Monday 4th July 2016
Thanks to all our families who turned up at the departure point at an incredibly early hour of Monday morning ensuring that the coaches got off to a very prompt start – 14 mins early. It was a smooth pick up at Kinross too and soon we found ourselves settled on our Easy Jet flight for Prague – just in time to be put in a 50 minute queue for take off – due to ‘traffic congestion’.
Arrival in Prague was 30 minutes behind schedule – and the weather was a little better than we have been used to. What follows is one version of a tour blog that hopes to recreate the best of our tour.
Following check in, a walking tour of the new (15th century) and old cities gave us a taste of a very new culture in a country of just over 10 million people – whose capital city is just a little larger than Glasgow.
The street signs, shop names transport signs combined with a language and currency to let us know that we were a long way from Scotland. Two squares were on our planned route – Wenceslas Square was first, a wide boulevard of up markets shops elaborately ornate with a stunning variety of architecture portraying the city’s long history and then into a mystical Old Town Square.
Tuesday 5th July, 2016
Today, a visit to Prague’s magnificent castle and St Vitus Cathedral, home to relics of St Wenceslas and the Czech state crown. Also known as the Bohemian Crown, it was made for the coronation of Charles IV in 1347, making it the fourth oldest in Europe.
Wearied by the hotter day, the ascent to the castle and the compendious footnotes to the scene from our guide, we opted for a gentle pace – returning to the Old Square for an iced drink – satisfied to soak up the compelling atmosphere of this tourist honeypot before heading for an extended rehearsal time at the church of St Simon and St Jude, our first concert venue.
Reunited with the instruments – following a traditional PYO unloading – the richly ornate platform was a tight squeeze – but somehow the orchestra fitted in and were soon to rise the occasion.
A very small, but appreciative audience, many from home, welcomed the musicians and the performance that followed was one of the best. Soloist’s Jenny Whitaker (trumpet) and Joe Pickering (clarinet) delighted the audience with assured and masterful performances of their Haydn and Weber works.
Wednesday 6th July, 2016
For over a century, Poděbrady has been one of the most important Czech spa towns. This is chiefly thanks to its springs, stable weather, pleasantly situated on the banks of the Elbe, with its stylish cafés.
PYO’s Ensembles took centre stage for an after lunch concert which was well attended and enthusiastically received in a beautiful park.
Thursday 7th July, 2016
Taking in the sights of Prague this morning from the city’s Petrin Tower next to the Strahov Monastery. Built as a mini version of Paris’ Eiffel Tower, the Petrin Observation Tower was built in 1891 for the Jubilee Exhibition. The tower is 60m tall, which doesn’t seem particularly high until you add in the fact that it sits at the summit of Petrin Hill, which is 318m (1043 feet) high.
Next was the Maze of Mirror’s and a chance to see some different perspectives of the orchestra.
After a pleasant stroll back into the city it was back to business. The small PYO instruments and stands were collected from the coaches and carried to the concert venue. The larger kit was brought by Craig and Michael on the RSNO lorry. Still there was time to sit out by the banks of the Vltava sipping iced tea before starting the rehearsal in the Hhahol Hall, home to Prague’s longest established choir, watched over by the busts of Smetana and Dvorak – and all the choir’s other past conductors.
Friday 8th July, 2016
A visit to Prague Zoo this morning boasting over 5000 animals and 650 species, well pleasantly set out. The grounds stretch from a lush river valley up a steep, rocky escarpment to rolling meadows. The views at the summit are spectacular. Animals range from penguins, sea lions, lions, tigers and elephants to Markhor and Ibex – superbly held in mountain enclosures. Giraffes also have a huge valley to roam through. The zoo was badly damaged in the 2002 flood (33 feet above normal). Lots of reconstruction have turned it into one of the world’s best zoological gardens.
A short trip across the city, through one of its many tunnels, brought us to Galerie Harfa, a modern shopping centre. Setting to for an informal performance at its roof-top venue, with its backdrop of the neighbouring O2 arena and nearby Jurassic Park adventure playground, was one of the greatest challenges of the tour. In full sun, and with temperatures into the 30’s the PYO String Group, Big Band, Brass Band and Wind Band entertained shoppers with something to suit all tastes. Unseen, in the cool depths of the service area, Craig and Michael – and a great team of players pulled together to ensure a seamless performance up top.
Saturday 9th July, 2016
Our trip to the Colonnades at Mariánské Lázně always promised to be the most exciting day of our tour – and our wish came true. The Colonnade is an icon that could be said to represent the Czech spas, it is a precious example of a period building common to the Czech and other European spa towns, many of which were destroyed, deteriorated over time or modernized at some point. The cycle of ceiling frescos in the Colonnade represents the desire of man to fly and is the work of the artist Josef Vyleťal.
Marianske Lazne is the second largest Czech resort town, located about 100 miles from Prague a- just 14 miles from the Germany border. Located in a valley surrounded by mountains on three sides it offers extremely rich in natural healing springs. Richly ornate building line its main streets and its magnificent gardens and include lakes and water fountains.
By now the repetitive nature of the packed lunches had worn thin and walking through the pavement café’s in the town’s main street revealed groups of PYO players tucking into pizza and other local delicacies.
Our concert here drew the greatest crowds of the week.
Sunday 10th July, 2016
Lunch was in the gardens on the banks of the river – no chance for a pizza today – perhaps later! “Oh my God, the sandwiches are normal”, exclaimed one player as she explored the goody bag. It seems that etc hotel had finally run out of rye bread.
For all musicians, the John Lennon Peace Wall is a ‘must see’. Once a normal wall, since the 1980s it has been filled with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and pieces of lyrics from Beatles’ songs.
In 1988, the wall was a source of irritation for the communist regime of Gustáv Husák. Young Czechs would write grievances on the wall and in a report of the time this led to a clash between hundreds of students and security police on the nearby Charles Bridge. The movement these students followed was described ironically as “Leninism”. The wall continuously undergoes change and the original portrait of Lennon is long lost under layers of new paint. Even when the wall was repainted by some authorities, on the second day it was again full of poems and flowers. Today, the wall represents a symbol of global ideals such as love and peace.
Next we cross the Charles Bridge – commissioned by King Charles IV in 1357, Prague’s most stunning bridge spans 16 arches and is lined with 30 Baroque statues of religious figures. Scene of the notorious martyrdom of St Vitus, the bridge’s 1,700 ft of cobblestone now attract painters, hot-dog vendors and hordes of tourists who are themselves elbowing one another for the best views of the Vltava River.
And finally – a short coach journey to Vítězné náměstí – a ‘meeting place’ in Prague 6. The newly installed decking, in the edge of a busy road intersection, must have had PYO in mind. A café, table and chairs, nearby facilities – and even a KFC – but best of all – A FANTASTIC AUDIENCE.