Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Guess who's exhibition was on at Spilberk Castle

I have to admit that, despite having visited Brno both on my own and with customers, I hadn't made it to the city's Spilberk Castle. I don't know why; it was always on my to-visit list and it is in the city centre. This month I at last made up the short hill to the formidable building.

Spilberk Castle is home to the city's museum and an art gallery, which features local artists in a permanent exhibition and international artists in a temporary gallery. As I walked into a castle courtyard I encountered a huge blown-up soup can. Yes, Andy Warhol's amazing graphics are on display in the temporary gallery.

The gallery was busy, but as I have observed elsewhere in the Czech Republic not so much that I could not enjoy the artworks fully. I doubt that it would be the same if the exhibition had been on in Britain. I had a rather limited view of Warhol's work based on his most famous works, but this exhibition showed Warhol to be more than just a showman, to be a brilliant artist.

If you want to see a larger permanent exhibition of Warhol's work you can either go to New York or you can go to to the Warhol Museum in Medzilaborce in Eastern Slovakia. When Warhol was asked where he came from, he replied "Nowhere", suggesting that he created himself. He, of course, reinvented himself. He changed his name from Andrej Warhola to the anglicised Andrew Warhol. His parents were Czechoslovakian immigrants from a little village close to Medzilaborce. They were ethnically Ruthenian, an ethnic group related to the Ukrainians from that part of the Carpathians.

Warhol practiced his parents' Orthodox Catholic religion and towards the end of his life started to paint icons. The first artworks he would have seen as a child would have been the icons on the walls of his mother's room. Knowing that suddenly we see Warhol's prints in a different light - in some ways he was always creating icons - of Marilyn Monroe and soup cans. It turns out that Warhol didn't come from nowhere after all.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

The strange obsession of Max Appeltauer

As I passed through the wine country south of Znojmo on my way to Vienna, I stopped at the village of Satov. Here I was told by my friends at the Znojmo pension was a treasure: a wine cellar decorated with folk art.

I don't know what I was expecting as I descended into the cool of the cellar. What I found was just magical and rather weird. The whole of the cellar had been decorated by its former owner, Max Appeltauer. Both walls of the main hall and the walls of the rooms that lead off it are covered with naive images of landscapes, country folk, mermaids, and dwarfs.

Every Sunday for thirty-six years Max Appeltauer would descend into the cellar to carve and paint his designs by a candlelight. Nothing could stop the obsessive Mr Appeltauer, not even losing an arm in the Second World War. What his wife and family thought about it, one can only guess.

I assume this picture is of the long-suffering Mrs Appeltauer. I also assume that she didn't make it into the most obscure room, which is adorned with images of naked ladies!

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Buttercups and Memories

Early April is a special time for me in the Czech Republic. Winter is losing its grip, warm sunny days are interspersed with cold grey ones. In the woods and fields the first flowers are appearing - the Alpine Snowbell, little cowslips, violets, and these purple buttercups. A few days ago I took a walk to the wooded hill of Ptaci Hradek (Bird Castle) which stands behind Krumlov's castle gardens. The ground was so covered with buttercups that the wood floor was in placed purple.

As I stood admiring the flowers, I was reminded of the first time I saw them on another April. It seems many years ago. I was taken there by my friend, Hannah. I suspect she knew that I would fall in love with the little flowers, as we shared a sense of awe for the little miracles of nature. I remember that as she was dying, Hannah expressed a regret that she would not see Krumlov's spring flowers that year. She died in early April. So as I followed the path we had followed  I enjoyed the flowers and thought of her walking with me through the trees.

Hannah on my first walk among the buttercups.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Cesky Krumlov Travel Guide

At last! My travel guide to Cesky Krumlov is now available on Amazon. It has been a year in the making, but I think the hard work has all been worth while. This is the first in a series of travel guides to the Czech Republic that I am planning.

You can buy it here:
For UK purchasers:   http://www.amazon.co.uk/Insiders-Travel-Krumlov-Republic-Guides-ebook/dp/B01DQ20A12
For US puchasers:  http://www.amazon.com/Insiders-Travel-Krumlov-Republic-Guides-ebook/dp/B01DQ20A12

It is also available on the Canadian, Australian, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Indian, Dutch, Japanese, Brazilian and Mexican Amazon stores

If you do buy a copy and enjoy it, please leave a review on Amazon.

Subjects covered in the book: 
  • How to get to Cesky Krumlov from Prague and other locations
  • How to get around on public transport (trains and coaches) and private trips
  • Take a tour of the Cesky Krumlov's Castle (the Czech Republic's second largest castle)
  • Take a guided walk around the historic streets of the ancient town
  • When to come to Cesky Krumlov (weather, festivals, when to avoid the crowds)
  • Secret Krumlov – how to find the Krumlov most travellers never see
  • Children's Krumlov – how to have a great Krumlov holiday with kids
  • How to explore the lovely countryside surrounding Cesky Krumlov, including the Sumava National Park
  • How to see some of the castles, abbeys and historic villages near the town
  • How to shop for essentials and souvenirs
  • What and where to eat in Cesky Krumlov
  • How to find and choose your holiday accommodation
  • Useful Czech words and phrases
  • Useful information and websites

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Drowning Morana - the End of Winter

I always spend March in England, for a number of reasons including being with my mother on Mothering Sunday. For this reason I have never seen the Czech traditional ceremony that marks the end of winter. But my friend Hannah has and she gave me this photo of the ceremony taking place in a small village a few miles from my home.

Morana was the Slavic goddess of winter and so her ritual destruction towards the end of March every year marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The girls of the village create an effigy of Morana out of straw and branches, dress her in old clothes and drape a necklace of eggs around her neck. On the day of the drowning, she is processed through the village to the river, to the accompaniment of songs and music. There she is set on fire and hurled into the river.

It is obvious that this ceremony predates the arrival of Christianity to the Slavic lands and may at one time have involved a human sacrifice. In this country, in which winter can be very harsh and where we do not have the early wildflowers that act as harbingers of spring in England, a sacrifice might well be thought needed to secure the death of winter. Nowadays of course no other reason is needed than the excuse to have a party.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Creating an e-guidebook to Cesky Krumlov.

I am currently working on my guidebook to Cesky Krumlov, ready for publication at the end of the month (I hope). The text is written and edited, so nearly everything is done. The cover has been mocked up (see above). But I have a dilemma and I would welcome your feedback.

The book is designed as an ebook. I have observed that a lot of visitors to the town come with ipads and other electronic readers and so thought that there was a need for a downloadable guidebook.

This choice of book format offers opportunities and problems.
The opportunities are that:
  • with an ebook I can incorporate active web-links in the book, allowing the reader direct access maps, bus timetables and other resources
  • I can update the book easily
  • it does not take up space in people's luggage
  • the book is easily searchable.
The problems are that:
  • ereaders reformat the page to fit the screen, so there is an issue about the look of the page and in particular the position and size of images
  • the size and quality of images have to be limited 
  • Czech characters such as in Český do not convert easily into an ebook format.
To resolve the first two problems I will create a gallery of photos that readers can access if they want to see more images of Cesky Krumlov.

The third problem is the one I would welcome your thoughts on. It is possible to code the book to feature Czech characters using HTML, but I am not sure I am capable of doing it and more importantly I am not sure that I should. My readers will be English-speakers, readers and writers, using devices with a standard English keyboard. By using Czech characters I will probably be reducing their capacity to interact with the book. So what should I do?

Sunday, 14 February 2016

More Decorative Details from Prague's Obecni Dum


In a previous post I talked about my tour of Prague's Municipal House (Obecni Dum). And mostly I talked about the building in terms of Art Nouveau. Its architectural style is indeed Art Nouveau. And clearly that is also the case with the exterior decoration and much of the interior.

But it is a bit of a simplification. The building was at the forefront of architectural and decorative trends when it was built between 1905 and 1912. Indeed the Czechs often were breaking new ground in the first part of the twentieth century. As a result some of the decorative details are art deco and indeed cubist.

The decoration is everywhere. From the concert hall to the ticket office, from basement to the salons upstairs, from the lift (photograph above) to the lights (below).

As an introduction to the architecture of the early part of the 20th Century a visit to the Obecni Dum is an excellent idea.


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