The First Republic Art Exhibition Diary

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Josef Čapek, The Sailor

A long-term temporary exhibition, the First Republic art exhibition in Prague’s Trade Fair Palace showcases mostly Czechoslovak paintings and sculpture from 1918 to 1938, when Czechoslovakia was a democratic state under the guidance of President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. Czechoslovakia was founded in 1918, and Masaryk, who had been living in exile, was welcomed back into the Czech lands with much celebration and fanfare. The Munich Agreement, signed in September of 1938, proved a dark and dismal event in Czechoslovakia’s history, as the country ceded its German-minority Sudetenland to Hitler’s Third Reich. On March 15, 1939, the Nazis would march into Prague, and Hitler would set up the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, starting a horrific chapter in Czech and Central European history.

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Josef Čapek

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Myslbek

The exhibition examines the flourishing of art in the various cultural centers of Czechoslovakia, first and foremost in Prague but also in Brno, the capital of Moravia. In Slovakia the cultural hubs were located in Bratislava and eastern Košice. Zarkarpattia was a section of Czechoslovakia from 1920 to 1938, and its city of Užhorod was the setting of some intriguing exhibitions. The exhibition not only features Czech art but also Czech-German production and Slovak artistic endeavors.

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Antonín Slavíček, House in Kameničky, 1904

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Adolf Hoffmeister, Bridge, 1922

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Bohumil Kubišta, Quarry in Braník, 1910-11

Some of the Czech and Slovak artists whose works shine in the exhibition are Antonin Slavíček, Max Švabinský, Josef Čapek, Václav Špála, Jan Zrzavý, Jan Preisler, Ľudovít Fulla, Martin Benka, Bohumil Kubišta and Josef Šíma as well as Toyen and Jindřich Štyrský. The German and Austrian artists represented include August Bromse, Max Pechstein and Oskar Kokoschka, a favorite of mine.

Sculpture by Auguste Rodin, Paul Cezanne, House in Aix, 1885-87

French art from the 19th and 20th century is also on display as the Mánes Association in Prague held an important exhibition of French art at the Municipal House during 1923. The dynamic renditions of Monet, Matisse, Renoir, Van Gogh, Seurat, Gauguin, Rodin, Rousseau and others are in the limelight, too. The paintings of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso explore Cubist tendencies.

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Vincent Van Gogh, Green Wheat Field, 1889

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Henri Rousseau, Self-Portrait – Me. Portrait – Landscape, 1890

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Paul Cezanne

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Georges Seurat, Harbor in Honfleur, 1886

I was particularly impressed by the works of a Czech artistic group called the Obstinates, established at the Municipal House. It included artists who spent World War I in Prague. I liked to eat chicken with potatoes at the Art Nouveau Municipal House, and I sometimes would imagine what it had been like for those artists to discuss their ideas and theories of art there. Three of my favorite Czech painters belonged to this group of avant-garde art that had traits of Cubism and Expressionism: Josef Čapek, Špála and Zrzavý. The Municipal House at that time was one of the most prominent exhibition spaces. It still houses art exhibitions and nowadays also includes a concert hall.

On right: Jan Zrzavý, Lady in the Loge, 1918

I also tried to imagine the avant-garde Devětsil group having its first exhibition during 1922 at the Union of Fine Arts in the Rudolfinum, now the main concert house for the Czech Philharmonic. I have attended many concerts there, even seeing my favorite violinist Joshua Bell on its stage twice. I wondered what it had been like to see the works of Karel Teige, Adolf Hoffmeister and Štyrský in that majestic building during 1922 and 1923.

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Jindřich Štyrský, The Puppeteer, 1921

My favorite painting in the exhibition was called “Woman with a Cat” by František Zdeněk Eberl. I am a cat fanatic, and the woman in the painting is holding her cat on her shoulder so lovingly. You can sense that the cat is an important part of her family just as my Šarlota Garrigue Masaryková Burnsová is for me. (My cat is named after President Masaryk’s wife, the First Republic’s First Lady of Czechoslovakia.)

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František Zdeněk Eberl, Woman with a Cat, around 1929

The exhibition also highlighted the importance of the Mánes Association of Fine Artists, which had been established by Prague students in 1887. It had many functions, organizing exhibitions and lectures as well as editing magazines, for instance.

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Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Village Square, 1920

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Václav Špála

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Vincenc Beneš, Behind the Mill in Písek, 1928

There were African art relics in the exhibition as well. I thought of Josef Čapek, who had been greatly influenced by African art. The exhibition informed museumgoers that Emil Filla’s paintings had been on display with African art at the Mánes in 1935. Filla had a strong interest in non-European art and was an avid supporter of the surrealist trends in Czechoslovakia.

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Another significant exhibition space during that era was the Dr. Feigl Gallery. Hugo Feigl made quite a name for himself as a private gallery owner. The exhibitions he put together did not only display Czech art but also highlighted Czech-German, Jewish and artists from around the world. He did not only organize exhibitions at his own gallery. One art show that interested me was Feigl’s exhibition of German and Austrian artists who had come to Prague as refugees, fleeing Hitler as the dictator amassed more and more power. Oskar Kokoschka, one of my favorite painters, was a refugee who had made his home in Prague. I loved his view of the Charles Bridge and his view of Prague on display. They captured the magical spell of Prague using avant-garde techniques.

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Oskar Kokoschka, Prague – View from Kramář’s Villa, 1934-35

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Oskar Kokoschka, Prague – Charles Bridge, 1934

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August Bromse, Descent from the Cross, before 1922

In 1937, Feigl even organized a daring exhibition of German Expressionist works from a German collection of which the Nazis were by no means fans. This exhibition encouraged people to protest against an exhibition in Munich, one that glorified the Nazi regime with its display of Nazi-approved art.

Václav Špála, By the River – Vltava near Červená, 1927, sculpture by Otto Gutfreund

I was also enthralled by the exhibitions that had taken place in Brno, Zlín and Bratislava. I had poignant memories of all three places. I had helped out at the first international theatre festival organized by the Theatre on a String in Brno many years ago. People in Brno had been so friendly, and my Czech really improved thanks to my time spent there. I had also visited some villas in Brno and knew the city’s sights well.

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Max Švabinský, In the Land of Peace, 1922

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Otto Gutfreund, Business, 1923

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I had spent several days of one vacation in Zlín, where I had toured the fascinating Báťa shoe museum, which probably featured every kind of shoe imaginable. More than a decade ago, I had visited Bratislava once a month to help take care of my favorite Slovak writer’s grave. I had also visited the Slovak National Theatre, learning Slovak in part thanks to its performances. I loved the Slovak language and felt at peace hearing people around me speak it. I also felt this way when I heard Czech. I especially liked the works of Slovak painter Ľudovít Fulla. His use of bright colors, in his work “Balloons” for example, gave his paintings a dynamism and vitality that was unforgettable.

On right: Ľudovít Fulla, Balloons, 1930

Košice and Užhorod were featured as artistic centers, too. I had spent a lot of time in Košice during my travels to Slovakia as some of my ancestors had been from that region, and I had also used Košice as a starting point to visit other places in east Slovakia, such as Humenné and the Vihorlat. I had never been to Užhorod, which Czechoslovakia had begun to modernize during the early days of the country’s existence. I was surprised that architect Josef Gočár had designed some functionalist buildings there. I often walked by some of Gočár’s architectural achievements in the Baba quarter of functionalist individual family homes.

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Anton Jaszusch, Landscape, 1920-24

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Pablo Picasso, Still Life with a Goblet, 1922

The exhibition also informed me that between 1933 and 1938, about 10,000 refugees from Germany and Austria had officially made their way to Czechoslovakia while the number of unofficial refugees was about the same. Many significant artists came to Czechoslovakia to flee Hitler’s hold on Germany and Austria.

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Caricature of Hitler, John Heartfield, Adolf the Superman: Swallows Gold and Spouts Junk, 1932

I was surprised to discover that as early as 1934 an exhibition of caricatures and humor protested Hitler’s ascent to power. It took place at the Mánes Association of Fine Artists. The caricatures were not limited to Hitler and even included some of the “good guys.” For instance, artists also poked fun at Masaryk. I was very moved by Josef Čapek’s versions of the painting “Fire,” showing a person unable to escape the dancing flames, artworks providing a stark warning about the danger of Hitler’s ideology and reign. The caricature of Hitler was chilling. Hitler’s head was perched atop a chest x-ray. His spine was made up of coins. His heart was shaped like a swastika.

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A sculpture commenting on the Munich Agreement of 1938

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Josef Čapek, Fire, 1938

The exhibition ended with those works commenting Hitler’s control of the region, specifically on the Munich Agreement of 1938. While those paintings and the sculpture profoundly affected me, I preferred to concentrate on the avant-garde creations that had been featured in an artistically flourishing democratic Czechoslovakia, when artists boldly experimented with their artistic visions, during an era that I had always wanted to visit if I could go back in time. I would have loved to experience the atmosphere of the country when democracy was fresh, the state new and full of promise. Little did anyone know at its inception that the First Republic would not last long and that such a chilling chapter would follow.

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

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Furniture set from First Republic, Jan Vaněk

Stiassni Villa Diary

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I had heard that the Stiassni Villa in Brno had been open to the public since the end of 2014, but I did not have time to go there in 2015. When the Czech UNISMA travel agency offered a tour of the Stiassni and Löw-Beer villas in the Moravian capital, I immediately signed up. A prime example of modern functionalist architecture in the Czech lands, the Stiassni Villa had been under reconstruction from 2012 to 2014. During Communism renovations had taken place as well –during that time period furniture from various chateaus had been added to the interior. Still, the villa had original furniture, too.

I was entranced with the section of Brno where the architectural gem was located – in the villa-sprinkled Masaryk Quarter, a section that looked tranquil, so different from the hustle and bustle of the city center. It reminded me of the Hanspaulka section of Prague, where I enjoyed taking long walks along villa-flanked streets.

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I am not a big fan of the functionalist style, but the exterior was intriguing. Its spartan appearance reminded me a bit of the exteriors of Prague’s Müller Villa and Rothmayer Villa. Shaped like the letter L, the Stiassni Villa was designed by architect Ernst Wiesner, who made quite a name for himself in Brno during the interwar years. His work was influenced by Austrian architect Adolf Loos, who designed the Müller Villa in Prague. Wiesner created the plans for other buildings in Brno as well, such as the Moravia Palace and crematorium. Wiesner fled to Great Britain in 1939, the year the Nazis took over. The villa was completed in 1929 for textile entrepreneur Alfred Stiassni and his family – his wife Hermine and his daughter Susanne. The structure features rectangular windows and a massive cassette cornice, for example.

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The Stiassni’s tenure at the villa only lasted nine years. Because they were Jewish, the family fled Czechoslovakia in 1938, when they traveled to London and then continued to Brazil. Alfred Stiassni’s mother decided not to leave her homeland due to her age. She died at the Terezín concentration camp in central Bohemia during 1942, when she was 87 years old. The villa was taken over by the Nazis during World War II. During 1945, the Stiassnis obtained US citizenship. That same year Russian soldiers liberating the city would destroy furnishings in the villa. It was in good shape again when Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš stayed there later that year, on his first visit to Brno after the war. He and his wife would reside in the villa again the following year during another trip to the Moravian capital.

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Paintings of the owners of the villa, Alfred and Hermine Stiassni. The paintings are not part of the original furnishings.

From 1952 the villa was the property of the Regional National Committee and was used as accommodation for VIP guests, such as Fidel Castro. In 1961 Alfred Stiassni died in Beverly Hills, California. His wife passed away the following year. In 1964 leading Soviet Union politician Nikita Khrushchev spent time at the villa. From 1990 to 2005, the place served as a four-star hotel. Famous guests included Rudy Giuliani and Bill Gates. In 2005 Susanne, who had married an American, died in Beverly Hills.

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Soon it was time for the tour to begin. In the Large Dining Room I admired the copy of a Baroque painting by 17th century Flemish Baroque painter Jacob Jordaens showing merry people drinking and laughing. I thought I could see the influences of Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder in the work. The onyx fireplace also caught my attention. My eyes were drawn to an elegant vase as well.

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Another room featured watercolor paintings by Hermine and original chairs with grey upholstery. The pewter chandelier was also intriguing. An exquisite table had been originally in Bítov Castle, one of the largest and oldest castles in Moravia, a sight I had toured twice. I also admired a Baroque commode. The stucco decoration on the walls and ceiling was stunning. Then we visited some small rooms, and I especially liked the Empire space with side tables and a bed in that style. The bathroom was made of green marble. It had obtained its appearance during reconstruction in the 1980s. It is not known what the bathroom really looked like during the Stiassni’s tenure there.

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The first floor was even more intriguing. Behind Alfred’s vast closet with moveable drawers was a space for more than 10 pairs of shoes. I recalled how the drawers in the dressing rooms of the Müller Villa were also moveable. In the bathroom the detail on the faucets was superb.

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From Hermine’s bedroom it was possible to see the sloping English garden with hills and other greenery in the background. Other villas could also be seen in scenery that would have made a remarkable landscape painting. Mirrors covered Hermine’s closet in her dressing room. Her bathroom was green marble because the architects had no idea what it had looked like originally.

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The daughter Susanne had the nicest rooms. Her playroom featured a dressing room, a bathroom and the terrace. I liked the yellow color of the rooms. It was my mother’s favorite color, and it brought back memories of my time spent with her in the yellow-painted kitchen of my parents’ house. So many discussions about so many topics, so many smiles, so many problems resolved. Susanne’s governess also had a small room.

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The Small Dining Room, where the Stiassnis usually ate, was very modest with a small table set for three. The garden was another highlight of the villa. It was established in 1927 and included many foreign woody species. I noted its symmetrical design. Each section had been assigned a different use.

The Stiassnis were athletes. They took up swimming, skiing and skating, for example. There had been a swimming pool above the villa, and there still were tennis courts on the property.

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I had enjoyed my tour of the villa, which contained some intriguing furnishings and was architecturally enthralling. I appreciated the functionalist design even though it was not my favorite style. I could imagine the villa in the early 1930s, when the family was settled there, not aware that their time in the villa would be cut short by the Nazis’ rise to power. From there we headed to the Löw-Beer Villa, which had a stunning Secession façade but only one piece of original furniture. Facing the famous Tugendhat Villa, the Löw-Beer Villa is now used as an exhibition space.

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

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Valtice Chateau Diary

The exterior of Valtice Chateau

The exterior of Valtice Chateau

Often overshadowed by nearby neo-Gothic Lednice, Valtice Chateau is one of the most underrated sights in Moravia. I had visited Valtice Chateau twice before and was bewitched by the Baroque gem both times. The first time I came here, an employee took me quickly through the rooms as she did not want to give a tour to only one person. The Baroque and Rococo interior includes some original 18th century furniture, which never failed to impress me.

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Usually, I traveled to Lednice Chateau and Valtice Chateau by bus from Mikulov, where I had stayed in a hotel. To catch the bus back to Mikulov after visiting Valtice, I always had to hurry and had never had a chance to see the park. This time I was on a tour with the arsviva travel agency, whose tours I had taken to other sights in the Czech Republic and to towns in Germany. Seeing the garden and town were on the itinerary, too.

The facade of Valtice Chateau

The facade of Valtice Chateau

I already knew the background information. Valtice originated in the 12the century or earlier as a castle. The Liechtenstein clan would greatly influence the development of Valtice. They bought it in 1387 and kept the chateau in the family until 1945, creating a legacy that survived for almost 600 years. During 1560 they chose Valtice as their main residence. The castle became a Renaissance chateau during the 17th century. During the Thirty Years’ War the Swedes damaged Valtice. Later it got a Baroque makeover. Much construction took place during the 18th century. For example, the stunning chateau chapel was completed in 1729. At the end of that century, the chateau theatre was built. The garden, established during the Baroque reconstruction underwent renovations at that time.
Representative rooms at the chateau have been opened to visitors since the first half of the 19th century. Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef I and his wife Princess Elizabeth, often called “Sisi,” came to the chateau as did Austrian Chancellor Klemens von Metternich. When the chateau became the property of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1920, there were no changes made.

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But those golden days did not last forever. World War II came, and after the war the chateau was plundered. Considered to be traitors, Soviet prisoners-of-war were shot at Valtice. Then a section of the chateau became a forced labor camp for women while another part was used for drying hops. The grounds were in poor condition, too. Extensive reconstruction took place in the 1960s, and now Valtice is a Baroque beauty. The chateau even made the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List during 1996, an honor that is well-deserved.

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The mammoth statues of Hercules in front of the chateau gave me an imposing welcome. When I looked up at them, I felt that I played such a small role in the huge, scary world. This feeling was not negative; rather, it was humbling. The comprehensive tour lasted one hour. It covered the representative rooms, the emperor’s apartments and the chapel that had been lauded throughout Central Europe.

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Our guide was a very scholarly and enthusiastic woman. She clearly liked her job. In the entranceway I saw Japanese porcelain from the 18th century as well as an impressive carriage. The Antechamber was a real treat – I loved the Oriental pink-and-green wallpaper decorated with pink flower buds. I loved the ceiling paintings throughout the chateau. They featured mythological characters. The Emperor’s Salon featured portraits of the Habsburg family – Maria Theresa and Joseph II were two of those making appearances. In another space I saw paintings of battle scenes from the Napoleonic Wars. In this particular room the Roman gods’ victory over the Titans was the pictorial theme.

The Dining Room

The Dining Room

The Dining Room was the biggest space in the chateau. The pink-and-grey imitation marble on the walls looked so elegant and majestic. Above the doors I saw extraordinary reliefs of musical instruments. It reminded me of college, when music had played such an important role in my life. I adored my private piano lessons, even though I was not very talented. During college I was introduced to the magical world of classical music, which I still listen to today. I even went to the symphony in a nearby town once a month, momentarily escaping university life. I should make music a more significant part of my present, I chided myself. The Baroque 18th century chandelier and the Empire style side tables added to the splendor of the room. The view of the park was superb, too.
In another space I liked the floral and bird motifs on the royal blue upholstery on the chairs. The design was so lively, so energetic. I also noticed a Baroque landscape painting by a Dutch painter. I had been enamored by Dutch and Flemish landscape renditions ever since my first semester of college, when I took a course on Dutch and Flemish art. The chandelier, though, was what fascinated me most. It featured Triton and was decorated with antlers. Somehow the two looked out-of-place together. They did not complement each other. Yet that only made the chandelier more unique and more intriguing.

The unique chandelier and exquisite furnishings

The unique chandelier and exquisite furnishings

The Red Salon or Smoking Room featured an exquisite large mirror. How I would love to look into that mirror every day! Olympic gods looked down on me from the ceiling. Paintings with biblical motifs also decorated the room. The two bureaus made with ivory were stunning, forged in the Florence style and dating from the 17th and 18th century. The jewel chest in the Ladies’ Salon showed off Chinese motifs, and the wings featured a Chinese landscape. The ceiling painting was outstanding; it showed the conquering of Troy. In a bedroom there was an elegant bed with canopy. The Madonna painting hanging behind it was a copy of a work by Raphael.

A captivating bed in Valtice Chateau

A captivating bed in Valtice Chateau

The Marble Salon boasted ornamentation from the 18th century. I loved the pink-and-grey imitation marble on the walls. It was so elegant, so sophisticated! I would love to have walls decorating in that fashion in my house. Floral still lifes dominated the walls, and the god Flora took precedence in the ceiling painting. On one wall in another room there was the shell of a huge tortoise between rifles. I had seen many hunting trophies on walls, but never that of a tortoise. The library featured over a 1,000 volumes, most in French but others also in German and Latin. There was even an old-fashioned elevator in the chateau.

Another exquisite bed in Valtice Chateau

Another exquisite bed in Valtice Chateau

It was a pity we could only see the chapel through a glass partition from one side of the upper level. I admired the richly decorated balcony of the chapel that dated from 1726. The intarsia on the benches below astounded me. Such exquisite detail! There were several paintings in the room from which we peered at the chapel. A 15th century oil painting of Jesus Christ with the Cross proved to be the oldest picture in the chateau. I loved the Baroque Picture Gallery with the paintings set so close together. It was overwhelming, though. There was so much to see on each wall. Hunting themes dominated the room. The ceiling painting carried the same theme – it featured Diana, goddess of the hunt. I loved the Holland Baroque furniture in the Study. It reminded me of the Holland Baroque furnishings I had seen at Český Šternberk Castle in central Bohemia. Other rooms featured ceiling paintings of the Allegory of Morning and the Allegory of Evening.

Valtice Chateau Park

Valtice Chateau Park

In yet another space there was a unique bureau. A section of it opened to reveal a desk, but the bottom part was for storing laundry. It was dazzling, made of ivory with intarsia from various woods. There were also Dutch still lifes of fruit and vegetables and an elegant, light blue bed with a canopy. The ceiling painting focused on the allegory of spring. I wanted to pick some of the flowers out of the basket that was portrayed there. The Reception Room featured pink chairs and wallpaper, giving it a cheerful atmosphere. Baroque landscape paintings dotted one wall.

Valtice Chateau Park

Valtice Chateau Park

Next we saw the Baroque park, built midway through the 18th century. Fascinating architectural objects had been situated there at one time. Perhaps it had been most famous for its gloriette. At the beginning of the 19th century, the park was expanded. There was even an amphitheatre with Baroque statuary built in the park during the early 20th century. Vases and benches had also been part of the park decor. Now those objects are gone, but the park remains intriguing with its many varieties of trees, bushes and flowers.

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We also visited the small town of Valtice, focusing on the main square. The Church of the The Assumption of the Virgin Mary, situated on the southeast side of the main square, was the most impressive sight in my opinion. The Baroque masterpiece hailed from 1679. It had been built after the earlier church collapsed. The church proved to be a harmonious and tranquil continuation of Roman architecture with significant sculptural decoration. At one time a painting by Peter Paul Rubens adorned the main altar, but it was transferred to Vienna during the Prussian Wars because of the threat of invasion by the Turks. Now it hangs in the National Gallery in London. The church has one rectangular nave with side chapels and a wide main altar. The stucco decoration and sculptural ornamentation is impressive. I was also intrigued by the cupola.

The interior of the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary

The interior of the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary

The interior of the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary

The interior of the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary

The Baroque Plague Column hails from 1670, when the lands were experiencing a plague epidemic. It was not completed until the second half of the 18th century. The Virgin Mary crowns the column while five saints also make appearances, including Saint Sebastian and John of Nepomuk, who was drowned in the Vltava River on the order of Bohemian King Wenceslas.

The Plague Column in Valtice

The Plague Column in Valtice

I was overjoyed that I had had the opportunity to see all the rooms open to the public plus the garden and town. Thanks to our superb tour guide, I learned information that I would have never known if I had come there by myself. I just wished tourists would appreciate Valtice as much as they did Lednice. Valtice shouldn’t be in second place but tied for first.

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

Hukvaldy Castle Diary

The breathtaking view from Hukvaldy Castle

The breathtaking view from Hukvaldy Castle

A bus took me directly from Frýdek Místek to Hukvaldy, where I embarked on the uphill, demanding 20-minute walk in the scorching heat. The moment I reached the entrance to the castle ruin in northern Moravia, I was beside myself.

The castle ruins

The castle ruins

The views to the gentle, green Beskydy Mountains, which loomed in the distance, were magnificent. Supposedly, one could even sometimes see as far as the Jeseníky Mountains and Praděd Mountain in the Jeseník region. I saw picturesque, romantic villages in undulating valleys, the lush green of the mountains surrounding the dots that made up the small towns.  I wondered if I could see the Polish or Slovak border.

The views from the castle ruins are breathtaking.

The views from the castle ruins are breathtaking.

Another breathtaking view

Another breathtaking view

Upon entering the castle ruins, I was in for an even bigger surprise. The castle ruins were just as romantic and picturesque as were the views from the wall at the entrance. The music of Leoš Janáček, a native of this village, kept racing through my head. All those compositions inspired by Moravian folk music, the unique melodies and specific, repeating motifs. Before I came to the castle, I had stopped at the local school, where Janácek was born, the ninth child out of 13, on July 3, 1854.

The castle ruins

The castle ruins

The castle dates from the 13th century.

The castle dates from the 13th century.

I skimmed over a brochure about the castle’s history. The monument dates from around 1285. Olomouc bishops gained ownership of the castle in the middle of the 14th century, then the castle changed hands several times before King Jiří of Poděbrady bought it during 1465 in order to return it to the bishops. From that point on, the Olomouc bishopric and later archbishopric were almost continually the owners of Hukvaldy until it became state property in 1948.

The ruins even have their own ghosts.

The ruins even have their own ghosts.

The castle became a ruin in the 18th century.

The castle became a ruin in the 18th century.

The once vibrant castle became a ruin in 1762, when a fire broke out after lightning struck the fortress. Yet the Chapel of Saint Ondřej remains almost untouched since its construction during the end of the 17th century. Decorated with statues of Jan Nepomuk and František Xavier, it is a real, though small, gem.

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Hukvaldychapel2Hukvaldy even has its own ghost named Světlík, who was killed by a hejtman that wanted to marry his beautiful daughter. Světlík refused to let him do so. The castle had a famous prisoner, too. Philip Dambrovsky was accused of poisoning four Olomouc bishops.

A view through the ruin

A view through the ruin

Another view of the ruin

Another view of the ruin

As I walked through the gates and courtyards, strolled around the bastions, peeked into the cellars and took note of the destroyed buildings that were once occupied by the burgrave, I felt energized from the power that was emitted by the stone walls and fragments, as if this place had a significant story to tell and was telling that story as I stepped through its magical gates.

Hukvaldy is, indeed, magical.

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

You can almost hear Janáček's music coming from the ruins.

You can almost hear Janáček’s music coming from the ruins.

A statue of a fox commemorating Janáček's opera, The Cunning Little Vixen.

A statue of a fox commemorating Janáček’s opera, The Cunning Little Vixen.

The views of the mountains in the distance are sure to amaze.

The views of the mountains in the distance are sure to amaze.

The magical countryside

The magical countryside

Vranov nad Dyjí Chateau Diary

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It was my second visit to Vranov nad Dyjí, one of my favorite chateaus, located near Znojmo in south Moravia. Its façade was a hodgepodge of at least three architectural styles. Some medieval elements of the Baroque chateau had been preserved. The Crow’s Tower and the building in the first courtyard harkened back to the Middle Ages. The Baroque fountain was spectacular. I had to stop to admire the garden bursting with color as I walked toward the chateau. The white and yellow Baroque church with belfries was perched on a cliff to the left and below the chateau. It looked to me that it was positioned precariously, as if it would fall off the edge at any moment.

The chateau, part of Podyjí National Park, blended in with the cliffs and picturesque countryside, a characteristic that I found attractive. Vranov nad Dyjí did not disturb nature but rather complemented it. I felt comfortable here in this stunning, natural environment. The rooms were small and intimate (except for the vast Ancestors’ Hall) and were filled with exquisite objects. All the items gave the chateau a unique identity without one artifact overwhelming the others.

I was already familiar with the history of the chateau. Vranov was first mentioned in the Kosmas Chronicle during 1100. Originally, it served as a fortress made of wood and became a stone castle at the end of the 13th and during the 14th century. There were additions made in the 15th century, but in 1665 it succumbed to flames. When Michal Johann II von Althann bought it in 1680, the chateau stayed in the family for more than a century. Michael Johann II made it into a Baroque chateau. Under his guidance the astounding Hall of Ancestors and the chapel were built. Later, the chateau became a three-wing residential palace. Neo-Gothic and Romantic style elements were added during the 19th century. During that century, it was the property of two Polish clans – the Mniszek counts and the Stadnickis. The state took control of the chateau after 1945.

Vranov7Waiting for the tour to begin, I was overwhelmed by the two-flight Baroque main stairway decorated with sculptures. Hercules battled the giant Antaeus. Prince Aeneas carried his feeble father from burning Troy. Then 15 young children scampered toward me. It was my worst nightmare. I was worried that all these children would accompany me on the tour of my beloved chateau, and I would not be able to hear the guide over their cries. At least that had been my experience when visiting other chateaus with groups of young children.

Finally, the tour began. The guide, a tall, lanky, serious blond woman in her early twenties, ushered me and the children as well as a few other adults into the Hall of Ancestors. It took eight years to complete the lush décor of this space with its walls and ceiling covered in breathtaking frescoes celebrating the Althann family. Its stunning beauty made me dizzy. I looked up and noticed a golden chariot floating on the clouds. The female charioteer symbolized the Earth’s fertility, the guide explained. Between the oval windows I could make out the figures of Hercules, Orpheus, Theseus, Odysseus and Perseus praising the Althann ancestors. The family members’ statues decorated the niches of the hall. I was amazed by something else, too. None of the children were misbehaving. Some mumbled to themselves, but they were all fairly quiet and seemed interested in the guide’s descriptions. Maybe they would not be so badly behaved, after all.

Next we went outside onto the terrace, created at the end of the 18th century. The children loved the cannon balls there. The guide explained that the Swedes tried to take over the chateau twice during the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century, but failed to do so. I peered at the valley and romantic landscape that surrounded the chateau. The scenery was postcard perfect. It was so peaceful and tranquil. I could have stared at the landscape forever. Standing there, looking at the countryside of south Moravia, I found inner peace. Perhaps that is why I loved this chateau so much. Here, I found a sense of inner peace, calmness and strength to take on future trials and tribulations.

Then it was time for the residential rooms, furnished as they were at the end of the 18th century and throughout the 19th century. In the tiny entrance to the Pignatelli bedroom, a space that could not fit all the children, I saw a painting of Vranov five years before it was engulfed by flames in the 17th century. I was especially drawn to the scraggly cliffs and the meandering river in the picture as well as to the stone bridge that I walked on earlier today. Then we entered the main room, which was once the private chapel. A moustached man told a few rambunctious children to be quiet. The room exuded a sense of symmetry so typical of the Classicist era.  I noticed the exquisite fabric texture of the wall hangings, decorated with hunting themes and picturesque landscapes. Two statues inspired by antiquity flanked a canopy bed and stood on pedestals. I was enamored by their exquisite green leaf motifs.

The next space had been a dining room since the 1720s. The printed stoneware on the table featured the Italian town of Ferrara and came from the prominent Vranov earthenware factory founded in the 19th century. I was filled with awe as I took in the pictures on the wall. The hand-painted canvas showed landscape views of a park with ancient, medieval, Chinese and Egyptian structures. The guide pointed out a scene showing the Park Monceau in Paris. Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, whose tenure on the throne lasted from 1711 to 1740, made an appearance in the scene. No stranger to the Althann family, Charles VI was a close friend of Marie Anna, who was an owner of the chateau in the second half of the 18th century. The emperor had even visited Vranov. Two children were scolded for pushing each other.

In the Family Salon the owner’s relatives and guests would discuss private and public topics after a meal. They played cards or chess, read books, listened to music and sipped coffee, tea or hot chocolate. A samovar tea urn from Russia’s Tula town attested to this ritual. The white-grey and pistachio colors of the wall fabrics entranced me. They showed Pompeii and other ancient towns. A young girl with bright blue eyes giggled.

The Blue Salon, the ladies’ living room, exuded a Classical style with its blue wall hangings and two sculptures of Aphrodite on white stoves. The furniture, an elegant blue mahogany, hailed from the 19th century and was made in Empire style. There were various kinds of porcelain – Viennese and Meissen, for example – in the room as well. The children began to appear restless, no longer paying much attention to the exhibits.

Vranovview2The Respirium was where the family relaxed after taking a bath. The wall and ceiling décor fascinated me. The Classicist relief stucco and ornamentation featuring carved wood was so elegant, and I felt so comfortable in this space. The white columns had hidden compartments where toiletries were kept. I loved the stucco decorations above the door. In one scene, Artemis, goddess of the hunt, was being watched by Actaeon, who happened to be hunting in the forest when he saw her naked. Artemis turned him into a deer that her dogs devoured. I was glad that I was able to hear the guide as the children talked and argued among themselves. One girl with long chestnut-colored hair who would someday turn into a very beautiful woman began to cry.

Next we saw the Classicist bathroom, hailing from the 18th century. Artificial marble lined the walls. I loved the four black columns that appeared so elegant without being extravagant.  The guide, her voice a bit hoarse now, explained that the central pool had been used as a bathing area, but now visitors threw coins in the water for good luck. The children became excited and pleaded with the adults to give them some change. The chaperones shook their heads.

Hailing from the 18th century, a Rococo screen with Chinese motifs took precedence in the Oriental Salon. On the screen I could make out oriental gardens with bodies of water and paths. An aristocratic couple was celebrating around exotic figures. I was fascinated by the three unique sections of a 19th century Chinese scroll preserved in three rectangular frames. The scroll depicted a poet who had lived in the third century. The scribbler was coming home after being captured by the Huns. The scrolls showed her Hunnish escort, musicians and a general riding under a canopy while the poet held a child under a royal standard. This time a few of the children appeared interested in the scenes on the scroll as they talked among themselves about ancient battles.

Next came the Pompeii Salon with graphics on the walls depicting interiors of ancient palaces and villas. Vranov stoneware made a prominent appearance here. My eyes wandered to a pink vase with green décor. How I would love for my mother to be able to see that! She would love that vase! Maybe some day she would, I told myself. I wanted to show my parents so much of this country, but I would never have the chance to show them everything. The children showed no interest in the space.

The Althann Salon was another delight. Many of the paintings depicted members of this family, so significant to the development of the chateau. I admired the Baroque traveling altar. Brightly colored Vranov stoneware from the 19th century could also be found throughout the salon. By now the children were whining, restless, ready to leave.

The Gentlemen’s Salon hailed from the 19th century, and the decorations were inspired by spiritual alchemy. The scene above the door showed two female figures sleeping. Naked figures above four landscapes held torches. The symbols under the landscapes were focused on the Freemasons. The compasses and the square represented the meeting of heaven and earth, the guide remarked over a din of children’s cries. I admired the four landscapes on the walls, especially the depiction of the waterfall. I could almost hear the cascading water. The youngsters were not able to sit still.

The Swiss Rooms with 19th century landscape paintings on the walls were the next stops. I recognized Hercules in the midst of a battle. A black-stained cabinet was inlaid with marble depicting castles, towns, and rocks. The Picture Gallery included paintings by Dutch and Austrian artists from the 17th to 19th centuries. The Study was decorated with 19th century symbols of alchemy.

Last but not least came the library rooms. Created at the beginning of the 19th century, they now housed some 10,000 volumes. The black cabinets with geometrical designs looked sleek. Most of the books were written in French, German and Polish and hailed from the 18th and 19th centuries. The volumes consisted of both fiction and non-fiction that included subjects such as philosophy, mathematics, geography, theatre and history. I gazed at Voltaire’s collected works in cabinet 13.

Soon the tour was over. The children and their escorts scrambled away, and I took off toward the Chapel of the Holy Trinity in its romantic setting on the edge of the cliff below the chateau.  It was hard for me to believe that this impressive structure was completed within two years (1699-1700). Relieved that the children were not going to the church, I turned out to be the only one on the tour. I overheard a couple above the stairs leading down to the chapel.

“Do you want to see the chapel?”

The answer: “No, it does not seem so interesting.”

Vranovchurch1That couple did not know what they were missing. Architecturally, the interior had a central cylindrical nave with six oval rooms. There were three altars. Notably absent from the main altar was a picture or any kind of centerpiece. I had never seen a main altar like that before. I liked it because it was unique. I could see the Holy Trinity, and a pigeon represented the Holy Spirit. Angels also appeared in the Baroque creation, and golden rods shot out of the work.

The fresco in the cupola celebrated Archangel Michael, the defender of the Catholic Church, wielding a sword as he defeated Satan. Victorious, he placed his foot on his opponent’s chest. Angels danced and swirled around him. One side altar showed Saint Sebastian struck with arrows and Saint John the Baptist accompanied by sheep. The other altar portrayed Saint Barbara with a tower and Saint John with an eagle, holding a book. The Virgin Mary wore golden, flowing drapery.

Oval panels above the altars dealt with themes such as Heaven, Paradise and the Last Judgment.  The panel depicting the Last Judgment featured skeletons. One skeleton’s gesture seemed to be saying, “What? Me?”

After the tour of the church, I gazed at the romantic countryside and at the elegant chateau that blended with its surroundings, becoming a part of nature yet still retaining its own identity. Yes, I felt at peace here, even when among the rambunctious children on the tour. This place gave me strength that I often lacked. In the countryside here I also found a sense of hope.  The panorama gave me energy and a sense of optimism.

I left, reluctantly, to walk down the steep hill to the village below. From there the bus would take me back to Znojmo, where I would see a castle with magnificent interiors, a stunning rotunda, a spectacular church and several picturesque squares. I would stay in that intriguing south Moravian town overnight before heading back to Prague.Image

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

Velké Losiny Chateau Diary

ImageDuring an Easter vacation in Olomouc, I decided to pay a visit to the chateau in Velké Losiny, which was a two-hour bus ride away. I was enthusiastic about seeing the chateau as I had recently read Václav Kaplický’s Witch Hammer, based on the witch trials that took place in northern Moravia from 1678 to 1692. In both the book and real life, Deacon Kryštof Alois Lautner tried to protect those branded as witches from a cruel fate, but even he wound up on the stake. I thought it was interesting that the witch trails in what is now the Czech Republic had been confined to two regions of northern Moravia, where there was a mostly German-speaking population.

It terrified me that people could believe such terrible superstitions and that because of those superstitions they could torture and kill fellow human beings. For 15 years, when the emperor’s inquisitor Jindřich František Boblig from Edelstadt occupied the chateau, more than 100 people from the regions were killed, 56 of them from Velké Losiny. The opportunity to see a place where such religious intolerance was carried out sent a chill up my spine. The very idea of people being burned as witches terrified me; yet I just had to see this place with my own eyes.

It made me sad that, although there are no longer witch trials, religious intolerance in such extreme forms still exists today. There were so many examples of religious intolerance in the modern world that it frightened and disgusted me.

As the bus took me north, I saw more and more snow on the ground, even though it was spring. I was the only person on the bus without skis.  Many were even standing in the aisle because all the seats were taken. When the bus came to Velké Losiny, it passed the white three-winged Renaissance chateau with beautiful arcades but didn’t even slow down at the stop. The driver evidently thought he only had skiers on board, and no one was waiting at that particular stop. I spoke up frantically that I needed to get off the bus, and a skier quickly told the driver. Finally, the bus let me off. About 15 skiers had to disembark from the bus in order for me to get out. Luckily, even though the driver hadn’t stopped where he was supposed to, I still wasn’t far away from the chateau.

VelkeLosinycloseupWhen I approached the chateau, I noticed the exquisite sgraffito on one wall of the Renaissance wing from the 1680s and discovered that the chateau was really made of two parts: the Renaissance palace with arcaded courtyard and a Baroque two-storey building. The arcades in the courtyard gave the chateau a dignified look, I thought.  They dated from the 17th century, and the Baroque arcades were decorated with sculptures of dwarfs. It wasn’t until the tour that I realized the Renaissance windows were the oldest in Central Europe.

The guide explained that the Žerotín family had owned the chateau for more than 300 years, until 1802, and that Jan the Younger of Žerotín had built the Renaissance palace, a project that was finally finished in 1589. Also, this particular Žerotín, in 1596, founded the paper mill nearby, where paper was made by hand even today. It holds the distinction of being the only paper mill in Europe that makes paper by hand. During the Thirty Years’ War, the Žerotíns did not lose their property even though they did not convert to Catholicism. The Lichtenstein family took over the chateau from the Žerotíns in the 19th century because the Žerotíns were experiencing financial difficulties. The Žerotín portrait gallery in the chateau dates as far back as the 17th century, the guide pointed out.

Lake at Velke LosinyOn the tour, which consisted of only the guide and me, I stood on a parquet floor that was 400 years old. One 400-year old door was beautifully decorated with intarsia. In the Knights’ Hall I marveled at a majolica tiled stove, the third oldest in the Czech Republic, dating from 1585. The white, brown, blue and green colors intrigued me. The leather wallpaper also caught my attention. One of the two oldest leather wall coverings in the Czech Republic, it was decorated with floral ornament and a joint coat-of-arms of the Žerotín and Oppersdorf families. It dated from 1660. I especially liked the griffin with elaborate wings that stood for the Oppersdorfs. I looked up and thought I saw a panel ceiling, but it was only an illusion. The ceiling was, in fact, painted  in magnificent blue and gold colors. I also saw a Renaissance cupboard that was 400 years old, from the last quarter of the 16th century.

The guide informed me that above this space was a large room with a beamed ceiling where the witch craft trials took place in 1678, but the room was not open to the public. What a pity, I thought. That would be something to write home about! And to think I was standing in the room right below it!

In the library founded by Jan of Žerotín, the books ranged from the 15th to 19th century and were written in Latin, German and Czech, for example. They covered topics about horses, astrology and law, to name a few. In the center of the room, I saw a Renaissance reading pulpit made of ebony inlaid with ivory. I was especially intrigued with a leather wall covering that featured golden arabesques. Lions figured in some corners on the borders of the wallpaper.

In another room I saw the thrilling painting, “Night Festivity in Sienna,” which depicted firecrackers going off over a square. I liked the elements of fantasy in the picture that most likely dated from the 18th century.  I set my eyes on beautiful Baroque tapestries with motifs of a legend about Cupid and Psyche. They were woven around the middle of the 14th century. One tapestry illustrated a scene with Cupid and Psyche. A second tapestry showed Psyche and her two sisters. A third portrayed Mercury, Zeus and other gods at Cupid and Psyche’s wedding.  I saw even more tapestries in the chateau, and the guide proudly explained that this chateau had the second most tapestries in Moravia.

A set of four more tapestries decorated another room. The first showed Antony meeting Cleopatra; the second was titled, “A Torchlight Feast”; the third elaborated on the theme of Cleopatra’s and Antony’s love for each other; and the fourth, dating from 1560, dealt with Roman history as it portrayed the heroic young Roman Mucius Scaevola, who tried unsuccessfully to assassinate Etruscan king Lars Posenna. Because of his courage, he was not killed, though his right arm was badly burned. This particular tapestry dated from the second half of the 16th century.

In another room an early Baroque cabinet from Spain was inlaid with ivory. The drawers featured pictures made of tortoiseshell and ivory. I was enthralled by a small carved altar from Peru or Chile. It dated back to the 17th century, most likely. I saw even more leather wallpaper, this time from 1640, and a Baroque panel ceiling. I also took note of a Spanish bureau dating from the 17th century; it was called a vargueno. One particular painting fascinated me. It carried an inscription in an old form of the Czech language and showed a woman praying and Christ on the cross. Hailing from 1566, it was the funeral picture of Magdelene of Zástřizl, marked with the date of her death, the same year the painting was executed.

Then the guide and I came to a room where a copy of the official, thick book about the witch trials was displayed. She mentioned that among the 56 victims had been a Catholic priest. I imagined Boblig flipping through that fat volume, feeling pleased with himself, choosing which woman to torture next. Those thoughts both angered and terrified me. The atrocities of that period were too much for me to fathom.

In the two chapels, decorated by Jan Kryštof Handke and dating from the 1740s, I set my eyes on an astounding ceiling fresco featuring allegorical figures representing the four continents. A man with a parrot stood for America. Why Handke had chosen this particular symbol for America, I did not know.  Other figures included a kneeling woman with a crown to represent Europe, a man with a turban to denote Asia and a bowing black man as Africa.

The big chapel also featured a marble Rococo altar and a Renaissance altar of Madonna with child. The organ from 1723 still worked, the guide claimed. The fresco ceiling painting in the small chapel was the inspiration of Handke as well, and Baroque elements had been added to the late Renaissance altar. A copy of a Gothic statuette of Madonna of Altotting, from the Bavaria region of Germany, dated from the 14th century. Silk paintings also decorated the space.

The Empire Wing, where the Lichtensteins had lived, featured light wood Beidermeyer furniture. The porcelain was from Slavkov in the Czech Lands and from Vienna, Austria. The park, from 1802 in the English style, included eight sandstone sculptures of dwarves from the 1830s and a fountain decorated with a sculpture featuring fish and putti.

I left the chateau, astounded, unable to take in all I had seen, and set off for the paper mill nearby, where I went on a one-hour tour of the place. Founded in the 16th century, it was one of the oldest paper mills in Europe and was now the only existing one. Even the wife of a stationer who had worked here had been burned as a witch during Boblig’s reign. The handmade paper was made from cotton and flax. Some items in the museum included examples of Japanese handmade paper and a model of a paper crusher. I saw how paper was dried by hanging it on poles and learned about press compaction and the drainage of paper, among other things.

Then I found a restaurant in a hotel, ate a big meal of chicken, peaches and ham, wrote some postcards and soon left for the bus stop. This time, I hoped the bus would stop at the designated place.

It did.

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

Arcades of Velke Losiny Chateau 2