Sunday, July 24, 2011

Carmen! Wien und Praha, Part XII

Last time, I left you just as a sprinted out of the metro station after a full day of touring Prague, possibly very late to see Carmen at the Státní Opera Praha.

April 12, 2011

I hastily arrived at my hotel room in sweaty disarray with approximately twenty minutes to eat, change, and walk to the opera. That morning, I had the foresight to set out everything I needed for the quick change, so in a whirlwind of flying clothes, shoes, and bags I transformed from City Tourist into Opera Enthusiast. With no time for a shower, my windblown and rain-soaked hair improved very little, but I was presentable. And praise the Lord for protein bars.

Mirror shot of my dress, the same one I wore to the Vienna Opera, in a different configuration:
Dressed up for Carmen at the Prague State Opera!

Out the door I flew! The opera house was only 1.2km from my hotel, but I was in heels and I quickly realized that in this shorter configuration, my dress was quite dangerous in the wind. Surely one of the most stressful walks ever concluded at the gorgeous venue with FIVE MINUTES TO SPARE.

Státní Opera Praha

I have a thing for ceilings.


Velvet and gold

I found my seat, which only cost about $40 and was incredible:
My seat at the Prague State Opera

This view would be a well over a hundred dollars at the Met in NY or the Vienna State Opera House. Note that this picture is not zoomed-in at all. It was my view of the stage:
This is not zoomed-in: this was my view!

Other boxes

My new opera glasses from the Naschmarkt in Vienna were wonderful. My other pair (left safely at home) have a higher zoom, but for this close of a seat, the Vienna glasses sufficed.
Vienna opera glasses chillin' in the Prague opera house.

The subtitles (...surtitles...) were in German, Czech, and English, conveniently.
Vienna opera glasses

Carmen was quite different from Anna Bolena (spoiler alert: except for the tragic ending). The music, of course, is universally recognizable:

The costumes, set, and overall tone were much brighter, more colorful, and quite merry (spoiler alert: until the end). It was beautiful to watch. It was more comfortable to watch--front row parterre box seat vs. back row balcony standing.

However. After such rich, breath-taking, chill-inducing voices in Vienna, only Carmen herself (played wonderfully by Jana Sýkorová) really stood out. Several other voices were jarring and thin. I also didn't resonate with the story. Carmen (the character) just bugged me.

I still completely enjoyed my evening. :)

Like the ticket, the intermission food and drink were quite cheap. I supplemented my earlier protein bar with a delicious prosciutto sandwich and a glass of champagne (as you do). Seats were scarce and my heel-clad feet hurt, so I made friends with an elegant gray-haired couple and shared their table.

Back in the theater, a nice person walking to his orchestra-level seat took my picture from below:
Enjoying my box seats.

The busy day started to catch up with me and I fought to stay awake. But I did, and it finished with a flourish:
Curtain Call!

Crowds of opera-goers headed my direction for a few minutes. Then, I was alone on the dimly-lit streets, trying to keep my dress from blowing away in the wind, not catch my heels in a cobblestone, and walk with purpose and authority should any disreputable person get any ideas. I reveled in the fact that I knew my little area of Praha well enough to do all of this without a map, wrong turn, or confused study of street signs. No one mugged me or even glanced at me shadily. I returned safely to my room, and collapsed, exhausted, in the aftermath of the evening's earlier hurricane.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Umbrellas and Brits. Wien und Praha, Part XI

Whew, I must wrap this series up before I completely forget the details of my time in Prague! Bear with me; we probably have 2-3 posts left. :)

My first half-day in Prague was quiet and spent in a newer part of the city. On the second day, I walked all over the beautiful, old, historic Praha city center.

April 12, 2011

My hotel provided breakfast, which was like a combination of German/Austrian and Moroccan breakfasts I've had: breads, yogurts, Nutella, hardboiled eggs, nuts, juice, coffee.

Then, I walked to the Státní Opera Praha to pick up my ticket for Carmen that evening. While I waited for the box office to open, I chatted a bit with a young Czech mother and her five-year-old daughter. She was there to buy tickets to her daughter's ballet recital IN the State Opera house! Her English was very broken, but much better than my Czech. ;)

At that point, I could say: Dobry den (Good day), Prosim (Please), Djekuji (Thank you), Na shledanou (Goodbye), and Kavy (Coffee). You know, the basics.

After obtaining my opera ticket, I jaunted over to Wenceslas Square to buy a tour ticket. Erica recommended the six-hour Ultimate Walking Tour of Prague. It included lunch, a boat tour with one free (espresso or alcoholic) beverage, and a bus up to the castle. As she instructed, I found a yellow umbrella-clutching woman next to the Wenceslas horse statue.
Good King Wenceslas

She led the French-speaking tour, though, so I had to wait about twenty minutes for the English one.

In the meantime, I enjoyed Wenceslas Square, a huge, open shopping area.
Wenceslas Square
In Wenceslas Square!

Finally, this awesome Czech guy named Radek (ignore the spelling) introduced himself to the group of about 15 people. Most were British; there was one Indian man and two people who adamantly said they were from Pakistan, though they were clearly American (and not even ethnically Pakistani). We were confused, and they didn't really talk to anyone else for the rest of the tour. Huh.

Side note: For anyone traveling alone: I highly recommend guided walking tours. This was the first I'd taken, and I loved it. Two British men and the Indian man were also solo travelers. We had lovely conversations throughout the day! The rest of the Brits were also really nice--everyone was social and curious about each other. :) Sadly, I cannot remember ANY names, but if you were on that tour: thank you. It was a pleasure spending the day with you!

Radek led the tour with knowledge and humor. He was friendly and spoke to everyone individually on the walks in between landmarks. While he hasn't done much traveling outside of central Europe, he's incredibly well-informed, with a masters-level history degree. He quite enjoyed quizzing us about our home countries, or teasing us when appropriate.

On the walk through Wenceslas Square, he informed us that no one in the Czech Republic knows that one Christmas carol, and that while Wenceslas was pretty good (he's Bohemia's patron saint), he was actually never king. The square is quite important in modern history, as it was the site of the 1989 Velvet Revolution demonstrations and the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia. Radek was actually in Prague for a school visit and saw some of the protests!

It started pouring just as we ducked into the Lucerna theater to see David Černý's political statement:
Černý statue

We wandered through part of the new city ("for you American lady, new means 14th century") and I made a mental note to return to the Easter Market!
Easter Market!!

Radek took us into the underground subway station to show us a really old wall. It was old. I don't remember anything else about it. Yeah. But here he is! Blurrily!
Ancient wall unearthed in the subway station

We followed the yellow flag (he ditched the umbrella when it got crowded) through the alleys to the Old City...
Follow the Yellow Flag

...where we saw the famous Astronomical Clock!
Astronomical Clock tower
Main square

The square had another Easter Market and was awfully packed with tourists:
Main square

Next was the Jewish Quarter, where we saw Europe's oldest surviving synagogue, the Old-New Synagogue:

The Old Jewish cemetery has about 100,000 bodies in it according to Wikipedia, and 200,000 according to my guidebook. The tombstones date from 1439 to 1787:
Crazy full Jewish cemetery

Next, we took an hour-long boat ride on the river. I chatted a bunch with the Indian guy and the young solo Brit guy. As it was cold and drizzly, we all appreciated the chance to sit and warm up with a free beverage. Mine, naturally, was espresso.
Boat tour!

We just enjoyed listening to Smetana's die Moldau (named for the river on which we floated) and watching the view:

St. Vitus Cathedral on the castle hill:
Castle hill

Kafka Museum:
Kafka Museum


The Charles Bridge:
Charles Bridge from the boat
Boat ride!

This hill, on which a giant metronome now sits, has an insane history. First, a 50-foot high Stalin monument was built there in the 1950s and was removed in the 60s. Then, in 1996, a 35-foot-tall statue of Michael Jackson was placed there as a promotional stunt.

Theeen we walked more! Thankfully, not too much before we had lunch.
Lunch time!

I had real Czech goulash, which was not what I though it was. It was much better. The beer was good, too.
My amaaazing goulash

Here's the blurry gang!
The gang!

At lunch, Young British Dude (who had "only been to Prague once before, with his mates, for a stag party, so he doesn't really remember it...") and I bonded with Young British Couple who were both middle school teachers and really needed time away from work.

Fortified, we trooped over to the world-famous Charles Bridge:
Foot of the Charles Bridge
Charles Bridge!
Following the yellow flag over the Charles bridge

Blue sky peeked out by the time we crossed!
Other side of the bridge!

We caught a tram up to the Prague Castle.

First stop: the Summer Gardens, created by Ferdinand I for his wife, Anne.
(see the TV Tower?)
TV Tower

The Ball Game Hall, the Míčovna (according to the Prague castle wiki, though it doesn't have its own page), was built in the 16th century as a place for sports similar to tennis or badminton (says the link above).

It was destroyed in WWII and restored in the communists. Notice a small change they made?
See the sickle?

We continued closer to St. Vitus' Cathedral and the palace...
Yellow plants and castle buildings

...and arrived just in time for the changing of the guard:
Changing of the Guard
Break off
Change me!
They're done!

Good job, men.

Castle courtyard

Inside, Radek quizzed us about the event portrayed in this stained glass window. Any guesses? I was the only one to get it right! See the end of the post for the answer! :)

Note that the pretzel was not in the Biblical description of the event, but perhaps one was there:

Or the window was paid for/commissioned by a baker.

Our stay was short, and my pictures do not do it justice. But it was beautiful.
Angles and curls

We left the cathedral as shadows started to fall:

And I found more evidence of Maria Theresa's extensive European reign:
Maria Theresa, again.

At this wall, overlooking Prague, Radek left us. We had a slightly awkward group goodbye and tipping moment, and he was gone. The Brits, Indian, and I took a gazillion (approximately) photos of the gorgeous, red-roofed view:
Chillin' by the castle.
Red roofs
River view

Five of us--the Indian and British guys, and a British couple--wandered back slowly toward the Old City and Wenceslas Square.

Climbing down

We leisurely strolled, discussing meeting up the next night for the free (with price of tour we just finished) Ghost Tour of Prague, until I realized I had an hour get from the Charles Bridge to Vinohrady, eat dinner, fancy up, and walk ten minutes in heels to the Opera.

The Young Solo British Dude sped up with me, but we got lost.

This is the direct route:

View Larger Map

We were clearly not taking the direct route. So, we hopped on the subway, which thankfully he had already figured out, and thankfully, my hotel was only a block from a stop. I left him with a quick, over-the-shoulder goodbye, and SPRINTED to my hotel.

Did I eat, change, and make it to the opera on time?? Did I ever see the British/Indian friends whose names I can't remember again?? Stay tuned for the final chapters of Wien und Praha. ;)

Wind-swept on the Charles Bridge

**The stained glass window depicts Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down to the believers in Acts 2!