We thought the marionettes doing opera was bizarre enough but tonight we witnessed a truly surreal performance at the Black Light Theatre. We saw an ad for the show yesterday. It promised a fantastic trip beyond Wonderland for little Alice in a show called Aspects of Alice. Loving all things Alice, as I do, this show was a must.
Loving all things Art Nouveau as Mirinda does, meant we had to visit the Municipal House (Obecni Dum), said to be the ‘…most exciting Art Nouveau building in Prague…’ by the Rough Guide. They have regular guided tours (in English) and we wanted to be on one. We turned up and were directed to the ground floor information desk and jewellery counter. We were told there was only one tour and it was at 4pm.
What could we do but go and have a coffee in the wonderful cafe upstairs (after buying tickets for the tour). The cafe is incredible. Amazing chandeliers, bevelled mirrors, pink marble…it’s simply beautiful. It reminded me of the Grand Cafe in Oslo only without the need to rip people off and with better coffee. For the prices are extremely reasonable and the staff most attentive.
It was then in search of a tram ticket…and a tram to use it on. The ticket was quite easy. I went down to the Metro station and translated the Czech instructions, buying a 24 hour ticket for about £3. Finding the #22 tram did not prove as easy.
We wandered far and wide, searching for the tram. We did, however, find statues…
…we also found a window, behind which sat two girls having their legs and feet nibbled on by little black fish…
…and, eventually, we found the tram line we needed. Across the street we watched (as we waited) while a couple of little dogs had a complete disagreement with each other. Their owners thought it was all very funny but the little dogs were deadly serious.
At last, a #22 tram turned up and we hopped on. These trams have a row of single seats down each side and a very wide section in the middle. This is because (I think) most people make only short journeys and don’t bother sitting down. For this reason, the standing room is maximised. It makes sitting together somewhat awkward.
Also there’s a rule in Prague that men have to be chivalrous and give up their seat to women and children. The only seated males I saw seemed to be tourists. None of this ‘please give up your seat to someone less able to stand’ namby pamby rubbish, just a blanket ‘MEN STAND, WOMAN SIT’ rule.
We stayed on the tram all the way to the end of the line and then caught it back (after it did a sort of half circle at the terminus and changed from a nice new one to an old clanky one) to the funicular.
We love a good funicular; we try and find one wherever we go. The beauty of the one in Prague is that the price is included in the 24 hour ticket we bought earlier! How brilliant is that! So, a bargain trip later and we found ourselves inside what appeared to be, a large walled garden.
As you leave the funicular stop at the top, you are confronted, not with a lovely view over Prague, but by a very high wall called the Hunger Wall. It was built a long time ago in order to find some work for the hungry peasants to do.
It was in the 1460’s and Charles IV was a bit perplexed. Here he had a whole bunch of starving peasants…what to do with them. One of his advisers suggested getting them to build a massive, 30 foot wall, around the southernmost perimeter of Prague. Genius, thought Charles, and so it was done. I guess all that walking up the hill to work each day and then the subsequent building work took their minds off their rumbling tums.
We wandered around a bit before finding the way out of the walled garden (which, oddly, meant we were once more entering Prague) and found the Rozhledna which is a one fifth copy of the Eiffel Tower. Or so they claim. Mirinda is not convinced.
It apparently shocked the French when it was built in 1889, and is one of the few remaining exhibits from the 1891 Prague Exhibition – another being the funicular. I decided I had to journey to the top for the spectacular views of Prague. Mirinda stayed at the coffee shop at the bottom and enjoyed a hot chocolate.
To go to the top of the tower, the price was 100KC. For this you could walk up the long, spiral staircase. For an extra 50KC you could catch the lift. It’s very important to realise that 50KC is £1.60. There was no way I was going to climb the stairs. Instead I stepped aboard the Mechano like lift with the bowler hatted young lift attendant who barely stayed awake for the trip.
Generally speaking on this trip so far, we have found the people of Prague happy and friendly (even when scamming the tourists) but this all changes once you climb the mountain and get to the edge of the Hunger Wall. Perhaps these are the (still hungry) descendants of the original builders. I don’t know why but they are particularly surly. Mirinda had a hilarious exchange with the grumpy woman selling souvenirs.
But enough of the miserable workers…the view from the top was outstanding. The tower rises above the trees so you get an uninterrupted view down and across Prague. Sadly it was a cloudy day – on a fine day it must be incredible – but even so, with a couple of the windows open, it was exhilarating.
The thing was that it shook, from side to side, in the wind. It was quite disconcerting, lining up for a photograph only to have to compensate for the sideways drift of the tower. I’m not exaggerating. I realise it has to move, otherwise it would just fall over in the next big wind, but it is very obvious.
From the tower we decided to take the funicular back down and have a stroll to the Municipal House for the tour. It was quite a long stroll so, by the time we reached our destination, we were forced to have a coffee and a piece of traditional honey cake each in the splendid cafe.
And then the tour. I was ordered (by my wife) to purchase a photographic pass (you are not allowed to take photographs without one and never with a flash) and then instructed to take as many photographs as possible. This could have numbered in the thousands.
An incredibly beautiful place. This is a highly recommended tour for anyone interested in beauty. Our tour guide was a bit annoyed by the rude foreigners who spoke loudly in their own language whenever she said anything interesting in English. Actually, she only spoke English so they yabbered loudly most of the time.
There was a very rude Dane this time. He had a little beard and a Smurf-like countenance but beneath this jolly, blue exterior beat a heart of pure rudeness.
I’m only going to include one photograph of the Municipal House (I’ll, more than likely, make an entire album when I get home) and it is of the concert hall. I include it because it is where we are going tomorrow afternoon for a Christmas Eve concert.
Our guide was lovely, and quite funny in a dry, struggling with English kind of way. I didn’t manage to get her name but here she is mid-flow, telling us about a fish tank.
After the tour we ended up in the American Bar (the oldest in Prague) for a free beer/prosecco before heading out to see Alice.
Every time we walk through the Old Town Square and the Christmas market, we see the stall selling grilled cheese. Apart from the facts that it smells a bit cheesy and we both love cheese, the brightly coloured varieties in the window are ridiculously intriguing. For that reason, we decided we had to try a grilled cheese tonight.
First of all, it is just cheese, grilled, with a piece of bread. They are moulded into little boat-like shapes and sit on the grill receiving an occasional prod and poke from a peasant-ish old woman in a peasant-ish shawl. There is a sign which, quite handily in English, lets the buyer know it is sheep cheese.
Mirinda threw all but one bite of her’s away. Commandeering her piece of bread, I managed to finish mine. As you’d expect it tasted very strongly of sheep cheese but was warm. Alarmingly and unexpectedly, it squeaked as you bit into it. An odd experience that I’ll not be rushing headlong into trying again anytime in the future.
Another odd experience, as I have hinted at, at the beginning of this post, was the wonderfully bizarre Aspects of Alice.
It is the story (very loosely) of Alice as she grows up. Here’s a short impression of what I think it was about:
Alice, all giggly and girly, is enticed into joining a scary and slightly evil, magician by means of an apple. This is to show how easily young girls are drawn away from innocence and into a world of strange, grown-up things…I guess.
Having bitten into the apple, Alice discovers she can do all sorts of magical things which mostly consists of flying. (There was a lot of flying and it looked really good.)
During her journey she meets all manner of people. A couple of old giant men who spent a lot of time touching her (they are puppets), two hilarious clowns who teach her to walk on a wobbly pole, unaided (this was my favourite bit), a couple of humanheaded fish (I don’t know why) and two sets of naked female legs.
Now this is where it starts getting a bit adult in nature. During the first half, it’s all very much a child-like entertainment. Possible because Alice is still the child she was. There was at least one child in the audience. But in the second half it all gets a bit steamy. I didn’t see what happened to the child.
After Alice meets the legs, she next sits in a chair, the back of which is a naked back. A second head appears and the two heads float around a bit. This then vanishes (you have to remember this is all live on stage and the effects are very clever) and the evil, scary, magician returns. Also, two naked girls appear.
One of the girls is Alice, the other is…I don’t know, maybe the representation of young Alice. Anyway, they have a bit of stroking fun until, eventually, Alice is alone with the magician. At this stage we realise she is just topless and is, modestly, wearing pants.
Then the magician, using a big bit of material, makes a wedding dress and then a baby, for Alice. Finally, she disappears into a strange pagan symbol.
The whole thing was unexpected and truly surreal. We loved it. Possibly for the wrong reasons. Tomorrow’s concert will be very tame in comparison.