svētdiena, 2014. gada 13. jūlijs

VOCABULARY of some English and Czech terms

This vocabulary is meant chiefly for people educated outside Europe because, among other things, it explains some aspects of European architecture. But anyone who's interested is welcome to read it, of course :-)

Castle x chateau - Both are residences of local aristocracy.
A castle is a stone fortress built earlier than cca. 1530. A chateau was built after 1530, using bricks. Some chateaus are rebuilt castles. Some chateaus were rebuilt in the 19th century to be made to look like castles.

There are hundreds and hundreds of castles in the Czech Republic - I heard that according to the Guiness Book of Records, the Czech Republic is the most castle-dense country in the world. But I'm not sure about that - it's quite possible that the authorities counted even castles that just consist of one wall nowadays. Honestly, most castles are in ruins.
This is an example of a castle:
The number of chateaus is much smaller - about 120. Most of them have beautiful gardens and parks.
They make for good one-day trip destinations, because it's sort of an unwritten rule in the CzR that chateaus should be made accessible to the public. That's why most of them are furnished with historical furniture and there are guided tours that tell you all about it - how the aristocracy lived, any connections with other European countries' history, and any funny or scary events that might have happened here - be they true or not :-) This way, you can learn about a 18th century mirror that makes you look younger, about a chateau painted red because there's a blood stain on the wall that wouldn't come off (from a man a local landlord murdered), and about a nobleman that was buried alive.
That's why even privately-owned chateaus - by the descendants of the original owners, who got them back from the state (after they were confiscated by the Communists) are mostly like this. If the owners live in them, they only occupy one wing and make the rest accessible to the public. Or, they make them into culture centres or hotels. Chateaus not open for the public are an anomaly here.
Here's a chateau:

Pond (or rybník in Czech) - something between a water reservoir and a natural lake. More precisely, it's a water reservoir built in the 16th, 17th or 18th century. Its purpose was to hold water and to grow fish (Czech ryby, hence the name).
They're often of rectangular shape but because they've been around for some 400 years, they have old trees growing on their banks and fit into the countryside perfectly. And so most foreign visitors mistake them for natural lakes. There are hundreds of them, while natural lakes are much less numerous - there is just a couple of them in the mountains.

Renaissance - The first style in clothing, architecture, music and art that came after Middle Ages (the last style of which was Gothic).
In my country, it was dominant roughly from 1530 to 1630.
Its key word is considered to be "harmony". No extremes. That's why it doesn't make the impression of trying to reach the sky (as the previous Gothic style does - even the clothing with its tall hats), nor to express dramatic emotions (as its successor, Baroque style, does). In architecture, it's more of a style of worldly buildings - like town houses and chateaus. Only a few churches are built in Renaissance style. Although - there are exceptions to every rule:
As to Renaissance chateaus, you'll find them in more remote and less rich areas. That's because they're the oldest ones. Wherever the region was rich, the aristocracy had the money to re-build their Renaissance residence in whatever style was popular at a later time.

If you want to recognize Renaissance buildings as you walk, you can go for the top parts of them - they're usually divided into small "steps" or "waves":

or the buildings are painted with the typical sgraffiti called psaníčka (letters, envelopes):

sestdiena, 2014. gada 12. jūlijs

Konopiště - the Hemp Field, which is anything but a hemp field

Description: Castle with chateau interiors.
Residence of the last-but-one heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne - Franz Ferdinand d'Este.
He was assassinated in 1914. This event started the First World War.

Museums, weapons and hunting trophies, bird sanctuary, gardens, park, greenhouses, forest.

Themes: History (Middle Ages and late 19th - early 20th century), architecture, romance, nature, animals, roses, souvenirs from Asia, Africa and the Americas, hunting, diplomacy, Catholicism, early 20th century technology.

Distance from a city: 50 km to the south from Prague

Transport, difficulty: There are about two trains an hour from Praha hlavní nádraží and one coach an hour from Praha ÚAN Florenc. The local coach station and railway station are in the nearby town of Benešov, about 2,5 km from the castle. The walk / bike ride is mostly through a park-like forest with minimum elevation. For cars: the parking lot is just a couple of hundred metres from the castle. On the spot: There is a small electric train (20 CZK / ticket) that criss-crosses the grounds and also goes to the town and the railway station, but it only goes about 5 times per day.

Anyway, all in all, not a demanding trip. (Unless, like me, you make the mistake of trying to run uphill with asthma, drinking coffee and forgetting to drink water on a hot day, plus switching from English to Czech to Russian to Latvian every two sentences - then you might actuallly end up quite exhausted.)

Time required: If you go from Prague, the slow train (osobní vlak) takes about an hour, an express (rychlík) about 30 minutes. The coaches take 50 minutes to get here. The advantage of this place is that you can spend any amount of time here: from 1,5 hour dedicated to the castle interiors and terrace gardens to a full day spent in the castle's parks and forests, visiting the rose garden, the greenhouses, the shooting range, the birds of prey sanctuary, the St.George (Sv. Jiří) likenesses musem, the motorcycle museum, and sitting in the nice restaurant...

Suitability for children: 60%. Small children might get bored during the one-hour lecture by the guide inside the castle, but on the other hand, the interior is more interesting to children than most other Czech castles and chateaus's interiors. The castle grounds are more suitable for adults (park, statues, rose garden, museums, greenhouses), but as it is possible to find something behind every corner and there're also fountains, a live bear and peacocks, there's not much danger of the children getting desperate for an ice-cream every 20 minutes.

Facilities: Very good. This is a castle I admire for its taste in facilities. There are park benches, maps and orientation signs everywhere and all shops are situated in the castle's yard. Toilets, two small, but sufficient souvenir shops, two small cafés and a very nice (and inexpensive) restaurant. All of this made to fit the historical athmosphere. The only problem is the size of the ticket office - it's too small for a relatively famous place. If you're going here on a warm summer Saturday or Sunday, be prepared to spend about 10 minutes waiting to buy the tickets. (Perhaps this seems like a short time after all, but in most Czech chateaus and castles, you don't have to wait at all.) And send just one person to buy the tickets if you don't want the rest of the group to get lost in a 6-people-crowd.

Language: No problem communicating in English, if you keep it simple. The restaurant's menu is translated to several languages. The castle interior can be toured with a German, English, French or Russian-speaking guide. But as I haven't discovered any system in the times when the foreign language tours start, it's better to book one ahead. Or to go on a Czech tour and borrow an audio guide with earphones for 50 CZK.

Web page:

Pronunciation, meaning: Benešov is pronounced "Benneshof" and probably denoted a place that belonged to a guy called Beneš - which is an old diminutive form of Benedikt. Konopiště is pronounced "Konnopishtyeh". IMHO it used to mean "hemp field" or "place where hemp is processed" (note the similarity to the word "cannabis" :-) ) Jamaica flag owners, don't expect anything exciting here - historically, hemp was used to make ropes and ointments. Although I did meet a guy that was totally high on the way back - but that was in a DVD shop in Prague.

I'm starting this story with "So, we went by train to..." as promised!

So, me, my Latvian friend and my Estonian friend got on a train in Praha hlavní nádraží and started the journey by getting... delayed. Yeah, there was a powerful electric storm yesterday and lots of railway thingamajigs got damaged, so our train had to wait for another train that was waiting for another train. That just lasted 15 minutes, though, and we weren't in a hurry, so we kept chatting happily in our four languages.

The journey by train was enjoyable especially for me because I realized that there actually are beautiful sceneries in my region - Central Bohemia. I live in a flat countryside east of Prague that basically consists of fields, poplar alleys and more fields, but once you travel south of Prague, you see hills, streams and thick forests. I'd happily forgotten that because the demon called All-Places-in-the-World-Are-Interesting-Except-Mine had gotten at me. And yet, these are the parts where Czech summer holidays are spent, the parts that continue with the picturesque Southern Bohemia rolling hills and the parts where Josef Lada, painter and children's books author, lived 100 years ago!
One of the towns we passed actually used some characters from his books in decoration of the railway station.