The antique church had an organ played by Mozart. It was small and filled with the faithful waiting for the music to begin. A child danced before the first row, as only children can with abandon regardless of who’s looking – God or parents. The performers then arrived – a baritone and soprano singing the most divine songs, accompanied by a pianist – and resounding with perfect acoustics. Our first evening in Prague and it was quite ethereal. After the performance we were out to the nearby marketplace thronging with tourists – and my companions make straight for a suckling pig being roasted. Pictures taken, then the tuck-in, from the sublime to the ridiculous.
The next day we meet our compatriot Conductor Debashish Chaudhuri. Hailing from Calcutta, he took the bold step to study music in Prague. He learnt the language, met his soulmate – a wonderful Czech pianist Jana and settled there conducting orchestras. We are treated to a performance of his conducting, Jana’s playing and an interesting program of both original classics and contemporary American music conducted by David Rutherford and the Stratus Chamber Orchestra. He has brought the Bohuslav Martinü Philharmonic Orchestra twice to India and of course to Calcutta. A delightful lunch with him the next day at a traditional Czech resto.
A day of sightseeing, and for us a special tour of Dvořák’s home. The Father of Czech music lived in sylvan surroundings and Debashish explained to us how and where he composed his famous Rusalka. His wife would get so mad at him composing all the time he would scribble notes on his shirt cuffs to avoid attention.
From Prague thence to Cracow, an unusual destination suggested by a friend. The city protected by the Hand of God as it survived without being bombed in WW2. Our hotel was the delightful Europjinski with a garden sit-out, old world ambience, great staff and centrally located. We took a local tuktuk with a guide for a tour around this small city. There was a Jewish Fest in progress, we heard the string musicians play and I bought their Havana Gela recording. Then on to Schindler’s factory. A heartbreaking film, his saving several victims, and the pots and pans they made are displayed as a memory of those days.
Cracow is full of churches hosting wonderful musical concerts. We heard The Cracow Chamber Orchestra of Saint Maurice playing great period pieces in beautiful surroundings and acoustics. Another performance of the same orchestra was held at St. Bernadino’s Church and Organ.
The next day a couple of bravehearts (I was not amongst them) visited Auchswitz. The experience was sobering. We arranged to visit the saltmines. This is an underground township built to preserve precious works of art. But the most interesting part were the religious sculptures done in salt. I bought a Madonna made of black salt but the poor dear started sweating in our heat so have encased her in raw rice. Should take a look sometime.
Our last day in Cracow and we decided to go down to the Botanical Gardens near the hotel. A peaceful place with a food vending machine, several wonderful plants and trees till we finally flaked out on the grass. And that night we left for Budapest.
Budapest was another revelation. The bridges there are so graceful, the Danube so very historic. We took a dinner cruise on our first evening there. Wonderful buffet and wines, neighbouring Indians celebrating their daughter’s birthday. Finally the Hungarian violinists playing all the Liszt rhapsodies to the accompaniment of liqueurs, by which time our group had become quite boisterous and wished to savour all drinks possible.
A close friend, Tibor Kovacs, who was posted in Delhi earlier is now in Budapest and treated us to a wonderful jazz concert at the Mupa Budapest a very contemporary arts centre. The concert was extremely well choreographed with a couple singing The Great Hungarian Songbook against all the famous sight of Budapest. This was followed by a jazz ensemble led by Nobert the pianist and backed by a very insightful group. After the concert as we met him, a lady came up to say “I mother!”. It was really touching.
The next day was spent seeing the Red Bull airshow up near some venerable castle before which one member of the group got lost. So we gathered and shouted “Katie!” The guard on duty turned to his colleague and said “Terrorists!” They were trying to clear tourists out for the arrival of the President of Ecuador, I ask you. Another trip on the Danube, and wonderful Hungarian dinner and we were off to Vienna the next day.
Vienna is grand. It’s big. And was it hot. Never visit this part of the world end June/July. Anyway the hotel organised a day tour of Salzburg and off we went. Discovered there that the little town is remembered more for The Sound of Music that poor old Amadeus, who struggled there with a different kind of music and got not a tenth of the lucre. We visited his house, saw his compositions in his impeccable writing, such a contrast to Beethoven’s, and of course his little piano. By contrast the little town was the setting for the movie, and so has become famous for it. The Mirabelle Gardens, fountain, the church where the marriage took place. The water in Austria is supposed to be extremely pure so we checked that out as well, amidst pate sandwiches.
Back to Vienna thence to the Kunsthistoriche Museum, easily one of the finest in Europe. The sheer wealth of art there is staggering. The souvenir shop is beautiful. Picked up a cameo pill box and a CD of works played on Clara Schumann’s piano – nothing to write home about.
We passed by the Vienna Opera House wistfully. It was opera holiday season, but there were other shows, though we did not attend. It was clearly winding down time for us, a good Viennese dinner followed with Aperol – a new discovery for us. So we bid farewell to The Carlton Opera which was our hotel and left this beautiful city and our friends all of whom flew off to various destinations carrying happy memories with us.
This article first appeared on The Tolly Tatler.