Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Day 144: #PROGinPRAGUE (Or: we're halfway there?!)

Hello beloved readers!

Sorry for the belated post--this weekend I was in Prague for some sightseeing and a concert, and I didn't take my laptop with me because I wanted to travel as light as possible! According to this handy-dandy site I found, today marks the halfway point of my Fulbright adventure, which is such a strange thing to consider. In some ways it feels like I just got here. 144 days feels somehow like both a lot of days and also not nearly enough days to encompass everything that I've experienced. Here's to the next 144!
I'm not sure how to caption this, frankly. I just really like to pose with life-size statues.
Before I get to recounting my adventures in the Czech Republic, I did get some sad news Saturday morning: I received my first graduate school rejection. I am pretty bummed, but I still have a few decisions I am waiting to receive, so I have to keep my chin up and just continue to work hard while I'm here and hope for the best. It's just so competitive to get into these programs, and I would be happy to attend any of the schools I applied to. It's hard to stay optimistic while waiting so long--especially with the time difference, which makes it feel even longer. So I guess... double-cross your fingers in addition to sending me all those sweet, sweet vibes? I'd appreciate it very much.

Back to more fun things! So another Fulbrighter and I got up early Sunday morning to take the Flixbus bus from Vienna into Prague. We had decided to go way back in November, when Dream Theater, a band we both really like, announced a special anniversary tour with stops in Europe. When the tour was first announced, there wasn't a date posted when they would be coming to Vienna, so I looked through the scheduled concerts and found the one that was geographically closest to Vienna, which turned out to be Prague! It's about 4.5 hours away by bus, which is not bad at all after my TEN HOUR BUS RIDE to Berlin in December. I dozed and listened to music--pretty standard Deborah bus ride behavior (or plane ride behavior, frankly).

Once we arrived in Prague, we checked into our hostel: the Hostel One Home, which was apparently voted the best hostel in the entirety of the Czech Republic in 2016 by Hostelworld.com--pretty snazzy (only the best hostels for me, apparently)! It's located a few blocks from the old city center and wasn't too far from the Dream Theater concert venue (the Forum Karlín). I do wish we'd had a bit more time to stay in the hostel, because it seemed like a really great community--the hostel cooks its guests delicious free dinner, offers cheap continental breakfast, organizes afternoon tourist outings daily, and goes drinking and clubbing every night in cool underground bars around the city. It seems pretty above and beyond the normal hostel amenities, to be sure, but then again, I haven't stayed in many hostels. 
Love me some continental breakfast.
It was largely bright and sunny when we arrived, with a sprinkling of clouds that slowly took over as the afternoon wore on. We walked around the old city a bit, taking in the beautiful architecture before crossing the river to get to where the National Gallery of Prague (because the first thing I needed to do was definitely go to an art museum, naturally) is temporarily located while the main building is under renovation. Aside from what I am uniformly calling Sad Communist Architecture (tm), the buildings in Prague are old and elegant and lovely--each one seems unique and detailed with care. With the fairly good weather, walking around the small jewel-box of the old city created another moment where I felt like I was on a movie set or at a Disney theme park. (Is there a mini-Prague at Epcot Park?) There were old motor-cars straight out of Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang offering tours of the city and uneven, winding cobblestone streets--all very classical European grandeur. 
Where's Truly Scrumptious when you need her?
The clouds began spreading around 3 pm, but couldn't but a damper on the enjoyment of walking.
Of course we walked by this famous shiny old clock. So many tourists in the main square, even in the winter! Must be packed during the summer.
What a great view. Reminded me a little bit of the hilltop part of Zagreb with the river/bridge combo of Salzburg
Since the museum was celebrating its 221st anniversary the weekend we were there, fortuitously the admission price was the best price: free! The National Gallery of Prague, at least at this location, holds modern and contemporary European art, naturally with a focus on Czech artists. Since I know nothing about Czech artists not named Mucha, walking through the many, many galleries in the building was a wild experience, because everything--even the mid-20th-century works--was so different from the Modernism of western European countries like France, Italy, and Germany. There were paintings, sculptures, installations, architectural models, photographs, and mixed-media works galore, all of which made me genuinely excited as someone interested in contemporary art. It's nothing like what people are selling in auctions or at art fairs; for that, you go to the Broad Museum in downtown Los Angeles. What the works at the National Gallery of Prague demonstrated to me on Sunday was a commitment to being different, strange--maybe even ugly or off-putting, at first or second glance, but truly and intentionally well out of left-field (look, Ma, a sports reference!). 
I did not get any closer to the sides because I do not do heights and it was plenty dizzying from here.
I only wish I'd had more time to check out the whole of the collection in this building, since it's six-ish stories of what seems like endlessly long galleries both circling the central atrium and extending deep within the building, and we only got through about five before our exhaustion caught up with us (since the elevator was being impossibly uncooperative, that meant a lot of stairs). I would also have liked to have gone and seen the Old Master-era works, but they were in a different building in another part of the city, and we just didn't have time to fit in everything.
If you are the kind of person who would ask "why is this in a museum?" (aka my brother) then perhaps the National Gallery of Prague is not for you.
I am a buffoon who forgot to take photos of the captions, so I cannot tell you who made this awesome thing.
Part of a triptych of photographs with evocative phrases projected onto oceanic landscapes by an artist whose name also evades me!
I just wanted to imitate this odd little chicken-man-thing.
I don't know what this is.
Weird dogs lying around being weird! I need more words for weird to accurately describe the emotions I felt in my heart when I saw this cluster of sculptures. 
After returning to the hostel for a catnap and dinner, the employees (who were mostly Americans) of the hostel took us to a really cool underground bar that seemed like where the characters of The Little Mermaid would go to get a drink. The exchange rate of euros to crowns, which is the Czech currency, is roughly 1 euro to 25 crowns, and in general, food and drink was pretty inexpensive compared to what it would have cost in Vienna. Of course every time I looked at a menu I had to divide everything in my head (what is math?) but ultimately I managed just fine. 
 On Monday, my friend and I woke up, enjoyed some continental breakfast and headed out to walk around another area of the city. Before we left our building, however, we found that the basement of the building holding our hostel is actually a really charming antique books shop, so we nosed around it for a bit before going on our way. I ended up buying a little postcard with stylized linework drawings of some classic Prague architectural landmarks on it.
So cute that you can almost forget there are no real windows!
After some thrift shopping at a store highlighted on our hostel-provided map, we tucked in to a fantastic lunch at a nearby restaurant, where I enjoyed scrumptious duck leg and bread dumplings on a bed of red cabbage and cranberry for what was less than ten euro. Even a day later, I'm still thinking about how good that lunch was--if only I remembered the name of the restaurant! (My lack of memory regarding practical details on this trip seems to be somewhat of a running theme.)
I want to reach into my computer screen and grab that plate with my hands.
After lunch, we walked all the way across town, across the bridge, and up into the hillside towards the beautiful Prague Castle, which allowed some great panoramic views of the red-roofed city below. I can only imagine how it must look in better weather, but even the gloomy cast of the view was worth the exertion it took to walk up the (relatively few, to be fair) stairs to get to the top.
Future's so bright, gotta close my eyes, because I didn't take my transition glasses on this trip...
So pensive. What am I looking at. Wow.
Love me some flying buttresses on the church that's in the same area as the castle.
After taking a nap (as I so love to do), we walked over to the Forum Karlín. The doors opened at seven for the show at eight, which fortunately had no opening act--just getting to the good stuff right away, which was great because it was standing-room only. The show lasted roughly three hours, which seems like a lot, but really only encompasses a small number of actual songs, since the average Dream Theater song is probably seven minutes. The setlist was divided into three parts: the first was a various selection of songs from the catalogue over the past 27-odd years; the second was the entirety of Images and Words, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary of release (hence the special concert run revisiting these songs); the encore was a multi-part song also from the 90s era. I plan to write a full review of the experience, so I won't bore you with the details of this progressive rock/metal band, but they were as good as they were when I saw then in 2011--the not-so-new drummer, Mike Mangini, finally grew on me as a result of his incredible second-act drum solo.
It was really hard to get decent photos because there were so many tall men in this audience.
When we were crushed into the main audience area during the first act, the woman next to us kindly informed us that the Czech writing on our wristbands actually meant we could go to the front section! It was much less crowded and claustrophobic nearer the stage, and thus the second act was not only more musically enjoyable, but more comfortable as well.
If only I could read Czech... or maybe talked to an usher... I guess we didn't realize the tickets we got in November got us closer to the stage than the standard general admission ones did.
Well, that just about wraps up this missive from I On the Arts: European Edition! I'm writing this from my apartment back in Vienna, safe and sound and ready to undertake the next half of my Fulbright year!

(As always, if you want to express your love for me with material goods, my Amazon wishlist is here, my main site is here, and if you want to see many, many photographs of me and of Vienna, my Instagram is here. Also please send me good vibes so I get into graduate school with a good stipend! (Please, please, please--the wait is extremely unpleasant!!!))

1 comment:

  1. Love love love your posts! In spite of the fact that you missed the captions, your commentary on what you are seeing is priceless. And I gotta agree with your brother...why is that whatever it is in a museum? Im so glad you had such a great opportunity to explore Prague..and to go to a fun concert!