Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Green Vault and Prague

It was a little chilly last night, so instead of eating in the garden under the cherry tree, we ate inside but by the window. (After getting used to the German keyboard with the ys and zs reversed, it's a little hard to use a normal keyboard again). The portions were very big. I ordered the Saxon prix fixe and I got a huge bowl of potato and wurst soup, a giant plate of Sauerbraten, and three quarkcakes for dessert. It could have fed a family of four! Cherie's zucchini gratin also could have served four people. This was the first time all trip I felt like I ate too much.

We all slept well in our room, though one of the room light switches was elbow length by my bed and twice during the night I accidentally brushed up against it turning on the lights. After a leisurely breakfast we checked out of the hotel and put our luggage in storage. We made it to the Green Vault on time for our entrance. They have an airlock to pass through into the historic section, with only two people admitted at a time.

It was interesting (to me) to compare the Historic Green Vault with the New one I had toured twice before. Both are really the tchochka collection of the king of Saxony, but the new one was opened while they rebuilt and restored the historic vault that was so badly damaged during the bombardment.

I'm going to have to finish this post later.

[six hours later]

Sorry about that; my internet access has been a bit sketchy since Berlin. In Dresden, the only internet cafe I could find was 10 blocks from the hotel, run by Russians with only a single computer that wouldn't come on, and for which they charged twice the price. I also only had a few minutes to check my mail and post the blog entry, so I was very rushed. Here in Prague, the hotel has a computer, but just one for all the guests to share (and it's even slower than in Dresden), so I will post when I can find a spare moment.

Now where was I: The historic Green Vault. I bought timed tickets so I was finally able to get in. The first room was the Amber Room, full of bowls, dishes, boxes, and cabinets, all made from beautiful amber. Following that was the Ivory Room, containing elaborate items, mostly carved on a lathe. The next room was the White Silver Room, but most of the original silver was melted down for cash in 1772, so they also had fabulous ruby glass. The fourth room was the Gilded Silver Room, after which one came to the wide hall at the end. The original paintings in this room were lost during the war and have been replaced. Some of the walls had rock crystal goblets, others ostrich eggs with silver ostriches, some too with mother of pearl.

The next room is described by the audio guide as offering a respite: the rather plain and stark Coat of Arms room. Here you can see the damage done by the bombardment of February 1945. It is followed by the most dazzling room in the Vault: the Jewel Room, with its many diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. To one side of the room is an elaborate display by the court artisan Dinglinger, of small individuals coming to bear tribute (I think, I can't remember precisely). In the New Green Vault, there are several even more impressive collections of miniatures by the same artist, most famously, the Mughal Emperor's birthday. To the right of the door was a statue of an American Indian, with tattoos, bear a tier of emeralds. The last room of the tour is the bronze room with copies of French marble statues.

Now that I've seen both, I can see the stark differences between the two Green Vaults. The New Green Vault has more items, but there are so many that it can be overwhelming. The Historic Green Vault is more comprehensible and accessible. With the audio tour, I felt like I got more out of it.

After the tour we went back to the Schinkelwache across the street for a quick lunch. Spargle und Gnocchi Pfanne for me, salads for the ladies. Then back to the hotel, where the manager drove us (for free) to the station. We had a nice conversation in the car on the way where he told us how much he enjoyed California, particularly San Diego, but not so much Las Vegas. I wanted to ask about how he thought about the changes in Dresden since the fall of communism, but his constant turning his head to me while he drove made some nervous and so I stopped asking him questions. That did not, however, stop him from continuing to talk and look back. He said that Europeans who go to America get "nature shock" and that Americans in Europe get "culture shock."

We had no trouble getting to Prague, where I had arranged for our hotel to send a driver with a van to pick us, and our luggage, up. The hotel is in a quiet nook of Mala Strana, on the castle side of the city. The Dientzenhofer Hotel is named after the 16th century architect who designed it. We're on the first floor above ground with two rooms, one with a double bed and one with a single bed. The water heater looks like it was also built in the 16th century (I exaggerate, I'm sure it only dates from the communist period). The space is gorgeous and I'm hoping the beds live up to the location.

After we checked in, we walked to the Charles Bridge and then to dinner a U Grill Seminaristy. I've eaten there several times before and very much enjoyed my salmon appetizer, brandy flambeed steak, and apple strudel with ice cream dessert (and the .3 liters of beer), but the waiter was rather pushy, particularly when it came to the tip. I probably won't go back there again on this trip.

In order to walk off dinner, we crossed the Charles Bridge and headed to the Old City. I got turned around a bit, but we eventually found Wenceslas Square. The Square is a little dodgier than I remember, but we found our way to the Stare Mesto square, where they had a big screen tv set up to broadcast the South Africa - Uruguay World Cup match (Uruguay mopped the floor with South Africa). It was nearly 10 pm and we were getting tired, so we walked back across the Charles Bridge to Kampa Island and found our way to our hotel.

I'm not sure what we're doing in the morning.


Steve said...

how long are you in Prague? i have a work colleague there...really nice Brit who is one of the European Managers. Let me know and ill tell him youre in town.

J.B. said...

We're only here until Monday.