Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Adventures in Bohemia: Musical Nights

And now for the final installment of our Prague and Bohemian adventures. In between returning from Prague and writing this post we have since made a trip to and from Berlin with Jaap's hometown band for a wind band music festival. So...the blog is falling behind whatever "schedule" I try to maintain. 

I'm very busy at work right now with two upcoming musical productions. There are tons of details to keep track of that I sometimes can't think straight. It's pretty ridiculous. But in the end it will all come together. (I hope). Plus Jaap and I have been going to a lot of extra rehearsals and concerts for our orchestra and guest performances with Jaap's band. More about that later, but for now...back to Prague!
The best thing about being with Jaap is our shared musical background. As much as we take advantage of the musical scene Maastricht has to offer it's not nearly as exciting as traveling to big cities like Prague. One night of jazz, one night of classical, and stopping to hear many street performers made our Prague trip a musical one. 

Rudolfinum, home of the Czech Philharmonic
Exploring Wencelas Square 
One night we had drinks with one of my friend's from Dutch class, Alex. It turns out he was doing research in Prague the same time we were there. Alex's Czech landlord recommended we check out Jazz Dock. We tried to go with Alex, but it was closed for a private party. Jaap and I ventured back the next night and enjoyed an evening of cheap drinks and music. It was another relaxing and romantic way to escape from all the tourists and enjoy each other's company. Can't say I recommend the particular group we saw perform, but still a great evening.
Our last day in Prague was low key. Lunch at a secluded tea house, a walk around Wenceslas Square, and reading in a Franciscan Garden. We found this huge bookstore near Wenceslas Square and had fun shopping in the English section. I miss English bookstores! The large bookstore in Maastricht is beautiful to look at, but their English section is so obscure. I always wonder, "Who's ordering these books and does anybody buy them?" So when we're out of Maastricht and we find a decent book store, we spend a lot of time there. Here's Jaap enjoying the warm weather with a new book.
Our last night in Prague was wonderful. We bought tickets to the Czech Philharmonic at the Rudolfinum months before our actual trip. We heard Dvořák's Water Sprite and Rimsy-Korsakov's Scheherazade, symphonic suite. There's something about sitting in a beautiful concert hall, listening to one of the best orchestras in the Czech Republic, perform music of a Czech composer (Dvořák). It's really quite powerful. Not to mention, the Rudolfinum is a site to see in itself. Absolutely beautiful. The whole evening reminded me of hearing Mozart and Schubert in Vienna. Austrian performers performing music of Austrian composers. There's something special about that. Only they can do it best. 
I was sad to see our Prague trip come to an end, but it was time to head back to the real world. A romantic stroll on the Charles Bridge was the perfect ending to another adventure with Jaap.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Adventures in Bohemia: Castles & Beethoven

Our third day in Prague was spent almost entirely sightseeing in the Castle Quarter. Home to Prague's famous Prague Castle, St. Vitus Cathedral and other historic sites. We somewhat "beat the crowds" to tour St. Vitus by arriving a little after 9:00 a.m. It's hard to believe how many tourists and visitors come to these sites each day. 
Stain glass by Art Nouveau artists Mucha
We both agree that one of the best place we visited on this trip was the Lobkowicz Palace. The palace is a part of the Castle Quarter, but privately owned by a prominent Czech family. This place has an interesting history. Confiscated twice in the past 100 years, first by the Nazis at the beginning of WWII and second by the communists in the late 1940s. Now, it is back under ownership of the Lobkowicz family and is open to the public to visit. The family has an amazing collection of art including a Brueghel and Velasquez paintings, but our favorite was seeing the Beethoven Room.
The collection of instruments and manuscripts is impressive. I have to admit, I was unaware of the patronage relationship between Ludwig and the Lobkowicz family. They pride themselves in having first edition copies of several Beethoven symphonies including the Eroica (originally dedicated to Napoleon), 5th, and 6th symphonies. It's amazing to see these things up close. We spent a lot of time in this room admiring the work. 
Mozart manuscript, his transcription of Handel's Messiah
First edition copy of the Eroica, Beethoven's 3rd symphony
Views from the Castle Quarter
Getting ready to tour the Old Palace
A visit to the Toy & Barbie Museum, a request from the resident Muppet collector
And now for some rest and relaxation away from the crowds. Pivo (Czech beer) and veggie burgers on a secluded terrace overlooking a monastery. 
Strahov Monastery in the background
Continuing on to Petřín Hill, we were dodging the rain in this wooded park. On the journey up the hill there are some nice little lookouts for some good views of Prague. 
Coming down from Petřín Hill, we stopped by the Lennon Wall. I had a completely different vision of what I thought it would look like. My parents sent me a postcard of the Lennon Wall from Prague about 12 years ago. It's the only image I had of the place in my head, so when we saw it in person, it was not what I expected. And since it's all graffiti, why would it look the same?!
After walking all day we stopped on Kampa Island for a quiet moment to relax. Iced coffee with Jaap on the Vltava. A great ending to a beautiful day. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Adventures in Bohemia: Old Town Prague

Týn Church
Municipal House and beautiful Art Nouveau architecture
Our Bohemian journey continues in Prague. I visited Prague when I was a student in Vienna, but that was 11 years ago, so it was nice to return and explore it with Jaap. It was his first time going there. It could not have been better!
Breakfast in our apartment
We rented an apartment close to the Little Quarter and a short Metro ride from all the Prague hot spots. It was nice to make breakfast "at home" each day and truly have our own little space. 
I said earlier that this vacation was nothing short of perfect, that included the weather as well. Mid 20s and sunny! Jaap wore shorts and sandals each day. It really felt like spring. Apparently Eastern Europe was experiencing a heat wave while we were there. Perfect timing. I'm not gonna lie. Coming back to the Netherlands was a little a depressing. Okay, it was very depressing, but I've adjusted. Back to rain coats and frizzy hair.
We spent one day walking around the Old Town hitting some of the popular sights. Pictures of the Týn Church, watching the Astronomical Clock strike the hour, and walks over the Charles Bridge. 
Can you find Jaap here?
Snacking on strawberries at the Havelská Market
We're musicians and huge classical music fans. The Czech Republic's musical culture is so interesting and rich. Smetana, Dvořák, and their huge love of Mozart. We tried to take advantage of this history while we were there. We stopped by the Smetana museum next to the Charles Bridge one afternoon. Travel tip: If you want some peace and quiet from the crowds, go to this museum. I can't say it's the most interesting place, but we were the only people there and it gave us a nice break from all the tourists. It was nice to read about his life, musical contributions, listen to Má Vlast and especially the Vltava. It's one of my favorite symphonic works of all time. 
Me & Smetana
Later on we visited the Jewish Quarter and actually learned a lot. Both of us acknowledged that we had never been to a synagogue before. It sounds strange, but this was a first for us. The Jewish Quarter consists of several synagogues and the Old Cemetery. The museum wasn't just about the history of the Jewish community in Prague, but also about Jewish rituals, customs, and traditions. It was very interesting. 
For us, the most interesting part was an exhibition of children's artwork from the concentration camp Terezín. It's a small gallery inside one of the synagogues. I was fascinated at the range of emotions children portrayed in their sketches while living in a concentration camp. Many of the pieces portrayed their current hardships at the camp, but I was surprised at how many sketches portrayed happy emotions and good times they remembered. It was very powerful and sad.
Ceremonial Hall
A highlight was visiting the Old-New Synagogue. The oldest synagogue in Europe.
Old-New Synagogue
We saw a lot of Prague on our first day. Lots of walking, but also lots of resting in romantic spots. Here we are on the Charles Bridge listening to some street performers. A nice spot to enjoy each other's company. 

On another note, HAPPY ANNIVERSARY to my "adventuring" Dutchman, Jaap. Today we're celebrating three great years of happiness. Here's to many more years of love and adventures together. XOXO.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Bohemian Adventures: Český Krumlov

Exploring the Czech Republic with Jaap over the past week of vacation was nothing short of perfect. Adventures with Jaap is a pretty accurate description of our time spent in beautiful Bohemia. Canoeing, longs walks, romantic dinners, Czech beer, sampling Czech meat heavy cuisine, and lots of good music. This spring break is one to remember. 
Český Krumlov
Krumlov Castle
Our journey begins in Český Krumlov. A beautiful town 2.5 hours south of Prague on the Vltava river. People asked us where this place was and why we were going there. Český Krumlov came under recommendation from my favorite travel guru, Rick Steves. I love his books and travel TV series. I'm glad we decided to make the trip though. It was two days full of nature, small town quaintness, and some slow paced relaxation.
Exploring the castle grounds
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. And when in the Czech Republic, drink beer. I never drink beer (except during Carnaval). It's always wine, water, tea, or maybe a cappuccino. So, I enjoy "doing as the locals do" when we're on vacation and for 25 Czech crowns for a beer, why not! That's about 1 euro and approximately 1/4 the price of beer in the Netherlands. 
Adventures with Jaap has held true to it's name. Jaap and I sought out some more adventure style traveling while in Český Krumlov. We decided to skip an indoor tour of the castle and opt for a canoe trip down the Vltava instead. We rented our trusty canoe and equipment from a place in town and we were off. 

Little did we know, our canoe would tip and we'd be swimming in the Vltava about 5 minutes into the trip. We're not the most athletic bunch and we made some pretty amateur canoe mistakes. The first being sitting me at the back of the boat. I'll take the blame on that one, it was my idea. Jaap weighs more and is stronger. He should have been the one steering and balancing the weight in the back. Number two: When the rental company gives you a waterproof container for valuables, use it! Our camera was completely submerged in water, but has lived to tell the tale. Luckily, we didn't have to replace it. 

Here I am on dry land, not knowing that we'll be underwater in 3 minutes. 
Splash! Our canoe suddenly gets really exciting.
Chaos ensues: Trying to the get the water out of the boat...
trying to find a band-aid for Jaap's bleeding foot (luckily, we came prepared)...

fixing the camera...
and trying to get back in the water. Hilarious! I only wish I had a video of us tipping over. We gave lots of tourists and onlookers a good show. 
Back on the Vltava, things were much more peaceful. I only wish I had pictures of our beautiful ride from Český Krumlov to Zlatá Koruna. 3 hours of uninterrupted serenity and nature. Tall pine trees, beautiful sunshine, calm waters, and warm weather. Our pictures don't do it justice because we decided to keep the camera in the water-safe container, but here is just a quick glimpse. 
Back in town...we enjoyed a stroll. Here is a view of Český Krumlov from the other side of town. The Vltava winds right through town making Český Krumlov a small peninsula. 
This trip was full of some quality street performers and musicians. It got even better back in Prague. Here's Jaap making a donation. We always stop, listen, and donate to quality musicians. 
We ended our Český Krumlov journey with some meaty Czech fare at a dark candlelight restaurant that was a prison in the middle ages. A nice ending to our trip to the south. Next stop...Prague!