Today was a great day - we visited Veletrzni Palace (part of the National Gallery of Prague) to see 19th, 20th, and 21th century Czech art. Their collection was very impressive - it shows that there are five floor museums in Prague and had works by Kupka, Kokoschka, and Czech artists that I was introduced to for the first time.
The National Gallery of Prague emphasizes how much of a rip-off places such as The Museum of Communism and Mucha Museum are. Even if they are enjoyable, they are too small for their admission fees. Luckily, I only noticed the cost of the Mucha Museum, and I made the visit worthwhile - The Museum of Communism was included in my tuition for the program. If you want to get more out of your admission fee, then visit one of the related collections of the National Gallery instead.
There was so much to see that I decided to hang back from the group after the tour to revisit some pieces and see a floor that we previously skipped over. The floor we skipped contained works by artists not from the Czech Republic but associated with it, such as Klimt.
I am odd that way - very few people have the patience and stamina I have to spend over three hours in a museum walking around and closely looking at pieces. Once in New York, I spent nearly the whole day in the Met alone. It makes me wonder how much other people miss out on during a normal visit - half the fun is looking at the brushstrokes and noticing little details in color choice and representation. These are details that are harder to see in an art book but become very clear in person. In that way, I think that some people would enjoy museums more if they realized that the beauty is in the technique and approach, not just the overall impression.
My favorite collection of the day was Mucha’s Slav Epic, which coincidentally made its public return to Prague today. It has been located in Moravsky Krumlov for about 45 years, and apparently, moving it to the city caused a lot of controversy (at least according to Wikipedia). I was blown away by the detail and colors once I saw the large-scale paintings in person. The pieces are so clearly rich in symbolism and meaning that I wish I had read up on them before going. Plus, many of the faces he drew were arresting, especially due to their size and expressions. I at least grabbed a pamphlet about them before leaving the museum that I will read later.
I think I might do a separate post on the other artists I saw there another time, but for now, I am going to just comment on a meet-up I had with a friend and discuss some of my final thoughts on Prague.
After I was down with the museum, I met up with a friend from college who is studying architecture/civil engineering at Pitt. She has been here the entire semester and will be reluctantly leaving at the end of next week. We have been talking over Facebook about what to do in the city and where we have been, so we decided to try and see each other briefly before I left town. She recommend this cool place called Ouky Douky, a small little cafe with a fairly extensive book collection inside.
We ended up having a really nice conversation about the city and people here. She has been really lucky in that she has a lot of free time to explore the city and surrounding areas - she only has classes three days a week, and often, trips to other regions/countries (including Germany) are covered. She has also seen many of the museums and gone to several performances, including ballets, operas, and philharmonic performances. We both really appreciate how comparatively inexpensive food and cultural events are here - for instance, my tickets for the Rudolfinum only cost 220 koruna, which translates to $11.70 with the official exchange rate (considering fees/the actual rates you get, it’s still only $13.25). Even compared to Pittsburgh prices/discounts, that’s incredibly cheap and affordable for college students.
However, there are certain items that people pay for here that took me by surprise. For instance, grocery bags in supermarkets are not free - each one you use costs you, even if it’s a small amount. Personally, I think that’s an ideal way to try and get people to bring their own cloth bags or reuse old plastic bags. Also, there is no such thing as getting free water or drinks here - everything is bottled and costs extra. Sometimes, restaurants will charge you for condiments and take-home boxes, and often, beer is cheaper than water. Besides those random costs, though, it is very easy to come here as an American and enjoy a visit without breaking the bank.
She and I also discussed our impression of the people here. When I first arrived, I was told that Czechs are often very direct and sometimes come off as rude and unfriendly as a result. I understood that opinion, but I didn’t fully agree - there was a better way for explaining their behavior. It took talking with my friend for me to finally get the appropriate word from her: reserved. That, along with straightforward, is probably the best way to describe most of the people that I have met.
Lastly, she gave me some insight about Prague teenagers. In the area, many of the university students still live with their parents. Therefore, if they are in relationships, then they feel pretty uncomfortable being with their partners where they live. That’s why I have seen so much PDA in public that I have - it’s expected that young adults go out elsewhere to kiss and be intimate. The social context helps, but it’s still fairly unusual to observe.
Overall, I really do like Prague. Most buildings are architecturally interesting, and the area has a very diverse and rich history to explore. After being here for two weeks, I have seen many of the big attractions, but there are many more that I wish I could see - primarily, the operas/ballets as well as other museums. Tomorrow, I will use my last day to squeeze in the Jakub Schikaneder exhibit and finally see the Strahov Monastery, one of the first buildings I learned about in Prague that I wanted to make sure I saw.
I hate that I am leaving right when I finally feel like I have a hold on the city, but it’s further incentive to return here one day. By then, I’ll be able to explore the city without a problem.
I most likely won’t post tomorrow since we leave at 7:15 PM for our overnight train. I will resume the blog once I have arrived in Krakow, Poland with a residual post about my last day and potentially about Czech artists. We will see.