13 July 2019

Prague Part 3 - culture and final comments

Did we manage to spend a bit more than a week in a city without experiencing art or music? Of course not.

We only visit one bit of the National Gallery of Prague, which has about five separate locations. We go to the one on the Main Square on Wednesday when it is open late (often a quieter time to visit a popular gallery). They are showing a collection of French Impressionists on loan from the Danish Ordrupgaard gallery. We always find it soothing to go and look at some Monet, Manet, Sisley, Pissarro. All that nice French landscape. 

On the music front we enjoy another opportunity to visit a grand concert hall for free, going to the Smetana Hall to hear the final concert in which my great-niece is singing. Her choir have sung in Vienna since we heard them in Bratislava, and we think they are getting better all the time. We also hear a very good performance by an orchestra from Penrhos College in Perth, so the Aussie flag is flying high. Before the concert we lunch in the lovely art deco cafe that is part of the Hall - very good salads.

Smetana Hall, from the outside

Greatniece Emily, second from left in front row, hands clasped.

Prague is famous for jazz, and in my new role as organiser of the U3A Port Phillip Jazz group, I just have to go. We book a table at Agharta, a very traditional and old club in one of the cellars that have been created as the street level has risen over the centuries (once upon a time they were at ground level). We hear a quartet of piano, bass guitar, drums and sax. The sax player is the leader and plays both tenor and soprano sax. Since my U3A group also has piano, bass guitar and drums, with a sax and a clarinet there are some similarities and it gives me ideas. The local quartet are all great players so it's very enjoyable and we stay until they quit for the night. Peter has fears that the public transport might stop at midnight, and we'll be walking home, but although it's after 12 when we leave there are still trams running to take us up the hill to Hotel Loreta.

On our last night in Prague we go to the opera in the Estates Theatre. This is where Don Giovanni premiered in 1787, and there are regular performances of the opera in the theatre. It is a smaller and more intimate theatre than the Staatsoper in Vienna, and orchestra and soloists are young, much less polished than the singers in Vienna. But it is a most enjoyable production, with a particularly comic Leporello.

So why is Prague such an attractive city? Visually it is lovely from the many vantage points, up the hills, on the river, from the bridges, the town hall tower or just walking through the cobbled streets of the old town, the Jewish quarter, or Mala Strana. So many of the buildings have spires with wonderful twiddly bits. When you look down on it there is a jumble of red-tiled roofs, aligned to the twisting streets and interrupted by the quirky spires. There are high rise buildings visible on the horizon, but in the main parts of the city on both sides of the river the only things sticking up above the 4-5 storey buildings are church spires and bell towers and the towers of the old city gates. In addition to the attractive streets, there are old passageways that take you from one street to another, usually turned into arcades with shops and restaurants. The green spaces aren't as relaxing as those in Vienna or Budapest, as they tend to involve walking up and down steep paths or stairs (the Petrin Hill funicular wasn't operating), but the views compensate.

We did one of our tram trips to the end of the line and back (partly a product of having guessed wrongly which direction our no 22 took out of Malostranska Square), and so saw a bit of the outer burbs, but not out as far as the high rise.

We think we might start making a point of visiting Post Offices. We go into the main PO in Bratislava (to post those postcards that you send to special friends and rels and which arrive in Australia 3 days after you get home) and it is an elegant 19th century building with a beautiful skylight. In Prague I have to print, sign and post some documents and send them to Spain; we go to the main PO there because all local ones are shut for a national holiday (St Cyril and St Methodius, since you ask). Once we've safely dispatched the documents by express post, we spend some time looking at the charming murals on the walls. They are classical-looking figures, but all relating to post and telegraph activities. So there are putti opening parcels, delivering letters, even holding up the insulators on a telephone wire. We are quite captivated.

So that's Prague. We've left few stones un-turned, but I'd like to return some time, perhaps at a different time of year.

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