Tag Archives: Prague

Of falcons and fools

Our last day in Europe was one I’d been looking forward to for the whole trip. We were off to 18th century Jemniste Chateau, where we would see the house and the gardens, and have a traditional lunch. Then we would get to see a falconry display. Woohoo. Raptors. Flying.

Unfortunately, after yesterday’s lovely weather, this one turned out cold and miserable. I’d bought a wool scarf in Potsdam, and I was glad to have it to keep my poor throat warm. I also took along a light rain coat to wear over my leather jacket. Got everything? Yep. Scarf, camera, throaties – let’s go.

As promised the house was impressive, beautiful but not completely over the top, a working country residence. We wore slippers to protect the timber floors.

But what was this? My camera was blinking at me. Battery down to 19%. Oh shit. Not wanting to carry much, I hadn’t brought my camera bag, which had the spare batteries. Tomas tried to get a bit more power into the battery using his phone, but that didn’t work. Fool of a woman! I would have to rely on whatever Pete got on his tablet. So pretty much all of the photos in this post are Peter’s (except for one). I’ll never hear the end of it.

Family photos and hunting trophies

Some nice frescoes and stucco

Set for a formal dinner

The front of the house overlooks a manicured formal garden, and there’s a wild garden beyond the house, with lawns sweeping down to a lake. They have a small zoo, too, which includes a few wallabies. The sign says ‘kangaroos’ – but the guide certainly knew the correct name. I imagine most non-Australian visitors wouldn’t know what a wallaby was.

The formal garden from above. Somebody keeps busy with the hedge trimmers

Lunch was delicious, based around wild boar, presented in the traditional Czech way. The meat is served roasted and sliced for women, and in a stew for the men.

And then it was time for the falconry. I could hardly contain myself.

Our hosts had set up a pavilion in a garden area so we could sit under cover in case of rain. The skies still threatened, but the drizzle had at least stopped. The falconers brought out their birds, a horse, and a hunting dog. Because, of course, these birds were used to hunt. The show started with the falconer showing us how they trained the birds, using a harrier called Harry. After a few manoeuvres, he asked for a volunteer. I haven’t moved so fast in a very long time. Pick me, pick me!

So I got to wear a falconer’s glove and hold a tidbit for the bird, which flew in and landed on my wrist. Somebody asked me if I’d been afraid, even a little bit. Um… no. All the bird wanted was the food. Apart from the harrier, the handlers brought out an eagle owl, a peregrine falcon, and a golden eagle. The owl, in particular, waited impatiently for the food, that being the only reason why he accepted being out in daylight. They’re fed baby chickens, legs, feathers and all. I expect they come from a chicken farm somewhere, the male chooks nobody wants. That’s nature.

This guy’s a peregrine falcon

The falconers asked for one more volunteer. The falcon would fly between his legs, so he was advised to keep his hands over his man bits. I suspect he really was a teensy bit worried.

The bird has just flown between our volunteer’s legs

This is Harry

Peregrine falcon

The horse was a handsome well-trained fellow who has been in the movies. I believe he carried Russel Crowe in the fairly recent Robin Hood. The dog was young, being trained, and having some trouble understanding that he wasn’t supposed to shake the target around before he brought it back.

That’s an eagle owl

Me and my mate – and the female golden eagle

So who’s an idiot, then? The time when I really, really needed a spare battery to photograph something I really, really wanted to capture, I stuffed it up. It’s not much compensation, but I doubt any photos of the birds flying would have been any good because the light was poor. But I’ll never know, will I?

This is the only raptor picture I took myself

Next morning we were on our way to the airport to catch a plane home. Yes, it was a horrible flight, thanks for asking, but that had nothing to do with the airline. The petulant child who became increasingly loud when its demands weren’t met only exacerbated my discomfort. Did I mention being sick when you’re away from home sucks?

Here’s a pretty garden picture to look at. That’s the lake in the wilder part of the chateau’s garden. Autumn has well and truly arrived.

 

Prague

The castle above the river

Prague is often compared with Budapest, which is understandable. I like Budapest, and I’m sure I would have liked Prague just as much. It has the same kind of feel, grand architecture and a cosmopolitan flavour that made me feel confortable – or at least as comfortable as I could under the circumstances.

As always with APT, we were put up in a hotel close to the old town, within walking distance of Wenceslas Square. The fellow on the horse is Wenceslas himself, a ruler in the tenth century who converted his people to Christianity. Like St Stephen of Hungary, Wenceslas was made a saint. You might remember the Christmas song, “Good king Wenceslas looked down, on the feast of Stephen…” (Sorry about the ear worm 😉 )

After a night tucked up in bed we gathered bright and early for the visit to Prague’s castle precinct – which includes St Vitus Cathedral, so we could see it all in one place. Our local guide for Prague was Tomas’s mum, Marta, who certainly knew her stuff. The bus climbed the hill overlooking the river to where the castle stands. For a nice change, the day was fine, with the mist hanging around the tops of the towers burning off quickly. We arrived in time to see the changing of the guard – but in the photo you’ll see the soldier in camouflage dress. He wasn’t the only one around.

The cathedral is an interesting mix of old and new. Building started in the fourteenth century but it wasn’t finally consecrated until1929. The windows, in particular, reflect that mix of styles over time. I recall Marta pointing out some features in the newer windows which are effectively ads for people who donated to the work. As usual, this strategically important site would have been a fortress of some sort for far longer than the current buildings have existed. Excavation is taking place, uncovering much older remains that have been built over. And while they’re at, fixing a few of the footings.

Love the reflected light

The very Gothic nave

The rose window

The gargoyles are very compelling. This one looks like it’s the night after

We were lucky we arrived early. I’m sure Marta and Tomas arranged the visit deliberately so we could avoid the rush. I must say, I think hordes of Chinese would have to be the rudest tourists in the world. After we’d visited the castle, Marta took us to a restaurant nearby, where we bought very good coffee and a piece of carrot cake. I was expecting, you know, a slice of cake with maybe some cream cheese frosting. This is what I got (not my picture)
This photo of Cafe 22 is courtesy of TripAdvisor

It was delicious.

We were given the option of walking back to the hotel from the castle, over the Charles Bridge and through the Old Town while Marta told us all about the sights. It would have been nice, but a few of us passed. Long haul flight day after tomorrow. Being sick on holiday sucks. But we did wander around the area near the hotel. The Czechs have some very weird art, and some very cool shops.

Art in Wenceslas Square

Items in an antique shop

That’s Wenceslas on that dead horse. Here’s the story