Wednesday, October 05, 2005


NOTE: Pictures on the blog will enlarge if double-clicked.
I will always remember Prague as being a great city of light that is filled with music.

Everywhere we wandered we heard street musicians playing, singing and dancing. Accordians seemed to dominate the sound field but there were also basses, horns - especially trumpets - and flutes. In the morning the music was lively. It was music designed for dancing quickly or shopping everywhere. Later in the day the music seemed to become more classical.

Your shopping excursions could take you down a block a short distance and you would begin to hear another group of street musicians, if you turned and went in the other direction, you would soon begin to hear someone else.

The music not only resonnated and echoed from building to building, but it seems amplified by the sounds of traffic and the pace of the pedestrians.

Meanwhile the light from the sun penetrated into the city. Amazing, considering that the buildings rise above rather narrow streets. This is probably due to the large amount of glass used in the buildings. So the sunlight reflects and reflects and reflects. I didn't know Light could echo until I came to Prague! Wow.

Streets of Prague

Well it is a magnificent city. Surely it must be one of the world's greatest places.

The great buildings and structures and the enormous statues all over become overwhelming.

The city is filled with cathedrals, castles and bridges. It is rich in shopping areas - especially in crystal.

© John Womack, 2006. All rights reserved.
Photos with Canon Elura 70 on SD card.

The Charles Bridge in Prague

The Charles Bridge

Clearly one of the place to see in Prague. We first crossed it on a cool and breezy day, 60°F or so.
There was no lack of anything there except space. Statues were everywhere. Pigeons swooped in and pounded their way back into the air again. A jazz group played earnestly along with its quick-stepping, arms swinging, singing lady. A hurdy-gurdy turned and turned, and its mechanical monkey jittered and flailed, probably from hearing the same tune played over and over, again and again. Art was for sale, artists were painting, photographers were snapping, and beggars were begging. Steeples soared into the sky, sunlight flashed off of windows, and bells rang and rang. Great ships and ferrys passed under the bridge. Wow. Wow.

Prague is the only major European city to have escaped aerial bombardment during World War II from both the Allied and Axis powers. The Charles bridge would obviously have gone down should that have happened, but there is more to the bridge than just that because the bridge joins one part of the great heart of the city to the other.

The time to be there is at dawn - or so I’ve heard. I never did make that but I did photograph the bridge, or rather some of the people on the bridge at noon and on evenings.

© John Womack, 2006. All rights reserved.
Photos made with Canon Elura 70 on SD card

Prague Castle

It is quite a sight. Ancient (by American standards), elaborate and magnificent. No photos allowed in a lot of the area inside though.
The real action goes on outside though. The guards for one thing. These are the real storybook guys we have seen in all those children books. They stand rigid, without perceptible movement. And they stand all alone. At least that is the theory. But a guard's life is not pure loneliness. Women seem to find them irresistible. They will stand beside them to be photographed. Some of the women will look stern, like the guards do, others will smile and wave for their friends and family back home. Some of the younger ones will grin and giggle at the guards, Some good-looking ones nestle up to these rigid guys who don't appear to notice that a pretty woman is leaning her head on his shoulder. Some even speak enticingly to the guards - since the words were in Czech I couldn't tell what they were saying but you could see the guards blink and swallow. But they continued to look straight ahead. Maybe it IS a lonely life after all.

And there are the musicians performing within 100 meters of the guards. These guys are lively, earnest, wildly gesturing with elbows and shoulders in constant movement and feet stepping smartly in perfect time to various waltzes and tangos and whatnots - Blazing contrast to the motionless and silent guards.

© John Womack, 2006. All rights reserved.
Photos with Canon Elura 70 on SD card.

St. Nicholas Cathedral, Prague

St Nicholas Cathedral is not only a cultural landmark of Prague but it is also a center, as it were, for performing art.

During the summer months and on into autumn, there are performances of classical and liturgical music. Often these are done on a daily basis. The day we were there an organist, trumpet player and a couple of vocalists presented work by Bach, Motzart and Schuman.

This is music that cannot be duplicated on small speakers because it is music designed to be perfromed in a great structure in which music come from every corner and play with the reflections and echoes.

Music aside, the cathedral is a great Baroque masterpiece. Heaven comes to earth here and is displayed for eternty (seemingly) carved out of marble.

Great saints, angels, and figures of biblical stature hold forth, and the upper reaches of the cathedral are colored the brilliant blue of heaven's very own skies.

© John Womack, 2006. All rights reserved
Photos made with Canon Elura 70 on SD card.

Cafes of Prague

Prague is not the epicurian catipal of the planet but there is food there. Lots of meat, lots of potatoes.

Otherwise you can enjoy some of the stews and there are always lots of ethnic restaurants, The beer is world-famous and also famous for being cheap - unfortunately, while the beer is still good, prices have soared beyond reason - I found it to be overpriced everywhere in Prague.

Prior to traveling to Prague it would be good to check on the web for the vegetarian restaurants and especially those that are smoke free. More and more restaurants throughout Europe do have “smoke-free” areas but too ofen they are simply practical jokes. Cough! Cough!.

One night I had pizza - tasted great.

Another night I got “fat pork”. Amazing. It was just a huge glob of fat. The rest of the meal was OK, and when I finally got through the glob, I found a little bit of meat inside and that was some of the best pork I have ever eaten in my life. May have to screw up all my courages again and try that once more - maybe. But it WAS delicious.

We also ate at a vegetarian restaurant called “The Little Buddha”, up in the vicinity of the castle. Excellent! Úvoz 46, Tel: 220 513 894. There were some meat choices there but it is largely vegetarian and also smoke free.

The street side cafes in downtown Prague by the great square were expensive and the beer was even more overpriced there. We only stopped there once - had two beers - about 330 ml each - about $7 in US. Too American - which is bad when it comes to food - that is, expensive, not good service, and featuring fast turnover of customers.

It was chilly while we were there - afternoons were often in the high 50s to low 60s (First week in October) and outside space heaters were in widespread use. The heaters felt good and appeared to be very effective.

© John Womack, 2006. All rights reserved
Photos by Canon Elura 70 on SD card.

Prague - the Last Forty Years

Prague is a city of history. Ancient history, at least ancient European history. Everywhere you might go in Prague you walk from one chapter of history into another one. The past has formed Prague and Prague is proud of that past and displays it with honor. Mostly.

Prague was behind the Iron Curtain for 40 years - its 40 years in the wilderness. The communists did not tear down any of the great old structures and replace them with concrete cinderblocks. That is one thing for which the world must be thankful.

The past 40 years shows in various places. Prague is working to change all of that it can.

But some scars go deeper than into wood and concrete. Some are taken and woven into the country's new attitude, and become part of its recovery. I like this photo because it seems to show the past and the future sitting together. The old and the new. Both women seem somewhat pragmatic and they look into different directions, and they already live in different worlds..

And I really do like this picture because it seems to me to show more than just the face of a woman. I can see in this face the entire history of Europe. Here is one who has borne not only children but also disaster, catastrophe and joy. Here is the face an infant might turn toward, and a face whose gaze a tyrant could not endure. Naked godesses adorn many of the columns and panels of Europe representing that which was considered good in the land, but this face belongs to the one who has given birth to Europe and nursed it and washed it and taught it and healed it and buried it and weeped for it and taken care of its progeny to begin it all again.

© John Womack, 2006. All rights reserved.
Photos made with Canon Elura 70 on SD card.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


The bus to Cesky Krumlov finally arrived, three hours late on a cold and rainy day. My wife was the first to enter its door and climb up its narrow stairwell. I followed immediately behind her but was bruskly pushed aside when a large man stepped between her and me. I got on right behind him and another man crowded in behind me and another behind him. Suddenly everyone was in a hurry to get on board! The first man then stopped and turned around trying to leave the stairwell, blocking my progress, while the man behind me was pushed into me by the man behind him. I was embraced for an instant in a crush of bodies. Then instantly, all three were gone. I watched them run across the parking lot into the waiting room of the Prague bus station as I felt my left hip pocket where I always carry my wallet. It was gone too.

I started to go after them but realized they would fade into the crowd. Perhaps they had a car waiting and were already on the road. I didn’t speak the language and there were no police around. Would I have to make a report? What would I do? What had I just lost, and was suddenly stranded in a large foriegn city without?I quickly checked to find what I had just lost. My passport, Master Card, American Express and Visa credit cards, military ID, driver’s licence, medicare card and about $200 in large bills were all in my money belt, and safe. The theives had taken my my public library card, a AAA card, two discount cards for use in grocery stores in North Carolina,my AARP card, and a card for SAMs Club, which had just expired. My wife had even told me I needed to buy another wallet or quit pulling it out when she was around - it was falling apart and embarassing her.

I did not seek authorities but remained on the bus which left on its two hour trip within three minutes of the theft. If I had lost my ID and money, I would have been stranded in a suddenly strange land with many problems immediately ahead. During the trip to Cesky Krumlov I had time to reflect back on the value of the money belt and also to consider why had I brought my public library card with me in the first place? It should have beeen home in my desk. Also the grocery discount cards, should have been there too. I had used the SAM’s card on an earlier part of the trip back in the states, and might have used the AAA and AARP cards if our flight had not gone, but they would not be used after our plane left the country. Why were they not safe in the glove compartment of our car back in its parking lot?

Well, the money belt IS a pain in the butt. It is a HUGE pain in the ass. It is awkward, clumsy, semi-embarassing from time to time, inconvenient and time consuming - especially when you have to get something out of it in a hurry. So now I’m stuck - I have to put us with that damn thing for days on end whenever I travel - all so it can be of real use for less than one second.

More reflections reminded me that I had my camcorder in a fanny pack that the theft must have passed his hands over. All he had to do was to release the clasp and the camcorder was his. Most people don’t carry camcorders in their fanny pack, but they probably do carry things they don’t want to lose. Then I realized that if in the future, I pass the strap of the fanny pack under and then back over my belt, if the clasp were undone by a thief and the fanny pack pulled upon, it would not give and I would be turned around facing my assaliant.

My wallet was in my left hip pocket which was a deep pocket, the top of the wallet was probably an inch and a half below the opening. The pocket had no button. I was wearing a light weight “Polar Tech” jacket that came down over the top of the pocket and had a longer vinyl wind breaker over that, also over the pocket top. My right pocket had only a 3” x 5” spiral notebook and a Mini-Max flashlight. They had been rejected by the pick-pocket and were still there.

Now, when wearing a money belt I also carry an extra business card case. It is in one of my front pants pockets and it contains certain convience items such as a few small currency bills, tokens or transfer slips, etc. These are items that I can easily get to without need to pull out the trusty old money belt.

This post is intented to be in the public domain. Please feel free to take and republish it.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Cesky Krumlov - the City

Cesky Krumlov (CHESS-key CREWm love {rythmns with Toom-love}) is a small town on the border with Austria - or near it. Definitely on the Moldau River. The Moldau captivates the town with both charm and force, displaying the city like a jewel mounted on a band of flowing water. It is always coming into Cesky Krumlov, always going from it; a very present and eternal being.

There is a great castle here complete with gardens, a great cathedral also, known as St. Vitus, and a thriving economy largely based on tourists! Yea. It is aslo on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites. As you walk through the city the castle always surprises you, it pops up all over town and it seems that every other turn you take the castle is there too - big castle - small town.

We stayed at the Maleho Vitka Hotel at Radnicni 27. Recomend it VERY highly. May be the best hotel we have ever stayed in - not the fanciest, not the swankiest, not the most amazing - but very friendly and extremely helpful people. Jana ran the place while we were there and she made phone calls, gave instruction and advice and was far beyond the call of duty. This is the place to stay! I give it a 1,000,000 star rating!

The weather was heavily overcast with rain off and on the entire time we were visiting, but Cesky Krumlov seems at home in all kinds of weather. We enjoyed our visit, got some pictures, ate some good food and had a great time. Walked a lot, learned a lot. Great place to visit. Don't miss it!

©John Womack, 2006. All rights reserved.

Streets of Cesky Krumlov

The streets of Cesky Krumlov are where the action is. These are the arteries that run to, from and through the heart of the city. They lead from one shop to another, from a great breakfast cafe to wonderful lunch restaurant, all of that and with pretzels and croissants to spare.

The streets appear slightly wild in places withweeds and architecture together, and with renovated buildings next to dilapidated ones. You can even buy beer along these routes! Yea.

There are audio devices for rent that will explain the details of the city as you walk along. They are easily available for rent and I would say well worth it.

These are all ancient structures. Each house will turn out to be 300 to 500 years old and will have endless stories to tell.A lot of history has rumbled down these streets.

© John Womack, 2006. All rights reserved.

Castle Gardens at Cesky-Krumlov

The Castle Gardens are vast - bigger than they need to be.

The music that permeates these extensive gardens is the music of falling water and the song of birds.

Showers and fountains highlight the gardens and the birds delight in their presence.

From place to place in the gardens, one can see the city below, displayed as if parts of Chesky Krumlov were just more flowers in the garden.

Like all well placed gardens, this one at Cesky-Krumlov teases the human spirit with sights, sounds and smells.

Both intimate landscapes and spacious vistas are abundantly provided and every turn in the trail offers a different surprise.

© John Womack, 2006. All rights reserved.
Photos with Canon Elura 70 on SD card.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Moving On!

Not exactly a "big 8 wheeler moving down the track", but none-the-less trains are a preferred means of travel in the Czech Republic. We took an early morning taxi from Cesky Krumlov to Cesky Budejovice (BOO-dyeh-yoh-vee-tseh), the home of the original Budevar, or Budweiser where we got on a train to begin our trip home.

It's a little tricky getting on the right car, but that can be worked out between towns. That's important because cars are moved between trains at most stops. You can get on a train you thing is going to Regensburg, Germany and wind up in Vienna, Austria if you don't keep asking questions.

You go from city to city as a tourist and you see the best that is in a country - their best foot is placed forward. It is on the trips beetween cities that you can see into the land.

I saw a wounded land when I traveled across the Czech Republic.

It is ready to rebuild, but it is has not heard of corporate globalism. It doesn't even begin to understand what is coming down the tracks.

© John Womack, 2006. All rights reserved
Photos with Canon Elura 70 and SD card.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Pisoar or Kabina?

The lady glarred angrily at me as she waved the small Czech bill I had handed her. She was speaking rapidly and loudly in Czech as she pointed to the sign beside her. It read: “Kabina - 6 Krona/ Pisoár - 4 Krona.” She wanted to know what I was going to do - now! I didn’t know what to say. I could guess, though. I pointed to “Pisoár” and she sighed and slapped my change down on a tin plate on the counter in front of her. I scooped it up and walked into the toilet.

Most public toilets in Europe are boringly similar to those in America. So are many in large cities in Asia. But there are surprises here and there. Take the Czech Republic, for example.

In some of them, especially in train and bus stations, as you enter you have to explain to the woman who sits at the entrance to the toilet whether you want to pay for a kabina, which costs 6 krona, or a pisoár which is only 4 krona. (How much is two kronas? About 8¢ in 2005 US dollars.) For 6 krona, to go with your kabina, the lady will hand you a small, folded strip of toilet paper which is about 6 to 8 squares long. (And these are small squares: 3.25 inches wide) For a pisoár, and only 4 krona, she will simply take your money, glare at you and gesture for you to enter.

Also, I heard people in the stalls knocking on the door, and someone would open the stall door, and let them out. Apparently when you went in, you were locked in there until let out by one of the staff. If you try to cheat them out of two kronas they will get their money back. Probably the EU fire codes will have something to say about this practice over the next few years.

And they have other safeguards, too. At the train station in Pilzen, the woman who had taken our money, came in to check us out, me and the guy standing next to me at the two urinals, just to make sure we were not cheating her.

When you are staying in a country like this, you learn to leave your hotel room in the morning with some toilet paper folded up in your bag as insurance. If you forget, and want to purchase a pisoár, go ahead but buy a kabina then pocket the 6 to 8 squares as insurance later in the day. But don’t try then to buy a pisoár and do a kabina, or you may not ever get out!

I did go in a toilet in the Prague bus station and paid for a pisoár, then found only 2 urinals in the whole place. They were in use and about 5 men were waiting for their turn. A stall was open, and I went in to use it, like I would do back in the states. The door closed behind me, and when I was ready to leave, the handle came off in my hand! The door would not open and I was captured! I knocked on the door and someone opened it for me and stood in the way. I walked past him and said “Thanks!” with a chuckle. He followed behind me and was shouting at me. Then he tried to prevent my leaving the toilet but I moved him aside and said “Thank you!” Later I realized he must have worked there and wanted 2 more Kronas because I had used a stall.

© John Womack, 2006. All rights reserved.
photo made with Canon Elura 70 on SD card.