Black Light Theater in Prague

Castle Quarter over the Charles River

I had never heard of black light theater.  I don’t go to the theater very often and when I do the lights are usually on.  But when I am traveling I like to do some things that I don’t do at home.  The guide book stated that Prague in the Czech Republic was known for magnificent Old Town architecture, a thriving art scene, and black light theater.  I thought it was worth giving it a try.

Prague's Ta Fantastika Theater
The Ta Fantistika Theater and the Charles Bridge

I remember black lights from when I was a teenager.  At the Minnesota State Fair, you could buy fuzzy posters of dogs playing cards, Elvis, or maybe a tiger.  Then if you had a black light in your bedroom, parts of the poster would glow in hallucinogenic colors while you listened to 1970s Aerosmith albums.

Black light theater works in a similar way, except the music is different.  The play is a combination of mime and modern dance, so there is no language barrier.  The actors wear costumes that glow in the dark under the black light.  There are also others on stage but you can’t see them at all because they wear fuzzy black clothes, gloves, and masks.  These hidden stagehands move props and assist the actors in performing stunts and controlling optical illusions.

Castle Quarter over the Charles River
The Castle Quarter across the Charles River in Prague

I went to the black light theater called Ta Fantastika, near the famous Charles Bridge on Karlova Street, in the Old Town section of Prague.  The show was called “Aspects of Alice.”  It purportedly was an artistic and poetic take on “Alice in Wonderland”, but I couldn’t see the connection.  In this play, the main character was a young woman, not a girl, and there was no Mad Hatter or other crazy characters.  Maybe I am thinking of the Disney animated film, since I have never actually read the book by Lewis Carroll.  I couldn’t quite pick up the story line.

The stunts were interesting at first.  The young woman was secretly hooked to a wire at times that lifted her into the air and allowed her to twirl and fly around the stage.  The stagehands moved candle lights and other props without being seen.  However, the illusions quickly got repetitive and the odd organ and piano music grated on my ears.

Prague river scene
The Charles Bridge on the Charles River

I was starting to drift off during the second act.  That often happens when I sit in the dark after dinner.  Although it was an uncomfortable chair, my head was nodding.  My attention lagged until the star of the show emerged from a giant day-glo apple with almost no clothes on.  She performed the next few minutes of the show topless.  I’m not sure how that fit into the Alice in Wonderland storyline. I never saw that in the cartoon.

I spent the rest of my time in Prague seeing the typical sights that the city is known for.  I walked through the Old Town Square with the 14th century Old Town Hall and the 500 year old Astronomical Clock.  From Karlova Street and the theater I reached the Charles Bridge (Karluv Most) over the Charles River.

Prague's clock in the Old Town Square
Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square

I strolled through the Jewish Quarter (Josefov), shopped for typical Czech souvenirs in the Little Quarter (Mala Strana), and visited the Old Royal Palace, St. Vitus Cathedral, and the Golden Lane in the Castle Quarter (Hradcany).  Since none of these places were bombed during World War II like other European capitals, the original architecture spans hundreds of years and many styles.

As I left Prague, I felt like I had visited EPCOT instead of a real major European city.  There were crowds of tourists from all over the world, things were expensive, and the buildings and streets looked too perfectly preserved.  Was I in an artificially generated tourist environment?  I wasn’t sure…

artwork in Prague, Czech Republic
I don't understand modern art


The Grand Tour of Europe

The Grand Tour of Europe

From the 17th through the 19th centuries, many upper class British young men traveled a traditional path through Europe called the Grand Tour.  The Grand Tour served as an educational rite of passage whereby the traveler learned about culture, history, architecture, and the arts. The traveler became knowledgeable about classical antiquity and the Renaissance, and was usually accompanied by a learned guide.

The Grand Tour of Europe
The Traditional Grand Tour of Europe

The itinerary for the British traveler started in Dover, England, crossed the English Channel to France or Belgium, and then continued down through the middle of Europe to Italy. Finishing in either Rome or Naples, the traveler might take a ship back to England.  Grand Tours lasted from several months to several years.

Grand Tours are a thing of the past.  The days of the landed gentry wandering the capitals of Europe seeking knowledge and life experiences are long gone. Instead, today we have gap years, study abroad programs, hippie trails, and sabbaticals.

I’m fortunate to work for a company that offers an eight week sabbatical after every seven years of service.  Add in three weeks of vacation and I don’t have to sit in a little grey cube staring at a computer screen for almost three months.  My sabbatical is fast approaching.  I have looked forward to it for at least a couple of years now.  I’m going to make the most of it.

I can’t do the Grand Tour.  There is not enough time and money.  But I can try to do some portions of it.  In reverse.  I’m starting in Rome, Italy.  My plan is to detour first to Greece, Turkey, and Israel.  After returning to Rome, my Grand Tour will take me to Milan, Lake Como, the Berner Oberland, Dusseldorf, Berlin, Krakow, Budapest, Vienna, Prague, London, Bath, and the Cotswolds.

I invite you to follow along.

Center map
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There is no Food on Czech Highways

I knew by looking at the map that it was going to be difficult driving out of Vienna to go the direction we needed to go.  Vienna, being such an old city, has no proper outer ring freeway, no straight streets, no grid, no obvious commuter routes, and lots of pedestrian zones, squares, and one way streets.  I won’t say we were lost, because I thought I knew where we were most of the time, but I couldn’t figure out how to get there from here most of the time.  Eventually we escaped the confusion and got on the right road out of the city.  It wasn’t the autobahn that we needed, but generally in the right direction. After zig-zagging through the villages and wine country of northern Austria, we linked up with the freeway.

When we got to the border of the Czech Republic, there were police there to check our passports.  I didn’t think they did that anymore after the Czech Republic joined the EU.  After a few minutes delay, we were on our way.  (The thing happened at the Polish border)  There is a marked difference in the quality of the roads around here.  The German roads were superior in every way.  The autobahns and other roads have smooth, new surfaces, easy to read signs, and rest stops, gas stations, and restaurants every few miles. The Austrian roads were not quite as good.  The Czech roads were bumpy, and typically under construction with lengthy detours through small towns.  We were hungry for lunch, and couldn’t find anywhere to stop to eat other than getting candy bars in a gas station.

Fix It Again, Tony (FIAT)!

Once we got into Poland, we drove on a smooth new highway from Ciescen towards Bielsko.  But after that, we turned off onto an old, bumpy road.  We navigated our way to the small village of Laka, where my extended family lives.  I was pretty sure how to get there, but knew we would have to look carefully at the street signs once we got close.   As we slowed down coming in to Laka, there was my niece Dorota on the side of the road waving at us!  She had come down their street to look for us just a couple of minutes before.

The rest of the day was a blur of food, conversation, food, more conversation, food, and more food.