Monday, April 06, 2009

2008 River Cruise: My Day Alone in Prague - Prague Castle

The next day my tour mates and I were having breakfast. We had a free day to ourselves and everyone else, it seemed, had booked excursions. I had not and explained this to G and N. They looked at me like I told them I was going to sell drugs in the lobby.

N: "What are you going to do today?"

Me (lying): "I'm not sure. I'll figure something out."

In fact, I knew perfectly well what I was going to do, I just didn't want anyone to talk me out of it or to give me shit so I chose not to share my plans. After everyone left for their excursions I got ready to go. I talked to the concierge and asked her how to get to Prague Castle. The directions were simple enough: take the subway three stops out and get on the tram going up the hill. She paused, looked at me with a little pity it seemed, and then told me to watch out for pickpockets. I rolled my eyes at her and then walked out of the hotel. I may be an American easy to spot five blocks away, but I can handle myself.

The subway was a piece of cake. Very easy to use, easy to figure out which direction you're going in. It was very much like riding on the London Tube even the trains were about the same size, that smaller size, like toy trains. I exited the station and found the tram stop right outside. It took me a couple of minutes to figure out which direction I was going in then I talked to a small group of tourists who were also going to Prague Castle. The young dark haired woman who was serving as tour guide said to exit the tram when they do since we were all going to the same place.

Riding on the tram gave me a nice little view of Prague. It was very much like riding MUNI what with easy to spot tourists, locals who looked curiously at me, unwashed homeless people sleeping in the seats, and students laden with book bags. To minimize attention to myself I chose not to take any photographs on the way up to the Castle. It was a beautiful day. Cold, of course, but very clear and sunny.

Once I got to Prague Castle I went straight to the National Gallery at Sternberg Palace. It was just off the main square located in front of the castle and not very expensive. There were very few people and I slowly wandered through the galleries. They had a nice little collection of art including a few paintings by Durer, Rubens, and Bruegel the Elder. It made me a little sad for although the building the collection is housed in is a palace they didn't have enough money to keep the collection in the proper temperature controlled environment, nor did they have a good control of the sunlight in the rooms. After my visit I found out that the Prague National Gallery collections are housed in several buildings around the city and I had only seen one.

I spent at least two hours walking slowly through and making sketches. Most of the time I had whatever room I was in to myself. After a while the security guards started following me around, taking turns, watching me. I suppose someone like me is a red flag for them.

The picture above is an excerpt from my sketchbook. The top sketch is a detail from Ruben's "The Expulsion of Adam and Eve", 1620. This was a small painting, perhaps 11 x 17. The signs didn't say what the medium was but it appeared to oil on canvas. Even so the original has a sketchy, watercolory feel to it. I love the movement in this small picture. You see Death grabbing Eve's hair in a strange kind of twisted dance. His other hand is grabbing Adam's arm but I decided not to draw him. On the far left of the original painting is a sketchy, much less defined picture of the Archangel Michael with his flaming sword and the gates of Eden.

The bottom sketch is a fragment of a marble relief from the 12 Century. It's a gryphon, of course. Since I went on my NYC/Washington D.C. trip alone I've been sketching gryphons wherever I can find them. I added the color later with my new watercolor pencils. You can double click on the picture to see more details. I took the picture at 8 megapixals so it's very large.

I went into one of the side galleries on the way out and wandered through to the end where there was a massive altarpiece with six huge panels. I couldn't find the sign with artist's name but I'm judging it was from the 16th century. At least it was in a darkened room. I spent a long time in that little room staring at this altarpiece. It was very interesting, the figures were brightly colored, and the entire piece had a cartoon feel to it. A security guard had followed me into the room and stood there as I looked and looked at the painting for close to 10 minutes.

I don't take photographs in museums anymore even without a flash but I found a nice website which will give you an idea of what the museum is like.

After I left I went out to the main square at the Castle. The light was perfect for some pictures of the square and the city:

Some very fine street musicians in the square. They are playing almost directly across from Prague Castle entrance.

As you can see Prague is a beautiful city.

To the left of these last two pictures is a big staircase leading to the bottom of the hill. I was happy I wasn't walking up them.

My attempts to get a picture without people in it was in vain. This was the best I could do.

Next post: My Day Alone in Prague - The Charles Bridge.

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