Teatro Olimpico Diary

 

VicenzaTeatroOint17I cannot choose one place as the highlight of my trip to the magical world of Palladian architecture in Vicenza, but certainly seeing the Teatro Olimpico ranks right up there. Recognized by UNESCO, this is one of the three Renaissance theatres in existence. The 72-year old Andrea Palladio designed what is now the oldest covered theatre in Europe, and construction began in 1580. When Palladio died in August of that year, Vicenza-born architect Vincenzo Scamozzi took over.

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Still, the theatre clearly features many Palladian characteristics. For instance, the plan for the theatre was based on classical architecture. As usual, Palladio had found inspiration in the writings of Roman architectural guru Vitruvius, who lived during 1 BC. Indeed, I felt as if I were seated in a theatre dating back to antiquity. The classical forms gave the Teatro Olimpico a very majestic quality.

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The theatre held its first performance on March 3, 1585, as actors who were at the time well-known performed Oedipus Rex, a play chosen for its classical theme. The costumes were extravagant. About 1,500 spectators watched, and the play was a huge success. However, the theatre was only used for a few performances.

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Palladio had had his work cut out for him. The theatre was built on the site of a former prison, which had a box-like shape. Palladio was able to turn the audience hall into an oval shape, and the seating was sloped steeply, as if it were a Roman amphitheatre. The amphitheatres I had visited in Taormina, Segesta and Syracuse, Sicily and in Arles, France came to mind. I also thought of the Roman amphitheatre I had seen the previous year in Lecce, Puglia.

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The classical architecture and statuary captured my immediate attention. Three orders of columns decorated the proscenium. The 41 statues that adorned the theatre on the proscenium and in the wings looked as if they were made of stone. That was just one of the many illusions in this theatre. In reality, the statues were sculpted from swamp reeds, tow, earthenware and mortar. While the statues showed off aristocrats from the 16th century, these figures were clad in classical attire, often wearing armor or long gowns. Thus, they were not portraits but likenesses set in a past time period. Because Leonardo Valmarana had been an ardent supporter of the Habsburgs, his statue has a face similar to that of Emperor Charles V.

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Notably, there were no women represented. Still, some of the men rendered had distinctive feminine features. Initially, some of the statues had been designed to show female figures, but they were changed into men. This produced some hilarious results. In the upper tier, the statue of Gerolamo Forni sports a beard but has a female body.

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Furthermore, all of the statues were not of the same quality. That’s because the quality of the statue depended on two factors – how influential the man represented was and how much the man had paid to have the statue sculpted. It would have been interesting to be able to inspect each one and learn who was most valued in Renaissance society. There were other statues, too. These included renditions of Olympic deities and one of Palladio himself, designed after the masterful architect had died.

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Hercules held a prominent position in the décor of the theatre. This legendary figure was the focus of stucco-clad bas-reliefs that told the story of his life. The artistic narration included scenes in which Hercules takes over for Atlas holding up the world, the Hercules – Antaeus encounter in which Hercules was victorious and Hercules’ successful fight against the Cretan bull. Thus, another classical theme was portrayed. The bas-reliefs by no means stagnant. There is a strong dynamic quality to the episodes that are brought to life in a vivacious way. So, while the theme stems from the classical world, the bas-reliefs provide a much livelier look than that expressed in the classical world. The figures even have a Baroqueness about them.

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One feature that enamored me was the illusive architecture, the false perspectives utilized in the design. The set for Oedipus Rex, the oldest existing theatre scenery, looked as if the seven roads of Thebes led from the stage far into the horizon, but it was really painted so that it created a fake perspective. I couldn’t believe that it was all an illusion. I could see myself meandering down the streets. It was architecturally amazing. I thought of the basilica at Hejnice and how the main altar was really painted on the wall, while it appeared three-dimensional. This feature of the theatre was designed by Scamozzi, who was known for his talent using false perspective. Via Theatres showed spectators a world of illusion. The world of the play was not the real world. This theatre also was a place of illusion itself.

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Another illusionary feature was the false sky above. It looked like the theatre was not covered at all, as if it were open and light under a clear sky. The likeness to a real sky was incredible. I did not sense I was in a closed space. This feature was designed at the beginning of the 20th century.

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The lighting played a major role in producing the illusive perspectives due to their location. Originally, the lights consisted of colored oils inside glass bulbs or wicks in metal boxes. They were hidden within the architecture featuring false perspective, so no one could tell where the source of the lighting was. It was a masterful idea, I thought. Scamozzi was responsible for the lighting. I wondered if my friend and former college lighting professor had ever been here. She would have a field day studying the lighting features.

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The theatre soon became an entertainment venue. During the 17th century, the theatre was used for receptions of VIPs the town was hosting. Fencing tournaments also took place there. Until recently, graduation ceremonies were held there. It is still used as a theatre on occasion, but only 400 spectators are allowed to watch performances for safety reasons.

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I appreciated the classical features of the theatre that had a distinguished feel. The statues added a classical elegance, and the bas-reliefs gave the theatre’s décor a vivacious character. I also was enthralled by the false perspective. Both the scenery and the fake sky were unbelievable.

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When it was time to leave, I did not want to go. I could have stared at the proscenium, wings and false sky for hours. It certainly was a unique structure. It would prove to be one of most bewitching sights I visited in Vicenza.

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

 

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Church of Saint Corona Diary

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The first place our guides took us in Vicenza was the Church of Saint Corona, a three-nave Gothic structure with many treasures inside. The church harkens back to 1261, when it was constructed to house a Holy Thorn that the bishop of Vicenza had received as a present from French King Louis IX.

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I loved the interior with its paintings, frescoes, superb choir, ceiling and chancel. The artwork included a masterpiece by Paolo Veronese, “Adoration of the Magi.” The main altar featured Giovanni Bellini’s “The Baptism of Christ” while Bartolomeo Montagna’s “Magdalen and Saints” also made an appearance. I was especially entranced with Giabattista Pittoni’s “Enthroned Madonna and child venerated by Saints Peter and Pius V,” though all the paintings greatly impressed me. I loved art, and seeing these paintings filled me with joy and excitement as if I were at a renowned art museum.

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The choir in the apse was another wonder. The carved, inlaid decoration on the wooden choir was so delicate and detailed. The frescoes in the Thiene Chapel hailed from the early 15th century. The chancel was also of Renaissance origin. The painted coffered ceiling with stucco decoration was another jewel.  The superbly adorned main altar also appealed to me. The stained glass windows amazed.

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Of course, we could not take a good look at the church without paying close attention to the Valmarana Chapel, designed by Andrea Palladio around 1576 and located in the crypt. The Valmarana clan had been buried in the church, so it was no surprise that Antonio Valmarana had chosen to be interred there. The chapel was simply designed as a balanced space with a square space. The two niches in the chapel were simple yet helped give the space a sense of elegance. I liked the symmetry, and I would appreciate this characteristic of Palladio’s architecture in many other works that day and in the following days of our trip.

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Every element of the church seemed unique. The paintings each told a powerful story. The Gothic characteristics, the ceiling, the chancel, the choir, the chapel designed by Palladio – everything fused together to make this an architectural gem, just one of the many architectural gems that awaited me in Vicenza.

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Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

Palazzo Chiericati Diary

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In March of 2018, I spent time in Vicenza, where I admired Renaissance Palladian architecture. I was enthralled with Vicenza. The elegant arches and arcades of the Basilicata Palladiana and the Renaissance masterpiece called the Theatre Olimpico were two sights that took my breath away. The two art galleries I visited also were stunning. I could have spent hours at each gallery. The Civic Museum, housed in the Chiericati Palace, displays amazing art from the 1200s to the beginning of the 20th century. Even though renovation was ongoing, the collections were extensive.

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The palace itself is a masterpiece designed by Palladio in 1550. The building is a work of art with enthralling frescoes and superb stuccoes and has been recognized by UNESCO. The Chiericatis were fans of Palladio; he also designed a villa for them. One prominent architectural feature involves Palladio making the palace look elegant by placing the structure on a podium. The central section, accessible by a grand staircase, resembles a temple, as Palladio respected antique forms. By raising the building, Palladio also was able to protect it from floods, so it served more than a merely decorative purpose. I also found these architectural elements at the Villa Rotunda and the Villa Malcontenta, two places designed by Palladio. The façade has a two-story loggia, typical of Palladio’s designs. One side of the loggia is closed off by a wall with an arch.

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While I was enamored with the exterior of the building, I was not prepared for the onslaught of beautiful artworks that greeted me inside. The ground floor showed off frescoes, stuccoes, grotesques and lunettes. Seven lunettes told the story of the city’s prosperity during the 1500s and 1600s.

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The first floor included a medieval section, where work by Hans Memling and others were showcased. I also was introduced to the paintings of Bartolomeo Montagna and his contemporaries. The second floor concentrated on Venetian paintings of the 1500s, with works by Bassano, Tintoretto and Veronese. The 17th century was also represented.

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When I reached the attic, I no longer felt as if I was in a museum but rather as if I had set foot in a three-room house. These spaces held the paintings, drawings and etchings that once belonged to Marquis Giuseppe Roi. The works dated from the 15th century to the 20th century. Intriguing furniture also made up the collection.

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The basement hosted temporary exhibitions. I could see the 14th and 15th century foundations of the palace, where kitchens and cellars used to be. There was a well and a barrel staircase, for instance. Walking through the basement was like walking back in time.

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We got off the bus in Vicenza across from the Palazzo Chiericati, and this was the first building I saw in the city. The exterior certainly didn’t disappoint, and the interior was full of surprises and delights.

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

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Jablonné v Podjěštedí and the Minor Basilica of Saints Zdislava and Lawrence Diary

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The Minor Basilica of Saints Zdislava and Lawrence

I had wanted to visit Jablonné v Podještědí for a long time. I was not disappointed. I thought that Jablonné v Podjěštedí was a tranquil town. My friend and I savored delicious ice cream on the main square. Only later did I read about the history of the town, a tale, which is no less captivating than the town itself.

Nestled under the Lusatian Mountains of north Bohemia near Lemberk Castle, the town was first settled by Czechs and Germans. It was founded by Havel from Markvartice in the 13th century. His wife Zdislava came from a religious, noble family. She would become a saint for helping the poor and healing people. The monastery in the town was founded during the mid-13th century and was inhabited by Dominicans. During the 14th century, Jablonné v Podjěštedí held a prominent position as a customs checkpoint, and in 1369 Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV visited the town.

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An old postcard of the town from http://www.luzicke-hory.cz

The 15th century brought destruction and havoc as the Hussite Wars raged throughout the Czech lands. The Hussites razed the town. The monastery and church also sustained much damage.

Things would get better, though. By the mid-15th century, life was good again. During the 16th century, prospects looked even brighter as trades and businesses flourished. New buildings were erected, too, including a chateau, school, town hall and brewery.

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The main square of the town, aerial view, from http://www.luzicke-hory.cz

The owner of the town, Jindřich Berka from Dubá, did not get along well with the Dominicans in the monastery. Luther’s Reformation played a major role in religious life as Lutheran pastors preached there. There was so much friction between the Catholics and Lutherans in the town at that time that Emperor Rudolf II had to intervene in order to calm things down.

The Thirty Years’ War brought much destruction and plundering. Afterwards, the Lutheran pastors were expelled, and Catholicism dominated religious life again. Still, there was no love lost between the owners of the town and the Dominicans. In 1628 all Protestant books and pictures of Czech martyr Jan Hus as well as renditions of Martin Luther were burned on the town square. By 1648, the town was in very poor shape. Less than 160 families called Jablonné v Podjěštedí home. A plague epidemic did not help matters.

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Aerial view of Jablonné v Podjěštedí, from http://www.turistka.cz

The 1680s was a decade of reconstruction. The monastery was transformed into a Baroque jewel thanks to architect Jan Lukáš Hildenbrandt. The Baroque church was consecrated in 1729. Two years later the remains of Saint Zdislava were brought to the church to stay.

During the 18th century weaving and many other professions characterized the town. Markets took place in Jablonné v Podjěštedí, and economically the town prospered.

Unfortunately, the seven-year Silesian war between Austria and Prussia destroyed parts of the town. By the end of the 1760s, typhus and famine had hit. Things got even worse when, in 1788, a fire ravaged almost the entire town. Then the Dominican Monastery was shut down by the edict of Emperor Joseph II.

The beginning of the 19th century did not bring any tranquility to Jablonné v Podjěštedí. Most of Europe was at war with Napoleon. Soldiers from Poland, France, Austria and Russia came to the town. One day in August of 1813, Napoleon even made an appearance.

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On the main square, from http://www.turistka.cz

Then the damage was repaired, and the textile industry took off.  Many guilds cropped up, and 350 weavers worked there. The second half of the 19th century featured expansion and construction as well as a cultural boom. Factories also came into existence there.

Then World War I broke out. On the outskirts of town, there was a POW camp with 14,000 Jews plus Russian, Serbian, Italian, French and British soldiers. The camp was closed down in 1918. Some Ukrainians made Jablonné v Podjěštedí home from 1919 to 1921. Czech soldiers took control as 1918 came to a close. The German National Party resonated with many of the German inhabitants, but there were also attempts to promote Czech nationalism by establishing Czech schools.

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The interior of the Minor Basilica of Saints Zdislava and Lawrence

An economic crisis ensued, and the Sudeten Party found many followers in the town. On October 3, 1938 this part of the Sudetenland was taken over by Germany, and the few Czechs living there moved. Days later, Jablonné v Podjěštedí became part of the Third Reich. During World War II, refugees from towns that had been bombarded came there for shelter. The Russian army liberated the town on May 9, 1945. After the war, a school cafeteria was located in the monastery. The Dominicans were sent to work camps

During the Communist era of the late 1960s and 1970s, high-rises that became eyesores of the town came into being. A poultry farm and a food processing plant also were built.

After the 1989 Velvet Revolution toppled the Communist regime, tourists came to the town. In 1995 Saint Zdislava was canonized by Pope John Paul II. Now there are about 4,000 inhabitants.

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The interior of the basilica

I was struck by the history of this town because it seemed so peaceful, even though it had been through so many trials and tribulations. I tried to imagine flags of the Third Reich flapping from the buildings on the main square. I tried to imagine the dancing flames on the piles of books and pictures that were burned as an attempt to purge the town of Lutheran beliefs. I tried to imagine the main square with so many buildings destroyed, in ruins, during the Hussite wars and during later wars. To be sure, that main square could tell a lot of stories if it could talk. Life went on, through good and bad the town persevered, and now tourists have taken an interest in the place due to the dazzling basilica.

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A church stood on this site as far back as the 13th century, established by Zdislava, the wife of Havel of the Markvartice clan and future saint. She was buried in the church during 1252. By the 17th century, the church and priority were in such a bad state that they were demolished. A Baroque church was built on the site of the Gothic church that had been torn down. It would become a church to which pilgrims flocked because Zdislava was buried there. The church was not consecrated until 1729.

The year 1788 was a particularly bad one. A fire destroyed the church and priory and then the Dominican brothers, who had settled in the monastery as far back as the 13th century, were abolished due to Emperor Joseph II’s edict.

While the exterior of the basilica enthralled me, I was surprised to find the interior just as enticing. if not more so. The floor plan takes the shape of a Greek cross. The interior is 45 meters high, 29 meters wide and 49 meters long.

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The first room in which the group gathered featured medallions of Zdislava holding a model of the church she had founded and renditions of Dominican monks. There were 24 pictures about the life of Zdislava from 1660. A Baroque standard of a craft guild also adorned the space.

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Then we saw the courtyard and went into the hallway where I saw some remarkable contemporary paintings with political symbolism. I liked the one showing families seated in front of the television while the Communist hammer and sickle emblems were displayed on the screens. The painting served as a warning about how tempting it had been under Communism to normalize propaganda and platitudes. The family members in the painting looked resigned to their fates. They were as if in a trance and had adjusted to the rules and regulations of totalitarian society. It also showed the importance of family, which played a major role in the lives of Czechoslovak citizens during that era.

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Now to the interior of the minor basilica: Because much of the interior was destroyed during the 1788 fire, most of the furnishings dated from the last two centuries. Newer sections even hailed from this century. The frescoes in the vaulted cupola featured the life of Zdislava. The baptismal font was Rococo, dating from 1764, one of the few pieces that survived the fire. I liked the Late Gothic statue of the Madonna, which hailed from before 1510, decorating the Rococo Marian-Zdislava altar. The pulpit was Classicist from the late 18th century and included a bust of Saint Peter. The altars of Saint Anna and the Virgin Mary were both Rococo in style, hailing from the 18th century. The altar of Our Lady of the Rosary, on the contrary, flaunted Baroque features with intriguing statuary.

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The main altar, though, was younger, built in 1898 in pseudo-Baroque style. Paintings of Saint Lawrence and Saint Zdislava adorned the altar. The choir benches were Rococo and featured intarsia. I love stained glass windows, and the ones in this basilica lived up to my expectations. I took note of the designs portraying Saint Stephan and Saint Philip.

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We also visited the tomb of Saint Zdislava, viewing the marble sarcophagus. Tombs are not really my cup of tea, but it was intriguing to think that in that sarcophagus were the remains of someone who had lived in the 13th century, someone who did much good for humankind. I vowed to get to Lemberk Castle, the residence of Saint Zdislava and her husband so many centuries ago, the following season. I had visited it once, many years earlier. I remember it was romantically situated in a forest, and the interiors had been intriguing, to say the least.

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I loved visiting small towns, especially those in the mountains because I have always loved mountains. I felt at peace with the world, standing on the main square. There is nothing like discovering a gem that earlier had been a mere name on a map.

Soon we said goodbye to north Bohemia and returned to Prague. It had been a good day.

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor.

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Rococo baptismal font

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2017 Travel Review Diary

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Sassi in Matera, Italy

My travels during 2017 made my year very special. I went to Italy twice and spent time exploring the Czech Republic on day trips, taking jaunts to numerous chateaus and a basilica, for instance.

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Castle in Trento

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Treviso

During my first trip to Italy in 2017, I saw a wonderful Impressionist art exhibition in Treviso. I visited the impressive castle and picturesque streets of Trento. I also ransacked a few good bookstores in Treviso and picked up a year’s worth of reading in Italian. (I took advantage of the fact that we were traveling by bus.) I especially enjoyed discovering the charming town of Bassano del Grappa with its wooden Palladian bridge and, most importantly, its superb collection of paintings by Jacopo Bassano and others.

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Civic Museum in Bassano del Grappa

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Civic Museum in Bassano del Grappa

In June, I took one of my best trips ever, to the lesser known and lesser travelled regions of Puglia and Basilicata. Most of the sights were not so crowded. We saw many charming, sleepy towns, refreshingly not inundated with tourists. I was entranced with all the Apulian-Romanesque cathedrals. The intricate design of the main portal of the cathedral in Altamura and the rose window surrounded by lions perched on columns on the Cathedral of Saint Valentine in Bitonto are only two of the many gems designed in this rich architectural style. The bishop’s throne from the 12th century in Canosa di Puglia featured two elephant figures for legs and was a true delight.

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Altamura, cathedral

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Bishop’s throne in cathedral in Canosa di Puglia

Lecce with its Baroque wonders, Roman theatre and Roman amphitheatre left me speechless. The Baroque craftsmanship of Lecce’s most notable architect, Giuseppe Zimbalo, was breathtaking. The Cathedral of Our Lady the Assumption, one of many Baroque gems, had a stunning side façade and 75-meter tall belfry with balustrades, sculptures and pyramids. Inside, the structure was no less amazing. The gilt coffered ceiling over the nave and transept and the 18th century marble main altar decorated with angels were just a few of the awe-inspiring features of the interior.

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Ceiling of cathedral in Lecce

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Altar in church in Baroque Lecce

A castle buff, I was also more than intrigued by the octagonal Castel del Monte and the way the number eight was so symbolic in its architectural design. I was impressed with the French windows, Romanesque features and mosaic floor, for instance.

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Castel del Monte

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Castel del Monte

What fascinated me most of all on that trip was the rock town of Matera with its two “sassi” districts. I have never seen a place that is so unique and moving, except for Pompeii. I explored the Sasso Caveoso. Its structures were dug into the calcareous rock on different levels of a hillside. They were cave dwellings that had been turned into restaurants, cafes, hotels and sightseeing gems. It was difficult to believe that, until the 1950s, the sassi had been poverty-stricken, riddled with unsanitary conditions and overcrowding.

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Sassi Caveoso in Matera

The Rupertian churches especially caught my attention. They boasted frescoes from the 11th and 12th centuries. The Santa Maria de Idris Church had a main altar made of tufo and chalk and decorated with 17th and 18th century frescoes. The rocky churches had actually been places of worship until 1960.

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Sassi Caveoso in Matera

I also explored two neighborhoods of Prague, parts of the city that I have always loved. In Hanspaulka I became more familiar with the various types of villas – Neo-Classical and Neo-Baroque, functionalist and purist, for example. I saw the villas where actress Lída Baarová had lived and where her sister had committed suicide as well as the villa where comedian Vlasta Burian had resided. I love the Art Deco townhouses in the area.

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Art Deco townhouses in Hanspaulka

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The villa where actor Vlasta Burian once lived, Hanspaulka

There are just as beautiful Art Deco townhouses in the nearby Ořechovka district, where I saw villas created by the well-known Czech modern architect Pavel Janák and many former homes of famous Czech artists. The Rondocubist dwellings with their designs inspired by folk art also excited me. I loved the folk art elements in Rondocubism. My favorite place in the quarter is Lomená Street. The 1920s townhouses are modelled after English cottages.

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Lomená Street in Ořechovka

I also visited the Winternitz Villa, designed by Viennese architect Adolf Loos and his Czech colleague Karel Lhota, situated in Prague’s fifth district. Winternitz, a lawyer by trade, was forced to leave with his family in 1941 due to their Jewish origin. His wife and daughter miraculously survived Auschwitz. The villa features the Raumplan, Loos’ trademark, in which every room is on a different level. I also saw two apartments designed by Loos in Pilsen. The Brummel House with its bright yellow furnishings and Renaissance fireplace amazed.

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Exterior of Winternitz Villa, Prague

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Living room of Winternitz Villa

I took many day trips outside of Prague. Červený Újezd Castle, only built in 2001, looked like it belongs in a medieval fairy tale. The park and open-air architectural museum were just as appealing. Braving the D1 highway that is partially under construction, my friend and I made our way to Telč. I admired its Renaissance burgher houses lining the main square and its chateau that features a Renaissance gilded coffered ceiling in the Golden Hall, 300 Delft faience plates on a wall in the Count’s Room and an African Hall with a gigantic elephant’s ear.

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Červený Ujezd Castle

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Burgher houses on the main square in Telč

At Zákupy I was entranced by the ceiling paintings of Josef Navrátil. Its Chapel of St. Francis sparkled in 17th century Baroque style with frescoes on the ceiling. I finally made it to the Minor Basilica of St. Zdislava and St. Lawrence in the tranquil north Bohemian town of Jablonné v Podještědí. The main altar is in pseudo-Baroque style while the pulpit and the baptismal font hailed from the 18th century. One chapel’s altar is Rococo, adorned with a late Gothic statue. The stained glass windows amazed me.

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Interior of chapel at Zákupy Chateau

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Interior of Basilica of St. Zdislava and St. Lawrence

The chateau of Dětenice in late Baroque style had an interior that mostly dates from the 18th century with rooms small enough to give an intimate feel but large enough to hold many architectural delights. In the Blue Dining Room the wall paintings were made to look like works by Botticelli. The tapestries in the Music Salon were wonderful. The Golden Hall was unbelievably breathtaking.

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Interior of Detěnice Chateau

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Interior of Detěnice Chateau

My favorite chateau of this past year’s trips is Hrubý Rohozec, which I have toured many times. It is filled with original furnishings and objects – lots of them – that I found captivating. Most of all, I loved the lively history that made the chateau unique and unforgettable. Bullet holes can still be seen in the Main Library. A thief on the run had barricaded himself in the room, and the policemen had to shoot the door open. Before World War II, the two sons of the castle’s owner were caught reading erotic magazines in the Children’s Room. There were bars on the window to prevent them from throwing chairs into the courtyard at midnight.

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Organ in chapel of Hrubý Rohozec Chateau

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Blue Salon of Hrubý Rohozec Chateau

The Porcelain Museum at Klášterec nad Ohří held some delights. The Birth of the Virgin Mary Church in Doksany charmed in Baroque style with much stucco decoration. I admired many other chateaus as well, including Orlík and Březnice with its spectacular chapel.

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Interior of chapel at Březnice Chateau

The year was extra special because my parents were able to visit me. We toured the Rudolfinum concert hall in Prague, where I have season tickets for three cycles. The concert hall has played a role in Czechoslovak history. Democrat statesman Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was elected president three times in its large Dvořák Hall during the 1920s and 1930s, when the Rudolfinum was the home of Czechoslovak Parliament. The statuary and view of Prague Castle on the roof were splendid, and the Conductors’ Room boasted various styles of furnishings, black-and-white photos of well-renowned musicians and an impressive Petrov piano.

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Dvořák Hall, Rudolfinum

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Rudolfinum, upper level

We also toured Nelahozeves Chateau near Prague, a place that has been dear to me for many years. For me the highlight of visiting this chateau is superb collection of art, especially Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s painting of a winter scene. The painting by Rubens was a delight, too. I also loved the small 18th century table inlaid with 20 kinds of wood. The exterior was captivating as well. The graffito on one wall and the Renaissance courtyard were two stunning architectural elements.

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Renaissance courtyard of Nelahozeves Chateau

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Sgraffito on wall of Nelahozeves Chateau

I took my parents on a trip around Hanspaulka and pointed out one of the Baroque chapels, the chateau and other sights. We admired the villas of various styles. We ate paninis in the local café.

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Chapel in Hanspaulka

Perhaps the highlight of their visit was seeing a Czech play in the Žižkov Theatre of Jára Cimrman. We laughed along to the music of Cimrman in the Paradise of Music, which focuses on the operatic works of the fictional legendary Jára Cimrman, who was an unlucky man of all trades – inventor, philosopher, teacher, self-taught gynecologist, to name a few of his many professions. The opera in the second half of the play involves a Czech engineer introducing the great taste of pilsner beer to India. The British colonel in the play is so impressed with the taste of Czech beer that he wishes he had been born Czech. It was terrific that I was able to introduce my parents to the character of Jára Cimrman, who has played such a major role in Czech culture and folklore, even though he is not real.

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Almost featureless bust of Jára Cimrman

I was thankful that I had my best friend, my black cat Šarlota Garrigue Masaryková Burnsová by my side throughout the year. She is happy here, much happier than she was in a shelter four years ago.

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Šarlota Garrigue Masaryková Burnsová

Every day I think of Bohumil Hrabal Burns, my feisty and naughty black cat who died three-and-a-half years ago. He remains with me in spirit every moment of my life. I know that somewhere in Cat Heaven, he is vomiting for fun on white rugs and playing with Fat Cat toys.

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Bohumil Hrabal Burns, 1999 – 2014

Those were my travels of 2017. I look forward to more adventures this year. I have planned one trip to Italy and will soon jot down a list of day trips I would like to take.

Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

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Santa Croce Church in Lecce

 

Ořechovka Diary

 

OrechovkaZlomena12During 2017, I went on a walk through the Ořechovka section of Prague with Praha Neznámá or Unknown Prague tour company. The guide was excellent, the tour comprehensive. If you speak Czech, I recommend discovering parts of Prague with this agency. However, it was far from my first visit to the area.

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The villa-dotted Ořechovka quarter of Prague’s sixth district is one of the most picturesque parts of the city. For years, I have loved taking walks through the area, admiring the various styles of architecture. Some centuries ago, the property belonged to Jan Kryštof Bořek, who had a superb chateau built in a French style garden that was dotted with sculptures. The chateau was destroyed in wartime during 1742. The land was later used for other purposes, and, after Czechoslovakia was born in 1918, the first villas were constructed there thanks to architects Jaroslav Vondrák and Jan Šenkýř. The duo was especially inspired by English garden towns. The villas often consisted of apartments, from one-room accommodations to flats of four rooms. Many prominent artists settled in Ořechovka.

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The villas that intrigued me the most were the ones designed by Czech modernist architect Pavel Janák, whose creations include the functionalist plan for the Baba Housing Estate, also in Prague’s sixth district. He designed three of the 32 houses in Baba. Janák also drew up the plans for reconstruction work at Prague Castle and made innovative Cubist ceramics. His Kafka Villa – no, it has nothing to do with Franz! – was constructed for sculptor Bohumil Kafka whose works include the Monument to Jan Žižka in Prague’s Žižkov district. That sight ranks as the world’s largest equestrian statue. Inspired by the works of Auguste Rodin, Kafka favored symbolism and secession. Situated at 41/484 Na Ořechovce Street, this villa combines various styles as I noticed features of symbolism, naturalism and impressionism. It also is adorned with a superb Art Nouveau sculpture.

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Janák also cast his magic spell with the villa for painter Vincenc Beneš, a painter influenced by French modernism as well as Cubism and Fauvism. Later works included stylized figural creations and battlefields as well as landscapes for the National Theatre. Located at Cukrovarnická 24/492, this house flaunts a distinctive Dutch style and features coarse brickwork that appealed to me. (The villa for painter, graphic artist and illustrator Václav Špála also is dominated by the Dutch style that shows off coarse brickwork, though it was not designed by Janák.)

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The third villa that Janák contributed to Ořechovka consists of two villas together, built for Cubist painter, graphic artist and sculptor Emil Filla and his father-in-law, psychologist, philosopher and politician František Krejčí, in the 1920s. The structure of these villas is similar to the Beneš Villa.

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Filla’s story is intriguing. Inspired by Picasso, Braque, Munch and Van Gogh, he was noted for his Cubist painting and sculpture. Before World War I, he traveled to Paris and then fled to the Netherlands when war erupted. After the war, he came back to Prague, and traits of surrealism could be found in his works, which included painting on glass. On the first day of World War II, he was arrested by the Nazis, along with other prominent Czechs. He spent time in several concentration camps during the war, but somehow survived. After the war Filla took up teaching at Prague’s Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design and created mostly landscape paintings.

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My favorite street in the quarter and also my second favorite street in Prague – my favorite is a short, dead-end street in Prague 6, where I lived for 10 happy years – is called Lomená Street. The design of the 1920s townhouses by Vondrák and Šenkýř resemble English cottages. They are so quaint and have an intimate atmosphere that immediately makes me feel calm and at ease despite the world’s turmoil and with my own problems, be they big or small. I love the triangular gables. Other characteristics are narrow, rectangular windows and high chimneys.

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Another one of my favorite places in Prague is the Rondocubism triangular area made by Dělostrelecká and Klidná streets. Similar to Art Deco, Rondocubism is unique to the Czech Republic. Janák paired with fellow architect Josef Gočár to create works in this nationalistic, folk-inspired style. The bright colors make the homes even more lively and dynamic. I like to imagine the time period when these townhouses were constructed, a few years after Czechoslovakia had been christened a new country in 1918. So much hope and positive energy was in the air. I would not mind calling one of these architectural gems home.

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Now the main square of Ořechovka is depressing and dilapidated with only a few small shops, but back in 1926, when it was completed, the central building featured not only shops but also a cinema (which was only recently shut down), restaurants, a café and doctors’ offices. In 1927, the building was extended with a theatre, dance hall and library. I remember seeing the film Kolya, which won an Oscar in 1996 for best foreign film, at the small, intimate movie theatre there. The movie directed by Jan Svěrák and starring his father, Zdeněk, remains one of my favorite films. Back in the late 1920s, the square must have been quite the gathering place, bustling with activity and excitement.

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There is another reason Ořechovka is dear to me. Back in the 1990s, when war was causing havoc in former Yugoslavia, I was teaching English to two girls, a 9-year old and an 11-year old, living in Ořechovka. They resided in a beautiful townhouse resembling an English cottage. Their father worked for the Czech Embassy in Belgrade, but the children and their mother had been sent back to Prague because it was deemed too dangerous for them in Belgrade.

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The late Václav Havel, president of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic for 13 years, resided in the villa pictured above. His widow still lives there.

I have not taught many children. I had previously taught only two youngsters. I do not have any children and do not understand them well. However, these two girls opened their hearts to me. They were such kind and decent people, obviously influenced by their mother, who was a wonderful human being. I looked forward to the lessons because it was so pleasant to teach them. Moreover, with each lesson, I learned a little better how to communicate with children. I remember they loved learning about the US presidents. I had flash cards, one for each president, and we used to create games with them. Therefore, Ořechovka is a place I associate with genuinely good people who have influenced my life. I often wondered what ever happened to those girls. Are they living in Prague or abroad? Do they have families? Did they keep up with their English studies?

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This villa was once the home of high-ranking Nazi Adolf Eichmann.

Unfortunately, not only good people have called Ořechovka home. The most evil person to live in the quarter was Adolf Eichmann, who took up residence in a neoclassical villa that had belonged to Jew Rudolf Fišer. Eichmann fled in April of 1945, and the previous owner was allowed to return to the villa but only to rent a few rooms.

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Ořechovka remains dear to me, and I love taking walks there whenever weather permits. Along with Hanspaulka, it is one of my favorite parts of Prague. I recommend travelers take walks through these villa-dotted quarters in order to get out of the crowded center and experience a more tranquil side of Prague.

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Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.

Telč Diary

 

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I was excited about my second trip to Telč, a Renaissance architectural gem I had first visited back in 1992, the year UNESCO recognized the town as a cultural monument. I remember feeling so overwhelmed when I had first stepped onto the large triangular Zachariáš of Hradec Square. More than 20 years later, I still felt the same way.

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The Renaissance burgher houses were narrow, each with unique facades portraying various architectural styles. The arcading and arched gables were astounding. I saw Late Baroque and Classicist forms as well as facades that had retained many Renaissance characteristics. The House of Ambrož Šlapanovský at number 6 boasted of a simple Baroque and Classicist façade while the House of Nedorost Master Hosier at number 12 sported a façade harkening from Renaissance days. Its high attic and crenellation from the late 16th century appealed to me.

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I was especially drawn to the House of Osterreicher the Master Mason at number 15. The illusive sgraffito on the façade was complimented by the dynamic hues that made this house one of the most dominant on the square. I loved the shades of green, grey and white that combined to make a captivating façade hailing from the middle of the 16th century. The façade also sported the allegorical figures of Melancholy and the Crucifixion.

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The façade I fancied the most featured a gable in Venetian Renaissance style. Adorned with biblical figures, the gable hailed from 1555. I was entranced by the gable on the House of Jan the Baker at number 17, an edifice with a late Baroque appearance and stucco frame. In the middle, the depiction of the Holy Trinity was superb and elegant. I also was enthralled with the House of Plzák the Alderman at number 31 with its sgraffito decoration. Even though the Town Hall had been built during the 16th century, it clearly had taken on Classicist features when changes were made in 1811. The Marian Column in the center of the square was wonderfully Baroque, the same style of so many plague columns in the country.

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But I am getting ahead of myself. It’s time for a short history lesson about the town. Telč originated in the 13th century, and the first written document mentioning the town dates from 1366. Oldřich of Hradec was awarded Telč in the 14th century, and the town would remain in the family of the wealthy Hradec clan until 1604. The most significant Hradec owner was Zachariáš of Hradec, who took over the property in 1550. His biggest claim-to-fame was transforming what had been a Gothic castle into a Renaissance chateau. The structure still retains its Renaissance character and ranks as one of the best preserved Renaissance chateaus in the country.

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When there were no more men in the family to inherit the property, Vilém Slavata acquired Telč. He is best known as one of the two governors thrown out of Prague Castle in the Third Defenestration of Prague during 1618. He survived because he landed on a pile of manure. This event helped trigger the Thirty Years’ War and brought to a head the conflict between Czech Protestant nobles and the Catholic Habsburg ruling monarchy. Slavata was able to keep the chateau in his family for three generations. František Antonín Liechtenstein-Castelcorn took over at the end of the 18th century, when the property came into the hands of the Podstastský-Liechtenstein clan. They would retain ownership until 1945, when the chateau was nationalized.

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It was soon time for the first tour of the chateau. We started out in the medieval Chapel of Saint George. I was drawn to the superb carving of Saint George fighting the dragon on a wall. The vaulted ceilings on the ground floor were outstanding.

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The African Hall was one of my favorites, though I am not usually particularly drawn to rooms with hunting trophies. The gigantic elephant’s ear and the open-mouthed hippo’s head were striking. The Knights’ Hall was decorated with knights’ armor from the 16th century and had a superb coffered ceiling from 1570. It was decorated with painted scenes of Hercules’ feats. Its artificial marble checkered floor hailed from the same year. This only proved to be one of many remarkable ceilings in the chateau, however. The Japanese porcelain dishes and sgraffito ornamentation in the Banquet Hall were exquisite.

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The Golden Hall was the highlight of the tour, that’s for sure. It measured 30 meters, but the main feature that took my breath away was the Renaissance gilded coffered ceiling decorated with painted biblical subjects. The woodcarving on the ceiling was exceptional, the likes of which I had never seen before. The Blue Hall was magnificent, featuring another remarkable ceiling, this one adorned with figures of the four elements – water, earth, fire and air. The Renaissance stove also captured my attention. The ceiling in the Men’s Parlor was yet another gem, painted wine red with gold. These colors gave it a certain warmth and intimacy. Circular medallions also decorated the ceiling.

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The next tour featured the Podstastký Private Apartments, adorned in 19th and early 20th century styles. What enamored me the most were the 300 Delft faience plates in the Count’s Room. Two distinctive closets stood out in one space – a Baroque closet with rich decoration and a shorter Renaissance closet featuring intarsia. The guide showed us a green trashcan decorated with a picture of Napoleon because the family despised the French ruler. I also saw the most beautiful Italian jewel chests made with ebony. Other adornment included Oriental vases as well as Meissen and Viennese porcelain.

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The Red Drawing Room appealed to me due to the warm red color of the armchairs and sofa. A gold clock and huge white tiled stove also stood out. The library held 8,416 volumes, including Czech books such as Jungmann’s dictionaries and national songs. There were also British novels as well as volumes in German, Latin and French. I also adored the big sky blue-and-cream colored tiled stove in the space. Another artifact that enticed me was the tiny table from India.

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Telč’s chateau was certainly one of the most impressive I had ever seen, ranking up there with Vranov nad Dyjí, Hrubý Rohozec and Lysice, a few other favorites. I left the chateau with an even deeper appreciation for the Renaissance style. I had always been keen on the Renaissance, but now I was even more enthusiastic. The intricate, breathtaking ceilings appealed to me the most. They literally took my breath away. Rarely have I set my eyes on something that awe-inspiring. The park was amazing, too, with many rare woody species. The garden was another delight.

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We ate outside in the square at the hotel restaurant. It was an awful choice, as I had never experienced such slow and inept service. Even when there were few customers, the waiters were so slow. We were there two hours, one hour or less eating, the rest of the time waiting for the bill, which we were constantly promised. Finally, I went inside, where I actually found a waiter at the cash register. He asked me why I was in a hurry but allowed me to pay, luckily. Sometimes the waiters would just disappear. They were not inside or outside, nowhere to be seen.

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As we were leaving the town, we spoke with a long-time resident, who confirmed that the hotel was an awful place to eat. Our food was fine, but she said the meals were usually bad. People had come away with a terrible impression of Telč due to the service at that hotel.

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I saw many touristy shops on the square, but we did find one store selling wonderful ceramics. I bought some ceramic cat figures that are beautiful. Another shop had pretty, handmade mugs with colorful designs.

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The problem with getting to and from Telč is the D1 highway, which is under construction with only two lanes until at least 2020. It was a nightmare with so many trucks taking up both lanes, as we had no chance to pass them. Once a truck suddenly swerved into our lane, and my friend was able to break just in time to avoid an accident. The truck drivers were arrogant and aggressive.

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If there had been an accident when we were on the highway, the journey one-way could have taken up six hours or more. Luckily, we only had a half-hour delay on the journey to Telč. The big problem was, as always, the traffic in Prague. I had investigated how to get to Telč by bus, but the journey takes about six hours with Student Agency because the buses make stops elsewhere. I was not about to spend six hours or more on a bus.

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So, I look forward to 2020, when I will certainly go back to Telč to experience the splendor of the Renaissance once again.

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Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.