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

 

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Červený Újezd Castle Diary

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The place looked like it belonged in a fairy tale. That was my first impression of Cerveny Ujezd Castle back in 2002 and my first thought when I visited again during 2017. The beauty of the castle almost put me in a trance. I loved the medieval atmosphere of the courtyard with balcony and wooden bridge. The Renaissance sgraffito on one wall looked authentic. The Gothic style windows also captivated me.

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Though it has a medieval feel, Cerveny Ujezd is a newcomer to the world of castles. It was built from 2001 to 2002, according to the wishes of Czech entrepreneur Pavel Orma. Cerveny Ujezd took about 18 months to complete. The museum in the castle features approximately 4,000 objects relating to countryside life in the Czech lands from the 17th to 19th centuries. It took Orma 40 years to collect the intriguing items. The museum is divided into sections that display artifacts from various regions in the country. There was also a part that reflected the life of the nobility with a Knights’ Hall and chapel.

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While waiting for the tour of the museum to start, I also recalled from my first visit that the castle had a magnificent park and open-air architectural museum of countryside buildings. I could not wait to see it all again. On the drive to the castle, I saw many ugly mansions built in the garish pseudo-Baroque style, which the owners employed to display their wealth to the world. They were such eyesores in the countryside. I mused that this entrepreneur put his money to good use, creating an intriguing museum in a structure that looked like a real castle, bringing the Middle Ages to life. It was hard for me to believe that the building was so new. The castle featured so many traits of past architectural styles. Not surprisingly, many couples chose this castle as the place to exchange their wedding vows. I would not have minded getting married there, if I had found the right man.

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During the tour led by an intelligent and enthusiastic guide, I saw a baking kiln from several centuries ago which reminded me of all the black kitchens I had seen in castles. Wooden dishes and utensils were also apparent in that kitchen area.

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One room was devoted to instruments used for the once popular Czech pig slaughtering ritual that had taken place in villages throughout the country for decades. Now, though, it was illegal because of European Union regulations. This was one of the many reasons some Czechs I knew thought it would be better not to be in the European Union. Czechs are proud of their traditions that play an integral role in the country’s national identity. I saw axes and butchers’ tables, for instance. A Central Bohemian kitchen boasted a handpainted stove and exquisite ceramics. The section of the exhibition devoted to life in the Krkonoš (Giant) Mountains included a wooden machine for making linen. I especially liked the Christmas tree in the Litomyšl section. I could imagine small children gathered around the tree, tearing open wrapping paper and squealing with delight as they opened each package.

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Handmade carvings from the Wallachia region of Moravia entranced me in a workshop. Wallachia is the easternmost part of Moravia near the Slovak border. I remembered visiting the open-air architectural museum in Wallachian Rožnov pod Radhoštěm many years ago and seeing the world from another perspective at the top of nearby Mount Radhošť.

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The part devoted to ceramics caught my attention. I loved the colorful ceramics from south Moravia. The ceramics from Rožnov were traditionally brown and white. There were some black ceramics from north Moravia. I enjoyed seeing the big collection of Baroque Christmas molds, some shaped as crayfish, others as babies and still others as small and big lambs. The bed with bright blue, orange and red painted ornamentation and a floral pattern was superb. A long bench could be pulled upwards to make an – albeit very thin – bed.

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In the Cheb and west Czech lands section, I marveled at the folklore-themed closets and chests. A tapestry stood out as did a machine for making them. I loved tapestries, especially those in the Residence Museum in Munich and in Náměšť nad Oslavou Chateau in Moravia. (I remembered my train ride to Náměšť nad Oslavou well because an elderly man died on the train. I will never forget the sobbing of the widow from a neighboring compartment.)

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Next, I entered the part of the exhibition dedicated to the nobility. I saw a small chapel with a Crucifixion scene on its main altar. It had a distinct feeling of intimacy. There were also replicas of weapons that the Hussites had used in the 15th century during the Hussite Wars that had ravaged the Czech lands, when so many Czech castles had been destroyed.

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I particularly was drawn to the Knights’ Hall that showed off four sets of knights’ armor. It was decorated with bearskin rugs and a big tiled stove. I noticed that there was no silverware. Back in the Middle Ages, even the nobility had eaten with their hands. There was also a model of a knight on a life-size horse. Weapons that could be used in a knights’ tournament were also displayed. I held in my hands a knight’s pair of pants and shirt armor – I was surprised the clothing was so heavy. It is hard to fathom how someone could wear such heavy clothing all day, especially in battle.

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I passed a workshop for cutting and polishing precious stones. The large purple gemstone in the middle of the room was particularly pleasing to the eye. I also saw a typical blacksmith’s shop. Standing inside made me feel as if I had been transported back in time.

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Soon, I strolled through the park and open-air architectural museum. The park included 2,500 kinds of woody plants. In the park, I thought I must be in a dream. The water lilies looked like they had jumped out of a Monet painting. The park was too picturesque for words. Not even superlative adjectives could do the place justice. I saw sheep grazing and an ancient beehive – without any bees, luckily. I walked by a windmill, belfry, wine cellar, charcoal kiln, hayloft and shepherd’s hut as well as a wooden chapel. I have always dreamed of visiting all the wooden churches in east Slovakia, set in the villages where I imagine time has stood still. I had seen several wooden churches in the Czech lands, and I immediately recalled the Church of the Virgin Mary in Broumov, which was the oldest preserved all-wood construction in Central Europe. Also, the wooden Church of All Saints in the village of Dobříkov came to mind.

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Finally, I went to the medieval-style pub where musical instruments and various artifacts decorate a large space with picnic-like benches and tables. It was quaint, quite charming. The potato soup was exceptional.

Then it was time to make my way back to Prague. After being immersed in such beauty for several hours, it was hard to leave. I knew I would not wait another 15 years to come back.

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

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