Prague Days 7 and 8

Silence is golden

It’s a bit difficult to go back and reconstruct these final two days in Prague. I’m home in Baltimore now, having spent a weekend recovering from jet lag and helping my sister move house. But I want to tidy up posts on Prague and try to reconstruct the narrative with a bit of memory archaeology.

So last Tuesday was Day 7. Almost a week ago! Wow. We woke late, we ate a liesurely breakfast, we took the 17 into town. I walked us up and around to the alchemical museum we’d found before, and this time we successfully toured the hidden laboratory beneath the house in a system of tunnels which stretched to main town squares in Prague. The teenager leading the tour (by reading from a sheet in tortured English) said that the house was “the second-oldest building in Prague.” It didn’t seem to fit architecturally that that building was from the 900s. I also wondered how they knew Tycho Brahe had been in the house, but they claimed he had, and had hung his portrait in a little scholarly den. The teenager–blond, tall, modelesque–told us the alchemy lab had been discovered only following the 2002 floods. The owners of the house had sexed up the den by adding a wooden bookcase with a hidden mechanism to disguise the entrance to the tunnels. They’d scattered some books around the room which we were told were from a movie.

But the labs themselves were wonderfully interesting, with the original furnaces and several original alembics. There were inscriptions in Latin on the walls, and carvings of figures which unfortunately came out blurry in photographs. I won’t give specifics about the museum (silentium aurum est) but it’s quite close to the St. Agnes Convent–if you’re lucky you’ll stumble upon it. You can even buy an elixir made by an old wizard somewhere else, using recipes found at the site.

The rest of this day was all live music. We went to the Wallenstein Gardens in Prague and found good seats for the opening of Bohemia Jazz Fest. We saw the Miraslave Hloucal Quartet, who played a rather nice set of music which would have fit right into E.S.P.-era Miles Davis. Then there was the Baker Suite, a duo from Australia playing charming little songs on guitar and accordian which had nothing whatsoever to do with jazz. But they were cute–and I’d heard one song on the radio in a cafe earlier in the week.

That night we rode around on the deliciously cheesy Prague Jazz Boat. The musicians were sick–two astonishing guitarists trading solos with an excellent stand-up bassist. The singer was from the Astrud Gilberto school of breathy barely-there singing. They did lots of Jobim and standards from the American repertoire. The food was nasty, but there was booze, and great views of the city, and a gang of German tourists upstairs started singing during breaks.

Day 8 we goofed off a lot, rushing around and getting together some final gifts. We toured the Botanical Garden at Charles University–it was lovely, and a great way to kill a couple hours.

And then we flew to Frankfurt. We had a lot of trouble at the airport because we’d been told by our hotel that there was a shuttle. There was not. We had to get a cab for about $50. Then we wanted to go to the therme in Bad Soden, so that was another $20 cab ride. Then the therme didn’t take credit cards and there was no ATM in town. I only had enough money for the taxi back. We walked around looking for a bank to no avail. I was done. I sat down on a pole in front of a hotel-restaurant and tried to figure out how we would get back to our hotel if there were no cabs around. The Mrs. meanwhile found a very helpful German who ran a hotel. He sold her tickets to the baths and let her pay with a Visa. We got to enjoy the pools, hot-tubs, and co-ed nude sauna with a bunch of locals. Hadn’t done that since Baden Baden in 1997. Fortunately I’m a bit more toned now than I was 15 years ago.

Condor air, despite an email confirmation of our tickets, put us on standby at the airport Thursday. But we got on the plane, and with a little trading ended up actually seated next to each other for much of the flight. And now we’re home. It’s going to be 100 degrees here today. I want to go back!

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