A night at the opera

Trip Start Nov 09, 2007
Trip End Feb 03, 2008

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Monday, January 7, 2008

It was our last full day with Cameron and Jean before they headed back home again to resume their lives so we wanted to share the day with them. At the same time Jean was keen for us to go out in the evening to the famous Prague State Opera.
We woke up to a winter wonderland. Overnight snow had fallen and when we looked out of our third floor window we could see fresh snow on the road and on the roofs of cars. Jess went out early with Georgie to buy some croissants from the same market we had bought them from a couple of days ago. She couldn't quite find the same place but in fact found an even better place - Tesco, which had delectable pastries for a pitifully low price. I think she paid 160 crowns (about $10) for 13 croissants which we gobbled up hungrily on their return.
After this start to the day we had another stroll around the craft markets just around the corner from our apartment. They still had the same things we had seen on previous visits, but the compulsion to buy seemed to have increased a bit, because we ended up making quite a few purchases, including some nougat which turned out to be just average, some paintings which are lovely and some other bits and pieces.
Jean had been to see a Mucha exhibition in a building off the Old Town Square a few days earlier and in doing some Internet research I noticed that there was a Mucha Museum here in Prague, only a few minutes' walk from our apartment. A visit seemed a must. Cameron preferred to do his own thing so the five remaining KBs headed off through the snow, which by now was looking decided greyer and less magical. Some shopkeepers had been busy shovelling the snow from the footpath outside of their shops, but in other areas there was no one to do this so the walking was quite difficult in parts.
Before we went into the Mucha Museum we all agree that some lunch was a must. Just around the corner we spotted a restaurant call Green Tomato. Closer inspection revealed a delightfully decorated place where we could rest and eat something. We had soup and some fried potatoes. The food was good and the atmosphere convivial.
After this break it was time to head back to the Mucha museum. Mucha was an important Czech artist not only to the Czech people but also to the wider art world. He was a key figure in the development of the Art Nouveau movement and was most famously known for his wonderful poster designs. The museum features a short documentary on the life and works of Mucha, which I found interesting, and a range of his artworks and photographs of the artist and his family.
After our museum visit it was getting late. We strolled back to our apartment visiting a few shops along the way. Jess and I had agreed that it wouldn't be right to go to the opera on our last night with all of us together, but Jean can be quite persuasive when she wants to be and so about 2 hours before the Opera was due to start I found myself going online and booking some tickets. That went fine, until the final screen said that they would email me the e-ticket and I would have to print I out. Now, I have lugged this laptop around with me, but I'll be buggered if I'm going to lug a printer as well.
So, the first dilemma was how to print off the tickets. I figured it wouldn't be too hard, so I saved the pdf file that had been sent to me to my memory stick and to be on the safe side to a SD card as well. By this time it was time to go for the early dinner to farewell Cameron and Jean. I said for the rest to go ahead while I found an Internet Café, did the printing and then joined them for dinner. 'Order me something nice' I confidently said. 'I'll be with you shortly'.
I went along to a nearby bar that I had notice previously had advertised a wifi zone. 'No printer' they told me. No problem, they told me about an Internet café just around the corner. I knew this would be easy. I found the café no problem and asked if I could print out a document. 'Sure' they told me, 'but it has to be blue - we have run out of black ink'. 'That's fine' I said - I didn't care what colour the ticket was, as long as it printed. I hit the print button and the woman behind the des brought me a nearly blank page - just the blue logo had printed. 'You need to change the colour f the text to blue' she told me. 'But it's a pdf' I said. 'I can't change it'. Looking at me as if I was simple, she sat down to show me how it was done, took one look at the document on the screen and said 'Oh'. Now she got it. 'It's not possible' she told me. She looked apologetic and did not charge me for the dud prints or the computer time I had used. She also told me about another Internet café 5 minutes walk away. Or 3 minutes jog.
Once again I was led astray by the tendency of some non-English speakers to muddle up left and right so I was about 500 metres in the wrong direction when I asked a nearby newsstand where the Internet café was. He told me it was in the opposite direction and as I puffed my way down there I noted the time was ticking by.
At the new place I walked into a bar wondering where the Internet part was. I asked a pretty barmaid if they had the Internet, 'Yes' she confirmed, 'out the back'. 'Can I print something?' 'Yes.' 'Does the printer have black ink?' I asked. She looked puzzled at this. I headed down the back and put my memory stick into the allotted computer. 'You have insufficient privileges to install this device' the computer told me bluntly. Cheek of the thing. I went and got the barmaid. She came down to look at the computer and looked at my memory stick and ruefully shook her head. 'It's not possible' she said. These computers, they are old and cannot take such things' pointing at my memory stick. She smile sadly and gave me back the 100 crowns I had been asked to leave as a deposit.
Too much time had now passed and I had to make a dash for the restaurant or I knew I would miss the whole thing. As I arrived the meals were being put on the table. 'What happened?' they asked me. When I told them the story their only response was 'well why are you here?' 'Go ask the staff here' Cameron suggested. I went up to the counter.
'Excuse me.'
'Do you have a computer.'
'And do you have a printer?'
'Can I print a document?'
'I think so'
I went and got my memory stick, showing it to the waiter. He looked a bit alarmed and said something in Czech to his colleague then turned back to me and said 'we don't have a computer here, sorry. There is an Internet café just around the corner though.'
Somewhat confused by all of this I raced out the door, ran down the street and around the corner, found the place, went inside what looked like a large bar and asked about the Internet. 'Out the back' I was told. Can I print something?' 'No' was the firm reply. No printer. Almost crying by this point I finally had to admit defeat. The opera would just have to let us in without a ticket or else I had done my money.
We had a wonderful meal at our 'regular' place. My meal turned out to be chicken with asparagus and also turned out to be delicious so the evening was getting back on the right track. We shared a large jug of wine among us and by about 6:15 I thought we better start making tracks for the Opera. Even though the National Theatre where it was on was only about a 10 minute walk, I wanted to allow plenty of time to sort out the ticket mess.
We said goodbye to the kids, who finished up their meal and then paid and went on their way. Cameron went off for a Thai massage and Jean took Georgie and Maggie for a walk - one last look at the astronomical clock together and then a walk down a street full of designer shops and upmarket boutiques. The three girls found a shop that we were instructed to go back to the next day t buy Jean something.
Oblivious to all of this, Jess and I headed off at a fairly leisurely pace to the opera venue. What we found when we got there was a grand looking building all clad in darkness, with a handwritten note in Czech on the door. What was going on we wondered aloud. Three Czech men were also looking at the note and looking puzzled. 'What does the note say?' I asked them. 'The performance has been cancelled' they told me, looking disappointed. 'You're kidding' I told them. 'How can they do that? I have bought tickets.' 'So have we. The note tells how we can get our money back. Come with us'. 'Why would you want to see it?' one of them asked me. 'You wouldn't understand it.' 'What do you mean?' I asked. 'It's all in Czech!' I was a bit surprised that the Prague Opera would have translated the Opera into Czech, but what did I know? 'Ah, but it's opera', I told them, 'Puccini'. 'It's not Opera', they replied, 'it's a play. In Czech.'
By now I was totally bewildered. 'Is this the National Theatre?' I asked. They told me that it was but that opera was held in the state opera theatre near Wenceslas Square. Relieved that the opera might still be on, but panicked about the lack of time we jumped in a taxi to take our chances. By now it was 20 minutes until the show was due to commence. 'If we miss it we miss it' I said, trying to sound philosophical about it.
Our Czech helpers told us it was maybe a 15 minute walk but advised that it would be a good idea to take a cab pointed in the correct direction, which we did. The first thing the cab driver did when I told him where we wanted to go was a U-turn. Alarmed I called out the destination again to the driver, who nodded his head. What should have been a 3 minute taxi ride turned into an 8 minute ride as he took us on a complete circuit of the town, all the time my voice getting angrier with him telling him he was driving in the wrong direction. Bloody cab drivers. I am sick of them. He was making us late just so he could bump up the fare.
When we got to the opera theatre I grudgingly paid the bloated fare and, with ten minutes before the performance was due to commence I was resigned to missing out. I went up to the ticket booth and explained that I had no e-ticket, but gave her the e-ticket number that Cameron had sent to me via SMS. She punched in the number and said 'Is impossible.' She shrugged her shoulders and looked at the screen again and repeated 'Is impossible.' I just stood there, numb. 'What do you mean?' I asked her. 'I have booked tickets' She asked what seats I had and I told her (amazingly I had remembered the seat numbers) and she looked at a sheet of paper in front of her. 'My Guy Kemshal-Bell?' she said. 'Yes yes' I said, getting excited. Again she shrugged her shoulders, said something in Czech and then for a third time 'Is impossible'. Now putting her palms to the sky as she shrugged her shoulders yet again, she gestured for us to wait to one side.
There stood Jess and I in the foyer of the Prague State Opera House in out hiking boots and jeans, feeling particularly shabby, surrounded by fur coats and dinner suits. 'It's not about how you look' said Jess. I had to agree with her, but it was Jess that had to weather most of the withering looks from the snooty-faced women who looked on disapprovingly. Most of them appeared to be English and American tourists anyway. I felt like saying 'at least I don't have a dead animal on my back. Then I realised that I was wearing a leather jacket, so I would have looked rather foolish now, wouldn't I?
After about 5 minutes, with the performance due to commence in 2, the woman from the ticket office came and got us, gave us two hand-written tickets and led us to an usherette who pointed us to the wardrobe service - evidently we still had time to cloak our coats, then led us to our seats, selling us a program along the way. The row of finely dressed opera goers who had already taken their seats had to stand up to allow us to pass. We sat down, somewhat stunned. I had to pinch myself to prove that we had actually made it despite all of the fates contriving against us.
The Opera was Puccini's Manon Descault. While it is not one of his better known operas, it was immediately followed by La Boheme. We had amazing seats, 4 rows from the front right in the middle, with empty seats in front of us. We both agreed afterwards that the story line was a little confusing and tended to jump ahead in the time line without reasonable explanation. Nevertheless the music, the singing and the costumes were all marvellous. Afterwards we strolled home through the crisp evening air, chatting all the way about the opera, Cameron and Jean leaving and our plans for the next day.
As we neared home we stopped for coffee and called in to have a look at the Museum of Sex Machines. The latter was something we had walked past every day and was something that I was curious about. To tell you the truth it was all a bit weak really. Some of the machines shown were mildly interesting but overall it was something you could miss.
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