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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Hanspaulka Diary

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Baroque Chapel of the Holy Trinity, Nad Komornickou Street

One of my favorite pastimes in Prague is taking long walks through architecturally intriguing sections of the city. My favorite quarter in Prague is the villa-dotted Hanspaulka area in Prague’s sixth district, which is ideal for long walks on sunny days.

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The quarter gets its name from Jan Pavel Hippmann, inspector of the archbishop’s farms during the 18th century. In German his name was Hans Paul, and his nickname was “Hanspaul.” He built a Baroque-Rococo chateau in the area and lived there for 40 years. His chateau was dubbed “Hanspaulka.” The section has been known as Hanspaulka for more than 200 years.

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The quarter has not always been dotted with villas. From the 14th century, it was a section of vineyards and six small chapels to which residents from all over the city flocked. (Two of these chapels are still standing.) Today’s main street, Na Pískách, was filled with sand. It gets its name from the Czech word for sand – “písek.”

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Before the Thirty Years’ War, there were about 120 vineyards in Hanspaulka. The war did a lot of damage, to put it lightly. After 1627 many owners decided to try their luck abroad, abandoning their vineyards. During 1637 only 50 vineyards remained. The vineyards were devastated by war again in the middle of the 18th century, and only two were revived. There are no vineyards in the section now, but many streets are named after former owners of vineyards.

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While the first villas cropped up in the 19th century, the architectural boom of villa construction occurred in the 1930s. Well-known architects, such as Karel Lhota, designed many of the luxurious homes there.

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Baroque chateau

The chateau is definitely one of the main sights in the area. It has a late Baroque façade. After World War I it became an archeological museum. In 1996, it was sold to a private company. Now it houses the institute of former Czech president and long-time politician Václav Klaus.

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Pavel Janák, photo from Brněnský architektonický manuál

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The interior of St. Matthew’s Church

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The pulpit of St. Matthew’s Church

St. Matthew’s Church was originally a rotunda. The church came into being in 1404, but the original structure was demolished in 1770. Its current appearance dates back to the late 1800s. Legendary film and theatre actor Josef Kemr and architect Pavel Janák are buried in its cemetery. I remember seeing Kemr on stage, and I even owned some films in which he had performed. I admire Janák’s Cubist and Rondocubist styles of architecture. I recalled that he designed Prague’s Adria Palace and some villas in the Střešovice quarter of Prague’s sixth district. He had also drawn up the plans for the functionalist Baba Housing Estate near Hanspaulka. Janák also contributed to the architecture of Prague Castle.

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Josef Kemr’s grave

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The buildings in Hanspaulka show off a variety of architectural styles. You will come across a Neo-Baroque villa with balustrades, oriels, dormer windows and small towers and a Neo-Classicist villas, too. A former popular pub was built in geometric Secession style. Another former pub served as a meeting place for underground artists during the Communist era, and today a plaque commemorates the establishment. Art Deco townhouses as well as villas with sculptural decoration and ceramic veneers are sprinkled throughout the quarter. Hanspaulka was not always a quarter catering to the wealthy. In the 1930s members of the working class would take out mortgages to buy the Art Deco townhouses. They were allowed to live in one room, always opting for the kitchen, until the mortgage was paid off.

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Functionalism and Purism are no strangers to Hanspaulka. In fact, the first functionalist villa in Prague was built in Hanspaulka. The design of this villa was greatly influenced by the works of Le Corbusier. It features a semi-circular balcony and a roof terrace. A former French high school, built from 1930 to 1934, features classrooms lit from both sides and terraces where classes can take place if weather conditions permit. While I admire a variety of styles from Romanesque to Neo-Gothic, functionalism is not my cup of tea. Still, I admire the architectural characteristics of these villas.

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The Linhart Villa, the first functionalist villa in Prague

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The former French school

Unfortunately, not all the buildings are so elegant. One structure was constructed during the early 1950s in the style of social realism, which prevailed under Communism. The two sections of the building have house signs that glorify the working class.

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The house sign glorifying the working class, social realist architecture

Demolished in 2014, the Hotel Praha was another eyesore in a style that may appear to fit into the social realist realm but really has Western characteristics. It was built from 1975 to 1981. An exquisite chandelier hung in the foyer, and the terrace offered magnificent views of the city. Until the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the hotel served as accommodation for guests of the Communist government. Now it is a garden that is not open to the public. An international school will be constructed on the premises in the near future.

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The Hotel Praha, now demolished, from Pintarest

Many famous Czech personalities have lived in Hanspaulka – Nobel Prize-winning poet Jaroslav Seifert and actress Lída Baarová, who was Nazi Minister Joseph Goebbels’ mistress for two years while she was residing in Berlin. I recalled discovering Seifert’s poetry as I delved deeper and deeper into my studies of the Czech language, when I was a student at Prague’s State Language School.

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Lída Baarová, photo from lidovky.cz

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The villa where Lída Baarová lived – Her sister committed suicide here.

Baarová certainly had led an intriguing life. Hitler ordered Goebbels and Baarová to end the affair and banned Baarová from acting. At a premiere of one of her films in Berlin, paid moviegoers shouted insults at her, and the screening had to be cancelled. Baarová could not take it anymore. After having a nervous breakdown, she moved back to Prague and then to Italy. However, the end of the war did not mean the end of her problems. Back in Czechoslovakia after the war, the authorities suspected her and her family of collaborating with the Nazis. Her mother died while being interrogated, and her sister committed suicide. Though she was never charged, Baarová spent a year and a half in custody. When freed, she moved abroad. She died during 2000 in Salzburg. Baarová is buried in Prague.

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Jaroslav Weigel on the left, Ladislav Smoljak on the right, from Murder in the Parlor Car, Divadlo Járy Cimrmana, photo from filmer.cz

I know that the late film and theatre director / actor Ladislav Smoljak, best known for his roles at the Jára Cimrman Theatre, lived in the area because I used to see him with his adorable dog at the local vet.

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The villa of Alois Eliáš

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A plaque commemorating Alois Eliáš is situated on his former home.

Czech politician and General Alois Eliáš, who was deeply involved in the resistance movement during World War II, lived in this area. He was executed by the Nazis.

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Vlasta Burian’s villa

I was most intrigued by the fate of Vlasta Burian, who had a luxurious villa with a swimming pool, gym and tennis courts in the area.  Burian made a name for himself as a film and theatre actor during the First Republic, which lasted from 1918 until 1939. I have enjoyed watching all his films available on DVD. I admire his comedy for its improvisation, black humor and satire. From 1923 to 1956, he made four silent films and 36 with sound.

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Vlasta Burian, photo from revueidnes.cz

Unfortunately, Burian suffered from manic depression. He also had his share of trials and tribulations. Burian was branded a Nazi collaborator after World War II because he had performed a small role in one radio play spouting Nazi propaganda. During these bleak times, he wound up serving several prison terms, working in the mines and later serving food in a cafeteria, as he wound up destitute. The Communists had taken away all his property and belongings. The authorities confiscated his villa during the 1950s, when the Communists placed a nursery school there.

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Plaque commemorating Vlasta Burian on his villa

Burian was rehabilitated in 1994. After the Velvet Revolution, his grandson was given the property and now rents it. The villa is once again luxurious, though without a swimming pool. The tennis courts are still standing. A plaque commemorating Burian was placed on the house in 1998.

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Sometimes, when I am taking my walks, I ponder over Hanspaulka’s role in the 1945 Prague Uprising, when the Germans were retreating. One-third of all the German soldiers were housed in Dejvice, the area that includes Hanspaulka, as the Nazis had their military headquarters in this district. German officers occupied many villas in Hanspaulka, taking over those, which had belonged to Jews.

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On May 4, 1945, Hanspaulka residents were hugging in the streets, rejoicing that the Germans could not win the war. But things were not that easy. The residents cut off important streets from the Germans and put up about 45 barriers in the quarter. At first, they had few weapons, but then they were able to confiscate weapons from 60 German officers whom they arrested. The Czech inhabitants also obtained weapons from German trucks and cars and prevented Germans from escaping. The Nazis had their area headquarters at Hanspaulka’s elementary school, where they stashed their weapons and had their barracks.

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Even when Praguers had overcome the Germans in many parts of the city, the fighting in Hanspaulka continued. Germans set fire to houses, pillaged homes and killed Czechs. They fired on any villa where Czechs lived, especially at homes displaying the Czechoslovak flag. While one high school student named Náďa opened her window to see what was going on, the Germans shot her dead. The resistance fighters created a makeshift hospital with 24 beds and four doctors plus 24 nurses. Someone had to guard the corpses piled in an abandoned building on Na Hadovce Street to prevent people from stealing the deceased’s coats, shoes and other clothing. Two of the dead left there were German women who had gassed themselves when they realized their country had lost. In the early morning hours of May 9, the Soviets liberated Hanspaulka and took over the school.

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A plaque marking the site of a former pub where underground artists gathered under Communism

I would think about how peaceful it is in Hanspaulka now and how chaotic and horrific it must have been during the uprising – villas on fire or pillaged, piles of corpses, Germans shooting at homes displaying Czechoslovak flags. Usually, my thoughts during my walks are not so bleak. I admire the beauty and elegance of the quarter today, and the variety of architectural styles never fails to dazzle me. I take note of the functionalist, Neo-Classicist, Neo-Baroque and Art Deco architecture. I like the Art Deco style best. On the main street there are several quaint cafes with outside seating in the summer, and I sometimes stop there and enjoy the sunshine. During my walks, I also am able to sort out my own problems and feel at peace after a stressful day or week.

More photos to come as the weather becomes more agreeable!

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

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Baroque Chapel of Saint Michael, Na Pernikářce Street