Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Bear in Bohemia

Last weekend, I took the Bipedal Attendants - who have been pretty stressed lately - to the Czech Republic for a well-earned weekend in the fabled "mother of cities", the "city of a hundred spires" or simply "Golden Prague". Amazingly, they didn't grumble too much at the prospect of rain - which never did happen - and brooding skies - which did. I think I'm finally whipping them into shape. Even when they found out that they had been the victims of bank fraud, they cheerfully blamed Slovakia (where the crime had actually occurred) rather than the Czech Republic. I think this bodes well.

So, Prague - or officially, Hlavní město Praha (Prague, the Capital City) ... the city of writers, monsters, musicians, physicists, artists, hockey players, Hollywood directors, religious dissenters and near-mythical kings ... the city of Kafka, the Golem (if you're not familiar with the Golem, click here), Mozart, Einstein, Alfons Mucha, Jaromír Jágr, Miloš Forman, Jan Hus and Good King Wenceslas, and so many many more - and now us (plus another billion tourists)! In fact, there's so much to say about Prague that I may have to write more than one posting about it.

For more than 1,000 years, Prague has been the political, cultural, and economic centre of the Czech Republic. Amazingly, the city was left relatively unscathed from the ravages of your stupid WW II (although its Jewish population, which was one of the largest in Europe, would woefully disagree), and what greets the visitor is an urban mosaic: a Gothic city, a Baroque city, an Art Nouveau city. Whatever you want, you can find it, whether it's the haunting Jewish quarter or bizarre cubist houses, tiny medieval houses or fin de siècle apartments.

me (above left) in front of the Astronomical Clock which was started 600 years ago. Beside the clock are 4 figures which represent the civic anxieties of its citizens: vanity, greed (originally depicted as a Jew holding a money bag - but since your stupid WWII changed), death and foreign invasion (a marauding Turk). Below those figures are the Chronicler, the Angel, Astronomer, and Philosopher. Below those figures is me, and a thousand camera-wielding tourists all clambering to take my photo. When will I ever learn to wear a disguise when travelling?

Probably the two most famous landmarks in Prague are the Charles Bridge (above right) and the Castle. The Charles Bridge, which spans the river Vltana, connects the Malá Strana ("the Lesser Quarter") with the "Old" and "New" cities on the opposite side of the bank - although the "New" City is about 700 years old. The bridge is peopled with 30 statues of famous - and not very famous - saints and other religious scenes, and although I saw a few dogs and deer, I couldn't find any bears. Maybe that's a good thing. Historically, bears haven't been treated very well.

How the Charles Bridge hasn't collapsed under the weight of all the people (and 1 bear) who cross it every day is a marvel of engineering! After pushing our way
through the crowds of tour groups, buskers, vendors, and pickpockets, we stopped to have a glass of mulled wine - what signs advertise as "hot wine" - just to calm our nerves. It was "okay" - it was certainly better than burčiak which (unfortunately) is sold in Prague too, but when I think of the Czech Republic, I don't think of wine, I think of beer.

Of course, since Czechs drink more beer than anyone else in the world, tossing back per capita approximately 157 litres of pivo a year, my male bipedal attendant - who fancies himself a bit of a beer connoisseur - was anxious to contribute to the national statistic. We ended up at a brew pub called U Medvídku - which means "At the Little Bears" - I
couldn't have chosen (or named) a better place myself! For over 500 years there has been a brewery and a "beer house" on this site. After all, Czechs have been brewing & drinking beer forever (written references to bear are 1,000 years old) and even Good King Wenceslas - in a bid to safeguard Bohemia's famous hops (the secret ingredient in its world-famous beer) decreed that anyone caught exporting cuttings from the nation's plants would be executed. Ouch!

Now I wonder if that's the first example of corporate espionage in the history of the world?!


Frisco said...

Hi GB, Prague sounds really interesting! However, your blog sounds a little subdued. Could be the fraud thing I guess. Maybe we can visit Prague when I come to Bratislava or is it too far away?

Grey Bear said...

Hi Frisco,
I didn't think I was subdued. Maybe it's the mood of my bipedals affecting or infecting me. I really loved Prague. Prague is about 3 1/2 hours by car from Bratislava or just over 4 by train. I'm game if you are!