Friday, July 30, 2010

Vacation report, part 1: Prague

Charles Bridge

My first day in Prague is now a little hazy. It was hot and I was jetlagged. But I had all day to explore Old Town Square, the Charles Bridge, and Prague Castle, which is more of a massive complex than our modern concept of a castle as a fortress. 

Prague Castle as seen from Charles Bridge

At its center is St. Vitus's Cathedral, which is visible from the bridge and just about any point on the Vltava River. 

St. Vitus' Cathedral at Prague Castle

I walked and walked and walked some more, to the point that whenever I sat down I felt as if I could just fall asleep right there. I took a nap at the hotel before dinner, which helped matters. But after dinner and a bit more wandering around, I returned to the hotel and slept like the dead.  

After breakfast on Saturday I set out for Vysehrad, the remains of the ancient castle on the Vltava. I walked along the river then hiked up the hill to the remains, which command a spectacular view of southern Prague and the neighborhoods across the Vltava.

View of Prague from wall at Vysehrad

At Vysehrad I especially enjoyed the church, built and rebuilt over the centuries to its current Neo-Gothic design, and the cemetery in which Czech luminaries such as Antonin Dvorak and Bedrich Smetana are buried.

The church at Vysehrad

The grave of Antonin Dvorak

Prague's National Marionette Theater is world-renowned for its production of Mozart's Don Giovanni, which originally premiered in Prague conducted by the composer. There are actually two (possibly more) productions in Prague but I found the one that claimed to be the original (with press clippings and photos of world tours to back up the claims).

Prague's National Marionette Theater

I suspect it might be similar to the Ray's Pizza controversy in New York.  The show began with a marionette of Mozart as conductor, leading an unseen orchestra through the overture (the music is recorded).  The overture went a little off the rails, with the "musicians" throwing their music out of the orchestra pit and the music speeding up and slowing down. The opera itself was a delight. All of the marionettes were manipulated expertly and well-choreographed with the music.  There was a naked Don Giovanni for a bath scene and even a bit of implied marionette on marionette action during a seduction. Between scenes Mozart appeared and bumbled around, stumbling into a speaker and drinking from a tiny wine glass. During a rainstorm in a graveyard scene, he even put up an umbrella. And at the end of the opera, after Don Giovanni's demise, I'll just say that the performers tried to get their creations to end the show so we could go home, with humorous results.

I returned to my hotel and packed my bags, preparing for Sunday morning's departure for the Backroads bike tour.  I was excited about getting to see more of the Czech Republic and to meet the people who would share the experience with me.

Please check out my complete set of photos from Prague.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I'm back...

I apologize for the long "dark" period on this blog.  If you've been following me on Twitter (and why aren't you? It's the wave of the future!) then you know I've been on vacation for the past few weeks, on a bike tour of the Czech Republic and Austria.  I had a blast while I was over there.  I enjoyed some of the best days I've ever had on a bike, I saw many, many sites I'd only read about, ate delicious Czech and Austrian food, and drank large amounts of Czech beer and Austrian wine.  I saw a marionette version of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" and heard a bluegrass band sing American classics in Czech.  I saw the excesses of the Habsburgs firsthand.  I ate in a restaurant that Beethoven, Schubert, and Brahms all  frequented.  Over the next week or so I'll have detailed posts about the trip itself and the days I spent in Prague and Vienna before and after the bike tour.  Thank you for waiting out the delay.  Your patience will soon be rewarded.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

cheating on my longtime love

It's been out for years, but I've stubbornly refused to try Google Chrome until now.  I love Firefox.  I even helped write a book about it.  But technology moves on and newer products come out, and as a geek I should make the effort to test them if I can.  So far my experience has been favorable.  Chrome imported all of my bookmarks and saved logins, so I don't even have to retype passwords in the new browser.  It does load faster than Firefox.  Chrome also uses less RAM than Firefox, but that's not a major selling point for me since I have 4 GB on my MacBook Pro and I don't usually run low on memory.

I'm going to continue using Chrome on one of my PCs at work (which only has 1.5 GB of RAM) the rest of the week and see if I notice any other benefits or drawbacks.  I don't think I'm prepared to leave Firefox behind, especially with version 4.0 coming soon.  But I'm open to experimentation.