Prague, part 3

p1120534A bit long after the previous post, but not forgetting this wonderful city, I’m starting out at a quite inglorous place – at first sight, those odious shafts above the river catch the sight of the visitor. However, the house in the middle is the Smetana Museum. We mustn’t forget that Prague was the birthplace or working home of numerous excellent Czech composers, some of whom are famous, like Smetana, some less famous but non-the-less excellent, like Vítězslav Novák (, Zdenek Fibich or (Isaac) Ignaz Moscheles ( among others. However, beside Dvorak, Smetana is definitely the most well-known Czech composer, so let us see his statue a bit taken out of these inglorious surroundings: p1120538This time, we are going to concentrate exclusively on the other side of the river, so we’re crossing over the Charles Bridge again and approaching the castle differently. Actually, the following routes are the more usual ways to approach than those in my previous posts. On the way, though, there’s an interesting, partly underground shopping area, which reminds us of the fact that the Czech were once also famous about their crystal-ware. How much of it is real now is anybody’s guess. p1120540 But take heart, there are at least scores, if not hundreds of other shops in the area selling something similar stuff.p1120546 On the other end of the bridge, we find ourselves in small but beautiful streets again. p1120549p1120550p1120554_st-michaelp1120552Under those arcades, lots of small pubs, restaurants and vendors can be found – but behind them, we can also get a glimpse of real life: p1120555p1120558p1120560Having reached the upper level of the castle, it is worth crossing a bridge over an old ditch under the walls on the other side. A rare, but beautiful aspect of the cathedral, real old castle walls and a nice garden is our prize. p1120567p1120569p1120571My real aim today is, however, inside the castle: the Lobkowicz Palace. The building is huge, though not particularly interesting, but inside there is a good museum from the collection of this once mighty family over the centuries. Be generous with your purse, though: the entrance fee is rather steep, about €14. Most of the paintings are, uninterestingly for me, are portraits of old family members and related people one tends to forget, but the artefacts are mostly very fine.p1120583p1120584p1120585p1120587p1120588p1120590p1120591p1120592p1120593p1120594p1120595p1120596Some members of the family used to be very refined musicians, so a room full of their instruments is in order – if I remember well, Beethoven is said to occasionally be among the guests who played on some of them along the earl.p1120597There are a few very interesting paintings in the last room: originals by Canaletto and a couple of others. From the historical view, at least, they are very-very interesting.p1120598p1120603Leaving the museum-palace, we pass some other beautiful views, like this gate to the plaything museum, but I’m leaving you here before you get too tired. The last part of my Prague posts is still to come.p1120508

by P.S.

Maastricht, the Netherlands

Maastricht, the Dutch city famous for the treaty of the EU signed here decades ago, is in a very far, Southern corner of the Netherlands, in the province of Limburgh, of which it is the capital, but at a distance of many hours of drive or train journey from almost everywhere, wedged between Belgium and Germany. As distance is translated into travel costs, I never really hoped to get there, but an action by HEMA, a chain store in the country, helped me out with a cheap offer (a quarter of the usual price) of day tickets I could tap into.

A few words of warning for tourists in order here. People other than residents of the Netherlands can only dream of receiving such deals except if the tourist has local friends. For a start, if you have internet access, you have to have a Dutch bank account to pay for the ticket as well. That’s a tall order, but foreign banks are not accepted. Then you need a printer to print the ticket after you’ve run the full gauntlet of the complicated procedure successfully. Further, be warned that the country is on the cusp of getting rid of paper tickets so you need to buy daily chip-cards to put money on before you get on a train. For the sake of the relatively large numbers of Dutch people visiting other countries, I wish other countries also introduce such systems almost fully shutting off travel possibilities so that they get an experience of their own medicine. With a venom. Talk about free travel in the EU.

Well, no problem for me, so I went to see this beautiful, intercultural city a few weeks ago, and to full satisfaction. One can hear as much French and almost as much German in the streets as Dutch, quite unlike anywhere else in the country, and it is a beautiful city on top of local hospitality. Its history goes back to the early middle-ages, which is reflected in a large part of the inner city and the ring around it, though there is not much as a surprise for continental Europeans.

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The inner city is dominated by a number of great churches, of which St. Servaasbasiliek is the oldest and most respected one with a wonderful collection of religious relics inside, some of which dating back to the 5th century as the city and this church was involved in the old Franc empire of the Karolings, Karel Martel, Karel de Grote, Barbarossa and others right after the fall of Rome.

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Moods and museums of Amsterdam – Part 3

Dear Visitor, This post is a follow-up on the previous parts 1 and 2 showing the beauty of Amsterdam and some of its museums on my first photoblog. However, in this post, I have to start with a museum I visited a second time over the years, and I have to warn you that my impressions were far from favourable. The good news will only come after this one.

The Van Gogh Museum is on the left side

The Van Gogh Museum is on the left side

This particular museum is situated near the great Rijksmuseum (shown in part 1 about Amsterdam) and the famous Concertgebouw at the Sourthern edge of the old city and is diagonally opposite to the greatness of those two. When I visited it years ago first, I had good impressions about the exhibition on show, but somehow my memories may have been polished by time, because this time I felt it was time and money wasted. Not that it took a long time to see. Basically, if one goes to a museum called after Van Gogh, one expects to see at least several paintings by said painter.  Here, however, there is one painting on show by Van Gogh, a couple by Chagal, Goncharova and a few other 20th-century Russian painters, and the rest is difficult even to see how and why they made it to a museum. P1090581P1090582 P1090583 Most of the pieces are on par with the museum of Arnhem, or a smaller museum in rural Hungary for that matter, so I haven’t taken photos of them. If it weren’t for two dozens of huge transparencies, or ‘installations’, transparent photos lit from behind, by renowned Canadian photographer Jeff Wall, the museum would be completely off the list of museums to be seen in Amsterdam. P1090591P1090584 P1090585P1090590P1090589 However, one doesn’t go to the Van Gogh Museum for photos, and these were there probably temporarily, it is no excuse for the museum. The content of the permanent exhibition is very meager, a real let-down in Amsterdam. My friend with me had to pay for it and was quite put out. Even when visiting free with a Museumjaarkaart, you should not expect much so as not to feel it. On the other hand, visiting the local Madame Tussauds was agreeable. As I lived and travelled in China about a decade ago, I had no opportunity to see the recently opened Shanghai and Beijing versions and the others mushrooming up around Asia. My most recent experience with Madame dates back to London in the 1980s. So I took an opportunity to see the one in Amsterdam with this friend a couple of weeks ago. Of course, all MTs have to include figures of local political leaders and celebrities. Instead of Queen Elizabeth, in Amsterdam we can see the new Dutch king and his wife, and the previous Queens, all of whom were generally loved in the country. P1090693 You can pose with the former Queen, and can even put a crown on your head as you please. P1090692But the exhibition actually begins with a very important historical figure, Peter Stuywesant, director-general of New Nederland in the middle of the 17th century. That was the time when New York was still called New Amsterdam, and a large part of the wealth of the then young, but prosperous Netherlands came from. P1090688 Unfortunately, a series of problems with the English texts also start here, which I can’t resist to expose here. I’m sure it’s not difficult to find which sentence was written with Dutch grammar … P1090694 Those interested in more of my explorations about mistakes in this museum, please follow the link to my language-learning site on the left side of this blog. The rest of the exhibition consists of the usual great international figures of history, arts and sciences. There’s not too much bias, though I personally do not know or care about any of the Dutch celebrities, but then again, the show provides one an opportunity to learn about the local culture as well. The quality of the artifacts is good, or at least decent, with only a couple that I didn’t really feel similar to the originals. But all-in-all, it a great success. I was also happy to get in for half the price with the Museumjaarkaart, the one-year card that provides free access to a lot of museums in the Netherlands for a year. P1090690P1090691P1090698P1090696P1090700P1090704P1090706 P1090710P1090715P1090723P1090726P1090728P1090729

Madam Tusseaud herself

Madame Tusseaud herself