2019 Travel Diary

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At East Side Gallery

Despite battling illnesses and undergoing an operation, I did manage to do some exciting traveling last year. I returned to Berlin, a city that I had only a year earlier become reacquainted with after a 27-year absence. Last year I explored the Charlottenburg district and even found time to visit the East Side Gallery for the second time in 28 years.

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Inside the palace on Isola Bella

In the summer, I spent a brief but bewitching time in the Lake District of Italy. Seeing the Borromean Islands off Lake Maggiore was the highlight for me, although Malcesine, Verona, Bergamo and other spots were all fascinating.

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Baroque former hospital Kuks with its 24 statues of vices and virtues

I did not have much time to travel in the Czech Republic because I had an operation during the summer. I did travel to the Baroque former hospital Kuks – one of my favorite sights in the country – as well as Ploskovice Chateau. I also was glad to be able to spend time at the Azyl Lucky Cat Shelter in Černov, located about an hour from Prague. I adopted my beloved Šarlota from that shelter and since then, I have enjoyed visiting the owner of the shelter and the beautiful cats and dogs that await forever homes.

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Cats at the Azyl Lucky Shelter

Let’s start with Berlin in May. The weather was coldish and windy, but the sights were as magnificent as always. There’s always something fascinating to see in Berlin.

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Charlottenburg Palace

The objective of my short stay was to visit Charlottenburg Palace. I stayed in the Charlottenburg district with its tranquil, wide streets. There were not many tourists in the area, which was very pleasant.

Charlottenburg Palace began as Lietzenburg, commissioned by then Electress and future Queen Sophie Charlotte. Frederick the Great renamed it after his wife when she died in 1705 at age 37. Under the guidance of Sophie Charlotte, the chateau had been a cultural hubbub.

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I was overwhelmed by the Baroque and Rococo décor and especially by the chinoiserie ornamentation. My favorite room was the Porcelain Cabinet, which featured about 2,700 objects in a luxurious and elegant space. I also loved the white harpsichord decorated with chinoiserie features in the Golden Cabinet.

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Several museums are located across from the palace. While one museum featuring Art Deco and Art Nouveau works was closed, I did get to explore the Museum Berggruen, where I excitedly perused paintings by Picasso, Braque, Matisse and Klee. Sculptures by Alberto Giacometti and African art rounded out the exposition. The museum of surrealist art nearby also had some intriguing works by artists such as Goya and Klee.

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I wound up having some time to revisit the politically motivated murals of the East Side Gallery that had entranced me so much when I was a tourist back in the summer of 1991. Back then, when I was visiting after graduating from college in the States, the Berlin Wall had fascinated me. Now I knew many people who had lived and suffered under totalitarian rule, and the Wall to an extent sickened me. But not this portion of the Wall. The murals represented an exuberant and vivacious celebration of freedom, a good riddance to the oppression that had darkened so many decades of life behind the Iron Curtain. I loved these bright and bold statements of euphoria and optimism. Sure, some murals portrayed fear and anxiety as a new era beckoned, but that was only to be expected. This was the longest stretch of the Berlin Wall still standing. During my visit in 1991, so much more of the Wall had yet to be taken down.

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My four-day jaunt to Italy was not without its disappointments. I fell ill shortly after the lengthy bus ride and five-minute breakfast that we were allowed. I went to Italy with my good friend, traveling with an agency that I had not used before.

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Isola Bella palace interior

My favorite day was the one when I felt healthy, the last day of the trip, but it was also the most special to me because I saw the amazing Borromean Islands that had me bewitched. My favorite island was Isola Bella, the site of a magnificent palace and ten-tiered garden shaped as a truncated pyramid. Shaped as a boat, the island boasted a luxurious palace along with six grottoes. The Music Room included 80 paintings by Pieter Muller the Younger, who was known for his renditions of stormy landscapes and thus had earned the nickname “The Tempest.” I was awed by the harpsichord in golden cypress wood, too. The Throne Room featured Lombard Baroque art. The gilded, wooden throne hailed from the 18th century. I also liked the two large cabinets made with tortoiseshell. The Tapestry Gallery was remarkable for its six Flemish tapestries. I have always loved tapestries! Visiting the Italian Baroque gardens topped off a great day.

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Garden of Isola Bella

Before experiencing the glamor of Isola Bella, I had been engrossed in the beauty of Isola Madre and Isola dei Pescatori or Fishermen’s Island. Isola Madre was a botanical park dotted with white peacocks and rare birds. The largest of the three islands, it boasted a palace with 16th to 19th century furnishings, including Lombard paintings, marionettes and puppet theatre stage sets, such as a grotesque one punctuated by dragons, devils and skeletons. I also liked the machinery for making thunder and lightning as well as terrifying noises. The five-terraced garden also showed off a pond of water lilies, among other delights.

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Birds on Isola Madre were plentiful.

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Church on Isola Madre

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In Palace on Isola Madre

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In Palace on Isola Madre

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View from Isola Madre

Isola dei Pescatori was the only of the three islands with permanent residents – as of 2018 there were 25 people who called the small place home year-round. The cobbled streets and narrow passageways that led to gorgeous views of Lake Maggiore were postcard-perfect. The modest yet elegant Church of St. Victor was furnished in Baroque style, though it had been built as a chapel during the 11th century. I also saw the picturesque town of Stresa, a wonderful place to relax after a day of island hopping.

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House on Isola dei Pescatori

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Street on Isola dei Pescatori

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Church of St. Victor on Isola dei Pescatori

I spent one day in Malcesine during the scorching heat of the early summer. Even though I started to feel ill while riding the funicular to Mount Baldo, which is 1,800 feet above sea level, I appreciated the amazing views from the first cable car installation in the world with an all-rotating cabin. (It did not help my dizziness, though!) On Mount Baldo it was cold and windy at 8 am, so I did not spend much time there. I preferred to explore the picturesque town of Malcesine and chill out at cafes, drinking mineral water to ward off the effects of the harsh hot weather. The castle ruins were romantic and offer superb views of Lake Garda. Goethe was even briefly imprisoned there because the authorities thought he was a spy. There are several medieval frescoes in the castle complex.

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Castle in Malcesine

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Castle ruins in Malcesine

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Views from rotating cable car from Malcesine to Mount Baldo

Bergamo was another town that will always be close to my heart. We only had time to explore the Upper Town, so I was not able to visit the Accademia Carrara art museum in the Lower Town, but it gave me a good reason to make a trip back there someday. Just standing on the Piazza Vecchia was awe-inspiring. The Palazzo della Ragione, located on this square, was built in the second half of the 12th century and boasted elegant arches and three-mullioned windows as well as porticoes. The most amazing architectural delight was the Colleoni Chapel, which was closed, unfortunately. Still, the façade sporting delicate colors of marble exuded such a sense of harmony and balance plus a vivaciousness that overwhelmed me. It is one of the best examples of Renaissance architecture in northern Italy. The sculptural decoration did not disappoint, either.

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Colleoni Chapel in Bergamo

The cathedral, which was not completed until the 19th century, was impressive with a Baroque altar that featured a carved Episcopal throne. Unfortunately, the Diocese Museum was not open, but that was another reason to come back to this bewitching town.

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What I liked best about Bergamo were the romantic, narrow, hilly streets that reminded me of those in Urbino. Walking by medieval houses or houses with facades from the 16th or 17th century was magical. The best thing about Bergamo’s Upper Town was that there were no souvenir shops. There were shops selling local delicacies and bookstores, but no shops promoting crazy t-shirts and gaudy objects. It was so refreshing. I wish the Old Town of Prague had banned souvenir shops.

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Juliet’s balcony in Verona

We were only in Verona for half a day, so we did not see much of the city. After several minutes there, I know I would be yearning to come back for a longer stay. We saw Juliet’s House, the balcony that was said to be famous for the Romeo and Juliet scene in Shakespeare’s play. In reality, Verona created a tourist trap when they bought the house from the Cappello family. No one named Capulet had ever lived there. The house’s façade is impressive, in Gothic style, dating back to the 13th century. The balcony hails from last century. A statue of Juliet stood in the small courtyard. It is said to be lucky to rub her left breast, but I didn’t try it.

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The main drag in Verona

I also saw the exterior of Romeo’s House, which never belonged to the Montague family. It was only given this name for sightseers. The building is medieval, in Gothic style and includes an archway with crenelated walls.

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Then we saw a few of Verona’s main squares. Piazza Brà is one of the largest in Europe and boasts palaces, a museum and the city hall. Piazza delle Erbe was once the site of chariot races. During the Roman era, a large market took place there. Now visitors see palaces, a tower and a remarkable fountain dating from 1368. We walked down Via Giuseppe Mazzini, the central shopping street that was, during medieval times, dirty and lined with warehouses as well as barracks. Now expensive shops call the stunning renovated houses home.

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I loved the arena, though I did not get much time there. Built in the first century AD, it is the third largest area, measuring 140 meters in length and 110 meters in width. The original seating capacity was 30,000, back when it was used for games and gladiator events. It became dilapidated after Emperor Honorius banned events there in 404 AD. For centuries, it was abandoned. At one point, prostitutes used the arena. Now, though, the arena is a remarkable sight that should not be missed.

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Sigurtà Park

We also visited Sigurtà Park with its extensive, beautiful grounds. I loved the water lily ponds and many monuments plus views of the villages beyond. You really needed a full day to explore the vast grounds properly.

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Dance of Death Baroque frescoes at Kuks

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Braun’s statues in the lapidarium at Kuks

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The pharmacy at Kuks

I also visited several places in the Czech Republic last year. Kuks, a former hospital in gushingly Baroque style, is famous for its twenty-four 18th century statues of virtues and vices, sculpted by Matyáš Braun. In the lapidarium I was almost in a trance while peering at Love, Despair, Sloth and Hope. I also was enamored by the grotesque Dance of Death frescoes, as the figure of Death intruded on people’s lives. The pharmaceutical museum and one of the oldest pharmacies in the country were also very intriguing. There’s a lot to love about Kuks.

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Ploskovice Chateau

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Painting by Navrátil at Ploskovice

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The Main Hall at Ploskovice

Ploskovice was first mentioned in writing during the 11th century. The chateau was born in the 16th century. The vestibule was decorated with sculpture, frescoes and stucco ornamentation. The Knights’ Salon is Rococo in style. Vedutas of French kings’ castles and French parks hung on the walls. The Ladies’ Bedroom showed off the Rococo style as well while an early Baroque jewel chest was decorated with bas-reliefs and inlaid with various kinds of woods.

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The painted ceiling in the Ladies’ Study was the work of the renowned Josef Navrátil, whose masterful work I had also witnessed at Zákupy Chateau a year earlier. His remarkable and delicate painting was evident on the ceiling of the Dining Room as well. The Main Hall has 12 pilasters and shows off stucco works of Hope, Motherhood, Bravery and Nature. The painting on the cupola was remarkable, showing the four continents, created by masterful Czech artist V.V. Reiner. I had seen his masterpieces at Duchcov Chateau a few years earlier. Navrátil painted 36 oval medallions in the Main Hall.

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I also liked the grottoes at the chateau. They originated during the Baroque era. Baroque fountains in the grottoes boasted figural decoration. Perhaps what I loved most about Ploskovice were the peacocks fluttering around the grounds.

I wish I had had more time to explore the Czech Republic last year, but my health and occasionally the weather prevented me from doing so. This year I am planning to go back to Italy and to take more trips in the Czech Republic. I also hope to see art exhibitions in Berlin and Vienna.

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

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Kladruby Monastery Diary

Kladruby facade

I had visited Kladruby Monastery about 20 years before I participated in the arsviva tour of architect Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel’s creations in west Bohemia. I had wanted to pay the Benedictine Monastery another visit for a long time.

I already knew a bit about the fascinating history of the place. Kladruby Monastery was founded by Prince Vladislav I during 1115. It was established on the Nuremberg-Prague trade route. The monastery made quite a name for itself at the end of the 12th century and during the 13th century. The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Saint Wolfgang and Saint Benedict was consecrated in 1233 with King Wenceslas I on hand for the ceremony. (King Wenceslas I was not the only royal to visit the monastery; King Přemysl Otakar I held negotiations there during the 13th century, too.)

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There was much looting later that century, but around 1370, a new abbot was appointed, and the situation improved. The Chapel of All Saints was added during that period. Then Hussite Wars brought devastation to Kladruby. The Hussites and then the army of the Emperor Sigismund took control of the monastery in the 15th century. The Benedictines returned in 1435, though it took about 70 years for things to shape up. The monastery flourished during the early 16th century, and more monks called Kladruby home. This was a glorious time of expansion. A school was set up; both Catholics and Protestants attended.

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Things took a turn for the worst with the onset of the Thirty Years’ War. The monastery was looted and pillaged. Because the Catholics won, Kladruby was once again in favor after the wartime turmoil. Expansion and reconstruction took place in the Catholized land.

Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel, a Czech architect of Italian origin, became associated with the monastery in the early 18th century, when he was in charge of doing a makeover of the church in Baroque Gothic style, which emphasized Gothic features in a distinctly Baroque style. Thanks to his efforts, the church interior is bewitchingly beautiful.

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In 1785 Emperor Joseph II dissolved the monastery. The Benedictines packed their bags, and the Windisch-Graetz clan moved in. During their tenure, they divided the monastery into apartments. One part of the complex was made into a brewery. The Windisch-Graetzes, however, did build a library that is rather impressive.

Kladruby was nationalized after World War II, and terrible times were to come. Sick cattle grazed on the monastery’s property while other parts were transformed into offices. Reconstruction did not begin until the middle of the 1960s.

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I was especially intrigued by the Dining Room, which showed off an 18th century pewter service. What I found most intriguing, however, was the portrait of Cardinal Schwarzenberg. No matter where I stood, his eyes were always staring at me. I gazed at the portrait of the red-drapery clad cardinal with a stern expression from several angles.

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In the ambulatory we saw many sandstone statues by Late Baroque sculptor Matthias Bernard Braun, one of my favorites. His works are so dynamic and powerful. It was evident that Braun’s sojourn in Italy had influenced his creations. Most of these statues were inspired by Greek and Roman historical themes while some stood for allegories of character traits. They were all original except for the statue of Count František Antonín Špork, who had been a prominent cultural figure and patron of the arts in the early 18th century. He had founded Kuks, a former hospital that had once been located across from a popular spa, and he commissioned Braun to make statues of vices and virtues for the Baroque exterior of Kuks.

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I had visited Kuks for the third time the previous year, and Braun’s statues were certainly a highlight. The newly restored Dance of Death paintings lining a hallway and the Baroque pharmacy there were also impressive. I had also examined the statuary carved from sandstone rocks in Braun’s Bethlehem, situated near Kuks. Those accomplishments are by no means the only ones on Braun’s résumé. He authored several statuaries on Prague’s Charles Bridge, such as The Vision of St. Luthgard, which was his first work. It brought him much acclaim. At Kladruby we also saw 12 woodcuts depicting scenes from Christ’s childhood. It astounded me how it had been possible to portray so much detail in the 16th century carvings.

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At the monastery there are about 500 sculptures, paintings and portraits of John of Nepomuk, the Czech patron saint of Bohemia who was drowned in the Vltava River on the orders of King Wenceslas IV during the latter part of the 14th century. The king and archbishop were at odds over who should be the abbot of the prosperous and influential monastery. John of Nepomuk showed his support for the Pope by confirming the archbishop’s candidate, which infuriated the king. John of Nepomuk became a saint in 1729.

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Then came the Santini-designed Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Saint Benedict and Saint Wolfgang. Santini had been inspired by the Italian radical Baroque use of geometry and symbolism. I see Santini’s structures as rational yet radical. Santini elevates Gothic art to a new form, offering fresh perspectives and giving new insights. I fondly recalled last year’s arsviva tour of Santini’s structures in east Bohemia and Moravia. I had learned so much about Santini’s creations, and my appreciation of the architect had grown.

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Santini was supposed to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a stonemason, but palsy prevented him from doing so. As a student he was mentored by Prague-based architect Jan Baptiste Mathey. During a four-year sojourn in Italy, Santini became enamored with works by Italian architects Francesco Borromini and Guarino Guarnini and their radical Baroque style. Santini was commissioned to reconstruct many religious sites. Baroque art became the fashion during the era when the Catholic army triumphed in the Thirty Years’ War and remained so afterwards, when the Catholicism flourished in the Czech lands. During a mere 46 years, Santini cast his magic spell on about 80 buildings.

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It amazed me how the church at Kladruby – the third biggest church in the Czech lands – retained its Gothic charm while also celebrating the Baroque style. I loved the details, such as the slots for candles in the benches of the choir. The pulpit was shaped like a boat rocking on a stormy sea. The Baroque organ – which still worked – boasted 1,270 pedals. Santini designed the impressive organ case. At the bottom of the main altar, there was a small statue of Christ on the cross, and I noticed that the Christ figure was crooked. I wondered what that symbolized. Two devils appeared in paintings in the church as well. Directly below the gushingly Late Baroque dome decorated with a scene of the Assumption was a large eight-pointed star of many layers. It was just one of many eight-pointed stars symbolizing the Virgin Mary that appeared in the church. I also liked the Romanesque elements that Santini had retained. I loved the many frescoes on the walls as well as the church’s stucco ribs and helical vaults. The play of light was also dynamic. Light played such a major role in Santini’s designs.

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The high altar, one of Braun’s masterpieces, was perhaps the most intriguing as it featured both Gothic and Baroque elements. It showed scenes from the life and torment of Jesus Christ and scenes from the history of the Benedictine Order. The Assam brothers, who had been Late Baroque gurus, had also decorated sections of the church.  I recalled the church in Munich that they had decorated. The Late Baroque adornment there was so overwhelming that it had made me dizzy.

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We also visited the Windisch-Graetz Empire style library, which held 33,000 volumes and included a gallery. On display were weapons of various sorts and objects obtained during travels abroad.

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I was more than satisfied with my visit to Kladruby and would recommend it to everyone who has time to see sights in west Bohemia. What impressed me most about Kladruby’s history was that it reflected the history of the Czech lands going through eras of prosperity, destruction and rebirth. Visiting the monastery was like reading a 900-year old illustrated text. Santini’s geometric symbolism, his use of Gothic and Baroque elements and the play of light greatly impressed me. Braun’s statues were so lively. Each facial expression told a story – some of delight, some of anguish. It was as if it was possible to see into the soul of each character represented in the statues.

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

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Dance of Death Paintings at Kuks Diary

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NOTE: See my Kuks Diary for more information on Kuks hospital.

I visited the former Baroque hospital Kuks for the third time last year, soon after reconstruction. In the early 18th century, a spa had been situated across from the hospital, but it was destroyed by a flood in 1740. At Kuks visitors can admire 24 Late Baroque statues of vices and virtues by master sculptor Matthias Bernard Braun, a Baroque pharmacy, a pharmaceutical museum, a lapidarium, a chapel, a church and a crypt. Lining one hallways are 50 Dance of Death paintings that were beautifully restored during the recent reconstruction.

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The Dance of Death or Danse Macabre genre in art was revived during the Baroque age and not only at Kuks. It began during the Late Middle Ages in 15th century France. The artistic renderings show death personified summoning people from all walks of life to dance. No one – neither kings nor beggars – could escape death. During medieval days the plague had ravaged Europe, and this was one artistic way to try to come to terms with so many deaths riddling the continent. Dances of death also played roles in religious plays presented in churches. People looking at these paintings during the hospital’s Baroque heyday were supposed to dwell on the fragility of life. Thus, the Dance of Death emphasized a certain mentality, a specific outlook on both life and death.

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

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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.