I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!












Today’s post is brought to you by the colour green.




I know, we needed the rain.




I think (hope) our water stocks are replenished and will last through the summer.




The rain didn’t spoil our plans thankfully, because neither of us were planning outdoor activity and could appreciate the wet outlook from the comfort of an open window.




The results are greener than ever.




What a special place this is.  A few rainy days are welcome.




Even if our pond is a bit green too.  We’ve never seen quite so many newts in it!


Whilst we are away




The fun continues at home.




The bears who get left behind have the time of their lives too.




Fun with friends, eh?


Why Prague?

Now that we've returned from Prague, my Heroine has granted me Guest Blogger status to explain why we spent a few days there and, in particular, what I was doing for two days whilst she roamed the Czech capital unescorted.

Many of you will be all too familiar with my 40+ year obsession with the 19th century composer Joachim Raff.


Over the years, attending the rare concerts of his music has been a useful peg on which to hang many trips to Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, New York and even Vietnam. We've also made some great friendships through Raff, one of which is with the wonderful pianist Tra Nguyen, who has shared my love of his music since we met 10 years ago.

Over the years we've made eight CDs together, and the Prague trip was because she was again in the studio, this time to record Raff's Piano Concerto and a rather shorter work, the Ode au Printemps, with the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra lead by the Canadian conductor Kerry Stratton. Having been involved in the project from the start, I was lucky enough to be tagging along. The two previous recordings I'd attended were in concert halls, but this one was in a new state-of-the-art studio in the Czech Radio Center, right in the middle of Prague.


The walls of the studio itself were lined with adjustable sound reflecting/absorbing (I'm not sure which!) panelling,  a forest of microphones sprouted from the floor, placed next to each set of instruments, and it was overlooked by the most impressive control room, full of enough techie gear to make any technophobe feel really intimidated. 


This was inhabited by the producer, Milan, and his sound engineer (the guy who actually moved all the sliders on the mixing desk). Although the overall interpretation of the music (the tempi chosen, for example) was Tra's decision as the soloist, and the conductor's role was to bring out the best in the orchestra to complement her conception of the piece, it's quite clear that the boss on the day was the producer. He sat there, listening and able to look at proceedings below from his desk via two large TV monitors, but mostly with his head buried in the score, pencil poised, comparing what was being played through the three huge speakers with what Raff actually wrote. I was amazed at his attention to detail; nothing escaped Milan's ear.


You and I probably wouldn't pick up most of the minute deviations that he did but, after a few seconds of what seemed to me to be perfect playing in a take, the red "On Air" lights would go out in the studio, the music would stop, and Milan's voice would come over the loudspeakers saying that a particular sixteenth note was an E flat not an E natural, or that it was dotted or maybe the horns were guilty of not playing pianissimo or whatever. "Let's try it one more time".


The infinite care taken by everyone to achieve a perfect recording was humbling to witness. "Good enough" just wasn't good enough. On average it took around two hours and scores of takes to lay down around 10 minutes of music, and this from highly proficient professional musicians! I marvelled at their ability to keep the overall architecture of a whole movement in their minds whilst chopping it up into umpteen disjointed segments, keeping the tempo and dynamics consistent from one take to the next so that whilst editing the recording next week Milan could match together take #32 with take #47, say, so that to the listener the result would be a seamless musical experience.


The two days of recording just flew by in one intense, wholly absorbing experience, which I found utterly fascinating. It finished with a session in the control room, listening back to some of the takes to confirm that everyone was happy.


They were.

Without doubt though, the most magical part had begun for me midway through the second morning when Tra asked me to turn the pages of her score whilst she played. So there I sat, not in the control room or at the back of the studio as before, but right next to the soloist for three hours whilst two of the Concerto's three movements were recorded. I felt awash with music - the sheer volume of noise made it even more involving than singing in a Stuart Singers' concert, and the notes were going around in my head all evening afterwards. I feel really privileged to have shared that experience with these fine musicians. But now, back down to earth: there's rather less elevated music to learn ready for the Choir's next pair of concerts only four weeks' away…


Walk with me in Wenceslas Square




It’s a beautiful morning and I’m ready to enjoy the sunshine but maybe we’ll catch the tram and save our legs for later?




I have my day ticket to hand and ever mindful of the young man the other day, I left the previous tickets back in my journal so there’d be no confusion.  A day ticket like this is great value at just over £3 for unlimited, hassle-free travel on trams, buses or metro.




Catching a tram is easy too, with all the information at the stop, including the real-time arrival times.  We’ll catch the 17 to begin with and there’ll be one along in just a couple of minutes.




There are interesting buildings to look at, even whilst standing idle at the tram stop, but I must concentrate…




because here it comes.




First thing I need to do is to validate my ticket by swiping it through the machine by the tram door.  This is a one-off procedure and having date-stamped it, I’ll put it away unless asked to show it by an inspector.




We need to change trams at the National Theatre, just a couple of stops along the river bank.  There’s a fine view of the castle and St Vitus’ cathedral from here but I’m more concerned about finding the next tram stop, which I think is around the corner.




Sadly, most of the spectacular National Theatre is hidden behind this modern office block, but maybe I’ll have chance to get a better look later.  Anyway, the #9 tram is approaching and I haven’t time to fiddle about trying to get a better view now!




The modern trams have clear information on board too, with screens showing the next stop and the remainder of the route.  Such information is comforting when in a strange city – no excuses for getting lost!




Soon, we are in Wenceslas Square, or Václavské náměstí as the tram stop is labelled.  As soon as I get off the tram and look up, I spy the Hotel Europa and know I’m in the right place.

Time to walk, then!




I decide to walk up this side of the street to the monument, before crossing over and returning down the other side.  It’s easier to view the architecture on the opposite side of the street of course, from a short distance away.

I’m immediately struck by a familiar typeface outside this shop though.  Recognise it?




Perhaps we’ll keep on walking?




The bright sunshine makes a walk like this all the more pleasant.  I’m not in a hurry, can meander in and out of shops as I please and there are interesting things to look at and notice all around me.




Wenceslas Square isn’t square at all, but a broad avenue with a wide central reservation.  Here, there’s a couple of old trams set up as a pavement cafe with flowerpots looking lovely in the sunshine.  Maybe we’ll have a stop there on the way back?




For now, I’ll take another, longer look at the Europa and the smaller, but equally distinctive Meran Hotel next door.




I notice that even the more modern buildings have small architectural features which acknowledge those of an earlier age, though.

Please, remind me frequently to look up, though!  (I forget)  At ground floor level this looks like a perfectly ordinary bank.




When planning my days here in Prague, I’d every intention of spending a good part in galleries and museums, but have been thwarted by renovations.  The National Museum, here at the end of the square is undergoing a lengthy rebuilding and as I approach it, I can see why it’s taking so long!   There in front of it is the statue of St Wenceslas but with the sun high in the sky behind it, it’s going to prove tricky to capture the details.




Never mind, I’ll wander around, squint into the sunshine and do my best to  see what’s what.  Maybe you smiled as I did, when I thought “I’ll google it later” Winking smile

Crossing over to the other side of the road, then, I spot something interesting.  Coming in with me?




Whilst here, I’ve been keeping an eye on the cute shoes and thinking that I could use a summery replacement for my trusty red pair.  Maybe there’s something here?




They are not expensive and are there to try…








Sorry if I’m boring you!  (At this point my Hero would have wandered off or be sitting playing a game on his phone…)




OK, narrowing it down…pink or gold?    Gold!   (I’ve seen a pink pair elsewhere Winking smile )




I’ll just check there isn’t another pair I like…




On this side of the boulevard, there’s considerable construction going on.




Remembering to look up then (thank you for the reminder!) I notice the lime trees which border the roadside.  “The National Tree of Prague”, I think.




I stop to take a photograph of the man painstakingly painting the white lines of a Zebra crossing and as I do, I notice the group over in the central reservation.




All those irritations are there: selfie sticks, posers, ipad photographers…  I steer clear of them but nevertheless wish to take a look at that very spot.




Because here are some rather comfortable benches on which to take a breather and each one has a quotation upon it.  No way of taking a photograph without the shadow, I’m afraid, and I think Pasternak’s words are better paraphrased as “Life’s not a rehearsal”, but you get the drift.

Let’s sit a few moments and watch the folks around here.




The reason that this small area is causing a stir is because of a rather lovely bed of tulips which are in full bloom and looking gorgeous.




So when a young woman wearing a white dress approaches from the far end, I wonder what she plans…




because I have a sneaky suspicion Winking smile




She finds a spot amongst the flowers and stands looking around for a while before getting out her phone.




and begins to take photographs.  Meanwhile, a man approaches her and asks if she would like him to take her photograph? 



She declines, but in the next few minutes, this happens:




He’s giving her exacting instructions about wanting a landscape shot – I can see his gestures from where I’m sitting and am finding the whole affair pretty amusing!  (Which is why my camera is clicking away…not that it makes a sound at all!)




As soon as he’s gone, she returns to the job in hand and gets out her selfie stick.




Ten minutes later, she’s still there, rearranging her jewellery, primping her hair and showing off her sparkly bracelet, ring and earrings.




Fifteen minutes on and we’ve posed crouching amongst the tulips, taken photographs from left and right and generally tried everything in the book.  Just when I’m thinking I could enjoy a drink, she puts her phone and selfie stick in her bag and off she goes.  Mission accomplished.




The tulips are spectacular though!




I continue along the central reservation and walk through this photographic exhibit, because the tram cafe is in sight.




There are more benches and more thoughts to ponder upon them.




Before I sit down, I remember to look up, too.  I’m more or less where I started here, across from Marks and Spencers.




The other side of the road has an equally interesting skyline.




Anyway, I choose a table and sit down.  What could be better?




(were you thinking as I was thinking?)




On a beautiful sunny day, sitting here with a cold beer in hand, it’s hard to think about moving on.  But temptation is there on the next street corner in the form of Sephora




Before I go though, I take a closer look at the windows of the Marks and Spencer building.




and the bookshop next door isn’t so shabby either. 

Next time I come to Prague, I need to bring along a pair of small binoculars to be able to see those details more closely!




On my way again, I pass another familiar name.  Debenhams are offering “buy 2 get 1 free” on most of their stock.  I wonder if they are closing here too?




Sephora is the usual fun place but I don’t find anything to tempt me, especially not these Korean face masks which look positively scary!




I browse around another department store, noticing a distinct trend for pink sparkle here.  Though the shop is named Van Graaf, my phone tries to connect to Peek and Cloppenburg’s wifi (a brand we know from our German visits)  A quick google confirms my suspicions.  Shopping in Europe is pretty homogenised isn’t it?




Anyway, enough shopping!  I came out to explore the architecture, really.  By now, though, I’ve reached the end of Wenceslas Square and have a choice.  Shall I turn right and walk along Na Prikope towards the Powder Tower and the Municipal House, where I was yesterday, or shall I turn back and “do” the last quarter of the Square? 




Hmm.  Mindful of the pink shoes I spotted yesterday (!) I decide to stroll along the pedestrian zone and turn right.  Are you with me?




There are more grand buildings along here, too, and I wish I’d researched the area a little better so I knew what to look out for.  Never mind, I’m happy strolling along in the sunshine, just looking and enjoying.




There’s always time for a closer look, of course.




And there’s always a reward for when I make the effort!




Another German favourite, DM is here as well.  I pop inside in the hope of finding our favourite bath salts but draw a blank.  Never mind.  I still have some at home and will eke them out until we are next in Germany in the Autumn.




Besides, there are more riches to view above me.




My goodness.  On a clear day like this, with the light just right, those colours are amazing.




I can’t see if they are mosaics or painted, but regardless of that, they are magnificent.




There’s almost too much detail to take in.




I love it!




By now, I’m almost at the Municipal House.  There’s the old Powder Tower beside it.  I think of the shoes and wonder if I can be bothered to go and take another look at them (I’d rejected them yesterday as being “not my colour”, but having seen so much pink, I was coming around to the idea!)




I don’t think those are a possibility!




But these are rather cute…




Whilst I decide, I’ll sit in the sunshine a while and enjoy the passing entertainment.  An Aperol Spritz would go down well…except this one has no spritz whatsoever.  I call the waiter and ask him to replace it.




He leaves the dead one there and apologises profusely when he returns with another, explaining that he personally supervised the making of this replacement.  Shall I tell him it’s no better than the first or just chalk it up to experience?

Yes, I agree.  Cheers!




At least there’s a fine view of the beautiful interior through the open window in addition to the great people watching outside.   It’s fun eavesdropping (unintentionally) on the conversation of the three ladies from Huddersfield too, isn’t it?.




Thank you for the encouragement to nip into the shopping centre and buy those shoes!  Now, though, I think it’s time to hop on a tram and head back to the hotel.




But, shall we take the riverside route?




Let’s change trams here, by the Fred and Ginger building, shall we?  One of Frank Gehry’s designs, the Dancing House is an hotel, a gallery, a bar and…well, a bit of a landmark along here.




At this point, I’m taking us on a wild goose chase, to go there and back again just for the fun of it.  The #17 tram travels the length of the river and rather than simply take the three stops back, shall we hop on one going in the other direction, just to see where it takes us?




The beauty of a day pass means we can travel beyond the city centre, out into the suburbs and just sit gazing out of the window.  Though it’s leafy green around the riverside, there are an abundance of soulless apartment blocks in the other direction.




But still less than half an hour from the city centre by direct tram link, it’s pretty convenient here, isn’t it?    But did you hear those words na znamení?  Do you know what it means?  No, neither do I.




This tram stop is adjacent to a suburban train station too, and I rather like the way the passengers are silhouetted against the blue sky.  But that na znamení business is bothering me a bit and I need to find out what it means.

Thankfully, there on the stop it’s translated into English: Request Stop.  Hah!  A good job I spotted that otherwise we might still have been standing there!




Thank you for sticking out your leg and persuading the driver to stop Winking smile




It takes all of fifteen minutes to be back in the city – I think we’ve earned an hour in the spa, don’t you? 






The Muncipal House


At home, anything with the word “municipal” in it is likely to be dull.  Worthy and possibly a bit down at heel, budgets always being tightened. 




The Municipal House here in Prague is anything but.  Built at the start of the 20th century as a showcase of design and craftsmanship, the budget was doubled, even before it was finished.  It stands as a masterpiece of Art Nouveau design and I wanted to take a closer look.




The only way to do that is to join a guided tour and having timed my arrival well, I was able to buy a ticket and stand by and wait a short while for it to begin.




Not only was I going to join a tour group (aaagh) but I had to buy (and wear) an additional photo pass around my neck as well.




It had better be worth it!




I had already snapped the logo of the building, admiring the design and cursing the spotlights which make taking photographs of shiny things so tricky.




We were a large group of at least twenty people and I lamented the fact that the previous group; the one I’d just missed, left with only a dozen.  Still, their guide seemed crabby and unsmiling, whereas our sweet Andrea was utterly charming.




Our first stop was outside the Mayor’s Hall.  Andrea explained that there was a function booked for this afternoon so we were going to begin there and do the tour in reverse order.  As she spoke, cameras were clicking all over – I mean, this building is just so photogenic!




When she opened the door, I swear there was a collective gasp.  But Ms Crabby and her small group were just coming through and it appeared she was going to pull rank.  Oh no!  did this mean we were not going to have any time in here?




We snipped and snapped, just in case!  My eyes fell immediately on those embroidered felt curtains, then slid over to the light fittings…but it appeared we were moving right along through those doors and we just had to follow and keep our fingers crossed that we’d be back.




We began in the room known as the Conference Hall and Andrea immediately reassured us that we would indeed see everything there was to see, but in reverse order.  Phew.  She spoke in both English and Czech which was great, because it gave me time to scribble as she talked and then look more closely during the Czech bits. 




I was smitten with the attention to detail.  The small motifs that were repeated here and there, on curtains, on walls, on the ceiling and on fixtures and fittings.




It was all in the detail and the craftsmanship.  Oh my goodness.  Where to look first?  Next?  Have I seen everything?  Has anything gone unnoticed?




It was in this room where Andrea gave us an overview of the building, for it was here that the formation of Czechoslovakia was proclaimed in 1918.  It was also here where Vaclav Havel negotiated the settlement in 1989: the building holds huge significance in the country’s history but nevertheless, it’s a building for the people, who are invited to hold meetings, parties, weddings and any other event here.




All the time Andrea spoke, I was looking around, scribbling, noting patterns and it appeared everyone else was doing the same!




Time to move into the next room, then; the one we’d just walked through, in between the Mayor’s Hall and the Conference Hall, the Rieger Hall.




Here, the significant feature was a pair of large murals depicting prominent Czech artists.  Andrea identified them one by one but I caught only the first two from the right hand side: Antonin Dvorak and Bedrich Smetana.




It’s not that I wasn’t listening, but there were some rather beautifully embroidered felt cushions on the seats!




The ceiling was pretty spectacular too.




And all the time, I was wondering who Fr Lad Rieger was as well!  I’m sure you can picture the scene: There I was scribbling, taking pictures, juggling notebook and camera, trying to look at everything, listening to Andrea and my mind going twenty to the dozen remembering to look things up later and just make a note for now.




As we gazed at the ceiling, Andrea noted the lime leaf motif and explained it as the “national tree of Prague”.  It was a motif to be found throughout the building.




She also pointed out the carved hop design in the wooden door and window frames.  It too is a traditional Czech motif, associated with the manufacture of beer, of course.




From here, it was just  step back into the Mayor’s Hall, where we’d started.  My priorities were to take a closer look at those curtains!




Beautiful work, lavish embroidery with crystals and wool appliques.




But of course, there was so much more to see.  We’d learned early on from Andrea that only the best artists and craftsmen had been invited to contribute to the building, but that this room had been the work on one single designer: Alfons Mucha.  I had already seen some of his work in the gallery this morning, but here was his masterpiece.  He had sole responsibility for the design and execution and had given his services free of charge.




Only temporarily distracted by the view from the open window, I thought it was clear that, even though he was working voluntarily, Alfons Mucha certainly did not cut any corners.




Every detail from the small lamps at the end of each settee to the lavish paintings on the ceiling had been done with huge consideration.




Everyone was similarly enchanted by the whole room, but especially by the faces high above us.




Those very special, Mucha-faces!




And although I, too, was similarly captivated by them, I was also acutely aware of the other small details, such as the light fittings on each pillar




and the curtain tie-backs, which were a kind of elaborate tassel.




Oh my goodness, where to look next?




Well, upwards, i suppose.  Having satisfied myself that I’d noticed everything in the room, I allowed myself to gaze at the ceiling.




The composition and placement of these two figures was fairly typical of these triangular segments – how intriguing to allow one figure to go beyond the edges, but how effective, too.




Did I say I’d noted everything?  Well, spotting one member of our group paying attention to the chairbacks, I took note too…and look what was there, what I’d missed!




I realise that my photographs give only a glimpse of the reality and can only say, you need to see it for real!




It would be wrong to say it was downhill from now on, but there’s no doubt that having seen the diamond in the crown, the remaining part of the tour went rather more quickly.




The Palacký Hall was beautiful, for sure and the ceiling painting absolutely delightful.




It was here where Andrea pointed out the door handles




and didn’t need to point out the wall paintings which were also lovely.




From there, we moved on into the Grégr Hall, where another large wall painting dominated the room.




The lamps were especially lovely, and as Andrea had explained, since the Municipal House had been built to accommodate all the latest technological advances, the electric lighting was installed as part of the original design, together with central heating/cooling.




In here were marble panels and the most beautifully carved doors, too.  At this point, though, Andrea remarked that we were leaving the men’s rooms and entering those of the ladies.  I didn’t get chance to ask her to clarify so we’ll just take her word for it.




The next room, around the corner, was filled with light wood and pale blue upholstery.  It’s known as the Oriental Parlour and many of the motifs are taken from eastern art and culture which was particularly fashionable at the time.




More lovely embroidered cushions




a ceiling with a feeling of Klimt’s art, I felt




and lamps based on the design of a minaret.




The patterns and detailing on the furniture were as consistent as previous rooms.  Every last corner was perfect.  No expense spared to achieve the best effect.




The wallpaper (or was it painted?) was inspired by ikat weaving, the jewelled arches from a temple.  The whole effect was lovely.




The pattern continued onto the net curtains which were forming a really interesting shadow on the windowsill too!




Then, just as we were about to move into the next room, I spotted the ventilation grille – oh yes, every detail considered.  Nothing left to chance.




I was so busy looking everywhere, I probably forgot to look down enough, but when I did, there was a small reward for doing so!




There followed a small room, almost too small to be classed as a room at all but dedicated to Božena Němcová, a Czech writer.  The tiled fountain was exquisite, as you can see.




On going into the next parlour though, our eyes fell immediately to this part of the construction – a permanent feature of the room, for sure.  We all peered into it, where a few air plants and stones were carefully arranged.  But it’s purpose?  An aquarium!




This was the Moravian Parlour, decorated with folk motifs and crafts of the area, including this wonderful ceiling.




Each motif surrounding the central pattern is taken from a traditional Moravian design.




There’s a lovely landscape on one of the wall panels, too.




But I had eyes mostly for the embroidered panels above each door




stitched on linen with crystals and pulled work motifs




and believe it or not, macrame curtains!




The last of these parlours was described by Andrea as “the confectionery”.  A kind of refreshment room, it was arranged with a set of tables and chairs.




But there was one main focus: a broad bar/servery with the original fittings still in place.




Of course, there’s the same detailing and chandelier design, the table centres are gilded and shaped to reflect the overall design too.  Once more, we all stood, open mouthed, not quite knowing where to look next.




Andrea must have seen this frequently in the groups she guides around the building, though of course, we were taking the tour in reverse order, so last, but not least, she took us into the hall where she normally begins the tour: The Smetana Hall.

This is a large concert hall, home to the Czech Philharmonic and named after the composer of the seminal patriotic work Ma Vlast.  The stone statues on either side of the stage are inspired by pieces of that work and the whole design reflects the overall theme.




On each side of the hall is a large oval balcony with two large paintings.  On this side, there’s music and dance depicted




and here, on the other side, there’s poetry and drama.




The crowning glory above it all is the glazed dome.  Spectacular.




Further glazed panels to either side as well!




The communists would have dearly loved to have demolished the lot, so much did they despise the decadence of the Art Nouveau.  But thankfully their mere neglect of maintenance was repairable and over the years, the restoration has continued.  What remains is an absolute treasure and clearly, it’s cherished by the people of Prague.




So it was from here, the balcony outside the Mayor’s Hall, where that proclamation was made in 1918 and again, in 1989 where Vaclav Havel stood during the Velvet Revolution.

What an amazing place!

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