Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Malá Strana and Hradčany (Prague, Czech Republic)

John Lennon Wall

After our lengthy perusal of the Musaion, we walked through Malá Strana (the Little Quarter or Lesser Town). We saw more beautiful buildings, including the Czech Museum of Music, among others, before we found our way to the John Lennon Wall.

After John Lennon was murdered in 1980, an image of him was painted on this wall (across from the French embassy), along with political graffiti and Beatles lyrics. The secret police kept whitewashing the wall, but the graffiti was always replenished. (Not only was John Lennon a pacifist hero for many young people, but most Western pop music was banned by the communists -- some Czech musicians were arrested for playing Western pop music.)

After the Velvet Revolution in 1989, much of the original graffiti was lost to weathering and additional graffiti, but now visiting tourists have contributed their own political messages and other graffiti.

Yes, the guitarist was playing a Beatles tune. And yes, we gave him some coin. :-)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Vests and jackets and shawls, oh my! (Czech folk costumes, Musaion)

As I mentioned previously, the Musaion in Prague had quite an extensive collection of Czech folk costumes (see my earlier posts here, here, and here).  In this post I'll include photos of individual garments and accessories from the Musaion collection.  (You can click on the photos to enlarge them, if desired. My apologies for the poor quality of some of the photos -- what with low lighting and reflections from the glass, it's hard to get good photos in museums, at times.)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Czech out these hats! (Musaion, Prague)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have a bit of an obsession with hats, so I took photos of some of the Czech hats at the Musaion (Ethnographic Museum) in Prague.  (My apologies for the terrible pun in the title of this post -- I blame the t-shirts we saw in Prague emblazoned with "Czech this out!")

(Note that you can click on any of the photos to enlarge them.)

Here is a closeup of one of the hats in the wedding tableau (you can see the whole tableau in the photos at the end of my previous post). Isn't it wonderful? I love the tiny size and the elaborate interweaving of ribbon and beadwork.  I so want a hat like this -- although I know it would look ridiculous on me.  The shiny beads and ribbon remind me of some of the Polish hats I saw at the Ethnographic Museum

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Czech Folk Costumes (Musaion, Prague)

The Musaion (Ethnographic Museum) in Prague has an extensive collection of Czech folk costumes dispersed through a number of different rooms and display cases. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences from the Polish folk costumes at the Ethnographic Museum in Kraków.  I also found a list of the key differences between Czech and Slovak costumes here -- number 13 on the list is "If woman has a really giant bow attached to her head, it’s Czech."  Note the enormous bow on the costume pictured above.

I love the fanciful quality of design lines that extend well beyond the frame of the body.  It looks as if she could fly away on the first stiff wind.   Or maybe the bow can become a propeller and she just skims along the ground like a low-flying helicopter.  

(Remember that you can click on the photos to enlarge them, if desired.)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Czech Holiday Costumes & Customs (Musaion, Prague)

In addition to showing folk art, costumes and tools, the Musaion (Ethnographic Museum) also had exhibits related to the major religious holidays. Many of the costumes and practices were derived from pre-Christian traditions, including themes of nature and respect for ancestors.  The signage at the museum didn't include specific details about the particular costumes, so I did a bit of internet research and turned up a number of unusual Czech folk traditions. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Petřín Hill and the Musaion (Prague, Czech Republic)

Lego Museum

On our fifth day in Prague, we walked to Petřín Hill, a large public park. On our way, we looked in at the Lego Museum. While we didn't actually go in to see the museum exhibits, we ogled the Lego kits in the shop and admired this mural, made entirely of Legos. 

View from the Legion Bridge (Most Legií) over the Vlatava River

On our way to Petřín Hill, we crossed over the river via the Legion Bridge, which was virtually empty of pedestrians (compared to the crush of the Charles Bridge). This photo is looking toward the Charles Bridge.  You can see beautiful pictures of the Legion Bridge here.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Wenceslas Square (Prague, Czech Republic)

After spending the morning at the Mucha museum, we walked around Wenceslas Square in New Town (Nové Město). Wenceslas Square was the site of the 1989 Velvet Revolution demonstrations and the announcement of the fall of communism in what was then Czechoslovakia. The square is now a testament to capitalism, with loads of shopping and eateries, but also has some interesting architecture and public art.

Grand Hotel Evropa

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Sex Machines Museum (Prague, Czech Republic)

We often enjoy quirky, off-beat museums, so we made time to visit two museums listed as part of "Eccentric Prague" in one of our guide books: The Museum of Torture Instruments and the Sex Machine Museum. I didn't take pictures at the torture museum -- not only was the content disturbing, but I wasn't sure about the historical accuracy of the signage or the provenance of the actual implements being shown.

But I did take photos at the Sex Machines Museum -- after all, being a sex educator, this is work related for me. (Does this make my whole trip a tax write-off?) This is the third sex-related museum we've been to -- we've seen the Museum of Sex in NYC and the Erotic Museum of Barcelona. The Sex Machine Museum in Prague was good, although I would have liked more detailed signage to provide context for the items shown. The museum exhibits included a variety of sex aids, including some elaborate mechanical sexual furniture, as well as anti-masturbation machines and clothing, chastity belts, and BDSM equipment and accessories.

[Note:  If you are offended by frank discussions or depictions of sexuality, you may not wish to read further.]

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Municipal House and the Jewish Quarter (Prague, Czech Republic)

Municipal House (Obecní dům)

Just a few blocks from our hotel is the grand Municipal House, one of the finest examples of Prague Art Nouveau. It was built on the site of the former royal palace in the early 20th century and a number of artists contributed to its design and decoration, including Alfons Mucha. It currently houses civic functions, a ballroom and the Smetana concert hall.

We were only able to look at the public areas of the building, as we couldn't make it to one of the daily tours, so we didn't see the paintings by Mucha in Mayor Hall. But we did spend a solid morning at the Mucha museum a couple of blocks away, poring over his posters, paintings, and sketches, as well as watching a film about his life. He is often best remembered for the work he did in Paris, so I did not know how much he worked for the creation of an independent state and recognition of the history and culture of those in Czechoslovakia. He was pleased to provide his work to a number of buildings in Prague and he spent years finishing his Slav Epic. He was among the first to be arrested by the Nazis after they invaded and it broke his health, as he died shortly after being released. 

Municipal House (Obecní dům)

There was beautiful metal work in the outdoor railings as well as around the elevator in the lobby. I'm sparing you the photos of the elevator grille I took. Seriously, though, would one ever get tired of this beauty?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Old Town (Prague, Czech Republic)

Lokál (Prague, Czech Republic)

Our first night in Prague, we had dinner at
Lokál, a restaurant/beer hall which features Czech cuisine. It was very loud and a bit smoky (even in the non-smoking section), but the food was tasty. The table next to ours was celebrating some special occasion, perhaps a birthday, as they brought a cake as well as ordering lots of beer. Sadly, they didn't offer us any cake.

I liked the designs scratched into the wood paneling (lit from behind, they glowed). We decided this might count as an example of sgraffito (a Renaissance technique of creating designs by scratching into a surface to reveal a different color or tone underneath).  Both Q and I remember doing crayon sgraffito as children; I put down colored crayon markings and then covered the entire page with black crayon (a tedious process that kept me occupied
for some time -- looking back, I can see why my mother encouraged this activity).  Then I used a pin to scratch through the black crayon, revealing the colored crayon underneath.  Sgraffito!  (I wonder, would reverse appliqué be a kind of textile sgraffito?)

Church of Our Lady Before Týn

After our dinner, we wandered around the Old Town (Staré město) area, walking by In Utero, a large sculpture of a pregnant woman, one of the many David Černý sculptures in and around Prague.

We found our way to the Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí), which has been Prague's main public square since the 10th century. We walked through the square virtually every day we were in Prague, and it was always full of people. We saw a variety of musicians as well as some dancer/contortionists, in and amongst the throngs of tourists. That first night we were treated to a women's chorus (which brought back fond memories of when I sang with the Anna Crusis Women's Choir), although I have no idea what the women were singing, as it was (presumably) in Czech.

Church of Our Lady Before Týn, with its Gothic spires, was not only dramatic at night and beautiful inside by day (no photos allowed, alas), but it also provided a terrific landmark to orient us as we walked around Old Town. The church was built in the 15th century. The interior is Baroque in style and contains the tomb of Tycho Brache, the famous Danish astronomer who died of a burst bladder, being too polite to leave the royal table to relieve himself. Let that be a lesson to you.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Art Deco Imperial Hotel (Prague, Czech Republic)

The foyer in the Art Deco Imperial Hotel (Photo by Q)

Our hotel in Prague was absolutely beautiful. The Art Deco Imperial Hotel was built in 1914, and combines the architectural styles of Art Deco, cubism and Art Nouveau. The hotel interior is full of gorgeous tile work, such as this bas-relief in the foyer that reflects Egyptian motifs. The building is listed as a Czech National Monument. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Hats! at the Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

As I perused the folk costumes at the Ethnographic Museum in Kraków, I was enchanted by the elaborately decorated hats.  I've written before about how I used to wear and collect hats.  Although I don't collect hats any more and rarely wear them, I guess I still have some inner hat lust that emerged at the sight of these beauties.

More than most accessories, hats seem full of symbolic and cultural significance.  As we were traveling, we visited synagogues, where Q was required to cover his head, and cathedrals, where he was asked to remove his hat to uncover his head.  Wearing hats can denote respect or disrespect.  Historically, women's hats have often been derided as silly fashion accoutrements, and yet a woman wasn't considered fully dressed without an appropriate hat.  Each type of hat has its own meaning -- the cap, the fedora, the bowler, all call to mind different situations and different types of people. (In one episode of the British sitcom, Are You Being Served?, they discuss specific rules about who is allowed to wear which type of hat, based on their rank in the company, for example.)  Consider this quote from Bella Abzug:
I began wearing hats as a young lawyer because it helped me to establish my professional identity. Before that, whenever I was at a meeting, someone would ask me to get coffee. -- Bella Abzug
The hats at the Ethnographic Museum seemed more like the kind one would wear on festive occasions, rather than an everyday accessory.  But as the museum signage notes, folk costumes carry a great deal of meaning about one's social place, so without a more detailed understanding of traditional Polish culture, I can't speak to the cultural significance of the hats.  But I can enjoy the artistry and adornment they represent. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Delightful Details: Embellishment at the Ethnographic Museum in Kraków

When I'm looking at clothing in museums, I'm always on the lookout for Delightful Details -- those little touches that make all the difference in the garment.  I'm particularly drawn to embellishment:  Embroidery, beading, and other types of surface design make my heart sing.  The Polish folk costumes at the Ethnographic Museum were full of embellishment and I tried to capture as many details as possible while I was there.  There is so much inspiration here -- I am excited about the idea of translating these folk designs into more contemporary clothing embellishment and textile art.

Remember that you can click on the photos to enlarge them.  (My apologies for the quality of some of the photos -- it's hard to get good photos in museums at times.)  

This vest features seed beads and sequins to create floral designs and shirt buttons (they look like mother-of-pearl to me) to outline the petals at the bottom of the vest.  I also like the triangle points at the top of the vest, which create an interesting neckline. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Ethnographic Museum (Kraków, Poland)

Folk costumes at the Ethnographic Museum (Kraków, Poland).

The next day we spent the morning at the Rynek Underground museum (as I mentioned in an earlier post) and then walked back to the Kazimierz district to see the Ethnographic Museum, housed in the former town hall building.

The museum had reconstructed interiors and models of homes and workshops (e.g., a fulling mill), tools and implements related to agricultural work and craft, and displays of folk art, such as nativity scenes (more szopka!), decorated eggs, and a special exhibition of woodcuts. However, I was mostly interested in the costumes.

The museum had a whole room devoted to folk costumes, and I spent a happy hour or so there, taking photos of costumes and embellishment details. Luckily, there was also a comfy sofa, so that Q could sit and wait for me to be done ooh-ing and ah-ing over the costumes.

The exhibit also had a nice general summary of Polish folk costume, noting that: "Costume was of primary importance in folk culture. It helped to determine social status, area of residence, marital and financial status of a person wearing it. The function of a festive attire made people spare no effortmor [sic] expense on it. Costume is one of the leading elements in folk art."

See? My interest is justified, both at an artistic and anthropological level.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Wawel Hill & the Jewish Quarter in Kazimierz (Kraków, Poland)

Wawel Cathedral (Kraków, Poland)

We had another beautiful day to explore Wawel Hill, the site of Wawel Castle and Wawel Cathedral. This Gothic cathedral held coronations, royal funerals and entombments for centuries.

The tower on the left is a clock tower, topped by a Baroque spire (18th century) and statues of saints Wacław, Adalbert, Stanislaw, & Kazimierz. The tower on the right is a bell tower.

But behind it (not visible from this angle) is Zygmunt/Sigismund Tower which holds the Zygmunt/Sigismund Bell, the largest historic bell in Poland. It is 2m high, 2.5m in diameter and weighs 11 tons (the clapper alone weighs 350kg). It takes eight strong people to ring the bell. We walked up the twisty and narrow stairs to see it and it is indeed huge and heavy-looking. You can see the bell and hear how it sounds here.

Photos were prohibited inside the Cathedral, so I can't show you the gorgeous stained-glass windows. But you can see some nice photos of the interior of the cathedral here.  

Friday, October 31, 2014

Auschwitz-Birkenau (Oświęcim, Poland)

As we were planning our trip to Poland, we knew that we needed to include some historical sites related to WWII and the Holocaust, as these are significant aspects of Polish history.  Kraków itself escaped much of the bombing that flattened cities like Warsaw, allowing its medieval architecture to remain intact (as we saw in Old Town).  But it was just outside of Kraków, in Auschwitz-Birkenau, that the Nazis first experimented with the gas chambers that would become the "final solution."  The camps are now a memorial and museum; we put this on our must-see list of sights.  (We had hoped to see the Schindler Factory museum, as well, but didn't manage to find time to get there.)  We took a bus from Kraków to Oświęcim, a small town where former Polish army barracks became Auschwitz and where the Nazis built the Birkenau extermination camp, using the forced labor of those brought to the camps.

These birds greeted us as we arrived at Oświęcim to see the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial & Museum. I couldn't identify the species of bird, although they seemed vaguely pigeon-like. We had a quick bite to eat on the benches outside the museum, waving away bees, before we embarked on the four hour tour of the camps.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Wieliczka Salt Mine (Poland)

Sculpture in the Chapel of St. Kinga in the Wieliczka Salt Mine

After exploring Old Town in Kraków, we took a bus trip out to see the Wieliczka Salt Mine.  The Wieliczka Salt Mine has been in operation from the 13th century (although at this point there is no salt being mined; miners work to maintain the structures of the mine). Legend has it that the salt in the mine was the dowry of Princess Kinga, who became the patron saint of salt miners. The mine is enormous -- 300 km over 9 levels (but the tours only include the upper three levels). The tour includes displays of how salt was mined as well as the amazing sculptures created from salt by the miners.

The mine contains a number of chapels, but the St. Kinga chapel is the most impressive. It is a huge chamber, full of detailed sculptures and bas-reliefs made from rock salt (including a replica of The Last Supper and a statue of Pope John Paul II). The sculptures in this chapel were made over the course of 30 years by just a few of the miners in their spare time. The artistry is exquisite. You can see more of the sculptures here.  

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Old Town (Kraków, Poland)

Singing group in the Maly Rynek in Kraków

Generally, my schedule revolves around the academic year, so if we take a vacation, we do so during the summer.  But this year, I'm on sabbatical (my first sabbatical ever), so we were able to take a trip in the fall.  We spent two weeks visiting Kraków in Poland and Prague in the Czech Republic.  (Note that this travelogue will not be precisely sequential, but rather thematic or by area -- we visited some areas more than once, so I'll sometimes use photos from different days of our trip in the same post.  You can click on the photos to enlarge them, if desired.)

Our visit to
Kraków coincided with the Kraków Film and Music Festival, so there were various performances, films, and booths set up in the Maly Rynek (small town square) and the Rynek Główny (main town square) in Old Town. The town squares had a festive atmosphere, even at night, which was quite delightful -- lots of vendors and food stalls, as well as performers.  The photo above shows one of the performing groups in the Maly Rynek, presumably singing traditional Polish music.