Saturday, July 2, 2011

Tactile Curiosities

We decided to make a visit to Strahov Monastery the main priority for the day. It was a sweltering, steep walk up the the shaded courtyard of The Monastery and its surrounding gallery, church, and restaurant terraces. As we waited outside for Strahov's libraries to open their doors, Roy spotted an interesting armored insect navigating the hairs of his ankle. It was a small curiosity, which paled in comparison to the cache we were about to encounter.

Strahov's libraries were preceded by a small cabinet of curiosities which included oddities from the natural realm, as well as antiquities and artifacts of anthropological interest such as swords, spear points, cannons and crossbows. One of the featured attractions was their famed preserved Dodo, which actually turned out to be an abomination of haphazardly patched together animal parts to form something that made no anatomical sense or likeness to what it claimed to be.

Behold Strahov's bullshit Dodo

Anyway, Strahov did have some truly amazing and beautiful curiosities on display. There was a beautiful seven foot tusk from a Narwhal, an ivory-toned skink atop an ostrich egg, a sun-bleached lobster, a sweet little armadillo next to an anaconda skin, and a leathery Nile crocodile.

There was also a delicately framed display of moths and their silky production.

Some seamless wooden chains, which must have been carved from a single shaft of wood, were tucked away in another cabinet. Just above them were dozens of the most beautifully-bound books we've come across. Each was crafted from mossen bark and slabs of wood with the latin-name of each species embossed in leather. They seemed reliquaries more than books, really, each containing leaves, seeds and samples from the plants denoted.

The libraries themselves were not accessible to the general public, but we were allowed to view them through various windows and doorways, after traversing a dusty hallway of whitewashed, yet-to-be-restored volumes. The libraries were extravagant, to say the least, and wealthy individuals meandered through them chattering away on cell phones with (strangely) none paying any attention to the books before them.

After absorbing our fill of the monastery, we decided to explore the surrounding area, where Catherine noticed a crudely carved face atop a wooden door. The grain of the wood really seemed to emphasize the topography of the carving.

We soon found ourselves at the steps of Prague Castle, a destination we had largely avoided for all the swarming tourists, and decided to take a look at St. Vitus Cathedral at the castle's center. It was an imposing, Gothic structure, which led to a somber and snarly discussion on the politics of religion, but its interior revealed some lovely stained glass - one panel of which was strikingly designed by Alfons Mucha.

With our blood sugar low and our knees weak we realized we should probably eat some food, and began our trek down towards the center. We didn't walk far before being distracted by a birds of prey exhibition in the royal gardens. After listening to a girl explain the history of falconry and the traits of each species displayed, all the while holding a magnificent cross of a Gyr and Peregrine falcon, we debated paying a small sum to hold one of the birds before moving on in our continued search for affordable sustenance.

After a long walk, we found a traditional Czech restaurant with a garden terrace where we gorged on soups and starchy dumplings with meat. With our stomachs finally full and our energy restored, we decided to stop at a few more antique shops before retreating to the apartment. All in all, it was a memorable day, and an authentic Prague experience by anyone's standard.


  1. Sounds like an absolutely wonderful adventure. I can't wait to read more - I'm living vicariously through you two this summer!

  2. Those books! They look incredible.