Sounds of Classical Music

Trip Start Nov 14, 2011
Trip End Feb 28, 2013

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Flag of Czech Republic  , Bohemia,
Saturday, August 18, 2012

Mary's Impressions:
After a few false starts in trying to visit Prague (our first time about 15 yrs. ago when Jeff and I were visiting Poland at the time) and some flight cancellations and changes on the part of the airline (this time around) we managed to finally get to Prague. If we were superstitious, we could think that perhaps someone is trying to tell us something about going to visit this city.  Fortunately we arrived into Prague without any cause for concern and we were quickly on our way to start exploring this city.

Jeff and I had our sights on coming to visit this city for a very long time.  I had heard many positive comments from my friends who had come to the city to live and visit.  I was also curious to see how Prague and the Czech Republic have been doing since the fall of communism.  Being of Polish descent and visiting Poland during that period, it was not a pretty picture for the people who lived in Eastern Europe and had to endure communism.  Granted each country fared differently within communism but when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, like a set of dominoes, not too many countries previously under communist rule wanted to allow a communist government to remain in power.

Coming into Prague was a bit of a change from the past month of travels.  The weather was cooler, the roadways wider and everything felt more spacious (the buildings were grand, towering over the sidewalks and the cars were bigger).  I was also surprised that with a few similarities between the Czech and Polish languages (somewhat of a help when trying to order food and drinks) I was able to understand what was being said to me.  I also got mistaken numerous times for being of Czech descent – I guess my Slavic features are hard to miss.

Jeff and I walked everywhere throughout the city as this is our preferred method for really getting a feel of the place.  My favourite place that we visited was St. Vitus Cathedral located within the Prague Castle.  This cathedral had many intricate, multi-coloured painted glass windows of religious scenes – I couldn't believe that these windows were painted and not stained glass.  The cathedral was built over the ruins of a pagan worship site.  Work began to build the grand cathedral in 1344.  It continued over the years but had to stop due to the Hussite Wars.  Construction continued again but it was only in 1929 when work on the church was finally finished.  The Golden Portal that is located over the previous main entrance to the cathedral was stunning.  I liked how the sun’s rays danced off the gold inlays of the mosaic – the artistry of the fresco, truly an act of devotion.

I also enjoyed visiting Prague’s Jewish quarter.  Since the fall of communism, there is more freedom and a renewed interest among former Eastern Bloc countries to acknowledge and promote their Jewish history and heritage.  I guess this awareness helps with the healing process for the country and its people on what happened to these Jewish communities who were part of the country.  Many of these countries had strong and thriving Jewish communities who participated in all levels of society.  Within Prague, the city had the third highest Jewish population in Europe.  Prominent Czech-born Jews were Franz Kafka (Writer), Gustav Mahier (Composer) and Sigmund Freud (Father of Psychoanalysis).  Prague’s Jewish quarter is unique in that this area alone among the areas of Europe occupied by the Nazis and later by the Communists, many of the buildings and synagogues in the Jewish ghetto were allowed to stand.  The Old-New Synagogue is such an example as it is the oldest, surviving synagogue in Europe and the oldest working synagogue in the world outside of Israel.  It was built in the middle of the 13th century.  It’s fitting that today, Prague’s Jewish community, a community that Hitler tried to extinguish, is now a community that although small is growing.

Throughout our walks, the sounds of classical music were everywhere.  Classical music holds a special place for Czechs as Mozart spent time in Prague and premiered his opera "Don Giovanni".  In addition to music concerts of compositions by Mozart that are held in the city, many of the historical buildings and churches host daily concerts of Classical music.  Czech’s own composer Antonin Dvořák, is part of any concert repertoire you’ll find.  Jeff and I chose to attend two concerts – one in the Rudolfinum where a string quintet played selections of Classical music by Mozart, Vivaldi, Bach, Dvořák, Bizet and Brahms.  The other concert we attended was in the Municipal House where the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra played.  Jeff and I both felt that this was our highlight of our visit – listening to the sounds of Mozart, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Dvořák within this spectacular Art Nouveau building.

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