Častolovice Chateau Diary

 

The facade of the chateau

The facade of the chateau

I had visited Častolovice about 10 years earlier, but I did not remember many details of the interior, though I had fond recollections of the picturesque courtyard. For some reason I had fixed in my mind that the chateau was on rather large main square with a pub on one corner, so I expected that the direct bus from Prague would drop me off there.  It turned out to be a three-hour trek to Častolovice, located in northeast Bohemia near the Orlické Mountains, via Hradec Králové, but the trip didn’t actually take so long. There was a 40-minute layover in Hradec Králové, which is only 30 kilometers away.

When the bus arrived in Častolovice, I did not recognize it at all. “This is where I get off?” I asked the elderly woman sitting next to me. She answered affirmatively. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was no big square with a pub. The main square was hardly a square at all, just a few buildings along the main street with a small parking lot.  I got off the bus, feeling utterly lost. Luckily, a passerby pointed out how to get to the chateau. It was hardly more than a stone’s throw away. I walked by a decent-looking restaurant. I wondered if it was the only one in town. I hoped I would be able to get a table there later in the day.

The Baroque fountain

The Baroque fountain

I entered the main gate of the chateau, eager to become reacquainted with the place. A Baroque fountain charmed me in the chateau’s courtyard, where birds in an aviary fluttered while singing pleasant melodies. The gentle, soft tones of classical music also filled the air. The atmosphere made me feel at ease on this sunny, warm, spring day.  I noticed that the wall of the chateau facing the fountain was covered in what I would later find out were 16th and 17th century frescoes depicting six Roman emperors and a battle. Tourists sat idly at the courtyard’s outdoor café.

The 16th and 17th century frescoes of six Roman emperors and a battle

The 16th and 17th century frescoes of six Roman emperors and a battle

After going to the box office, where the attendant announced that I would have a private tour at 11:00 o’clock because I was writing about the chateau, I followed an arcade to the 19th century English park that featured a rose garden, pond and small animal farm with an intriguing combination of ostriches, pheasants and pigs.  I sat on a bench and read a David Hewson mystery in English for a while, feeling relaxed and enthusiastic, after walking to the pond with gazebo. The flowers in the garden were ravishing, in full bloom, bringing vibrant colors to the natural setting.

I still had time to kill, so I went inside the café, as all the outdoor tables were taken. The establishment featured plush couches and armchairs, one of which I sunk into. The pastel colors decorating the space were lively, vibrant. It was also very quaint. I sipped a cappuccino before heading for the box office to start my tour.

The guide told me about the chateau’s long history, much of which was dominated by the Sternberg dynasty. While the first written records of what was then a stronghold dated back to 1342, the chateau was transformed into Renaissance style in the 16th century, renovated into a Neo-Gothic style during the 19th century and then changed back to Renaissance style at the beginning of the 20th century.

The picturesque courtyard

The picturesque courtyard

The Sternberg family has owned the chateau for 11 generations, dating back to 1694, when Count Adolph Vratislav Sternberg, the Highest Burgrave in Bohemia, purchased it. From 1694 to 1948 – not counting the Nazi Occupation of the country – Sternbergs have lived here. During the 15th century, it was Zdeněk of Sternberg who guided the Catholics in their battles with the Hussites and their king, Jiří of Poděbrady (also a former owner of Častolovice).

I hadn’t realized what a mark the Sternbergs had made on Czech culture. Franz Josef Sternberg founded the National Gallery and, along with his cousin Casper Maria Sternberg, established the National Museum. The chateau was returned to interior designer Diana Phipps Sternberg in 1992, and at that time she was residing in one wing where she also had a pension. Even during Communism visitors had a chance to see the chateau’s interior as one wing of the chateau was open to the public while the other served as a school for refrigerator repairmen and repairwomen.

Soon it was time to see the interior of the Renaissance architectural masterpiece. It featured furnishings from the 16th to the 19th century, and the many family portraits attested to the significant role of the Sternberg dynasty.  To be sure, the interior was more than impressive: Take the Gallery of the Bohemian Kings, for instance. Or the Knight’s Hall, one of the largest of its kind in Bohemia. And I certainly didn’t overlook the small, though exquisite, chapel.

The view from the park

The view from the park

In the Dining Room overwhelming, mammoth portraits of four Bohemian kings filled me with awe. I felt so small compared to the vast portraits. These included the black-armor clad Jiří of Poděbrady, who was King of Bohemia, leader of the Christian Hussite movement and owner of the chateau during the 15th and 16th centuries. Breathtaking as well were the portraits of seven Habsburg Emperors who ruled from 1526 to 1705. Two portraits of the Spanish side of the Habsburg dynasty plus three others hung nearby.  What is more, the painted coffered ceiling, another architectural thrill, illustrated a biblical scene from the Old Testament.

The Knight’s Hall was decked with many portraits of Sternbergs, including one of Kateřina Sternberg, also called the Black Lady of Častolovice, because, as a result of an unhappy love affair, she became the chateau’s ghost. I was particularly drawn to her painting. I gazed up at the coffered ceiling, which shows 24 pictures from the Old Testament.  I noticed that the marble fireplace had a bronze relief in the middle; it showed a woman praying.  Another portrait depicted Emperor Charles V, a Great Dane by his side.  In yet another, a woman donning a serious expression and dressed in black stood next to blooming pink roses. I found the juxtaposition of her black attire and the pink roses intriguing.

The park

The park

The adjoining chapel was a real gem, too. The painted doors depicted the 12 apostles, and the painted pews were adorned with floral decoration, which immediately caught my eye. The green and yellow tiles on the floor were original, some bearing imprints of dogs’ paws. I thought this was an impressive, unique touch. The wooden altar dated from 1601, and one of the frescoes inside the chapel harkened back to the Late Gothic period.

While family portraits were scattered throughout the chateau, there were other intriguing paintings as well. Two noblewomen in shepherds’ attire were the work of Czech Baroque master Karel Škréta or one of his students. Škréta was definitely the artist of the 17th century work, “The Young Huntsman,” who gazed confidently at the viewer. Two small pictures of an elderly woman in the Coat-of-Arms Room were from the Peter Paul Rubens’ School, possibly executed by Jacob Jordaens. A copy of a portrait by Rubens, depicting his second wife, Helen Fourment, hailed from 1640.

One painting that drew me into its artistic power was the head of Medusa, with bulging eyes and blue and golden snakes slithering around her head; it was another painting after Rubens. The gem “The Temptation of Anthony” by Flemish artist David Teniers was painted on wood in the Empire Room.

One huge portrait shows a red-robed Vilém Slavata, who was thrown out a window of Prague Castle during the Defenestration of Prague in 1618, when Protestant nobleman rebelled against the Catholic hardliners in an event that would in part trigger the Thirty Years’ War. Slavata lived through the ordeal as he landed on a pile of manure, but was then arrested. The ordeal reminded me of the black humor in the stories and novels by Czech legendary writer Bohumil Hrabal.

Another shot of the frescoes

Another shot of the frescoes

Paintings of Venice, specifically of St. Mark’s Square, the Doges Palace and the Rialto Bridge, decorated the Tower Room and brought to mind my happy days as a tourist in that jewel of an Italian city. Realistic paintings from the Netherlands adorned the chateau, too. I have been fascinated by art from that country ever since taking a course about it in college. In one small portrait, a poor man is eating fish, the bones and head left on the plate he is holding. This work captured the man’s miserable existence – the despair and hopelessness of his life. Another picture from this era depicted a man reading, though he seems lost in thought.

The guide pointed out four portraits of women representing the four seasons. Dating from the middle of the 18th century, they included a woman holding grapes for autumn and one holding a flower for spring. If you look closely, the guide explained, it was possible to discern that one woman was the subject of all the portraits, and she aged as each season went by. I was intrigued by these four unique works of art.

Numerous other objects of interest cropped up in the chateau.  There was a 150-year old Mignon portable folding typewriter and a portable, folding Napoleonic desk in the Empire Room, both of which caught my attention. The Biedermeier Room boasted furniture of that style. I noticed a small statue of Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I and his wife Elizabeth of Austria along with a large portrait of General Leopold M. Sternberg. I was impressed by the many military medals that the general donned.

The frescoes and the arcades

The frescoes and the arcades

The State Bedroom featured a stirring portrayal of a figure bringing a drink to his guest in the Flemish tapestry “Welcome to Guests” from the end of the 16th century. I loved Flemish tapestries! Two mirrors seemed to be decorated with small gem stones in the frames, but it was just imitation, painted under the glass. In the Ladies Sitting Room, I noticed that Meissen porcelain birds were suspended from the wall. I found it to be a nice, elegant touch to the interior.

The Wallpaper Room gets its name from gold-and-black wallpaper that imitated leather, though it was made of paper. In the library, which contains political and religious books as well as novels and poetry written in Latin, English, German, French and Czech, I saw a tapestry showing Cleopatra and Mark Antony. It was Flemish, from around 1600. Another thrill for me!

 

The flowers bursting with color in the garden

The flowers bursting with color in the garden

The Renaissance arcaded Gallery, with its vibrant dark pink walls and flourishing plants, featured lavish silver-framed mirrors that dated from the Second Baroque period.  I marveled at the elegance of the elaborate silver frames. The Ladies Sitting Room also was home to an intriguing item – a small watercolor, on the back of which is a note of condolence by Empress consort of the Holy Roman Empire and Queen of Bohemia Maria Theresa of Austria on the occasion of the death of Francis Phillip Sternberg’s wife. The Children’s Room also moved me. It was almost all white, with dolls, portraits of children and a dollhouse, exuding a sense of purity.

After the breathtaking tour, I walked to the only restaurant in sight and found a table outside. Again I was able to order my favorite – chicken with peaches and cheese – plus a Diet Coke. After a delicious lunch, I made my way to the bus stop to wait 20 minutes. I always arrived early because I was always nervous I would miss my  bus. I stood at the small ČSAD sign, watching cars and trucks drive by.

The chateau from the park

The chateau from the park

Finally, after two o’clock, it was time for the bus to come. And it did. I watched it whiz by the other bus stop, without even slowing down. I was at the wrong stop! I chided myself for being so stupid. I had thought the bus would come to this stop and turn around. I sure felt like an idiot!

Then I thought that maybe it was a blessing in disguise. There was another bus in two hours, so I went back to the chateau and sat outside at the café. I read about another murder in front of the Baroque fountain.

The bus was slated to arrive after four o’clock. So, I got there at 3:30, determined not to  miss this bus as it was the last direct one to Prague. Shortly after I arrived, five others with big duffle bags and shopping bags gathered there, too. Then, a little after 3:30, a bus to Prague showed up. Bewildered at the timing of its arrival, I got on and made my way back to Prague. I wondered if it was a bus run by a private company that wasn’t listed on the schedule posted on the Internet.

Curiously enough, the bus driver told me that no bus comes through the town after four o’clock.

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

 

The stunning chateau from the park

The stunning chateau from the park

 

 

 

 

 

Nové Hrady near Litomyšl Chateau Diary

Image

About eight years ago I mentioned to several English students how I loved traveling to castles and chateaus on the weekends. “Have you been to Nové Hrady near Litomyšl? You have to go there!” my 25-year old female student blurted out, explaining that she was from a nearby town. I had visited Nové Hrady Castle in south Bohemia, but I had never heard of a Nové Hrady Chateau in east Bohemia. I could not find any public transportation at a convenient time, so I put this chateau on the back burner and explored others. Then, on a Friday in 2011, I was so eager to see the Rococo chateau I had looked up on the Internet, that I took the Student Agency bus to Hradec Králové, and then made the one-hour trip to Litomyšl.  From there a friend who owned a cottage nearby gave me a lift to Nové Hrady.

The history of Nové Hrady began with the construction of a church on this site in the 12th century. After the Hussite Wars in the 15th century, a Gothic castle called “Nový Hrad” or “New Castle” was erected there. In the 16th century the castle was transformed into a Renaissance chateau, but during The Thirty Years’ War it was plundered and destroyed. Duchess Anna Barbara Harbuval de Chamaré bought it in 1750, and Nové Hrady got its Rococo appearance from 1773 to 1777, when her son, French nobleman Jean-Antoine Harbural de Chamaré made it his summer residence.

ImageBack then it was dubbed the “Small Schonbrunn” or “Czech Versailles.” The French garden, English park and chateau chapel were created at this time, too. In 1935 Knight Bartoň of Dobenín purchased it and carried out the needed repairs. During the Second World War, the SS and Hitlerjugend occupied the chateau. In 1948 it became the property of the state. One wing of the chateau was turned into an elementary school, which existed here until the 1980s. An exhibition of Rococo art was placed in another wing. During the 1950s the chateau’s situation became even more desolate: Its basement was transformed into a fattening farm for pigs.

Reconstruction was carried out in various phases, but the chateau was still in a very decrepit state when it was returned to its original owner’s grandson, Josef Bartoň, in 1990. Unfortunately, he did not renovate the chateau. Instead, he put it up for sale. In 1997 the Kučera family from Prague purchased it. It finally opened to the public in 2001.

Now it looked so majestic that it was impossible for me to imagine the chateau in such terrible condition. After going through a three-part gate, I walked through a Rococo garden with fountains and ascended a lavish staircase studded with statues. I liked the coral orangish color of the chateau that made the exterior appear playful, cheerful and vibrant.

ImageI had visited enough chateaus to I know a little about the Rococo period. The key word for this style was ornate. Small sculptures often appeared as did lavish mirrors and tapestries. Rococo was even more extravagant than the Baroque style that had preceded it.

The tour began in the hallway below a monumental staircase enriched with putti statues. The side walls of the entrance hall were decorated with hunting trophies. We entered the large Main Hall with its creamy yellow walls and white rich stucco décor. The yellow and white colors made for an airy, joyful combination. The white tile stove was original, in Late Baroque style, and a white piano stood nearby. The crystal chandelier from Empress Marie Theresa’s era used 64 light bulbs and weighed 180 kilograms.

One window looked out to the Classicist circular gazebo with Baroque theatre of evenly sheared high bushes. In the wall the guide showed us two doors that opened outward to reveal a bar. From the terrace I saw the Rococo garden I had passed through to get to the box office.  The staircase looked even more elegant from this perspective.

ImageNext we entered a Baroque bedroom. The pillowcases on the Baroque bed had delicate, lace patterns. A brown table, oak closet and desk featured intarsia. A kneeler also hailed from the Baroque era. In the following room there was a grandfather clock that the guide claimed was impossible to repair. A kneeler featured an engraving of a house and trees using the intarsia technique. A Baroque intarsia table from Holland with motifs of flowers, birds, butterflies and vases rounded out the room.

Then came the Rococo Salon. The table and armchairs had a white floral design. The table impressed me the most with the ornate, gold ornamentation of its legs and sides. A white wardrobe decorated with green laurels was pleasing to the eye. The couch and chairs were pea green with yellow, flaunting a floral pattern. The green color combined with yellow gave the furniture a cheerful appearance.

Unfortunately, original Rococo chapel had been destroyed. The present chapel was sparse.  It featured two stained glass windows and a large carving of Jesus Christ on a cross.

ImageThen it was time for another Rococo style room featuring intarsia. The tops of two dressing tables were decorated with beads shaped into green swirls on a blue and black background. The space also contained two intarsia dressers decorated with floral motifs and a kneeler boasting intarsia.

In the former kitchen the 18th century grandfather clock, varnished in red, was engraved with Oriental themes, one feature of the Rococo period.  A desk featuring Oriental themes, depicting Chinese people and nature, caught my eye. The two jewelry boxes were Chinese, too.

The next room was called the Classicism Room. Classicism relied on order, symmetry and simplicity and began after 1765 as a reaction to Baroque and Rococo. It was connected with the French Revolution. The striped grey with tan couch and two chairs certainly fit the Classicist description. In a display case there were two elegant fans.

However, a clock glittering with gold made me think of the Empire Style that would be featured in the next room. After all, the gold and black color combination was one trait of the Empire style that corresponded with the era of Emperor Napoleon and his military maneuvers into Egypt during 1796. Oriental themes also played a part in the Empire style. Sure enough, in The Empire style room, black and gold freely mingled. A black clock featured two black men wearing gold loincloths and sporting heads of golden hair. Another gold clock was decorated with a seated angel. The furniture featured Oriental and animal themes.

ImageThe next room was set up in the Biedermeier style, from the first half of the 19th century. Carving and intarsia still appeared in smaller objects. A picture of a semi-circular square flanked by columns showed a passion for symmetry and order. I wondered if the painting depicted a place in Rome. The striped chairs and couch featured a simple yet elegant style.

The Smokers’ Salon was all about green. The rug was green, the cushions on the brown chairs were green, a partition was green, and a loveseat was decorated with green and tan stripes. This room was designed in the Art Nouveau style from the beginning of the 20th century.

ImageAfter the tour I explored the garden. There was a pond to my left, near the road. One part consisted of trees and plants on a slope, rising in tiers. It looked wild and untamed. Purple flowers lined a path behind the back gate that had its private garden. I spotted the Baroque theatre of shrubbery and the Classicist garden summerhouse. Further on, there was a hotel, an orangery, a paddock for horses, and an area where deer were bred.

I was very impressed with the Rococo exterior of the chateau, and it had been intriguing for me to see furniture and objects from various periods inside. The tour enlightened me as to the differences between eras. My understanding of the various time periods was enriched. I loved the black with gold combination of some objects. I wish the chateau had more paintings, though. A painting gallery of Baroque and Rococo art would have really added to the already stunning tour.

Soon I got back to Litomyšl, where I ate some chicken with peaches and cheese – my favorite – and then hurried to catch the 1 pm bus back to Hradec Králové. Upon arriving there, I ran to the other side of the terminal, where the Student Agency bus was about to leave for Prague. I made it just in time.Image

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

Rychnov nad Kněžnou Diary

 

 

Image

My journey started at 6:30 a.m. on a bus from a Metro station on the other side of Prague, about an hour from my home. We arrived in the east Bohemian town of Hradec Králové, where I was to change buses, on time at 7:45. Then I had to wait. But for how long? The information on the Internet stated that the bus to Rychnov nad Kněžnou would leave at 10 a.m., but the woman at the information desk in Hradec Králové confirmed that the time of my next departure was 9:30 a.m.

It took another hour and a half to get to Rychnov nad Kněžnou, situated in the foothills of the Orlické (Eagle) Mountains northeast of Prague, near the Polish border. While it was a sunny day in Prague, in the mountainous terrain it was much cooler, though still pleasant. The bus station was only minutes away from the chateau, so I didn’t have to worry about getting lost on my way back to the 15:05 bus to Hradec Králové. (Actually, I did get lost. I was about two streets away from the bus station on my attempt to return there. I always seem to get lost!)

I had already visited Rychnov once, about 10 years earlier. While the chateau may not have outdone those nearby in Častolovice and Opočno, it certainly ranked right up there. The chateau had an intriguing past.  The town had been home to a castle or fortress as early as 1258, but it became a ruin, and a church was built over it in the late 16th century. This chateau was built between 1670 and 1690, under the guidance of František Karel Kolowrat. The well-known noble Kolowrat family had purchased the estate during the Thirty Years’ War in 1640, and their descendants even live in the chateau today. (It was returned to the family in 1992.) The residence underwent a Baroque transformation between 1713 and 1727. The architect of what was once the riding hall was the well-renowned Gothic Baroque master Jan Blažej Santini Aichel. In the late 16th century a bell tower had been constructed in the town. It was the third biggest in Bohemia, weighing almost seven tons.

As I approached the chateau, I noticed the column with the Virgin Mary, dating from 1692 to 1694. Soon I was one of three people on the 60-minute tour. The first thing I saw was the coat-of-arms of an eagle on the hallway floor. Above the red and silver eagle was the word “faithfully;” below it, the word “always.” I paid special attention to the crown above the eagle; Emperor Charles IV gave the Kolowrat family the crown on their coat-of-arms after one member of the family had saved the ruler’s life during an assassination attempt in Pisa, Italy.

ImageMy favorite room was the picture gallery. The chateau boasted more than 300 paintings on display and furniture from as far back as the 17th century.  The picture gallery’s collection of about 400 paintings consisted mostly of portraits of the Kolowrat family members, still lifes and hunting scenes by Dutch and Italian masters, and there were also landscapes. Some works took up religious themes as well. The dark-haired, tall man who was giving the tour mentioned that at one time, the collection held 1,218 paintings. This gallery also traced the development of the nobility in portraiture from the 16th to the 19th century. The biggest delight for me was the masterpiece by legendary Czech artist Karel Škréta – his portrait of Ignác Vitanoský of Vlčkovice. However, not only paintings abounded in the chateau; decorated ceramic stoves were situated in each room, dating from the 17th to 20th century.

Other paintings of note included “Esther before Ahasuerus” from the South Netherlandish School of the 16th century. I noticed the luxury of the palace, where the scene took place. In the background, through an open door, I could see greenish-blue mountains and a winding stairway leading up to a mysterious building. What intrigued me the most, though, were the loud, red stockings of Ahasuerus.

In one room a large painting showed the execution of noblemen on Prague’s Old Town Square during 1621, after the Protestant Bohemian States lost to the Holy Roman Empire, Spain and the Catholic League in the Battle of White Mountain during November of 1620. Edison light bulbs were featured in a chandelier decorating another space.

One of my favorite artifacts was a painting of a winter landscape with figures on the ice in a quaint village scene. Several people rode a sleigh, and another was falling down. It reminded me of the wintry creations by my favorite Dutch master, Pieter Brueghel the Elder.

The Škréta portrait was certainly a highlight of the tour. Ignác Vitanovský of Vlčkovice had a gentle yet determined look in his eyes as he gazed at the viewer. I also saw Baroque furniture employing a green and tan leaf motif. In one space a pink and white Venetian chandelier greeted me. The guide pointed out that there was an engraving in the middle of one bureau. It showed Boleslav murdering his brother, the future Czech patron saint Václav (Wenceslas), in Stará Boleslav on September 28, 935.

ImageThen we came to the Knights’ Hall with life-size portraits of members of the Kolowrat family. The chapel was quaint with its ceiling fresco and altar featuring a very pensive Saint Mary of the Snow. Another room was filled with various fans of different colors, some of them made of silk. The guide explained how fans had been used to set up meetings or ask someone out on a date. For example, a gesture with a fan could tell a man if the woman was single or married. A Buddha also decorated that room. The head and hands could move, and it stuck out its tongue at the viewer.

In the Dining Room I saw Viennese, Empire style, Meissen and other styles of porcelain. What interested me the most were the paintings of dead animals on the walls. It seemed to be inappropriate décor for a place where people ate. Looking at those paintings during dinner would certainly ruin my appetite.

The tour was over too soon. Then I went to lunch on the main square, where I had my favorite chicken with peaches and cheese. I also checked out the Holy Trinity Church, erected on the site of what was once a castle or fortress. The church was closed, but I did see an intriguing fresco on one wall.

There was even more to see at the chateau. The Hladík Gallery featured statues of former Prague professor of the arts Karel Hladík, who lived from 1912 to 1967 and hailed from the Rychnov area. I was impressed. His busts, torsos, decorated totem pole-like sculptures and figures in agony spoke to me as they relayed strong emotions. I felt as if I really knew the people whose busts I saw, as if I almost could understand them. Another intriguing work was his portrait of a gaunt Franz Kafka.

The upstairs portion of the Orlická Gallery awaited me. There I saw the landscapes by Jan Trampota. These were landscapes in bright pastels, mostly of scenes in the Orlické Mountains. One of Trampota’s works showed the beautiful countryside with gentle hills and lush trees. The terrain was sprinkled with a few cottages. This watercolor “At the End of Summer” was executed during 1928-29 in soothing pastels and greens and browns, and was my favorite of his paintings on display. In another room landscape paintings by one of my favorite Czech artists, Antonín Hudeček, were hung. I wanted to take Hudeček’s field of pink flowers home.

There were many rooms in the gallery, all boasting intriguing paintings, plus a temporary photography exhibition. By the time I got through the gallery, it was time to hurry back to the station to get the bus back to Hradec Králové. I did get lost during what should have been a five-minute trek, but I still made it in time.

On the bus I noticed a sign stating that passengers must fasten their seat belts. But I didn’t have a seat belt. In fact, the other seats near me didn’t, either. Both buses coming to Rychnov nad Kněžnou had been equipped with seat belts. Luckily, there was no accident and upon arriving to Hradec Králové, I immediately got on a 16:30 bus to Prague. Image

Kuks Diary

Kuks7It was almost 6:30 a.m., and the music on the bus was funereal – so depressing that I felt as if a heavy weight had descended upon my shoulders. It had taken me almost an hour to get to the Černý Most Metro and bus station, after leaving home on the 5:04 tram.

We made it to the Hradec Králové bus station in about an hour and 15 minutes. There, I had enough time to get the 8:20 to Kuks, a village where a former hospital, Baroque in style, was surrounded by 24 statues by legendary Czech sculptor Matyáš Braun. It also housed one of the oldest and most valuable pharmacies in the land.

The bus to Kuks took half an hour. I only knew I was there because I saw a sign with the name of the village on a small wooden shack along the highway. I got off the bus and felt lost. I looked to my right: there was a large field, nobody in sight. To my left a building and a road. I reasoned that the village must be down the road; there must someone in the area to ask for directions.  I was right:  it only took only 15 minutes to come to the end of the big park in front of Kuks’ former hospital. I walked on the long path and up the stairs flanked by Matthias Bernard Braun’s 24 Late Baroque statues of Virtues and Vices.

Kuks4I walked around Braun’s Baroque statues that seemed to be swirling and twisting and turning as I snapped photos of Love, Despair, Sloth, Sincerity, Faith, Virtue, Jealousy and Hope, to name a few. Then I went to the garden behind the hospital and took shots of the eight statues of the muses and the dominating statue, that of the Big Christian Fighter, wielding a sword and shield, with a godlike appearance as he defended Christianity against religious violence.

There were three tours. I took the one concentrating on the historical interior first. In the first room there were portraits on the walls.  An intriguing one showed a woman on her death bed, which was surrounded by candles. I could almost see them flickering.

Kuksgarden1The second room featured a model of the former Kuks hospital for veterans and the spa that used to be across from it, until it was destroyed by a flood in 1740. The model harkened back to 1725, when the spa was flourishing. The guide pointed out a church, a wooden theatre and astronomical clock that used to be part of the village as well as the pub, erected in 1699 and still operating on the other side of the village. She also pointed out the River Labe that separated the monastery hospital from the spa as well as the Philosophers’ House, a two-storey Baroque villa, where the founder of the hospital and spa, Count František Antonín Špork, had kept his library of 40,000 volumes.

Kuksgarden5Then we went out in the courtyard, where the guide pointed out the statue of the Small Christian Fighter gripping a sword that had turned green with age. From there we stepped into the lapidarium, where the original 24 sandstone statues by Braun were displayed. The swirling maelstrom of gigantic Baroque images left me in awe.  I always seem to feel overwhelmed when face-to-face with Baroque artworks. Dating from 1718-1720, the statues included Faith, who leaned against a cross, donning lush drapery. Hope had an anchor and was gazing upwards. Patience featured a girl with a ram as she held one hand to her bosom. Wisdom had faces on both sides of the head, one looking back and the other looking forward, one face gazing into a mirror. Sincerity, clad in fantastically swirling drapery, was portrayed as a girl with a heart in the palm of her hand, gripping it to her own heart.

The Annunciation of the Virgin Mary Chapel was next. Two exquisite reliquaries with Baroque golden frames were placed on either side of a wooden Christ on the cross. On one wall there was a huge tabular of Bethlehem, painted in the 19th century. A figure of a sheep was curled up, asleep, next to Jesus’ crib.

Kuksgarden10Next door was the church – The Holy Trinity. The altar featured the resurrection of Lazarus. Images of God the Father and the Holy Ghost sparkled in gold. On one side of the main columned altar stood a golden Saint Peter, holding a key. On the other side was a golden Saint Paul, armed with a sword. The Rococo pulpit glinted in gold as well. Four other altars took up space, two bigger ones and two smaller. The organ above was Baroque and the columns in the church Corinthian.

There was much to see in the hallway. From the old worn-away frescoes I could make out the figures in “Death with a Madman” that portrayed a dancing skeleton with the insane figure and “Death with a Cardinal,” in the other. I wondered how appealing This “Dance of Death” cycle must have been to the patients who may have strolled down the corridors.

Kuksstatue4The ancient pharmacy was next on the list. Called the Granat Apples, it featured various medicine jars on shelves behind the counter. The colorful display consisted of jars made from glass, ceramics and wood, for example. On the counter was a figure of a tree with golden apples and hanging scales. There were weighing scales on the counter as well as a bottle of Atropen, a poison that makes the user go blind if it is used for a lengthy period of time.

Kuksstatue5The pharmaceutical museum was the highlight of the second tour. A prescription for eye drops, written out for the first democratic president of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, was displayed under glass on one counter. The paper was scribed in fancy, black lettering. The guide pointed out various poisons, which were marked in white letters on black labels. As I went through centuries of pharmaceutical history in the museum, I stopped to look at a cash register with paper numbers that came up. It hailed from the beginning of the 20th century. You could stir mixes for medicines in bowls yourself, if you so desired. Machines from various pharmacies were also featured in the museum. In a cabinet I saw a jar full of bones from an Egyptian mummy.

Kuksstatue6The guide was careful to point out the cabinet for poisons, such as Strychnitr. I was impressed with the traveling first aid kit from the 19th century. Small glass bottles had been placed in a wooden case that had a floral decoration on the underside of the lid. I didn’t understand why boxes of the contemporary medicine of Jox spray were there for viewing. They were situated next to a pale green box marked Vomitin. Then the guide demonstrated how to make tablets smaller by using a machine and also showed us how to mix tablets with another machine. It was quite intriguing. She also demonstrated how to prepare a tablet from powder with a hammer.

Kuksstatue16For the third tour I went into the crypt below the church. The group was ushered down a dark corridor toward the main altar, decorated with cherubs holding one hand over their eyes and holding skulls in their hands. In the center of the altar was a skull. Looming behind and above the altar was Braun’s masterpiece of Christ on the Cross.  In the darkness, thanks to the guide’s flashlight, we were able to make out coffins of the Špork family members. Only one coffin did not belong to a member of the clan. In a small coffin lay the midget Anežka Tarnovská, who died at age 90 and had worked as a cook on the estate. She saved František Špork’s life when she informed him about a plan to poison him. Finally, we were ushered out of the dark, damp space.

Kuksstatue28Famished at noon because I had eaten breakfast at 3 a.m., I walked to the Chateau Restaurant, only to find that it had been replaced by a small snack bar offering sausages and other fatty foods I did not like. I went for the ham and cheese sandwich, which wasn’t bad. Since it had started raining, I headed for the waiting room near the box office and wrote postcards there. I had wanted to trek the three kilometers to Braun’s outdoor Bethlehem statues called “The Nativity,” but I wasn’t about to venture into a forest when it was raining so hard. I had walked through a forest to get to and from Rožmberk Castle in the Šumava region during a severe thunderstorm some years ago; I didn’t care to repeat the experience. I had read that the biblical statues were carved directly into the sandstone rock. It certainly would have been an amazing sight to behold.

So, without seeing Braun’s Bethlehem, I wound my way back to the wooden shack on the highway, waiting for the bus that would take me back to Hradec Králové. It came on time, but the bus going to Prague didn’t. The 15:13 didn’t show up. Instead there was a 15:35. While it took an hour and 15 minutes to get to Hradec Králové from Prague, the return trip lasted at least two hours, a good half hour in Prague itself, going from the Černý Most Metro and bus station to the Florenc main bus station. There was a positive side to the ride back, though. During the trip home, before reaching Prague, I saw field after field of sunflowers, postcard perfect scenes of ravishing nature.Image

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

 

Hrádek u Nechanic Chateau Diary

HrádekuN2On a hot Friday morning in August, I went to one of my favorite chateaus, the small yet enchanting Hrádek u Nechanic, situated west of Hradec Králové, a major town in east Bohemia. Once again, I changed buses at Hradec Králové, a station I now felt I knew intimately.

When I reached the chateau, I was struck by its cheerful, romantic, dark orange façade that made it look like it belonged in a fairy tale. After getting my ticket, I walked to the back of the chateau and noticed that this part of the park bordered on a golf course. What struck me most, though, was how the back side was not a playful orange but a mundane grey that was badly in need of a paint job. It even looked a bit dilapidated. A wire fence was set up in front of this side of the chateau. To the far left, though, I climbed a few stairs that led up to the chateau as another wing was painted that dynamic dark orange.

At the beginning of the tour, the guide pointed out the lantern lamps hanging on the walls. They harkened back to the 16th and 17th centuries and had been created in Venice. Hunting trophies also adorned the walls. Then the guide acquainted the group with the chateau’s history. While the village dated back to at least the 14th century, the chateau was young, a 19th century construction built in the Neo-Gothic style of English aristocratic homes reminiscent of the times when Queen Elizabeth I and King James I reigned during the 16th and 17th centuries.  Count František Arnošt Harrach of the prominent Harrach family was responsible for building this intimate chateau in 1839. A patron of the arts, he also supported the construction of the National Theatre in Prague.

From the July 3, 1866 battle of Hradec Králové during the Prussian-Austrian war to November of that year, the chateau served as a military hospital for the Prussians and was subsequently heavily damaged. Tents had been set up outside the chateau.  In 1884 František Arnošt’s son Jan Nepomuk Harrach took over. A distinguished Czech politician, he also was keen on the arts, giving his support to Czech artists such as Karel Jaromír Erben and Bedřich Smetana.

When Jan died, the property was passed on to his brother Otto and then on to Otto’s son Jan, who lived there until 1945, when the Beneš decrees declared the property be handed over to the state. The controversial Beneš decrees declared Germans, Hungarians and collaborators living in the Czech lands and Slovakia would have to relinquish their Czechoslovak citizenship and property without compensation. Approximately three million ethnic Germans and Hungarians were expelled from the country from 1945 to 1947. The chateau was open to the public as early as 1953. It did not become a National Cultural Monument, though, until 2001.

After putting large slippers over my shoes, I followed the group into the Knights’ Hall, a small room that happened to be the biggest in the chateau. I noticed that the floor had a black-and-white diamond pattern. Coats-of-arms decorated the space above the two doors and just below the ceiling. Portraits of Harrach family members dotted the walls. I noted the exquisitely carved backs of the chairs – there were nine of them. I remembered how this entire chateau had always enchanted me with superbly and ornately carved wooden furniture. That was one of the reasons I liked it so much. I found the dark wood appealing, and it made the small rooms feel cozy, perfect for a cup of hot ginger tea on a windy, wintry night. This is definitely a chateau I would not mind living in, if it were not so far from Prague. In the center of the room stood a stone table from the 16th century, decorated with writing and coats-of-arms. Looking up again, I spotted the Lobkowitz family’s coat-of-arms just below the ceiling near the door we had come through. It boasted two black eagles complemented with red and white colors.

The Golden Hall next on the list was the most riveting space in the entire chateau. Its gold-plated leather wallpaper that featured golden swirls on a dark red background astounded me. The marble fireplace weighed 11 tons, and the tableware was 16th century, from Italy. What looked like a roll-up desk was revealed to be an upright piano. The guide lifted the lid to reveal a keyboard. Opening the two doors above the lid revealed the piano strings. But that was not the only object in that room that amazed me. A figure of a black eagle with a crown had a golden clock on its breast. It used to be able to wave its wings, too. This was the clock of Emperor Leopold I from the 17th century, the one a Russian tsar had given him. It is one of two in the world; the other graces the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.

I was also entranced by the chandelier in the Breakfast Room. It featured a figure with a head and body. Its legs had been replaced by antlers that branched out to all sides. It reminded me of a creature from a fairy tale, one that was on the side of good rather than evil. Again, I admired the richly carved backs of the chairs.

The Dining Room featured plates and ceramics situated on high shelves around the walls. They hailed from 16th and 17th century Italy and Germany. What looked like a brown and white water fountain once had been used to pour wine on tap. Predictably, in the Billiards’ Room there was a big pool table. Yet the holes had been covered over. A brown with gold décor grandfather clock hailed from 18th century Berlin. The dominant 16th century painting “Celebration in the Spa” by Dutch artist Lucas van Valckenborgh featured hills and a forest dotted with people. The picture was so detailed that if you looked closely, you could see a couple holding hands far in the background.

I marveled at the next room, the library, which housed an impressive collection of 19th century Czech and Slovak books. Usually chateau libraries held few, if any, books in Czech, and I had not heard of any carrying works in Slovak. The room was also home to many publications in English, French, Latin and Greek. There was even one book in Hungarian. But the books were not what caught my undivided attention in the library: The portraits hanging high on the walls did. There were 12 portraits of people’s faces, all with various diseases that resulted in deformities. I had to turn away when I saw the swollen warts on one man’s neck. Another had evil, demented eyes, his mouth open as if screeching in pain and anguish. The portraits also reflected the anti-Semitism and racism of those times by portraying an Arab, a black man and a Jew with diseases. I was relieved that society no longer condoned such revolting prejudices. At the same time, I knew that society still had far to go in the anti-Semitism and racism departments.

Now on the first floor, we came to the Count’s Hall. The gold, blue and green leather wallpaper immediately caught my eye. The guide pointed out a faded pink armchair that was adjustable, able to move up and down. When the back of the chair was in the down position, it looked like a coffin. It so happens that František Arnošt died in that chair.

The Count’s Study featured a chandelier from Murano and a Renaissance desk. The guide showed our group what looked like a golden miniature telegraph but was really an alarm clock. Even the trash can was elaborate; it was made of carved wood.  How I would love to have a garbage can like that!

We continued to a bedroom with an icon from the 15th century, the oldest object in the chateau. I liked its bright colors; it had a distinctive vibrancy.  The guide showed us a chandelier that was electric; electricity had been installed in the chateau in the early 20th century. It hung from a flexible band that could be pulled up and down.

We walked through the guest rooms, where historical personalities such as Czech ethnographer and patron Vojta Náprstek had stayed. The exquisite carving on the doors also drew my attention.  On one wall I noticed the black-and-white engravings of an ancient city’s ruins – was it Rome? I saw a lovely, light blue bed frame with floral decoration in one of the rooms as well. Finally, we entered the Family Halls. Landscapes covered one wall. I noticed an impressively carved jewelry box with detailed wooden drawers. On the walls were black-and-white engravings of portraits of Habsburg generals. One of the earliest digital clocks was on display, too. It had a white square and a number in black on top of one other. The top number read two, the bottom one 59.

Almost last but certainly not least was the Oriental Hall. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the ornate, detailed craftsmanship of the wooden furniture from China. I could not recall being more impressed by any other wooden furniture in all of the chateaus I had visited.

The chapel was dedicated to Saint Anna, who was depicted reading to a child in the altarpiece that consisted of lively, red, blue and tan colors. The stained glass windows were also a sight to behold. The men’s oratory was made of finely carved wood.

The tour ended as a thunderstorm ensued. I wanted to take refuge in the cozy rooms of the chateau with dark wood lining. Yes, this chateau was still one of my favorites. I ventured outside and into the downpour, unable to get the images of all that exquisitely carved wooden furniture and lovely leather wallpaper out of my mind.

 

Image

Opočno Chateau Diary

Opocnochateau3The trip went well. I changed buses at Hradec Králové after a little over an hour’s ride and then took another bus for almost an hour to the main square of the small town in called Opočno, where there is a chateau of the same name. I was in northeast Bohemia, near Poland, not far from the Orlické Mountains.  It didn’t take long to find the chateau as it was only 300 meters from the bus stop. After I bought my ticket, I walked through another courtyard and found myself staring at a façade with two-tiered light and airy arcades and a columned balcony on the third level. Flanking the arcaded façade were adjoining buildings of a pleasing red brick color complemented by white. Neatly trimmed circular hedges added color to the courtyard.

I had done enough reading about the chateau to know that the name Opočno conjures up a few intriguing stories connected with the chateau’s history. In the second half of the 15th century, the owner, Jan of Drslavic, protested against the legendary preacher and martyr Jan Hus being burned at the stake. Then he changed his mind and supported those who did Hus in. Jan Žižka, Hus’ successor with the Hussites, razed some of the surrounding villages and partially destroyed part of the chateau. Jan of Drslavic even hired a hitman to murder Žižka. He was unsuccessful.

When, during the 16th century, the Trčka family retained ownership of the chateau, Mikuláš Trčka Jr. not only reconstructed the chateau but also had his wife immured alive because she was unfaithful to him. Her lover was beheaded.

A significant historical event took place here as well. From June 16 to June 23, 1813 this was the setting for meetings dealing with the strategy to defeat French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Austrian Chancellor Klemens Wenzel, Prince von Metternich; Russian Czar and Emperor Alexander I; and the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm III, were the main players in this historical drama.

Perhaps the 16th century is better known for the Trčka family’s work on the chateau. Jan Rudolph Trčka constructed a summerhouse and had built a garden and orangery with a Renaissance park and ponds. During the 18th century the façade took on a Baroque appearance.

The most significant changes, though, probably came about when Rudolph Joseph Colloredo-Mannsfeld became the owner in 1807. A greenhouse was built, and the English style park was filled with ponds and many types of plants, some of them exotic and rare. In 1896 the family moved their impressive picture gallery to the chateau.  At the beginning of the 20th century, Joseph Colloredo-Mannsfeld transformed some interiors into Rococo style.

His successor, though, was not so lucky. The Nazis overtook the chateau and grounds in 1942. After the war the chateau became the property of newly independent Czechoslovakia. The chateau underwent much restoration during the late 1980s and early 1990s, but disaster hit in 1998, when floods ravaged the park. It took two years to clean the mud out of ponds, bridges had to be rebuilt, and rare species of plants had to grow anew.

Although the Colloredo-Mannsfeld family asked for the property back during 1992, they did not get their wish granted until 2003. Some legal disputes have yet to be settled, though.

Opocnochateau1It was soon time for the tour. The first room I entered was the Ethnographic Hall, where I saw various objects from Sudan, Egypt, Central Africa, and South America. There was an Arabic sword and breastplate armor as well as a tonton drum.  Arabic furniture and the apparel of the Sioux and Apache Indians were also on display. The Central American Indians were also represented.

Swords, shields and armor from the 16th to 19th century adorned the staircase as did paintings of the chateau as it had appeared at the beginning of the 18th century. Colloredo-Mannsfeld family portraits also hung here.

The Chapel of Saint Anne, dating back to the early 18th century, took up two floors. It was adorned with a fresco showing the coronation of the virgin, a painted ceiling showing swirling figures and also images of patrons of the Czech Lands. It boasted rich wooden décor.  It was breathtaking to look up at all those swirling figures. I felt gripped by their beauty.

The Study boasted Italian commodes from the 16th to 17th century and a Neo-Renaissance wardrobe. One painting, called “The Twelve-Year Old Jesus in the Temple,” was executed by a follower of Hieronimus Bosch around 1550. The bright pink robe of one of the rather static figures caught my eye.

In the Smoking Room I was impressed with the glass – there was a collection of Venetian glass from the 16th century as well as Czech cut glass. German guild goblets, German pottery and Empire style Viennese porcelain also made the room intriguing. I spotted an ashtray shaped as a horn and made out of brown leather. I especially liked the hand painted vases and the glasses sporting coats of arms. I recognized pictures of Dobříš Chateau, near Prague, and Opočno Chateau on two glasses.

A Hapsburg dynasty portrait gallery called the Dining Room home. I spotted Empress Maria Theresa of Austria in a blue dress as well as Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia Leopold I and his first wife, Margaret Theresa of Spain. I had visited enough chateaus to know that the pair was considered the ugliest and most faithful couple, according to legend. Somehow the curly, long black hair and moustache didn’t suit Leopold I’s disproportionate face, only making him more displeasing to the eye. Elaborate candlesticks were 200 years old, dating from the 18th and 19th century.

The chateau park

The chateau park

Flemish tapestries and hunting trophies from North America and Africa dotted the Game Room, which was also fit with a pool table. While I was always entranced by Flemish tapestries, I did not like hunting trophies, as I do not approve of killing animals for sport.

The Changing Room was distinguished by the 18th century Flemish tapestries with a hunting theme as well. Baroque still life paintings also adorned the walls. The guide told us that during the 18th century women could not show their ankles because it was considered the most erotic part of the body.

The Ladies Bedroom had a small bed because women remained in a sitting position while asleep so they wouldn’t mess up their elaborate hairdos. That was how the guide explained it. But I had also heard on many tours that people back then were afraid they would die if they lay down at night. I was particularly drawn to one black-and-white painting showing Empress Maria Theresa of Austria with 13 of her 16 children. Why only 13? Because three had already died before the painting was executed. The colorful chandelier made of Venetian glass will fall if an unfaithful man steps under it, the guide told us. I hoped there were no unfaithful men on the tour.

The Guest Rooms exhibited various styles of furniture, from Renaissance, Early Baroque and High Baroque to Classicist and Empire. In the Classicist room I noticed an intriguing stand for candles with three-tiers, one with figures of people, another with ravens and a third with what looked like cherubs.

Then we came to my favorite rooms, the small and large picture galleries. There were so many swirling Baroque figures in the paintings that it was overwhelming. I was dizzy with awe. The paintings were side-by-side, so close to each other. The small gallery featured Italian paintings of the Venetian and Ferraro Schools, to name a few, ranging from the 16th to 18th century while the large gallery was dominated by the work of the Neapolitan School and others during the 17th and 18th centuries. Three large paintings also depicted the history of the Italian town Mantova. I noticed a rendition of a hilly landscape, in calming blue and green, with a man in the foreground kneeling in front of some water. In the large gallery some seascapes caught my eye. One painting depicted a man with six toenails. On a hall there was a map of the area around Opočno with a legend of various places depicted on the painting. Yet another showed a battle scene with ruins in the background.

Opocnopark3I would like to point out some of the paintings that particularly enthralled me. In Luca Cambiaso’s “The Holy Family,” I took note of how Mary gazed so lovingly at the baby Jesus as she tickled his foot. The darkness contrasting with light caught my attention in Francesco Trevisani’s “The Assassination of St. Wenceslas.” While angels congregated in the light sky above, a helmeted man decked in blue gripped a dagger in the lower portion of the painting, almost complete darkness enclosing him as he was ready to strike an almost lifeless, chained Saint Wenceslas. Rays of light streamed into the darkness at a right angle. In “The Battle,” by a follower of Salvatore Rosa, one fighter on horseback shoved his sword into his foe, who began to slide off his horse. The wounded lifted up one hand toward Heaven as if asking God to stop time. I was moved by the helplessness of such a gesture.  The atmosphere was totally different in Giacomo Po’s “Victor’s Apotheosis II,” as I saw a swirling figures and horses carried out in Baroque style. The clear, light blue sky melting into the horizon and the dark green color of the trees in the foreground had a calming effect on me in Jan Frans van Bloeman’s (known as Orizzonte) “Landscape in Campagna.”

The library became another of my favorite rooms as I was entranced by its rare books. Martin Luther’s German 16th century translation of The Bible was here, and I knew how much that book had influenced the evolution of the German language. There was a French encyclopedia dating from 1765, too. Altogether there were about 7,000 books, bound in what looked to be gold, written in languages such as Latin, French and Italian. The subjects ranged from religion to history to linguistics to philosophy. One manuscript was called The Czech Chronicle of the World – this was my favorite – and it had been printed before 1423 in Nuremburg. I loved old, fragile manuscripts. The ancient, crisp paper with the neat, careful, fancy script always caught my eye. Each page seemed to have a life of its own, to tell its own story. To me such manuscripts seemed magical.

I wasn’t keen on weapons, but the three rooms – the Asian Armory, the Hunting Hall and the Knights’ Hall – were impressive, no doubt about it.  The Asian Armory featured weapons from the Near East and Far East, from countries such as Turkey, India and Japan.  Perhaps the highlight of the room was the 2,000-year old small bronze drum from the Dongon culture of what is today North Vietnam.  I took note of a sword from Thailand with beautifully carved handles. What intrigued me the most, though, was one object from Japan. It consisted of poles with spikes that had been used to catch the kimonos of thieves in the market.

The Knights’ Hall portrayed the development of weapons and armor from the 15th to 18th century, some pieces harkening back to the 15th century Hussite Wars and the 17th century Thirty Years’ War, for example. The guide showed us one sword that had no sharp point because it was used for executions. A Roman helmet was 2,000 years old and found in what is now Moravia. Another unique object that caught my attention was a painting of Opočno. It looked nothing like the chateau because the painter had never been there

Opocnopark1After the tour I went to the park. It was a very hot, sunny day. I sat on a bench not far from the entrance, under a tree in the shade and stared at the pond and leafy trees that looked like enchanting scenery from a postcard. This was my favorite park, I was certain. I felt so at ease here. I couldn’t exactly explain why. I didn’t need to go to the sea to relax. I just needed to go to Opočno’s chateau park. When I first visited Opočno 10 years earlier, I had thought that I would like my wedding to be here, so I could walk with my new husband through this park, through this fairy tale of natural wonders. Ten years later, still with no husband, I sat on the bench and read The Death of the Beautiful Deer by Czech author Ota Pavel. I stayed there for about two hours, content, not wanting to leave. But I had to get something to eat before I caught the five o’clock bus back. The closest restaurant was reserved, so I found a pub with attractive seating on the main square and chose my favorite – chicken with peaches and cheese plus a diet Coke.

I got to the bus stop on the main square about 20 minutes before five o’clock. According to the schedule on the Internet, the bus was supposed to come a little after five. I wanted to check it on the schedule on the bus stop, but I couldn’t. It was June 12, and the bus schedule changed June 13. Tomorrow’s schedules were already posted; today’s had been taken down already. I could only hope my information from the Internet was right. Then two teenage girls showed up at the stop. The bus came about 10 minutes before five o’clock.

I had been lucky. In early August, when I looked up the times of buses from Hradec Králové to Opočno, according to the web site, no such connection existed.

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

Image