A concert to die for...not

Trip Start Mar 29, 2006
Trip End Feb 28, 2007

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

TUESDAY, 24th October
We decided to walk into town but took the wrong direction at first. My fault. I headed towards the wrong spire in the distance...east instead of north. They have these trunk roads that criss cross the town, north-south, east-west, as one way, three lane  arterial roads. I only mention them because the direction of the flow of traffic was so obviously controlled by the time of day. The previous night it was all flowing the one way whilst this morning the surge had reversed. But this was Prague not New York. Anyway we had to cross one of these torrents of vehicles to reach Wenceslas Square. First, though, it was not a square. It was (and is) a kilometre long boulevard, about 50 metres wide with a central pedestrian strip. Secondly, it is called Vaclavske named after King Vaclav, whose statue peers down the roadway from the southern end.
The square (?) was jam-packed with people browsing the shopfronts. It appeared to be far more westernised than Vienna. Two McDonalds within 100 metres and the most amazing cosmetics store. A shop devoted to cosmetics and perfumes or how to disguise the female body. Every cosmetic company was represented. Like a cosmetic exposition with cubicles hosted by young ladies applying makeup to willing girls of all ages.
There were also a multitude of jewellers and crystal shops. They are big on both in this town. Cut glass crystal and amber necklaces stood out in every window. We took a right at the end of the square and walked along Na Prikope until we reached the municipal hall with watchtower and archway through which we turned towards the main square ...the real square. We needed a pee which is always a good excuse to stop for a hot drink...in fact it is the only way. There are no public toilets in most European cities. The only way to access a toilet is to sit at a table in a cafe. It had rained earlier so the umbrellas were up in this courtyard café that we found but we were the only ones there. Wrong time of the day. The inside was enormous and richly decorated., There was a cool breeze otherwise it was pleasant. But we still wore our fleeces. The waiter was quite prepared to turn on the gas heaters for us.
We were very much attracted to all the Bohemia crystal and had seen a vase in  Wenceslas Square that we both liked as a present for P & P who had just got married in Malta after 256 years of courting. I had also made enquiries as to where we could visit factories. I was told that they were way up north and was given two names near the German border.
We eventually entered the town square. It was huge with Tyn church at one end, Hotel de Ville at the other (with astronomical clock attached) and a large open space part of which was taken up by souvenir stalls...interesting souvenirs. The ubiquitous pavement cafes were taking up much of the rest of the square.
I decided that I liked this town. it was more friendly and not as overpowering as Vienna. Not as austere as I had imagined for an eastern bloc country. The whole city is a shopping complex at ground level and reminded me of those Asian countries that had also emerged from communism and taken capitalism by the throat. The shop displays are not trashy and the souvenirs are terrific and very original. I just love those crystal displays. Not just the clear cut glass but the blues, reds and greens that sparkled in the artificial lights.
As in Vienna there were ticket touts everywhere selling seats for all manner of concerts and recitals, none of which really appealed to me except for one that advertised a 'Special Concert' featuring selections from famous musicals including most of the numbers from Jesus Christ Superstar. Who could resist. But instead of purchasing from the street we found the theatre...The Former of St. Michael Monastery Baroque Library Hall...just off the main square. What a combination. An old library and JC.
Around the corner was an extensive fruit and vegetable market from which we bought some bananas and a jar of honey with nuts in it. Raspberries were still available here together with a white version. [Before I forget, and I do not remember where we first tasted it, but there was a cake around which is identical to Anne's famous mouth-watering chocolate cake but has marsh mallows within it. A dessert to die for! There are also a lot of marzipan confections either covered with or included in. That is Anne's weakness. Heaven for her would be a marzipan covered nougat. Somewhere in a café far, far away we both sobbed into our plates as we indulged ourselves in some of these rich delicacies.] This was why I liked Prague. It was a city for the people not for the elite as in Vienna. Around a few more cobbled streets and we found the Charles bridge. A very solid arched structure. Not very high but it spanned the Vltava river which is very wide. Thousands of people were assembled on the trafficless bridge. Lots of youngsters. In other cities the tourists were mostly of our age but here there were teens, twenty somethings and groups of primary kids. I could hear English, German, French, Italian and a smattering of Americans. Vienna was big and imposing with a 'do not touch' aura around it. In Prague they don't stand on ceremony and it is cheap. It has dragged itself out of communism and bedecked itself in western splendour and capitalism. We walked across the bridge and back again peering at the strange little statues on the bulwarks and surprised at the lack of street sellers.
Once again we had time to waste and decided to have a late lunch/early dinner at an Irish pub in the main square. [ Not so unusual. It is a franchise all over Europe. If there is a McDonalds there is an Irish pub.] It was too cold to sit outside so in we went and sat among the multitude of TV screens showing different sports. Anne sat opposite the cricket whilst I watched the soccer behind her as we ate. I had a full Irish breakfast including black and white pudding and Anne had a steak.
We stayed as long as we could and then headed back to Wenceslas Square to buy that vase we had seen earlier. It was a good price at 600 czk (all of 24 Euros). The reason being that it was on special but  also that it was wrong. They had put the wrong price label on the item and the sales assistant only realised her error when they dug the box out which did not match the product. She threw her hands up in the air, admitted it was their problem and let us have it for the bargain price.
We still had an hour to waste so McDonalds here we come. While I ordered the ice creams Anne took off for the loo. By the time I had half finished my sundae Anne had not returned. I won't say I was concerned just curious that there did not appear to be a queue and therefore she should be back. She eventually appeared, looking  a little abashed. She explained that she had been locked in the lavatory!
Locked in a loo in Prague. Everything comes in threes. She did not have any change for the lav lady from whom she got black looks...probably were too. The toilet was the dirtiest she had seen for a McDonalds and then the lock would not shift from the inside. She had to call out for help. But what is help in Czech? Fortunately, someone who understood English was close at hand and the scowling lav lady let her out. I think the lav lady had a remote and locked people in the cubicles who did not pay.
Time for our concert. As usual it was on the top floor of a building which looked nothing like a 'baroque library'. In fact the entrance looked like the stairway to a block of low income flats! The theatre, if you could call it that, consisted of a large bare room with rows of chairs and a platform at one end. On the platform or stage were a harp and a piano which I thought was a good start. I like harp music although I could not see how it could be incorporated into songs from West Side Story, Hair or Les Miserables as per the programme.
The ceiling, however, was painted in a baroque manner as were parts of the walls but that was the only clue that it may have a history. There was no suggestion of a library. Once again it looked like another school assembly room. We had good seats near the front.
On to the stage came a young man who commenced to play a sad recital on the piano. He had a strange manner. His curly hair kept dropping across his face and his eyes wouldn't stop blinking. Something he had inhaled before the show maybe! That was OK. Then Olga entered from the stage (?) door, the same one through which we had entered from the corridor. She stood up straight in front of us and commenced to murder Memory from Cats. She sang and stared at the ceiling with her eyes closed most of the time. That was her stance for most of the concert. It was made worse by her accent. You really cannot get away with singing I Don't Know How to Love Him from Superstar in a Czech accent. It was awful. There was no passion because she was just singing words that I am sure she did not understand. Her voice was adequate but would not have passed the preliminaries on the X Factor.
Then it was time for Martin to take the stage. He must have gone to the same school except that he looked directly at us and moved not a muscle. He stood motionless and spoke the words from Aquarius from Hair. I say spoke because he could not sing. He stood there and articulated the words in a whisper to the accompaniment of our manic pianist. The goatee bearded face with a number five hair shave never changed its expression. The voice rose and fell occasionally to give the impression that he was in love or pain...I'm not sure which. But, if Olga was awful he was diabolical.
His version of Herod's Song was hilarious but for all the wrong reasons. He just mouthed the lyrics as if he were singing the Lord's Prayer, missing, I presume, all the humour in the number. And as for Could We Start Again Please, they did it as a duet. He on one side of the stage and she on the other and they never looked at each other once...just voiced the words as though they were discussing the price of potatoes. I could have cried. I love that song.
All was lost in translation. Shame really because the acoustics in the hall were quite good. They certainly did not need microphones. It had to be one of the worst performances I have ever seen and we paid 30 Euros each for it. They must have made a fair bit of money out of us suckers did these three. But there were some in front of us who applauded rapturously. They must have been related.
We walked back to the hotel. It was not far. So we never did experience the metro in Prague.
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