A Castle on a Hill in Prague

A Castle on a Hill in Prague

Monday, May 21, 2012
Prague, Czech Republic

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It’s always a pleasure to start the day at the beautiful Hotel KK Central.
One of the most beautiful Art Nouveau buildings in Prague, the landmark building was designed in 1900 and became famous in the Twenties and Thirties for its cabaret, cinema and theater and is on the list of historic sights in Prague’s Old Town. An elegant elevator glides up and down between swooshes and curves of burnished brass.

The  breakfast room sits on stilts above the old stage, surrounded by plexiglass to give a floating feel to our morning buffets.

Today we’re exploring the gardens of the magnificent palaces below Castle Hill. The Waldenstein Palace and Gardens were built by an army officer with his rewards from the Thirty Years’ War between Catholics and Protestants. The palace is now part of the Czech Senate, and the expansive gardens are open to the public. That grey drip-castle wall in the back left is an artificial grotto.

Look closely and you’ll discover faces, a snake, a frog….

Showy peacocks announce themselves with shrieks, gracefully strutting their beauty.

A Sala Terrena (outdoor living room) is lavishly frescoed, and sometimes the setting for al fresco concerts.

The prettiest way up to the castle is Nerudova Street, where the homes still display their pre-number ID  – this house was known as the Three Fiddles,

this one the Red Lion.
There’s a Green Lobster, the Three Suns, the Black Oak, the Golden Swan… until the late 1700’s when Maria Theresa ordered houses to be numbered, homes and businesses were identified in this way.

Almost to the castle, we look down at the colorful facades as we walk.

We’re early enough to grab a great spot to watch the noon changing of the guard at the castle. Just before the hour, the new platoon marches to the first courtyard from the barracks further up the hill.

Spiffy in their cool uniforms (designed by the man who also did the costumes for Amadeus, much of which was filmed up by the castle) and spotless white gloves, they go through the drill to the tune of a Czech rock-star composed fanfare – always entertaining to watch.

Our usual pleasant walk through more beautiful gardens is foiled today – sewer repairs going on beneath the castle gardens. So we walk down another path to one of our Prague favorites, U Zlaty Studny – The Golden Well.

What a perfect day for lunch on the terrace!

And the food is as fabulous as the view, from a main course of Seafood and Risotto

to a dessert of pale lime fluff and berry garnish – each plate as beautiful as it is delicious.

When we reach the end of the tour, Zlaty Studny once again is named the favorite of the week. Their cuisine is truly stellar!

This evening’s concert is an organ, trumpet and vocal program, and we’re welcomed to the Church of St. Francis of Assisi by herald trumpeters.

Walking through Old Town Square on the way “home”, we enjoy the golden-lit towers of Tyn Church.

Nancy, An Elegant Beauty in Northeast France

Nancy, An Elegant Beauty in Northeast France

Friday, March 23, 2012
Nancy, France

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Next on the itinerary: Our spring tours in Barcelona, Venice or Prague

We being our morning in Nancy in the gilded and ornate 18th century, Place Stanislas once again.
This glorious square was built in the mid- 1700’s upon the order of Stanislas, King of Poland, who was named Duke of Lorraine by his son- in-law, Louis XV. At that time it was named the Royal Square, in honor of Louis XV. Gold-topped gates post sentry at each corner of the square, and we learn that it takes a mere 600 grams of gold leaf to regild the entire square.

In a few months an exhibition of the work of Jean Prouvé, an artistic innovator from Nancy, will open in the Fine Arts museum on one side of the square – this chair mounted above us is an example of his work.

The palace of the Dukes of Lorraine, now the Fine Arts Museum, is a blend of Medieval (such as the long gargoyles) and Renaissance (such as the elegant portal). The delicate blue of the windows and ironwork atop the roof is a lovely touch.

What do you think – are these medieval, renaissance, or later grinning sculptures at the base of this oriel window? They look medieval to me.

Fast forward a couple of hundred years to another claim to fame of Nancy – the Art Nouveau flourished here,

and is featured in the Ecole de Nancy Museum, one of very few museums devoted to an artistic movement.

A moth spreads his wings over this bed,

a water lily forms a table –

the gibson-girl hairdo was certainly à la mode!

The sinuous curves and incor- poration of nature into architecture, furniture, housewares, and even clothes combined to form the desired “total art” – on the walls and windows,

and even in the bathroom.
You’re having a dinner party? Your dining room is inspired by sunflowers, as is your serving ware, and of course your dress. I think I might get tired of wearing a sunflower dress EVERY evening! And that was part of what caused the fall from popularity of the movement, leading to the more simple and geometric Art Deco.

We continue our Art Nouveau explorations with lunch at the Excelsior,

a golden temple of the era,

with ferns unfurling above our heads.

Golden Mirabelle plums are a specialty of the Lorraine region – we’ve already received a bottle of eau de vie of the fruit – and our dessert of creamy semifreddo shows them off to perfection.

Tapas and Modernistas in Barcelona

Tapas and Modernistas in Barcelona

Tuesday, November 22, 2011, part 2
Barcelona, Spain

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Next on the itinerary: New Year‘s Jazz in Italy

Kirk takes me on a mini- Modernista walk on our way to dinner, past yet another impressive example of the genre just a block away from our flat: a confection of brick and sgraffito inspired by the Alhambra in Granada.

The Moorish keyhole shapes and decorative ceramic show up in unexpected places, such as atop the windows of the pharmacy on the ground floor.

We’re tempted once again by a market, and just have to peruse the colorful stalls… artfully stacked fruits,

the requisite jamón ibérico

and sausages of all shapes and sizes.

There are several Modernista pharmacies throughout the Eixample district, and this one boasts fanciful glass panels – shopping with a monkey???

A lace-y more traditional Art Nouveau doorway graces this façade

Then we see an inimitable Gaudi doorway – HIS unique take on Art Nouveau

on the craggy, cliff- like La Pedrera on Passeig de Gracia.

Even the pavers on the sidewalk of Gracia are Gaudi designed.

Our eyes are sated… now to give some attention to our stomachs!
We’re going on a Tapas Crawl in the hip Born district, and our first stop is Euskal Etxea, its counters laden with tasty Basque bites,

each one a work of art, and each one only 1.80€!

Next stop, Xampanyet, another Basque spot, and quite a contrast to sleek Euskal Etxea.
They’re advertising fresh beer from the barrel,

and we can hardly get in the door!

The jolly guys behind the counter urge us to try one tapa after another and after a few raucous minutes, filling our mouths with tasty morsels, we seek out a quieter spot to finish our evening.

Bar del Pla quietly satisfies us with roast suckling pig, fried artichokes, and the ever-present pa amb tomaquet (bread rubbed with tomatoes).

Buenas noches, Barcelona…

Vistas and Tapas in Barcelona

Vistas and Tapas in Barcelona

Monday, November 21, 2011
Barcelona, Spain

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Next on the itinerary: New Year’s Jazz in Italy

We like to choose a different route each time we walk in a city or town, so we can see as much as possible. Meandering through the Eixample district of Barcelona is an adventure. You never know what you’ll see – the district is quite a showcase for Catalan Modernista architects. This morning we walk down Carrer Ausias Marc and spot a tree holding up a balcony. The grafitti rather subdues the pleasure of the view, but it’s still intriguing.

Just down the carrer we pop into an open foyer to admire a swirly door, Barcelona’s Art Nouveau at its traditional best.

In a few minutes more, now in the historic district closer to the beach, we’ve stepped back into the 18th century, with the elegant sgraffito of this 1763 beauty.

But the Modernistas have made it to this street too, with the over-the-top extravaganza of the Palau de la Música Catalana.

Designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner in the early 1900’s, it’s covered inside and out with astounding detail.

Even the ticket window is a wonder!

We’ve been reading about the newly-hip and renovated Born District and are eager to get to know this area. The Santa Caterina market, a cornerstone of the Born since 1848, was brilliantly renovated in 2005

and is a stunner inside and out.

Where better to find a market-fresh lunch than right in the market? With a wall planted with herbs at one end,

and a tapas bar at the other, Cuines Santa Caterina satisfies us with a delicious lunch of small bites (full meals offered as well).

And once again, we see that US product, one of two that we’ve noticed in nearly every eatery in every country we’ve visited – tabasco sauce! The other US stalwart? Jack Daniels!

We peek into an ancient courtyard on our way back to the apartment – we’ve learned that if a door or gate is open, to look inside, where beauty often awaits us.

An afternoon of research and preparation for the next couple of days, then we walk to Tapas 24 to meet friends for dinner. We met Gerhard and Darlene a couple of years ago at a French tourist office conference in San Francisco. They happen to be in Barcelona for two days, researching for a future tour, as we are and we’re happy to see them again and hear of their latest adventures. They’ll return to Germany on Wednesday for one of several Christmas Market Tours.

The highlight of this meal was an appetizer- looking dessert: “olives” shaped of luscious dark chocolate, served with mini toasts drizzled with olive oil and sea salt. Oh for another plateful right now!Link