Today marks the first day of my official semester at Universita Karlova Fakulta Filosofická or Charles University College of Liberal Arts. I have a beautiful schedule that allows for a four-day weekend. Unfortunately, Monday is not the day to explore the city’s cultural scene. Just like at home, most museums and theatres are closed on Mondays. Even the reading room in the city library is closed on Monday.
Today, the weather was sort of miserable. It was drizzling heavily all day – enough to justify holding an umbrella, but it was also windy enough to make it difficult to keep your umbrella in your hand. Since it wasn’t a good day to explore the city, I planned on spending most of it in the Národni Galerie (that’s an easy one to figure out … the National Gallery!). There’s a big Dali exhibit, but not on Mondays. So, I did some walking. The cold is totally bearable, and very comparable to winter in the Northeast, but I can only tolerate so much wandering down cold, wet cobblestone streets until I start to get grumpy. My day-off was a little disappointing due to the weather.
I did walk up to the castle for the first time today. I’ve posted a few pictures, but expect more when the weather is nicer. The view from the castle is gorgeous. You can see the whole city.
I love the colors of Praha: burnt orange and faded turquoise.
I walked down the hill into the city and stopped in shops frequently to warm-up and dry-off. I found a really cool marionette shop. There are lots of touristy places to buy cheap marionettes, but this store was the real deal. There was a little old man carving puppet faces in the corner. Everything was carved from wood. They had some really cool and elaborate skeletons and dragons. They also had the same characters you can find in most shops Don Giovanni, Mozart, the Golem, and lots of witches. There was a princess that I had my eye on. I wish I had a picture to post. She was dressed in purple and decorated with beautiful beadwork (Mom, you would’ve loved this place!) I had the man in the shop take her down and show me how to use it. Most of the marionettes I’ve come across have a very limited range of motion, but these were much more complex and could be manipulated a lot more. Well, the man in the shop could manipulate it really well. I played with her a little bit, but I’m not very good yet. I’m thinking I’d love to come home with one of these beautiful puppets.
I was disappointed to learn that marionettes, while very traditional, are also a very touristy part of Prague. There are puppet theatres everywhere. I do know that Národní Divadlo Marionet (the National Marionette Theatre) is the one to go to, and not all the random little theatres in Old Town. They used to have some sort of training program there, but it’s not running anymore. They’re only performing one piece, Don Giovanni, the entire time that I’m here. I am planning to see it next week. However, I am going against the advice of Z, the wonderful little old man who coordinates the cultural activities for AIFS (the program I’m traveling with). He’s a big opera snob, and all he would say to me about it was, “It is for tourists. It is not real opera. It’s okay. It is not real opera.”
Anyway, then I went grocery shopping which is something that I actually really enjoy – especially when I have the time to leisurely browse through the aisles. Two things I cannot find here: cranberry juice and cinnamon. The cranberry juice really boggles my mind because they have every other kind of juice : guava, strawberry, pear, cherry, black currant. What gives? Where is my cranberry juice? They have cinnamon in things, but there is not bottle of cinnamon on the shelf with the other spices. I like to put it in my tea or cream of wheat (mmm, the Jill Snyder recipe).
Also, chai tea bags were hard to find. (Although, now I have the tea bags, but no cinnamon to make it the way I like it with cinnamon, honey, and steamed milk.) The Czech word for tea is čau, and it’s pronounced just like our American chai. So, I created a lot of confusion when I was asking for chai čau. I eventually found help in this charming little tea shop. It’s Indická čau (Indian tea). I suspect that chai is just the Hindi word for tea.
The first week I was here, my program advised us to shop at Tesco, Europe’s Walmart. I hate Tesco, especially for food because the grocery store is in the basement, it’s always ridiculously crowded, and the slight stench down there is totally unappetizing. Although, Tesco is the only place that I’ve seen peanut-butter. I prefer Bila or Albert. They are exclusively grocery stores (none of this super-Tesco/Walmart one-stop-shop nonsense). I like them because they are brighter, more open, nice smelling, and they generally have a better selection. I enjoy shopping there. Occasionally I’m adventurous and purchase something even though I don’t quite know what it is.
They have a really wide and interesting variety of spreads to put on sandwiches. I’m enjoying these. Most of them seem like they’re cream-cheese based. I’ve had one with chives and one with roasted red peppers that were both very yummy.
When I go to the grocery store I typically buy:
- for snacking: nutella and some type of sweet bread, spinach and cheese bagel chips
- for breakfast or snacking: instant cream of wheat, bananas, honey
- to make an omelet: eggs, cheddar cheese, red pepper, salsa (0nly found in the international aisle!)
- for my favorite snack: green apples, brie, walnuts
- for dinner: pasta, garlic, broccoli
- for dinner: rice, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, zucchini
- for drinking: multivitamin juice, milk, some Moravian blush wine
- some type of chocolate 🙂
Check out the link to my photos. You’ll see my pictures of the Lennon Wall, which is just as cool as I thought it would be. It’s nestled back in the Little Quarter. I imagine it might be sort of lame if there are a million people taking pictures in front of it, but it’s been so peaceful both days I’ve visited. Yesterday when we went, it was snowing lightly – just beautiful! I wish you could see the little snowflakes in my photos.
Last week I also visited the shrine to the Infant Jesus of Prague. My grandmother had a copy of the Infant Jesus statue in her dining room. Nobody really knew what it was, just that it was creepy looking. As it turns out, there’s no real story behind it. A Spanish lady gave this fancy doll to this church in Prague and people from all over the world made fancy clothes for it. People pray at the Infant Jesus Shrine and apparently he listens. I plan on trying it out when I go to mass there on Ash Wednesday. Despite all the joking, it’s a really beautiful church. They have a museum of his wardrobe. Some of the pieces are very elaborate. They change his little clothes once a month. He even has underwear.
I also saw an opera at Stavovské Divadlo. Mozart conducted the 1787 premiere of Don Giovanni there, and the theatre is featured in the film Amadeus. The opera I saw, called Nagano, tells the story of the Czech ice-hockey team that won at the ’98 Olympics. I really wasn’t into it. They kept calling the goalie, who was responsible for the team’s win, the grandson of God. He sang in Latin in falsetto through the whole show. All the hockey players wore full body suits of fake muscles. The second act was the hockey game. The hockey players were break-dancing and the women who played the puck did a weird strip-tease. The third act introduced a random love-story and a dream sequence that involved the first President of Czechoslovakia. The whole premise was bizarre, but what bothered me more was the sloppiness of it. I was disappointed with the quality of the production. It was a fun night because the audience was really enthusiastic, but certainly not quality theatre. Next week I’m going to see Marriage of Figaro and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis as performed by the Czech Philharmonic.
I enjoyed a solid weekend, too. We had a few fun nights out. My favorite place we visited was a wine bar called Lucerna. No pivo on tap just vino. I also tried the Staropramen Black & Tan this weekend. It currently holds the title of My Second Favorite Czech Beer.
Also, the acting class was great! I think the best thing about it is that I’m one of only a few Americans. I think I’m one of three in a class of twenty-five. The class is very diverse with students from France, Germany, Iceland, England, Ireland, Russia… It’s very cool to sit in a room full of people with such varied experiences. The type of acting that we’ll be exploring is Stanislavsky based. We had a brief discussion and then did some exercises in “public solitude.” A lot of the work we’ll be doing is self-led. I might compare it to what I know of Growtowski’s acting method. While we’re working the instructor doesn’t say much. The professor is a really cool guy named Ivan. I really liked what he had to say about our work “meaning nothing.” He really stressed that what we will be doing is “simply play.” I’m looking forward to our class tomorrow.
Enjoy the pictures.