Tuesday, July 7, 2015

to visit a rain shelter

The park at Pruhonice
Everyone loves a failure as one defines the viewer as a success. And here I am, a failure of guiding a friend from Georgia about Prague, and now just looking at the bubbles in my beer. It's of course typical Georgian fashion to pop in unexpected and typical American fashion to get annoyed by it, and this cultural miscollaboration is what essentially caused this failure of hosting. Especially as I was in the middle of what I expected to be a working weekend, throwing me somewhat off of my peak. As the event spun around me, I went farther from working and closer to getting nothing done, but that was all right in and of itself.

With my wife urging me to go with her to Pruhonice - a park on the outskirts of Prague - I decided to invite him along to share the adventure. But not everyone wants some adventure, especially when it's raining.

Here is a description of what seems to be typical Prague summer weather. When we left our house in the morning, it was hot and sunny, no clouds in the sky. We picked everyone up, my wife's friend and my friend - we'll call Ushangi - and his girlfriend and drove down to Pruhonice. It's not hard to get there, just metro ride and a bus away, but still, easier to drive. By car it takes about 15 minutes to get to, and by public transit it would take about an hour. Prague's not big, but public transit isn't direct either.

When we arrived at Pruhonice, we had picnic food and a guitar, not really knowing what to expect, thinking it was just a typical beautiful park, as it seemed in its pictures. We parked somewhere near a creek, near the main road, without a clear path to a park in sight. We started walking aroud and soon found a fence. As thunderclaps shook the sky, I decided to look down at a map and suggested we try to find a proper entrance and parking lot, rather than just parking on the side of the road.

To our not real surprise, there was a proper parking lot. When we pulled in there, the weather had made the complete transformation from sunny skies to overcast, cold and pouring.

When we made it back from Pruhonice, it was sunny again. And when I talked to Czechs the next week, they all had a clear memory of that day being sunny and hot. Yes, the little bit of sun that they get here during spring really seems to make a much better impression than the typical low hanging clouds.
The castle at Pruhonice
At the parking lot, we discovered what exactly Pruhonice was. Don't go expecting a typical park. In reality, it's a huge botanical garden and a castle (entry to the park is 50 czk). A castle, in some form, had been there since the medieval days in the 13th century. It's most recent manifestation was built by a rich count, Count Arnost Emanuel Silva-Tarouca. After the count married the heir of the castle in 1885, he decided to hire architect Jiri Stilbran and rebuild it as a premium example of neo-Renaissance architecture, with a vast botanical gardens surrounding it. Much later, the count ran into some financial problems and sold the estate in 1927 to the Czech government.

The castle now houses the Institute of Botany and is off limits to the public besides a cafe, bathrooms and a permanent exhibition about the history of the property. The rest of the property, of course, is open. The park itself contains one of the largest collections of rhododendrons in the world, and over 1,200 various plant species, including a fascinating tree with purple leaves that change to green as you approach. The land contains some hills, a large pond, a stream and a lookout tower. It would be easy to spend half a day roaming around the park and admiring the landscape. 

The backside of Pruhonice castle
As I said, when we first got to Pruhonice, it started to rain. We thought we could wait out the rain, so we brought our lunch and beer to the front porch of the shop where tickets could be bought. As we waited, a wedding party joined us, trying to take shelter. At least we weren't them! And later, our friend tried to play guitar a bit, but the clerk was too much bothered by this and kept telling us to be quiet, as that wedding party must be somewhere near and it was impossible for her to work behind a desk doing nothing while our friend was softly playing guitar. 

Our friend had even gathered a small audience, who couldn't quite understand her hatred of the music. We at last went into the park, Ushangi and his girlfriend decided their nice shoes were completely inadequate for the dirt and muddy paths of the park, so instead they decided to huddle back on the porch, probably regretting coming, as they were stuck on a park porch, when they could be huddled in a pub in the center of town. But whatever. Despite getting thoroughly soaked, I liked the park - especially that color changing tree, a fagus sylvatica. We could have stayed longer - and indeed it would be the ideal place to bring a picnic and a musical instrument or two - but made our trip short because of the increasingly heavy rain, and because we had friends back there waiting on us. So we hurried on back, my feeling bad that they neither were able to see Prague or spend time with me. But forget them, there was a fagus sylvatica!

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