Travel Shots For Fun – Dancing House In Prague

The Dancing House is the nickname given to the Nationale-Nederlanden building in downtown Prague, Czech Republic. It was designed by Croatian-Czech architect Vlado Miluni in co-operation with Canadian architect Frank Gehry. The first shot is HDR handheld from 3 exposures and the second shot is one extended exposure of 9 seconds. Click either image to see a larger version.

Dancing House

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Dancing House

Dancing House

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Dancing House

Travel Shots For Fun – Charles Bridge and Prague Castle

3 shots of Charles Bridge and Prague Castle. The first two are HDR using 3 exposures. The first at twighlight, the second after dark.
The third shot is just an extended exposure of 23 seconds with little to no post processing. Click any image to see the larger version.

Prague Castle and Charles Bridge

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Prague Castle and Charles Bridge

Prague Castle and Charles Bridge

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Prague Castle and Charles Bridge

Prague Castle and Charles Bridge

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Prague Castle and Charles Bridge

Prague – Day 10

Well, it’s our last day in Prague. Vienna seems so long ago at this point. We’re totally sated in every way and ready to come home. If all goes well, we have a car picking us up at 5:30 am to go to the airport. We’re crossing our fingers in hopes that he shows up.

We took it relatively easy today. Just some walking around. Again, we found some things we had been kinda keeping an eye out for.

We headed to Wenceslas Square to see if we could locate the Lucerna Gallery to see the sculpture “Saint Wenceslas Riding an Upside-Down Horse” and succeeded

A quirky sculpture, to be sure.

From there we just wanted to walk around. We explored the area by the river right next to the Charles Bridge. While walking around we stumbled upon a REAL puppet shop. In case you didn’t know, Prague is famous for puppets. Especially Marionette style puppets. There are stores everywhere selling cheap and, frankly crappy puppets that look to be mass produced and are there for the tourists exclusively. But this shop was different. These puppets were hand made by a group of Czech artisans and had all the charm of something that hearkened to a bygone era. The shopkeeper allowed me some time to photograph in the shop, which I think was very kind and generous.

We couldn’t find a puppet we wanted enough to justify the cost and the effort of getting it home. But it was nice to see this place. Cynthia bought a little hand carved sheep as a souvenir and a token of our appreciation for the time the shopkeeper spent with us.

All we did the rest of the day was walk and walk which lead us to stumble upon another thing we were looking for.

This is the monument to the students that were injured by the police in the protests that precipitated the Velvet Revolution.

I’ve got a lot more photos to process when we get home and I’ll be trickling those out as time permits.

We’re back at the apartment just relaxing now. We’re packed and ready to come home. What a glorious adventure this has been. Thank to everyone who followed along here and on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. I’ve got a lot of photos to process. I’ll be trickling those out as time permits.

Prague – The Tiger Lillies

Cynthia bought a copy of the Prague Post the other day because it is printed in English. I was looking at the entertainment section and there on the cover was the unmistakable visage of Martyn Jacques of The Tiger Lillies. I read the article and it turns out the band was playing 5 nights in Prague as part of a theater show at the Archa called “Here I Am Human

These guys never come to Houston and have rarely played in the United States, but they have quite a cult following and I figured I should seize this opportunity. As it turns out, the Archa is only an easy 15 minute walk from our apartment. We decided we’d check it out and purchased tickets.

The theme of the show is, as the name would suggest, about being human. It was not a concert, per se. It was an avant-guarde stage performance featuring a narrator explaining various aspects of what it is to be a human being.

He took the audience from biblical creation and being cast out of the garden of Eden through Darwinism and explained how we as humans separated ourselves from our more animal instincts. Of course all the narration was in Czech with minimal English subtitles so I am sure much was lost in the lack of translation. But the performance of the actors did a good job of keeping us on the story track.

All the while The Tiger Lillies were on the stage and performed songs they had written for the show. Sometimes as background music

Most of the time as musical interludes during the stage performance.

The songs themselves were in English so that was a plus. Some of the songs were really quite good while others catered to the more base aspects of the story line.

I should point out that the above photos are not mine. They were provided by the Archa Theater for me to use. But I did take my camera and was able to get a shot of me posing with the band after the show thanks to Cynthia.

Prague – Day 8

Today was another casual day. Cynthia wanted to visit the Old New Synagogue in The Jewish Quarter to see if we could catch a glimpse of the Golem that is said to be still hiding amongst the rafters. Fortunately, no run ins with this legendary animated anthropomorphic being. No photos allowed in the synagogue.

From there we walked around the area and we came to the Cechuv bridge. And there, towering over the city was a giant, functioning metronome looming over the city.

From what I understand, that is where the giant Stalin monument once stood.

We decided we would like to check it out, but decided it might be a bit hard to reach on foot and kind of blew it off. That is when I noticed the steps leading up to Prague Caslte in the distance. We had come down those steps when returned from our visit to the castle complex a few days earlier, but wanted to just go have a look at them and then the surrounding area.

Before we knew it we had climbed the steps and were in the castle compound. It was a rather arduous climb, but we didn’t wear ourselves out too bad. Once we were up there we decided to see if we could find our way to the giant metronome. A little research and we figured out it was in Letna Park. Problem was that we couldn’t immediately figure out how to get to Letna Park from our current location.

I knew we didn’t want to go down again and that it must be up where we were in terms of elevation. The maps were pretty useless, but I had the general direction in my head and we set off to find it.

We ended up in this park that ran along the old mote of the castle complex. It was very scenic and there were not very may people there. We came upon the castle vineyard and there was a nice view of the castle from there

We walked quite a bit trying to get a fix on the metronome which was fine. The weather was absolutely perfect and we were in no rush.

We explored the area and eventually came out to a main street that I recognized from the map and from there is was pretty easy to find our way to Letna Park, and presumably the the giant metronome. Which we did.

All in all we walked for a good 5 hours with frequent stops to take in the view and shoot some pictures.

As we were headed back to the apartment to recombobulate and maybe get some food we saw a bunch of swans in the river near the tour boat launches. Cynthia wanted to feed the swans which we did after regrouping.

I can really feel myself winding down. We’ve got two more full days and I am starting to think about home more and more as departure time draws near.

Tonight we go to see The Tiger Lillies perform at the Archa Theater. Should be very strange.

Prague – Day 7 – Day Trip To Kutna Hora

In planning the trip to Prague there was one place I just HAD to visit and that was Kutna Hora. Now Kutna Hora is famous for a lot of things. It’s home to St. Barbara Church and The Cathedral of Our Lady. It is a quaint little Czech town full of history and it played a very important role in Bohemia due to the now long depleted silver mines that were found around the 10th century. Anyway, you can read all about that in the linked Wikipedia article. I wanted to go there to see the Sedlec Ossuary.

In researching it looked a little tough to sort out the train ride so we opted for a guided tour. This was reasonably priced and seemed it would take the headache out of getting there and back as well as trying to find our way around. The tour was advertised to last about 5 hours, two of which would be the ride there and the ride back.

We got to the tour guide stand early and were on our way at 9:30 am. The first stop, Sedlec Ossuary. Yay, we thought. Then we were reminded why we don’t travel with tour groups. The total amount of time allocated for the Ossuary was 20 minutes. The was way too rushed for me to really relax and take the photos I wanted to take.

You see, the Sedlec Ossuary is a very unique thing, not only in The Czech Republic, but I would bet you would be hard pressed to find anything like it in the entire world. The ossuary is a small Roman Catholic chapel, located beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints in Sedlec which is a suburb of Kutná Hora. And it is tastefully decorated….with the skeletal remains of an estimated 40,000 to 70,000 people.

The abbot of the Cistercian monastery in Sedlec, was sent to the Palestine Holy Land in 1278. When he returned, he brought with him a small amount of earth he had removed from Golgotha, the biblical location of the crucification of Jesus Christ. He took this and sprinkled it over the cemetery to consecrate the ground. This caused the property values of this small plot of land to go through the spiritual roof! Everybody wanted to be buried there so they flocked to Sedlec to die. Add to that the victims of The Black Death in the 14th century and those who were killed during the Hussite Wars in the early 15th century, you had many thousands of new residents is a rather small cemetery.

The graves had to be dug up and the remains removed to accommodate new arrivals. The ossuary itself dates back to 1511 and it was the task of a half blind monk to gather up the bones of the former residents and stash them in the crypt.

So what do you do with a crypt containing the skeletal remains of 40,000 to 70,000 people? Well, if you’re Duke Shwartzemberg in 1870 you find yourself a wood carving artistic type like Frantisek Rindt and you tell him to go nuts!

When viewing from baldheretic.com you can click any of the images to see a larger version. For some of these, this is a must.

Here is the entrance to the ossuary

Descend the stairs and enter the ossuary.

The room is dominated by a skeletal chandelier

Here you see the signature of the artist, spelled out and dated using bones

And here is the Shwartzemberg coat of arms done in, you guessed it! Bones!

Bones are piled in 4 corners of the ossuary in a pyramid shape with ventilation holes going through the center

You can get up real close and personal, just don’t touch!

Bones decorate everything. Strings of skulls adorn the walls like those ornamental chains made of popcorn you used to decorate your Christmas tree with.

All in all, I’m very happy I had the chance to see this. I wish I would have had more time and it wasn’t so crowded. I could have done better. But I pulled this off in 15 minutes, 1 lens change and no flash or tripod.

Prague – Day 6

Man, the weather again today was fantastic! We didn’t really have anything specific on the agenda today. Cynthia calls it a “free day” where we just walk around and shoot pictures of whatever we want. With the sun being out I decided to try and capture some detail on the astronomical clock. I setup the tripod and captured these images:

I’ve got some more and some plans for processing to make them more “interesting” but I’ll need some time. I’m just wanting to find a different way to capture and present this magnificent clock.

We walked around the old town square shooting a few things and marveled at the clear blue sky.

We decided to cross Karlov Most (The Charles Bridge) back over to the far bank of the river. The crowds were already building up. There’s a fantastic jazz band that plays on the bridge every day and the music really sets the scene. Their name, cleverly enough, is The Bridge Band.

We strolled casually down the bridge, stopping frequently to snap pictures of the various statues that line Karlov Most

There’s this one statue on the bridge of St John Nepomuk

It is said that touching the plague beneath this statue brings good fortune and that you can make a wish. But you can only make one wish in your lifetime. Cynthia has made hers and I am mulling mine over currently.

We wandered and wandered quite a bit. I was shooting a lot with my Zeiss 70-300 which is unusual for me as I am primarily a wide angle kind of guy. But it was nice to capture some detail.

As we wandered down the river we came across a sculpture garden that was in the courtyard of the Kampa Museum of Contemporary Art. There were many interesting pieces, but this one stood out for me

It is what it looks like, a crochet car. It was created by a Jitka Havlí?ková in 2001 and is called Viktor – pomnik automobilu which roughly translates to Victor (or maybe Victoria) – Memorial Car.

We also took the opportunity to fulfill our travel tradition of dropping a Mr. Zippers feather at our travel destination. Mr. Zippers was Cynthia’s beloved Quaker parrot and w take a feather and drop it on every trip.

We dropped it in the river in sight of the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle.

From the river we turned into the city again and walked all the way to Wencislas Square. On the way I spotted this odd mirrored building that was reflecting the more traditional building directly across the street. I don’t know why this sort of thing fascinates me, but it does. Just like Haus Haus in Vienna did on that leg of our trip.

I don’t know what Nova Scena is, but that ball in the middle of the sign is made of yarn.

We walked and walked and walked. As Cynthia has been fond of saying: I’ve walked so much my dog are woofin’

We headed back to the apartment where I actually laid down and took a two hour nap. After which I got up and Cynthia and I walked down to Slovansky ostrov to go to, of all things, The Prague Wine Festival.

Cynthia and I do enjoy wine. Unfortunately we’re pretty vino ignorant. Still, we tried some Czech wines and enjoyed them. And we got to listen to some traditional Czech music. But before long the long day took it’s toll and we declared an early evening and headed back home. It was a lovely stroll back to the apartment after a very nice and relaxing day.

Prague – Day 5 – Part 2

After leaving the Lennon Wall we passed by the water wheel. From up on the bridge we noticed people stopping at the wheel and lingering. We thought they were just looking at the wheel and getting in the way of our shots. Turns out they were marveling at the wall of padlocks.

More precisely, “love padlocks

We’d seen something like this before in Florence Italy. Apparently lovers profess their undying love and the bond they share by locking a padlock to this gate and then throwing the key into the canal. Awww, how romantic! Engraved, painted and adorned with ribbons, they are really quite interesting to see. I found myself shooting quite a few pictures before we moved on.

Our next destination was Petrín, a hill in the center of Prague above the left bank of the Vltava River. Mostly just parks, but there is 1/5 scale replica of the Eiffel Tower up there that is supposed to offer some of the best views of the city.

On the way to there we came across the Victims of Communism Memorial

It shows seven bronze figures descending a flight of stairs. The statues appear more “decayed” the further away they are from you – losing limbs and their bodies breaking open. It is supposed to symbolize how political prisoners were affected by Communism.

From there we made our way to the fenucular that would take us to the top of Petrín Hill. Once to the top we went to the minature Eiffel Tower and bough tickets. At the top the view was nothing short of spectacular!

After going to the top of the miniature Eiffel Tower we went to the basement to see the museum dedicated to Jára Cimrman. This was absolutely HILLARIOUS! Jára Cimrman is a fictional character created in the 60’s and he is presented as one of the greatest Czech playwrights, poets, composers, teachers, travellers, philosophers, inventors, detectives, mathematicians, politicians, lovers and sportsmen of the 19th and early 20th century. Playing the game on his real existence is part of his characterization. My favorite Cimrman quote “I am such a complete atheist that I am afraid God will punish me.” Check out the link above to learn more.

That was pretty much a full day. We had dinner last night at Boatel Matylda, a VERY nice Italian restaurant on the top deck of a floating boat hotel. Then we went to the Dancing House to get a night photo of the building. You’ll see that later. Now is time to sleep for another day awaits us tomorrow.

Prague – Day 5 – Part 1

Another sunny and wonderful day! We woke up early and had breakfast, after which we headed off to the Charles Bridge to cross over to Malá Strana or “little quarter” area of Prague. Crossing the bridge we found the last surviving water wheel that was once one of many that lined this canal next to Kampa Island. It is said that each canal had its own protective water spirit (vodnik). Now that that there’s only the one canal, there’s only one water spirit left…Mr. Kabourek.

The first site we wanted to get to was the John Lennon Wall. John Lennon’s music of peace and freedom was an inspiration to the oppressed peoples of the communist regime. When John was murdered a young artists came to this wall and painted a picture of John on it. The authorities painted over it. The artist returned the next day and painted it again. Eventually the owners of the wall, the Embassy of Malta, stepped in and declared that the wall was sovereign territory and the the local authorities had no right to touch it. Over time many came to paint on the wall their own messages of peace and freedom and to this day the wall grows and changes as visitors come to see this symbol of freedom and expression and add their own messages to the wall.

Exploring the wall I kept finding more and more details.

Cynthia spent the better part of an hour just photographing various small and large detail shots and we both agreed that the wall was quite fascinating and the story behind it very profound. We eventually did add our marks to the wall.

Nothing lofty or pretentious. Just our names. Just something to say we were there

We really enjoyed this space. If you’re ever in Prague, go find it. At first it just seems like a wall full of graffiti. But as you contemplate it and read the messages it unfolds with greater meaning and beauty.

Prague – Day 4

Hallelujah! It is not raining! The temps have dropped but there’s sunlight streaming down from the heavens through some rather picturesque clouds. With joy in our hearts and a spring in our step we were out of the apartment by 7:45 and over the Bohemia Bagel for some breakfast. I will say this, the portions with just about any meal we’ve had in Prague have been hearty. I had trouble finishing my breakfast and Cynthia had to abandon part of hers. But we were happy to have the abundant calories because today was the day we made our way to Prague Castle. That’s it you see to the left of Charles Bridge in the above photo. More accurately, that’s the St. Vitus Cathedral and that’s what we really wanted to see. That, and the changing of the guard ceremony.

The castle complex is way up the hill so walking was out of the question. This meant we had to find the #22 tram and a place to buy tickets.

Google Maps provided the location of the tram stops and a small shop next to the rail line provided the tickets we needed.

We rode the #22 tram up the hill and got off at Strahov Monastery. In an ideal world we would have gotten off at the monastery to visit the famous library, but we knew from our research that it was under renovation. The reason we got off at the monastery was to have a quick look around and then take the pleasant and mostly downhill stroll to the castle complex.

The weather was just perfect. The sun kept coming out and there was no sign of rain at all.

The Prague Castle is probably the most visited tourist spot in all of Bohemia. Bus after bus after bus of tour groups pile into the complex and the crowds can be quite intense.

We wanted to see the changing of the guard, but didn’t know how they did it here so we didn’t end up in a good viewing spot. Cynthia got up on one wall and was able to watch some of it. I, on the other hand, decided to plunge into the crowd with the fisheye lens.

After the changing of the guard things settled down quite a bit We got our tickets and went in to St. Vitus Cathedral.

This is one impressive cathedral. And this cathedral held something very interesting to me

The stained glass window was designed by the world famous Czech Art Nouveau master, Alphonse Mucha.

This has got to be the single, most ipressive piece of stained glass I have ever seen in my life. And, unlike the Mucha museum, photography IS allowed. I shot quite a few pics of this glorious piece and may go back and shoot some more. Here are a few detail shots.

From here were moved on to explore some other parts of the complex but not wholeheartedly. We soon moved on and took the scenic walk down to the river where we had a late lunch and a nice Pilsner beer. After thar it was off to the laundromat to pick up my laundry. Aftet depositing the laundry at the apartment we wend for a walk so I could shoot some extended exposures using my tripod. I’ll have those ready to show later, but for now it is off to bed.

Tomorrow, more adventures and more photography!

Prague – Day 3

Ugh! More rain this morning. It’s bad enough when the light is poor due to cloud cover. Photos are dull and lifeless. But rain! ARRRRGH! Photographing in the rain is not my thing. Protecting the camera gear is priority numero uno. So with the wet weather the camera has not come out as much as it normailly would.

But rain or no rain, we’re in Prague and well darn it, we’ve got to make the best of it. Who knows when or if we’ll be back? Poor Cynthia, she’s more disheartened than I am PLUS she has been working a nice big blister on her toe. Bless her heart, she’s a trooper.

We bought our second umbrella and decided to walk out to Wenceslas Square, the site of the 1989 “Velvet Revolution” that saw the overthrow of the authoritarian government.

It is simply amazing to walk such historical grounds, even if it is raining. We walked up to the top of the square where you could look down the length of it. Just trying to imagine that square filled with over 200,000 peaceful protesters gave us both pause.

Cynthia noticed a building to the left of where we were standing and said “Oh! I know what that is!”

That communist era old building was once the home of Radio Free Europe. It served as their headquarters from 1995-2009. Radio Free Europe played a significant role in the Velvet Revolution and the Czech Republic, out of gratitude, rented them the building for one CZK (Czech Crown) a year. Radio Free Europe had to move to a more secure location after recieving credible threats from Al Quada.

We moved on from Wenceslas Square to find the Dancing House.

By the time we found it the rain had almost completely stopped. It was still threatening and there were some drops to be felt but I figured I would break out the monopod and get some photos of this magnificent structure. With any luck I’ll take a mulligan when the sun comes out, but for now I’ve seen it and photographed it.

Moving on we made our way down the Vltava river back to the Charles Bridge. All the way we were lamenting the weather but making the best of it.

Right after I shot the above photo, an amazing thing happened. For just a few minutes the sun came out. It was only for a short while, but a break in the clouds and golden sunlight shone down on us. Glory be! Then it was gone. Drats!

We walked back to the old town square to make our way back to the apartment and as we entered the square the sun came out again! And this time it stayed out! We shot some pics and rejoiced and then went back to the apartment to recombobulate and decided to go out again and watch the sun go down over Pet?ín Hill from the bank of the Vltava river. I took my tripod and shot some hopefully excellent shots of Prague Caslte and the Charles Bridge. I need to go through them and process a little before I present them here.

The forecast for tomorrow calls for sunshine. If that holds true we’re off to Prague Castle first thing in the morning. We’ve walked our poor dogs to the bone, but some sunshine will breathe new life into both of us!

Prague – Day 2

We spent the day getting our bearings. Prague is an amazing city! Right across from our apartment is a place called Bohemian Bagel. They server breakfast in VERY hearty portions and it is the first place in Europe I have found that gives you free refills on coffee. Believe me, this is rare. The guy behind the counter said it is something new they are trying and they hope it works. Me too!

Prague has, as Cynthia so aptly put it, a communist patina to it. You can definitely tell you’re in Eastern Europe and in an area that was once under communist rule. My observation today was that Prague has an old world charm combined with something modern, if you consider “modern” to be circa 1969-1975. Classic rock and disco music pours out of many of the shops. Even the coffee shop I mentioned earlier seems like something out of the 60’s.

We found our way to the Vodaphone store and I was able to buy a 3G SIM card for my phone. For $25 I get 3 gigabytes of data for a month. Sure beats the roaming charges T-Mobile would have me pay to get Internet and Tweet from over here!

The weather has been a mixed bag. Sunny in the morning, overcast around lunchtime and this afternoon it was raining.

We Went to the Charles Bridge and to the Astronomical Clock early in the day. We even went to the top of the clock which offered a nice view of the city.

Cynthia made her wish at the statue of John of Nepomuk. Actually, the statue is under renovation, but the plaque you’re supposed to rub to make your wish was moved so it could still be accessed.

Later in the day we walked over to the Mucha Museum. An amazing collection of his works and a joy to see. Sadly, no photography allowed.

We wandered around some more and I must confess, there’s a lot to take in. There is something fantastic around every corner.

We stopped in to the Church of St James (kostel Sv. Jakuba Vetsiho) to see the mummified forearm (more than 400 years old) hanging to the right of the entrance. It belonged to a thief who tried to steel some jewels from the Madonna on the high altar one night. But the Madonna grabbed his hand and didn’t want to let it go. The thief had to wait there until the next morning. The next day, when the Minorites came to the Church, they tried to separate the thief from the Madonna, but in vain. They had to cut his arm. Then the Madonna let the hand go. The monks hung the arm to remember this event and as a warning for other thieves. Gruesome! Sadly, no photos allowed.

In the afternoon it began to rain in earnest. We hit up the grocery store for some more supplies and came back to the apartment and made dinner. Then watched some TV via Hulu on the laptop since the satellite is out in the apartment. Hopefully it will get fixed soon.

I know this post is light on pictures. That is because I have shot a lot, but so much of it I want to shoot again when there’s better light. I am sure I will have some things to show you soon.

If you have not already done so, check out flickr.com/baldheretic as that is where I am posting some of my better shots.

Arrival Prague

We managed to have everything work out for getting checked out of the hotel in Vienna, catch the subway with one transfer and get to the train station with time to spare and catch our 5 hour train to Prague. The driver met us at the Prague station and drove us to the apartment office to get checked in and then to the apartment itself.

We’re tired but managed to get our bearings with a short walk and dinner.

This is home sweet home for the next 10 days

And this is the view from the back patio

We’ve found the local grocery store and laid in some supplies.

Vienna – Day 4 – Danube River Art Show

We decided to walk down the Danube River on our last day. We’d noticed some interesting art work slash graffiti and thought it might be worth checking to see if there was more. Turns out, there was. There were murals and sculptures up and down this one portion of the river and some if it was VERY interesting. It was like an outdoor gallery of street art. What follows are some of the more interesting pieces.