Shopping for Nirvana in Prague

Quick Trip to Prague 2017

Chester and I left Budapest, Hungary and took the train through Slovakia to Prague, Czech Republic. When I asked the train conductor what country did we just pass through he said, “Slovakia.” And then I realized – when I was growing up studying world history the country was called Czechoslovakia and on January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia dissolved and became Slovakia and Czech Republic.

After WWII, Russia took over Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Poland, and Yugoslavia. These countries became known as Eastern Europe.

scenes of Prague

Prague is a Unesco World Heritage Site. The city has been in existence for 1100 years. In the Middle Ages, Prague was one of the leading cultural centers of Christian Europe. Prague University was founded in 1348. In fact, everything seems to have started in the 1300s like the buildings in the Castle District (my Neruda Hotel) and the Medieval Pub where we had lunch.

Founded during the Romanesque period, flourishing by the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque eras, Prague was once the capital of Bohemia. The Kings of Bohemia also ruled Moravia, Silesia, Lusatia, and parts of Saxony, Brandenburg, and Bavaria. As you can see this area has changed names many times over history.

streets in the Castle District

Prague is magical and mystical. It is an enchanting fairy tale city. Bohemia-Austrian poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke’s work is described as inherently “mystical” (1875-1926.) He is one of their famous authors. The art of puppetry is alive and well in Prague. Puppets and marionettes are recognized as a key element of national culture and are truly amazing.

Rainer Maria Rilke window display and hand-made puppet

Legend says that Czechs lived happily in Czech lands around the Rip Mountains. The new leader Krok had 3 daughters. The youngest, princess Libuse, ruled after her father’s death. She had a vision. Standing on top of Vysehrad Hill overlooking Vltava River, “I see a large city whose fame will touch the stars!” She directed builders to build a castle across the river and name the new city Praha. Praha is Prague in Czech.

signs on buildings show the type of business located there

Immediately, Prague felt enchanting and charming. Although it was crammed with tourists, mostly Chinese from mainland China, I kinda fell in love with it. Along the Charles Bridge are important statues.

Charles Bridge – Castle

I didn’t realize Prague was the fairy tale location for Chinese weddings. Asian couples arrived from China daily to have their wedding photos taken on the Charles Bridge with the fairy tale castle in the background. Hundreds of Chinese lanterns were released nightly as part of their wedding ceremonies. Fun Fact: it was said that when Walt Disney saw the castle in Prague it inspired his castle design at Disney Parks.

castle view at magic hour – city view from the castle

I’ve gone to court! The magnificent castle – and it is truly amazing – took 600 years to build. It started Gothic with flying buttresses – they added Renaissance – spectacular doesn’t begin to describe it. During the Russian intervention, tourism was on a “special” invitation-only basis. Today you can barely see the buildings blocked by a sea of International humanity. Mid-day visit in the summer is super hot and chaotic. But… visit anyway. I was told that evening when the twinkling lights come up is the best and most quiet time or first thing in the morning.

St. Vitus Cathedral

The guide explained that the grand churches were built when people didn’t trust religion. Times were tough so magnificent churches were erected to give regular people hope that they too could get closer to God and riches.

Prague is known to have thresholds to other realms. The city area has been considered a powerful energy vortex. Prague has always attracted various mystics and many esoteric societies and lodges were established here. Charles IV, the first Bohemian king to also become Holy Roman Emperor, believed that Prague was the New Jerusalem, and built the city based on astrological, astronomical, and alchemical symbolism. The later emperor and spiritual seeker, Rudolf II., continued his legacy and turned Prague into the esoteric center of Europe.

The city is said to have a strong, protective shield, and that’s why each time someone tries to harm it, the energy of destruction bounces off. This could explain why it hadn’t been destroyed even during the biggest wars. Hitler, who was clearly an occultist and worked with dark magic, must have been aware of this, as he spared Prague, and actually wanted to make it his place of residence. He wanted to use the power that dwells in the city before it turned against him. Due to the magic shield, Prague may not be beneficial to all the people living there. (notes from Iva Kenaz’s blog)

Our guide said Golden Lane holds the magic so I immediately headed there to explore the artisan cottages.

Golden Lane at the castle – photo of me thinking I was taking a video by the Golem rafters

The magical mystical portals of the castle grounds were at the Golden Lane, an irregular strip of land between Romanesque walls from the 12th c. There are 3 defense towers. In 1597 the “Red Artillerymen” asked the Emperor for permission to build little rooms. The little houses began to expand. It was a super cute little alleyway where I spent a few hours exploring.

Golden Lane and Red Artillerymen uniform

Some people believe that in addition to standard homes, there’s a special one that is visible only occasionally. When entering, it takes you to other dimensions. The Invisible Prague by Gustay Merink refers to it as the House at the Last Lantern. I looked but couldn’t find it. It must have been invisible that day.

Up until the departure of the last tenant in 1952, the community was very colorful. At first, it included employees of the castle and later it housed craftsmen and eccentrics. Each home has been re-created to how people lived as tradesmen in these cute little houses. I bought a replica of an old-time wind-up watch and whenever I wear it I say, “I am on Medieval time.”

The houses are numbered and each has a story. House Number 22 was the home of Franz Kafka from 1916-1917, who rented it from his sister. Here is where he wrote “The Country Doctor.” I bought a copy of his book “Metamorphosis” at the house gift shop. Hardly any of his work was published in his lifetime. He wrote in German.

Number 14 is the Little House of Psychic Matylda Prusova lived. Before WWII Madame de Thebes, Prague card-reader and fortune teller, whose real name was Matylda Prusova, wife of the local pharmacist, predicted Hitler would fail. She was arrested by the Gestapo and eventually tortured to death.

Chester at the Medieval Tavern

A Medieval Tavern is from the 13th c. The Medieval Tavern where we had lunch is the oldest pub in Prague (1375.) The waitresses were dressed as wenches. The waiters in rags. “Welcome stranger, to our tavern, we will treat you with tasty dishes and offer you drinks. Beer, wine, mead or clear water will moisten your thirsty throat in our noisy tavern. You came to the tavern from the 14th century, so do not be surprised if the staff uses your name or is shouting around. The behavior is a little rough, however, all of them are good-hearted. They will take care that you have a comfortable table, full stomach and then you leave the tavern much poorer then you came. Whenever they call you farmer, knight, or robber they do not mean to offend you, it is just the Middle Ages. King Wenceslav IV, Rudolf’s alchemists, the executioner Mydlar, W.A. Mozart and Jaroslav Hasek all used to drink their pints of beer here along with rogues and fraudsters.”

The Charles Bridge and Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square

Every evening we walked back and forth across the Charles Bridge. The bridge is believed to be special when it comes to astrology and constellations; Charles IV consulted his astrologer and ordered the stone to be laid on July 9, 1357 at 5:31 am.

The town hall Astronomical Clock (built 1364) is perhaps the most well-known astronomical clock in the world, with four moving automatons (including a skeleton ringing his death knell for each hour), and rotating statues of the 12 apostles. It displays Babylonian time, Old Bohemian time, German time, and Sidereal time. It also shows the moon’s phases and the sun’s journey through the constellations of the zodiac. The calendar dial, just below the clock, shows the day of the month, the day of the week, feast days and allegorical pictures of the current month and sign of the zodiac.

The clock also has a dark history. Rebuilt in 1490 by clockmaker Mikuláš from Kadaň. Such was the reputation of his craftsmanship that Mikuláš was approached by many a foreign nation, each wishing to have its own town square topped with a marvelous astronomical clock. Mikuláš refused to show the plans of his masterpiece to anyone, but word got back to the Prague Councilors. Overcome with fear that Mikuláš might build a bigger, better, and more beautiful clock for another nation, the Councilors had the brilliant clockmaker blinded, ensuring that their clock would never be topped. Driven mad, the clockmaker took the ultimate revenge, throwing himself into his extraordinary work of art, gumming up the clock’s gears and ending his own life in one stroke. In doing so, he cursed the clock. All who tried to fix it would either go insane or die.

Old-New Synagogue (Golem Story) and Spanish Synagogue (middle)

TEMPLE HOPPING

The Gothic hall of the Old-New Synagogue has been a house of prayer for over 700 years. It is the oldest surviving medieval synagogue of twin-nave design and Europe’s oldest active synagogue. Completed in 1270 in the gothic style, it was Prague’s first gothic building. The older Old Synagogue was demolished in 1867 and replaced by the Spanish Synagogue. I also visited the beautiful Spanish Synagogue and the Maisel Synagogue.

The Old Jewish Cemetery

For over 300 years the Old Jewish Cemetery was the only burial ground for Jews. It remains its 1478 Medieval size of 12 layers deep because Jews can’t be moved once buried. There are over 12,000 gravestones. There was something so tranquil and surreal about this cemetery that I found myself haunted and hung out here for hours in meditation.

Understanding gravestones: from the 16th c. onwards, tombstones in the Jewish cemetery were decorated with symbols, denoting the background, family, name or profession of a deceased person. Blessing hands – the Cohen family. A pair of scissors – a tailor. A stag – Hirsch or Zvi family. Grapes – blessings of abundance.

wolf and hands on the tombstones

RABBI LOW AND THE GOLEM

The scholar and philosophical writer Rabbi Low, director of the Talmudic school in the late 16th c, was also thought to possess magical powers. He was supposed to have created a figure, the Golem, from clay and then brought it to life by placing a magic stone tablet in its mouth. The Golem went berserk and the Rabbi had to remove the tablet. He hid the creature among the Old-New Synagogues rafters. I had a strange experience in front of the location where the Golem is supposed to be. I was doing selfie videos. I did 3 of them with the building in the background (I did not know this was the exact location at the time.) When I went back to my room later I realized the videos were only still photos with a ray of strange light across my face (see my image earlier in the blog.)

me and Chester posing at the John Lennon Wall

Cafe Louvre was Prague’s Cafe Society hangout. It was visited by the cream of Czech Society or those who had contacts in the arts or literature or worked in the world of science. To Prague writers, it was also their office and allowed them to be seen and get phone calls.

A must-visit is the famous Dancing House. Designed in 1992, completed in 1996.  It was designed by the Croatian-Czech architect Vlado Milunic in cooperation with Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry. Gehry originally named the house Fred and Ginger (after the famous dancers Fred Astaire and Giner Rogers) – the house resembles a pair of dancers but this nickname is now rarely used. Gehry himself was later “afraid to import American Hollywood kitsch to Prague”, and discarded his own idea. We went to the rooftop for a fantastic city view.

Dancing House & Cafe Louvre

Rainy last night in Prague – farewell Europe!

me taking photos and in the rain

Shopping for Nirvana in Ireland

Quick Trip to Dublin 2019

Ireland and Scotland were on my bucket list for years. In my mind, these were mysterious European places I had no clue about. Not exotic enough to move them to the top of my list. Foreign enough that I was curious. Probably the main reason for putting them off was my fear of encountering fairies and spirits in castles and legends of things that can’t be explained. I do enough of this in my every day life and work! I didn’t need paranormal encounters while on vaca.

Over the years I’ve gotten better at protecting myself. Armed with my ‘ghost oils’ I took the plunge only to learn I was fine and should have explored more of these magical realms. This is my trip…

After 10 hours and 9 time zones, my 16 year old nephew, Will, and I arrive. Will surprised me by agreeing to join “Aunt Anita on her 62nd birthday extravaganza adventure!”

Our first night, we strolled down the popular Baggot St to Matt the Thresher for seafood which started Will’s daily ritual of eating fish and chips. By the end of the trip I thought he might swim away! He couldn’t stop talking about Guinness so I bought him a beer (drinking age is 18.) Two sips and he was over it. Decided he is not a beer guy!

The pub is a place of Irish cultural exchange.

We went to listen to authentic Irish pub music at O’Donoghue’s. I was told there may be a long line to get in and the pub may not even let him in. I put on my leather jacket to look hip and told Will to put on his black jeans so he could look a little older. I was determined to get in.

On the long walk over I told Will that I really wanted to experience Irish music and if they wouldn’t let him in he could walk back to the hotel by himself because I was going to stay! As it turned out – no line and they even asked him what he wanted to drink. We stood in front at the bar by the band and learned they were local guys with day jobs at the gas station, etc, and played here at night. A 22-year-old from Minnesota shared her Jameson whisky with Will, which I probably should have discouraged because drinking from a stranger’s glass in a bar is not something I should be teaching him. But she was cute (she took this photo of us) and it did loosen him up! Fun was had by all….

Georgian Architecture

A building boom between 1714 and 1830 built a ton of Georgian buildings. named for the British monarchs of the House of Hanover – George 1, George 11, George 111 and George 1V. Symmetrical proportions – block-like. Not very ornate on the outside but the interiors had high ceilings and ornate trim. Balance and simple mathematical ratios. Irish cities would have knocked them down and rebuilt – but money was always an issue so now they remain as historical gems.

From Joyce to Yeats – Dublin is a city of literature

Some of the famous Dublin writers include:

Syge who wrote “Playboy of the Western World.”
RB Sheridan aka Sean O’Casey writer of “Shadow of a Gunman”‘ that Alfred Hitchcock turned into plays and films
Jonathan Swift wrote “Gulliver’s Travels”
Richardson wrote 1st person narratives “Pamela and Clarissa”
George Bernard Shaw won and Oscar and a Nobel
Samuel Beckett wrote “Waiting for Gadot”
WB Yeats was more spiritual
Thomas Moore was a balladeer
Oscar Wilde had extraordinary parents who held salons that included the intelligentsia of the day

“Be yourself – everyone else is taken.” – Oscar Wilde

Sweny Chemist Shop is where Leopold Bloom buys his lemon soap in the epic “Ulysses.” Sweny remains pretty much in tact from when Dublin’s famous writer James Joyce set a scene from his book here. “Ulysses” is about a day in the life of Leopold Bloom as he wanders about Dublin on June 16, 1904. It’s a puzzle and enigma and difficult to truly understand. We gathered with a group of South American students learning English and went around the room reading passages from the novel. I was surprised to hear that Will actually enjoyed that experience!

What I learned are that Irish people are hardworking. They love their music, their literature and their pubs. Next trip I would like to venture outside the city to the countryside to truly experience Ireland in all its majesty.

Let’s Make Magic

Spirit begins with prayer and what  better way to speed up that communication then lighting incense. Smoke is the vehicle that dispatches your wishes and dreams to the universe,

Incense is a powerful tool dating back 6000 to 8500 years to ancient Hindu texts or Vedas. The trend took off spreading to Greece and Rome when Babylonians wafted incense sticks during prayers. Did you know that peddlers along the Silk Route turned incense sales into big business when various techniques, multiple flavors, and a variety of styles became accessible?

The famous trade route changed its name to the Incense Route.

Incense Quick Tips:

  1. sends prayers to the universe
  2. pays homage to a temple or church
  3. blesses a sacred space
  4. used as an offering to a shrine or deity
  5. cleanses energy
  6. creates relaxing environment
  7. powdered incense is used for magic
  8. buy best quality with highest integrity

 

 

 

Sacred Stuff

me with monk in Cambodia

Golden Ganesh and the Monk of Ta Prohm

My Ganesh dharma began in Cambodia.

It was at the mysterious overgrown temple of Ta Prohm where I received my first Ganesh statue. I met the wizend monk who sweeps the steps to ensure the gods will have safe passage up the steep and narrow stairways. I bought a bamboo cowbell from him and he posed for a photo.

“He protects travelers and will help you find your way,” he told me as my guide translated. A sort of golden light washed over me in that moment,and then the monk was gone and I began to wonder…

why did he think I was lost?”

 

Everyday Spirituality

Jain Temple in India

What I have learned from trips to China, Southeast Asia and India is that they have an innate understanding that everything is connected. Life is full of spirit. Sacred objects, ritual and meditation are their daily routine. Everyone has at least one shrine or altar and possibly more. Buddha and Quan Yin greet their guests in China. Lakshmi and Ganesh remove obstacles in India. Incense is wafted everywhere. Dragons are power symbols and Lucky Cats bring good fortune to businesses. To me, it’s about living every day in a spiritual way.

Here I am above at the famous Jain Temple in India. I had been sporting a bindi dot on my forehead since I arrived and it was not easy keeping it on. I tended to forget I had it and smeared it across my face hourly as sweat dripped down my face from the extreme heat of the desert. One of my favorite rituals throughout India was getting a red string tied around my wrist that came along with a priest blessing and a red dot on my forehead that I got from anyone willing to give me one. I also bought a packet of decorative bindi dots. And a lady at lunch one day gave me her packet of glittery bindi dots, seeing as I was so into them. Some folks can pull them off. I am not sure I am one of those. But I loved them anyway.

 

 

 

 

Lotus Blossoms

lotusLotus Blossoms bring balance and moderation in all things. They are an important component to the Buddha statue. Buddha is either seated upon a lotus in full bloom or holding a blossom in his hand. Some images portray him with each foot resting on a separate petal. When Siddhartha declared his Enlightenment and took seven steps it is said that under each step sprang a lotus blossom.

Did you know that the lotus blossom grows in murky swamps? It’s true. With roots buried deep in the mud, the lotus flower rises to the surface. It’s not easy pushing through the muck, which is why the lotus symbolizes that beauty is born from hardship. In Sanskrit and Tibetan, the lotus is called padma and represents purity, joy and perfection. Lotus is cool and Buddha is hot – so it is said to cool Buddha’s fire.

White Lotus – spiritual perfection and total mental purity
Pink Lotus – supreme lotus reserved for the Great Buddha
Red Lotus – love, compassion and other qualities of the heart
Blue Lotus – victory of the spirit over the senses and signifies wisdom

Rub the Buddha Belly

laughing-buddhaWherever I travel throughout the world Fat Happy Buddha is an iconic image. I always thought he was just another version of Buddha, but I was wrong. He is also called Laughing Buddha and is technically a Budai or Chinese deity. Budhai means “cloth sack” and that’s because he carries his worldly possessions in a sack tossed over his shoulder. He also carries good luck beads and a money gourd aka hulu or wu lou – that brings wealth and prosperity. No wonder he is honored and adored all over Asia. But really, who is he?

History Lesson:

Laughing Buddha aka Po-tai Ho-shang was an eccentric monk who lived between the 6th and 10th century. Neighbors knew him from his fat belly, bald head, robe and prayer beads. He was considered a good man of loving character, poor yet content, discovering the Buddha within himself. He did so many good deeds during his lifetime that when he died he rose to bodhisattva status (deity who attains enlightenment but remains in human form to help others) and was renamed Budai.

How to recognize him?

As opposed to Buddha statues which tend to be thin figured, Laughing Buddha has a fat tummy, bald head and happy grin. Sometimes he carries a bag of wealth. Sometimes he carries your bag of troubles, which he has collected for you. When he was a monk traveling from village to village handing out candy to poor children, he asked only for a penny in return. That is why when you find a Buddha with children climbing all over him, this is very auspicious and means abundance of good fortune coming from heaven. Happy Laughing Buddha is a lovely statue to display when wanting to attract abundance in life. Go ahead and rub the Buddha belly!

Laughing Buddha reminds us of our capacity to achieve happiness and enjoy the good life.

 

Take a Tea Break

tea

Story of Indian Tea

There’s always time for chai. The word chai means tea so if you are ordering what we call chai in the West – it is called masala in India. In India, chai was the only street food I dared try (I figured it is made from boiling water.) There was no set price, just pay whatever you desire. There is a tea component to everything you do from shopping to dining. Between 1660-1857 tea was the main export by the East India Company. Today, India is the second-largest producer of tea. Once I tasted fresh Indian tea, I was hooked.

Know your Indian tea:

Assam – largest tea producing region
Darjeeling – champagne of black teas
Masala – black tea spiced with cardamon and ginger

All the Tea in China

Tea is a Chinese tradition enjoyed throughout the day, but when the Brits arrived in Hong Kong they introduced “afternoon tea” where black tea is served with milk and sugar. One of the most fascinating books that brings clarity to the entire Chinese tea tradition is “For All the Tea in China.” It tells the tale of British horticulturist Robert Fortune and how he was sent undercover in 1848 to China to steal their tea growing secrets and bring cuttings to India for the East India Company.

Inspired Reading

For All the Tea in China by Sarah Rose

Rented Charms

amulets

According to Thai tradition, Buddhas or phra phim are never bought or sold, only rented. These little charms encased inside clear boxes or frames caught my attention while getting lost on the back streets of Bangkok. The over stimulation of too many people living life out on the streets, mixed with the yummy smell of sizzling pan fried noodles, almost distracted me from noticing the wizened Thai man and his makeshift card table. Setting up shop on the street, he proudly displayed his spiritual wares. His prized possessions seemed to be phra phim, which I had never seen before. In chopped English he explained that they were passionately traded or “rented” – if the price was right. A person was only the temporary custodian of the each pieces’s magic and I found that detail very interesting. The charms were so intricate and beautiful and when I turned one over, I saw a tiny tolled up scroll set inside. It seemed that each piece contained a sacred script and magical drawing. Apparently, only charms blessed by monks are said to be powerful protection. Sometimes they are used for love – he winked at me. But mostly soldiers, taxi drivers and other high-risk professions are the true believers.