Travels postsWednesday August 20, 2014
EuroTrip 2014: Where is The Third Man Museum?
We were only in Vienna two full days, and our last full day began poorly but ended well. After breakfast we started walking toward the Kunsthistorisches Museum but realized—again, standing by the Hofburg Palace—that it didn’t open for another hour. So what to do in the meantime? At this point it got a little “Marty”: “What do you wanna do?” “I don’t know, what do you wanna do?” P had done the research, knew what she wanted to see, I hadn’t and didn’t, and she was a little tired of leading the way. In the end, we decided to see something I wanted to see: Schreyvogelgasse 8. The doorway where Harry Lime first appears in Carol Reed’s “The Third Man.”
It took us to a part of town we hadn’t walked before—westish—where it felt less touristy. It felt like people were rushing to work rather than to museums. Along the way, P spotted a café with insane looking pastries, Café Central, but we’d just had breakfast so we simply made a mental note to return. We missed one block, then another, but eventually, clumsily, we found ourselves at the doorway. Was it the doorway? There was no plaque. It was just ... there.
P was also tired having her picture taken and never getting to take mine. So here she reversed it. Get in that doorway, she said. I obliged. I tried to do the Harry Lime look, the amused, amoral “Aren’t I clever?” look he gives Holly Martins after being discovered in the shadows. We tried once, twice, maybe 10 times. My eyes watered from the effort. That shit’s tough. Then we switched places and P didn’t try for the Lime look. She just owned the doorway. “One-take Patricia.”
Is there karmic serendipity in giving up what you want for what someone else wants? Early in their relationship, my sister left her job in D.C. to follow her then-boyfriend down to Atlanta, but got a better job as a result. A few years later, after they were married, she got an even better job offer in Detroit so he followed her there ... where he got a better job as a result. Something similar happened to us that morning. P went to the “Third Man” doorway for me, but found, half a block away, at Ludwig Reiter, the purse she’d been searching for all over Europe. The shop wasn’t open yet—when do the Viennese rise, anyway?—but she made a mental note to return. We left the area full of mental notes and digital photos.
We didn’t approach the doorway for the Kunsthistorisches Museum—across the plaza from yesterday’s Naturhistorisches Museum—until it was nearly 10:00, by which time a small line for tickets had formed. We got in it. And waited. And waited. And didn’t move. I got out of line to see what the hold-up was, and wound up conferring with another dude, a math professor from Brazil, both of us marveling at the remarkable inefficiency of the Austrians. Here we all were at the biggest art gallery in one of Europe’s biggest cities at the beginning of summer, and they had ... one ticket seller behind one glass booth? Really? In some ways it was comforting: a stereotype buster. Here was another: my guy from Brazil wasn’t particularly interested in the 2014 World Cup, which was still in its middle rounds at that point. Probably good for him in the long run, considering.
We spent several hours at the Kunsthistorische—P is all about the Dutch Masters—then had lunch, then split up again for the afternoon. She wanted to stay, I wanted to check out a museum to “The Third Man.”
My trip got muddled quickly. Most of the maps we had ended a few blocks south of the Ringstrasse, but the Third Man Museum was a few blocks south of that. Plus I got lost. Or misdirected. I convinced myself I was going in the wrong direction but wasn’t. I kept trodding over the same territory and felt the panic of missing out. P was seeing tons of art while I was wasting my time here! That panic of missing out, of not taking advantage of my surroundings, followed me, in varying degrees, throughout the vacation. To be honest, all vacations. It’s why it’s almost a relief when the vacation ends. You can get back to work and relax a bit.
To get to the Third Man Museum, I eventually realized, I had to cross over the Naschmarkt, with all of its goodies (“Patricia should really see this,” I thought), and the two busy streets on either side. Serendipitously, I wound up on Pressgasse, the street I needed to be on, and kept walking. A block later, after what seemed like hours walking around blind (it was probably a half hour at most), I finally spotted the museum on the corner of Pressgasse and Mühlgasse. It looked small and nondescript. It also didn’t look very busy. As I approached I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that was confirmed when I got close: “Closed.” The fuck? “Saturdays: 2-6 PM.” One day? It was only open one day? For four hours? Shouldn’t the guidebook have mentioned something like that? I rechecked it and found out it did—although it also mentioned Tuesdays. So instead of indulging in the bits and pieces of Carol Reed’s classic, I took a few pictures from the outside. In my head, I kept hearing Calloway’s dismissive advice to the idiot American abroad: Go home, Martins.
It took a while to find my way back to the Ringstrasse and the Kartnerstrasse, and once I did, and felt less tense (it was partly the hectic traffic outside the Ringstrasse), I wandered a bit, bought P macaroons at a small, snooty shop near our pension, then returned to our room and rested there for a moment. But there was no rest. The panic returned. In a day I wouldn’t be in Vienna! I was wasting my time! So I bounded out again—quickly, quickly—and visited Mozart’s residence on the other side of the Stephansdom. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great. Near the end, P phoned. She said she was on the other side of the Hofburg Palace and they weren’t letting anyone through because there were cops everywhere because Vladimir Putin was in town. Putin? I was missing out! I rushed over ... and found P on this side of the Hofburg Palace, on Kohlmarkt, not at all blocked off by the many cops there. She was just confused. She had a new purse with her, too, from Ludweig Reiter, which she loved, but less so the designer. He also made shoes and when she inquired if he had any in her size, size 11, his reaction was a dimissive laugh. “No,” he said, shaking his head, “we never have them in that size.”
For dinner, we went north, up the Rotenturmstrasse until we hit the Wien river, then along the river and up some steps to St. Rupert’s Church. This was a quiet area, and there seemed to be a few students around. Did I think that because of the name of the pub we stopped at for a drink? The Philosoph? It was the old Jewish section of town. It felt relaxing. For some reason, it’s a highlight in my memory. Sitting at the Philosoph, on Judengasse, enjoying a cold beer, an Ottakringer, in the magic-hour light before dinner. For a moment, I didn’t feel like I had to be anywhere else.
SLIDESHOW: WHERE IS THE THIRD MAN MUSEUM?
SLIDESHOW: In cultural terms, Vienna first meant John Irving to me, but increasingly it meant “The Third Man,” Carol Reed's classic, zippy, zithery, post-WWII noir from 1949. I still think it's one of the best movies ever made. And the first time you see the titular character? It was in this doorway at 8 Schreyvogelgasse.
This is the look Harry Lime (Orson Welles) gives his friend Holly Martins upon being discovered.
And this is my attempt. Probably my 10th attempt. I know: Go home, Martins.
P, touring Vienna but thinking of custom-made purses.
Outside the Kunsthistorisches Musuem.
And inside. First, P looks at the paintings within paintings ...
... then it's as if she's stepped into her own version.
Lunch at the Kunsthistorisches Musuem. It'll do.
On the way to The Third Man museum, I ran into my patron saint.
And here it is! Finally! After all this time!
But of course ... “Goodness, that's awkward.”
Mozart's house in Vienna, on the back side of Stephansdom.
We saw a bunch of these in Europe, sadly. Two hands, buddy.
Worst. Shakespeare. Ever.
Saw a bunch of these, too. Nice to know good American movies get over there along with the superheroes.
End of day thoughts.
Who could ask for anything more?
Eurotrip 2014: Stephansdom, Ringstrasse, Naturhistorisches, Gasthaus
I’ll confess: This was the first trip I felt old. Not because I couldn’t walk the walk but because I couldn’t read the map. The guidebook maps in particular. I’d look at them, blink, pull the book away, try to adjust to the proper range. “Hey, they made this print too small. They need to ...” Then the other shoe. “Oh. Shit.” I went through the three stages of farsightedness: annoyance, realization, acceptance. Will scope out readers soon. Because carrying around two pairs of glasses just isn’t enough.
The Pension Neuer Markt, where we stayed in Vienna, and which always made me think of John Irving’s Pension Grillparzer—but without the bear and with a much better bathtub—offered, as had the Hotel Meteor in Prague, a breakfast buffet, in a cramped but elegant (but slightly frayed) dining area. We ate there every morning, and every morning when we returned to our room it had been cleaned. I assume, when we ordered coffee and they asked for our room number, that they relayed this information to the cleaning service, who went to work. However they did it, it felt efficient.
We were efficient on our first full day in Vienna. We shot the works at Stephansdom: bought the pass for the audioguide, catacombs, south tower, north tower and treasure. I did it all but the north tower, while P traded catacombs for art later in the day. How old is Stephansdom? Work began on it in 1304—or 188 years before Columbus sailed to America. Think about that. When Mozart was married at Stephansdom, when he lived a block away, it was already, at that time, nearly 500 years old.
After the audioguide tour and the south tower climb, fighting for space in the narrow stone stairs with hordes of kids on field trips, we ran into different versions of Wolfgang Amadeus selling opera tickets along the Stephansplatz. After our great experience at the Municipal House in Prague, we were interested in hearing music again, so I bought a pair of cheap tickets from a short, fat Mozart for about as much as it cost to shoot the works at Stephansdom. It was just money, right? Euros. Like play money. You just spend it. It’s there to be spent. The bill arrived recently. Oops.
Since we missed the #22 tram in Prague, P was interested in taking the Red City bus tour along the Ringstrasse to get a better overview of the city, which we did, meeting, along the way, a ticket seller from Spain, who admitted he wasn’t a big fan of German food. But the place across the street, he said, was good. We remembered the location more than the name: Plachutta: Gasthuas zur Oper.
We had no Wenceslases on this tour, just an audio guide, as we sat in the sun on the top deck of the bus. We didn’t stay long. Patricia, with a penchant for taxidermy, had us get off at the Naturhistorisches Museum, with its small elephant statue in front and a Noah’s Ark full of stuffed and mounted animals inside. The hallway was cavernous, the exhibits never-ending, Patricia in heaven. It was also fairly empty of tourists. Most people don’t go to Vienna for the taxidermy. But you could tell, 100 years ago, that this was the thing to do: to collect and preserve different and exotic species for display for the masses. Back then, the exotic was natural and from some far-flung place on the globe. Now it’s some two-dimensional phantasm, occasionally with 3-D glasses.. We also saw a good, frightening exhibit on “The Long Shadow of Chernobyl.”
After lunch at the museum, and the remainder of the Ringstrasse tour (there’s a Franz Grillparzer Street!), we wanted coffee, so stopped at the outdoor Mozart Café of the Sacher Hotel. P had talked all day about getting a Sachertorte, which, to my non-foodie ears, sounded like “soccer torte.” It was fine but not something to travel to Vienna for. Meanwhile, I wanted a simple iced coffee but wound up with some distinctly Viennese concoction. It rose up in the glass, impossibly white and fluffy, with various cookies stuck into it. If I must.
Traveling together as a couple is a bit of a test. You wake up together, eat together, plan together, walk together, visit the same things together, eat together again. For dinner one night, we sat down, looked over the menu, ordered, looked at each other. Silence. Finally I broke it. “So how was your day?” I asked. That’s why it’s always a good idea to split up every now and again, which we did that afternoon. P wanted to see the Durer exhibit at the Albertina, and I walked her there. Of course, us being us, we got lost. We walked as far as the Hofburg before she realized her mistake and backtracked. I stuck around there, though, basically kicking stones and taking pictures and going my own way.
Ten minutes later my phone rang—my first call in Europe! Patricia, of course. She said I just had to see the steps at the Albertina. Plus, right next to the Albertina, was a museum to film, which I needed to check out, too. So I walked over, saw Durer’s rabbit painted on the steps, entered the sedate Film Museum. But the name was a misnomer. It was basically a movie theater that showed art films in the evenings. The good news? On the way back to Stephansdom I saw a relief of Franz Grillparzer. See slideshow below.
It was a hot afternoon and so a tour of the catacombs at Stephansdom sounded like a good idea. An hour later, after spending time walking down cool stone steps in cool hallways and viewing the bones of the victims of centuries-old pestilence, I emerged into Stephansplatz, where P, waiting, was full of stories. Together we toured the Treasures section of St. Stephens, which included many reliquaries, of which P, a good, wayward Catholic girl, was a fan. For dinner, we followed the advice of our Spanish tour guide (the gasthaus near the Opera) and didn’t regret it. I regretted the opera a bit. It wasn’t the national opera, near the gasthaus, but a few blocks further south: “Mostly Mozart.” Crowded and kitschy. They let the tourists on stage, sitting there in their shorts, which P thought a bit gauche. Or at least linke. But the music was good. As in Prague, a lot of “Magic Flute.”
SLIDESHOW: Stephansdom in all its splendor. OK, some of its splendor. OK, just a bit of its splendor. It's impossible to catch all of it. It was built in 1304—or 188 years before Columbus sailed to America. By the time Mozart got married here, it was nearly 500 years old.
P: the good, wayward Catholic girl, forever lighting candles.
Climbing the south tower. We battled a lot of field trips along the way.
This was one of them. Stephansplatz, Stephansschmlatz. They made their own fun.
Our Mostly Mozart guy.
Biking in Vienna. A bit more civilized than in Seattle. It was actually warm this day, despite the look.
Ringstrasse from atop the Red City tour bus. We didn't stay long because ...
P had to see the Naturhistorisches Musuem. With friend outside.
Naturhistorisches Musuem. They could really tone down the splenor one time. To make the other museums feel better.
P and the birds. A better encounter than this one.
P meets the beetles.
Has anyone seen this Hans Hass film? More on the man here.
In the afternoon, P went here and was thrilled.
I saw this and was thrilled.
Stephansdom again from the Treasures room.
Checking out the triptychs.
Mostly Mozart: crowded and kitschy, but with a beat we could dance to. Glad we didn't go for the stage seats. *FIN*
Eurotrip 2014: Dekuju, Praha; Tag, Wien
It took me several days to finally remember the Czech for “thank you”: dekuju. The spelling threw me at first, I guess, but it stuck once I realized it was basically like Elmer Fudd saying “decree”: de-KWEE. Hehehehehehe. I also learned “Good morning” in Czech: Dobré ráno. That was it, though. I had an app I planned to use to learn more Czech but it kept crapping out on me. But those two words went a long way in the touristy circles I ran in, even as they were wholly unnecessary, since most folks spoke English. And German. And maybe Russian. Seriously, all of those “Speak English!” folks in the U.S.? They need to get out more. It’s less the number of languages people from other countries speak than the fact that you can go pretty much anywhere in the world and people will speak your language. English is doing just fine, dekuju.
P and I were reluctant to leave Prague yet arrived at the train station more than an hour early—even though the platform wouldn’t be announced until 20 minutes prior to departure. I didn’t know this. I always think earlier the better but here I felt like a rube. While we waited, P bought a coffee and I exchanged most of our korunas for euros. That was an oddity of our trip: We were visiting three countries in Europe, but two of them, the Czech Republic and Switzerland, weren’t on the euro. So we had a lot of exchanges. I spent a lot of times examining small coins. Was this a .... what was this?
Ten minutes before departure, our train platform was finally announced, and the huge, waiting crowd streamed through the tunnel—which includes a small bust of Woodrow Wilson, onetime hope of the world—and scrambled for a seat. We were less insistent since we bought tickets with assigned seats. Of course someone was in them. P spoke to him and the man apologized, moved his stuff, and sat in the seat in front of us. I was confused, though. How many seats were already bought? How could you tell? Were we even in the right place? Later in the trip—Vienna to Geneva—it happened again, but with a less polite deportee, but that time, an hour or so later, I found a conductor, who took a look at our tickets and declared, “You’re in the wrong car.” Wouldn’t be surprised if this was true during the Prague leg, too. Nothing more first-world than that, right? Declaring ownership of a spot you don’t own and booting folks from it. As they apologized for your mistake.
The car from Prague turned out to be the kid car. By which I mean the teenage car. Late teens? A group from ... Spain? I think they were on a second leg of a trip, because they were all tired, and several fell asleep sitting up, and one kid threw up. It was a source of great amusement for the others. Almost forced amusement, to be honest. One of the kids wore a T-shirt reading, I believe:
NO SOY YO
ES LA PERA
“Es la pera” or “Soy la pera” apparently means “I’m the pear,” which apparently means “I’m the shit.” But the rest? Anyone? Bueller?
Five hours later, after rattling past various rolling hills as well as a nuclear reactor in Brno, we arrived at the Wien-Miedling station. We walked down the stairs, took a left, and wound up blinking in the sun. I thought we’d see a train station, or at least a city, but we seemed in the sticks. Has we gotten off in the wrong spot? The Rough Guide to Vienna (also by Rob Humphreys) was a little sketchy on the subject, and I was ready to go back and turn right where we’d turned left, but P was anxious. So we just took a waiting cab to our hotel. Overpaid.
The pension kind of threw us, too. It wasn’t a hotel? With a lobby? It was just a door? We knew what pensions were but some assumptions are hard to break. Instead of a lobby, a heavy door led to a dark hallway, which led to an old-fashioned glass elevator, that you took to the third floor and the Pension Neuer Markt. It was a bit frayed around the edges but otherwise wasn’t bad. We got the key and I thanked the receptionist. Dekuju. I mean ... What is it again? Danke schoen. Thank you, Wayne Newton. Although, for me, in Vienna, I kept thinking of the “By Strauss” number in “An American in Paris.” Danke danke, bitte bitte.
Fifteen minutes to freshen up and then out into the blinding 4 pm sun. We walked a half block and ... boom. St. Stephen’s Cathedral. We laughed, it was so near and so beautiful. P wanted to go in right away but I counseled a walk around the city, saving the Cathedral for the next day. A block away, we tried to get a gelato at a busy store but were too frustrated by the disorganization. As we walked, P kept looking into shops for a new purse. That was her purchasing goal for the trip. Generally, though, she’d come out of the store, wrinkle her nose and shake her head. Not there. She would find what she wanted in a few days, and in the unlikeliest of places.
On Grabben, we had drinks at the outdoor café in front of the Pestsäule, a mercy column commissioned by Emperor Leopold I after the plague of 1679. It’s a statue that soars impossibly. It’s like a statue version of one of those supertall wedding cakes. Much of Vienna felt this way to me. Architecturally, it was impossibly white and fluffy. I wanted to scoop some of the icing off the buildings with my finger.
That night, the Rough Guide let us down—or time did. For dinner, Immervoll at 17 Weihburggasse sounded good, but when we got there, it wasn’t. We walked along: 13 ... 15 ... 19 .... What the--? A waiter at a nearby cafe told us it had moved a few blocks away—if the new one was even the same one. Instead, we ate at a quaint-looking but expensive restaurant run by an Asian dude. I had the weiner schnitzel. I was surprised when it arrived as deep-fried veal. I expected sausage. It was so-so. Maybe all weiner schnitzel is.
Heading out of Prague. This is probably about halfway to Vienna. P gently being rocked to sleep.
All the stuff you see out the train window from Praha to Wien: buildings ...
... decrepit train stations ...
... nuclear reactors ...
... and then, boom, Vienna. Stephansdom: Half a block from our pension.
Vienna ... or Vienna on Broadway? Only Neil Patrick Harris knows for sure.
The Pestsäule on Grabben. All the architecture in Vienna just goes up and up. Even statues to plagues.
P on Grabben, looking for a good new purse. She found it, but days later, and in the unlikeliest of places. *FIN*
Eurotrip 2014: Terezin
On our third full day in Prague we visited a concentration camp, Terezin, also known as Theresienstadt. I was vaguely familiar. At the Seattle International Film Festival this year I’d seen a documentary, “The Last of the Unjust,” written and directed by “Shoah” documentarian Claude Lanzmann, about Benjamin Murmelstein, the last president of the Theresienstadt Jewish Council, who was condemned as a collaborator after the war. OK, I saw two-thirds of it. It’s nearly four hours long, and I made the mistake of seeing another SIFF movie beforehand. Plus my arms hurt (an ulnar nerve thing). Plus the air-conditioning wasn’t working at SIFF Uptown that night. It was like a cattle car in there. So with an hour left, in the doc, and already missing the thread of the story, I fled. The mostly older, mostly Jewish folks in the room, made of stronger stuff, kept going.
But that was the camp, Terezin, a kind of weigh station for Eastern European Jews before most were sent on to Auschwitz. It was called a “model ghetto.” The Nazis actually made a propaganda film about it: “Hitler Gives the Jews a Town.”
Since Terezin is 60 km from Prague, we went with a tour group—mostly creative writing students from Chicago—as well as the Darryl and Darryl of the Czech Republic: Our driver was named Wenceslas and our tour guide was also named Wenceslas. The driver was another of those meaty Czech men who looked like he could crush you with one hand but was surprisingly gentle in manner. The tour guide seemed like a partisan in the mountains from a century earlier, but with an umbrella rather than a rifle slung over his shoulder.
On the drive, he told us about the history of Terezin: how it started out as a garrison town built by the Hapsburgs in the 1780s to defend the northern border from the Prussians; how it never had to do this. He was straightforward, perfunctory. He had his routine and didn’t deviate much from it. I wondered, as I wondered with many of the middle-aged Czechs I met, where he’d been in 1968. Or 1989? What had he believed? What did he believe now? I remember being slightly startled by his angry tone when he discussed the 1938 Munich Agreement. “Right,” I thought, “that was about Czechoslovakia, wasn’t it?” One of those distant countries to me, his to him. And now we would see one of the consequences of that decision.
Upon entering the Malá pevnost (small fortress), we immediately lost both Wenceslases: the driver because he was the driver, the tour guide because he also spoke Italian, there was another Italian group there, and he had to service them. So he handed us off to a tour guide with a thick German accent, Klaus, I believe, who told us we would have to pay for photographs, and then we all walked through a sign reading “ARBEIT MACHT FREI”: “WORK SETS YOU FREE.” A message that wouldn’t seem out of place on FOX-News, I thought. I took a picture.
I assumed the tour would be wholly about World War II, but recent floods were constantly mentioned, while the fortress’ most famous prisoner, Gavrilo Princip, was the 19-year-old Bosnian Serb who assassinated the Archduke Ferdinand, which precipitated Austria-Hungary’s invasion of Serbia, which started World War I. Princip was imprisoned there for several years until he died of tuberculosis in 1918. I asked if, all that time, all those years, he knew what he had wrought. If he’d heard about or read about the millions of lives lost on the battlefield. “He didn’t start World War I,” Klaus said quickly. “Oh, right,” I said. “Well, he was a cause, right? So ...” But we didn’t seem to connect on this, and anyway Klaus didn’t know. But I thought I needed to read up on my WWI history again.
It was an appropriately overcast day, and P had several low blood-sugar moments—her worst of the trip. It seemed no amount of protein bars could get her back up. That seemed appropriate, too: being with someone who was basically starving for sugar. At the end of the tour of the small fortress, we saw a bit of the “Hitler Gives ...” propaganda film, but through a 1960s lens, and then were reunited with our Wenceslases. We walked back past the gift shop. I forgot to pay for the photographs I took.
Next we went to the Ghetto Museum, then the Magdeburg Barracks, former seat of the Jewish Council, which has been turned into a museum featuring the work of the various Jewish artists who passed through Terezin. There was amazing stuff—both propaganda for the Nazis (“Hey, everything’s OK here!”) and art for themselves (“No, it’s not”)—but we were rushed through so fast one woman objected. “Hey, can we stay here a little longer?” We didn’t. That seemed appropriate, too. We weren’t fed, we had no say, we were rushed through everything. We visited another cemetery and then went back to Prague.
The rest of the day, P and I went to see a movie at a nearby cinema. A few Czech movies were playing, but without English subtitles, of course, so we opted for something big and stupid: “Godzilla.” Years ago I thought about writing a book, “Watching Movies in Other Countries,” and some part of me keeps a hand in that long moribund project; but I have to admit, the Czech experience didn’t really differ much from the U.S. one. You got specific seats rather than general admission. That’s about it. You could buy popcorn, M&Ms, Kit-Kats, Coke. They were called popcorn, M&Ms, Kit-Kats, Coke.
For dinner, we went to Lokal, a much-recommended pub serving Czech food and beers, and sat with two Brits—one a current solicitor, one a former solicitor—who were in town for the weekend to see a steam-engine train exhibit. They were polite but I think we overwhelmed them with our curiosity—desperate, as we were, to talk to someone besides ourselves. We also ordered after them but got served first. I don’t think that sat well. Then we went to a less crowded pub next door for another beer and the end of a World Cup match: Argentina/Iran. On the walk home, we stopped off at a big grocery chain, Billa, to look for more protein bars for Patricia. Tomorrow was travel day.
The road to Terezin, which is about 60 km outside of Prague. Wenceslas was driving. The other Wenceslas was talking. It was odd just seeing the road sign.
The Jewish cemetery outside the small fortress.
Tour guide Wenceslas warning everyone not to step on the grass like Patricia. Kidding. But note the umbrella. I plan to carry mine that way soon.
Work sets you free. As FOX-News tells us.
The small fortress at Terezin.
Another Jewish cemetery.
Where do you go after a concentration camp? How about to a stupid Hollywood movie? It will make everything better. *FIN*
EuroTrip 2014: A Day of Ripoffs
“This has been a day of ripoffs.”
That’s what I was thinking, sourly, before the chamber orchestra began to play Friday night.
We overdid Prague on the first day under blue skies, then redid some of it on the second day under cloudy skies. So it inevitably felt like a setback.
We visited the Stavovské divadlo (Estates Theater), where Mozart premiered “Don Giovanni,” and which is the only extant opera house where Mozart performed, but it was under renovation and shows wouldn’t begin again until we were in Vienna (ironically). We visited, with some difficulty, the Museum of Communism, which (again, ironically) is located above a McDonald’s on Na Príkope. According to the Rough Guide, it was started by an expat, and so has a bit of a chincey feel to it: the floorboards creak, the exhibits seem dusty, everything crowds in on you. P loved it. She felt the whole chinciness added to the experience. Then we walked down Na Príkope to Wenceslas Square (Václavské námestí), which was less square than superlong rectangle. More construction was being done there, while the beautiful 18th century buildings were now often standing next to the ugliest, nondescript Soviet-era buildings. Spasibo, Russia. Everywhere we saw ads for the Prague Hooters and the Prague Wax Museum, where, apparently, John Lennon was having a bed-in with a communist figure. The whole thing felt slightly unclean.
Late morning, we retraced our steps to Josefov, the old Jewish ghetto, but everything we visited seemed overpriced and underwhelming. The synagogue hardly compared to any of the cathedrals we’d visited, and the Old Jewish Cemetery was old but still a cemetery. Plus we had trouble finding it. (We had trouble finding everything.) Plus P had a low blood-sugar incident and we had to grab lunch at a nearby pub that was, again, overpriced and underwhelming. But I did buy a little Golem figure for a few bucks that I get a kick out of. Plus a book about the Prague Golem. So there was that. And anyway we would be hearing music that night: according to the program “Strauss, Mozart, Dvorak.” One wonders what Strauss did to get such billing.
It was at the Municipal House, a grand, early 20th century building next to the Powder Gate a half a block from where we were staying. At 5:45 PM, P and I, dressed to the nines (or maybe to the sevens), walked up the grand staircase and toward what I imagined was a giant opera hall. Along the way we passed a small room where chairs were being set up, and P remarked how so much was going on in this building. Then the hallway ended without a way to the hall. We backtracked. Eventually we realized—stupid tourists—that the small room where chairs were being set up? That was the concert hall. We sat in our seats, looked around, confused, and met the confused looks on other folks there. I felt gyped. I was worried we’d been ripped off again.
Then the musicians filed in, took their seats, chatted with each other. They were probably 10, 15 feet away from us. According to the program, most play for the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra. I fanned myself with the program and waited. Then they launched into the overture from “The Magic Flute.”
Within seconds, P gripped my leg with excitement. What they did in 75 minutes that night was probably old hat for them but truly stunning for us. What I’d discounted—the smallness of the room, the proximity to the players, the lack of grandeur—was exactly what you want. Classical musicians are too often hid from us—on recordings or in pits or lost amid a big orchestra—but here they were up close and individual. It may have been our best night on the trip.
At Prague's Museum komunismu (Musuem of Communism) above a McDonald's (of course) on Na prikope. One wonders how cheap these statues came. Cheap, but at such a price. The museum itself is a bit chincey, but that probably adds to the experience.
Museum of Communism: A photo of communist leader Klement Gottwald in fur cap, which, of course, reminded me of the first page of “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.” (Read your Kundera, kids.)
Museum of Communism: A reproduction of a schoolroom. Czech would've come in handy here. Translation, anyone? Bueller?
Museum of Communism ad: It's less the blonde girl in the pigtails holding the pink balloon than whatever the hell is in that glass. Does anyone know what this soft drink is/was called? What precedes “OVONA”?
Wenceslas Square, where things happen. This is what was built under the Hapsburgs ...
... and this was what was built under the Soviets.
And this is what's arrived now. You're welcome.
P in front of the Stavovske divadlo, where Mozart premiered Don Giovanni: “... the only opera house left standing in which Mozart actually performed.” But we couldn't get in.
We had trouble locating the Old Jewish Ghetto, too. A WASP thing maybe?
Eventually we got there.
The Czech musicians who saved our day. *FIN*