So, what to do the on our last full day in Prague? More museums! With so many to choose from it was hard to pick and choose. There was the Communist Museum, The Sex Toy Museum, The Torture Museum, Beer Museum, KGB Museum and sooooo much more. We decided to head over to The Museum of Miniature showcasing tini tiny paintings and sculptures from the micro-miniaturist artist Anatolij Konenko. Presented within the eyes of needles, antenna of insects or painted onto seeds, the works were amazing in their size and detail. Some of them quite whimsical, including Emms favorite, a tiny flea with jagged teeth wearing horseshoes, and his hands wielding a key, padlock and a tiny pair of scissors.
After our miniture fun times as we were heading back into the centre we passed an art gallery advertising a show called Sentenced to Death. We were obviously intrigued and entered to discover the gorgeous glass sculptures of Borek Sipek. Looking into the world history of innocent and difficult persons sentenced to death, Sipek created eight vases representing the stories of Socrates, Anne Boleyn, Jan Jessenius, Qiu Jin, Mata Hari, Sacco and Vanzetti, and Solomon Kalush.
Sculpture seems to be a very important part of the Prague cityscape. Famous for it beauty, many of Prague’s buildings are decorated with ornate statues laden with beasts and bods.
But not all of the sculptural landscape is classical and pretty. On our various wanderings around the pretty cobblestone streets we began to notice a theme of obscure and irreverent objects. some of them expressing a unique form of humor. The strangest being King Wencesles on an upside down dead horse and a moving sculpture of two men peeing on the Czech Republic outside the Kafka Museum. (We didn’t go to this museum due to the bad reviews)
The crowning glory of our museum-fueled tour of Prague was the Karel Zeman museum. A film-maker and animator which we had never encountered, but who had influenced a lot of our favourite film-makers. In fact Dotahn’s favourite director Terry Gilliam had stolen a huge swathe of ideas from Zeman, including many elements of his animation style. The museum was fun, interesting and put together really well. Snippets of his films, sets, interactive displays of his processes and great photo opportunities made it our pick of the museums we saw in Prague.
For our last night we wandered the streets in a search of the green fairy. We found her light beaming from a doorway and savored a range of fantastic Czech absinthe.
We wanted to squeeze in one more museum before our train back to Berlin. Can you guess what it was folks?
The National art gallery! good guess.
The main exhibition was called ‘Artists and Prophets. Kupka, Schiele, Beuys, Hundertwasser and others’. It was a fascinating look at an interesting artist movement of the late 19th and early 20th century. There seemed to be a large spiritual movement in Germany and Bohemia with a number of prophets starting communes and progressing new thoughts of socialism, living with the natural world and human nature. It reminded us of the hippy movement more than 50 years later. The exhibition centred around a fascinating figure, Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach who started a commune and preached ideals of harmony with nature and peace. A lot of subsequent movements started from people who revered or disagreed with him, but were nonetheless inspired by his prophet-like status.
Time was running thin and we didn’t realise how long we had been in Artist and Prophets. We ran through a couple of floors from the permanent collection lamenting the constant lack of time to see EVERYTHING.
After grabbing our bags and heading to the train station fighting through the hordes we were just in time to see the Astrological clock do it’s thing on the hour in the main square. The little skeleton ringing the bell was cool.
Once again we stepped into a movie of old world travel, this time indulging in a delicious dinner in the dining car as the world passed us by. Our evening was topped off by yummy goulash and our lovely Hungarian waiter who insisted we try some very strong traditional Hungarian plum liquor.