Czechs and balances

Czechs and balances
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First Published: Fri, Sep 18 2009. 08 58 PM IST

 History lessons: 1. The Uffizi district in Florence; 2. Patil at the Tyn Church in Prague; and 3. Khaire in Prague, with the palace in the background. Samir Patil
History lessons: 1. The Uffizi district in Florence; 2. Patil at the Tyn Church in Prague; and 3. Khaire in Prague, with the palace in the background. Samir Patil
Updated: Fri, Sep 18 2009. 08 58 PM IST
For nine days in June, ACK Media CEO Samir Patil, 38, and his wife Mukti Khaire, a Harvard Business School professor, enjoyed the best of Europe
Why this strange combination of destinations: Prague, Milan and Florence?
History lessons: 1. The Uffizi district in Florence; 2. Patil at the Tyn Church in Prague; and 3. Khaire in Prague, with the palace in the background. Samir Patil
The itinerary was a bit of a mishmash because of logistics. It began as a trip to Prague and Florence and we threw in Milan because my wife had a conference there. I had not been to Prague and was intrigued by its history (Franz Kafka and all that) and art. Moreover, it has a lot of cutting-edge animators, graphic artists and toymakers that were of interest to me from a work perspective. Prague has been “discovered” in the last decade and has become somewhat crowded; however, it still has some non-touristy areas. The major draw in Florence, of course, was its science and art. I’d been there before but had missed some of the museums, so I scheduled to spend time there over weekdays, which would be less crowded.
Prague has this whole “old Europe” vibe…
But it’s not just about that. I mentioned the toymakers, who make these artful wooden toys. It’s not an old tradition, but a new one. The city’s also famous for its Black Light Theatre, which has its origins in the 1960s’ Theatre of the Absurd. We caught a play called Aspects of Alice, based on Alice in Wonderland, after scanning the list of 200 plays that were on in that one week.
What fascinated me about Prague is the way it pushes the envelope in communication: It’s forever discovering new ways to engage with people, combining art and technology to communicate with audiences. Walking around, you get the sense of a city that is buzzing with cultural activities: Almost every corner in the Old Town has ads for orchestras playing in opera houses and churches. We heard a crowd-pleasing “Best of” selection of Mozart, Schubert, etc. There are many small and big art galleries showcasing the thriving local art scene.
But the history must have been hard to ignore.
Well, we stayed at a small hotel in a 14th century building right behind the Old Town Square, dotted by the Jan Hus Memorial, the Tyn Church (properly known as The Church of Our Lady before Tyn) and the fanciful astronomical clock, which has people waiting for it to strike the hour. The square is close to the statue-lined Charles Bridge, which connects the Old Town with Prague Castle.
Architecturally, the Jewish Quarter is well maintained and tells a tragic tale. As the Nazis systematically destroyed various Jewish communities across Europe, many found refuge in Prague. Eventually, they were killed too, but many of their archives and treasures have survived here.
Four nights in Prague and then on to Milan…
For me, the highlights of Milan were largely about food. The city reminded me of New York, where I lived for years: a fast-paced, work-oriented place filled with fashionable people who eat out all the time. Unlike other Italian cities, this one doesn’t have much of must-see architecture. And because I was there over the week, I felt like a complete fish out of water: Everyone had somewhere to go except me! The food, though, is fantastic. Two experiences still stand out for me: One was the Milanese risotto (they make it with saffron) at the Nabucco and the other was at Obika Mozzarella Bar, which serves large balls of mozzarella in mind-boggling (for an Indian) variations and many interesting accompaniments. I’d had the idea they were an exclusive outlet and was a bit disappointed that they were now a chain, with multiple locations.
I believe you did a day trip to Florence from Milan.
That’s right. I had been to Florence some eight or 10 years ago, but wanted to revisit some of my favourite spots at a more leisurely pace. I spent time at the Uffizi Gallery, which houses some of the greatest works of European art in a completely unassuming setting (as opposed to the grandiose New York Met Museum or the Louvre). Then there is Michelangelo’s David, a short walk away in the Accademia Gallery.
More than medieval art (which is impressive), it is the connection of Florence to the European renaissance that makes it unique. Florence has such a strong connect with the history of ideas, with the concepts of freedom, equality, enlightenment—and the best thing is that the city hasn’t really changed over hundreds of years. It was home to Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Nicollò Machiavelli, Amerigo Vespucci, and one can still see their works in the very city that inspired their creativity. My favourite is the Institute and Museum of the History of Science, which has Galileo’s original telescope (and, bizarrely enough, the finger of his right hand).
Other than Milan, how was the food experience?
Food is important for my wife and me. We try and find small local restaurants known for authentic food: When in Europe, we often rely on Rick Steves’ guidebook recommendations if we don’t know a local. The most memorable meal this trip (besides all the good food in Milan) was in Klub Architektu in Prague: They serve what they call “original food”, innovative Czech and international cuisine, deep inside a medieval cellar. And the worst food experience, also in Prague, was Chinese—what a disaster!
GETTING THERE
Fly to Prague on British Airways from Bangalore and Delhi (upwards of Rs42,000), Chennai (Rs34,000) and Mumbai (Rs36,000), with a stopover at London. Fares for round-trip economy class
As told to Sumana Mukherjee. Share your last holiday with us at lounge@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Sep 18 2009. 08 58 PM IST