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A legendary Filipino, A bohemian fairytale

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - January 2, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – On a hillside overlooking the picturesque Bohemian city of Litomerice, there’s a lovely park dedicated to a Filipino: Dr. Jose Rizal.

A bust of Rizal is nestled against the medieval town wall in Jose Rizal Park. Another bust adorns the entrance to the elegant Salva Guarda hotel in the city center, where the restaurant serves local cuisine. Across the square is the hotel that used to be called Krebs where Rizal and his friend, Maximo Viola, stayed for four days when they visited Litomerice in May 1887 so Rizal could address the directors of the Tourist Club.

The visit was arranged by the club’s secretary Ferdinand Blumentritt, who moved from Prague, the city of his birth, to Litomerice (“Little Prague”) where he found work as a secondary school principal.

Rizal apparently so impressed his Litomerice audience with his speech on freedom and human rights that to this day, the city is keeping alive its links with the Philippine national hero and the country of his birth.

Today the city has a “Rizal heritage trail” with 10 points of interest. Another Rizal bust greets visitors at the foyer of the office of Ladislav Chlupac, the city’s mayor of 12 years. His office has a copy of Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere displayed behind a glass case.

Mayor Chlupac is a founding member of the Czech Republic’s Knights of Rizal. He has visited Calamba, Laguna and Rizal’s place of detention in Dapitan.

The friendship between Rizal and Blumentritt is one of the things that will fascinate Filipinos who visit the Czech Republic. Filipinos will also enjoy the pervasive Catholic influence all over the country.

The Czech Republic is reputed to have the world’s largest number of castles, in Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. It is also home to numerous Catholic churches. One, the Church of the Infant Jesus of Prague, has a Sto. Niño icon that is believed to be miraculous. A Filipino store is located near the popular pilgrimage site. Up the hill beside Prague Castle is St. Vitus Cathedral.

The iconic Charles Bridge in Prague’s Old Town is lined with large statues of Catholic saints. At least two are particularly popular for selfies: spots at the base of the statues are distinctly gleaming and free of the blackened patina of pollution and age covering the sculptures. Filipinos will be familiar with the clean spots: these are where tourists touch the sculptures to have their wishes come true.

For many centuries, Prague, the city of a hundred spires, has attracted great artists, poets, musicians and thinkers of Europe. The Bohemian capital has inspired alchemists and the dark, oppressive world portrayed by Franz Kafka as well as the Golem of Prague created by Rabbi Judah Loew.

The Czech countryside is just as charming as its capital, dotted with rivers and lakes where fish thrive. There are castles and chateaux everywhere. The Folk Baroque buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries in the South Bohemian medieval village of Holasovice are so well-preserved the area, which looks like a setting for a fairy tale, has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In Holasovice you can enjoy the Czech pastry called kolace, made by residents the traditional way.

Magic and fairy tales are also evoked in Cesky Krumlov, with its cobbled alleys and the Vltava River winding through the Gothic town. A 13th century castle – the second largest after the seat of government in Prague – looms over the town, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The castle has a moat with live bears. All over town there are museums for a wide variety of endeavors such as gingerbread making and brewery. The statue of a “White Lady” that supposedly roams the castle looks out from a glass display in a square.

A passage leading to the unique, fully preserved Baroque Theater offers a panoramic view of the village.

 

 

Theater and music are also regular attractions right in the main square of Prague’s Old Town. In the square tourists flock to the Astronomical Clock, still operating since its installation in 1410.

Filipinos may be interested to know that the second most visited place in the Czech capital after Charles Bridge is the Prague Zoo, where among the attractions are creatures from the Philippines: the Palawan cat and hornbill. In April 2015, two breeding pairs of scops owls gave birth to six owlets. That’s another link between the two countries that should draw more Filipino visitors to Bohemia.

TRAVEL TIPS:

• Avoid wearing heels and be prepared for a lot of walking; many streets

are cobbled

• In Prague, avoid cabs; take the subway, bus or tram

• Restaurant food portions are usually huge and may have to be shared

• Fresh fruit juices are rare, but sometimes you can get fresh squeezed

lemon juice with grated ginger

• Be careful when you aim your camera. Europeans value their privacy

and there are people who don’t like their photos – especially of their

children – taken by strangers

Must-try gustatory delights:

• Bohemian roast duck, prepared the Litomerice way at Salva Guarda hotel’s restaurant

• Traditional kolace cakes, prepared in the medieval World Heritage village of Holasovice

• Pork hocks roasted in an open fire; you must finish the entire pata

• Grilled pike perch or trout from one of over 500 lakes from Trebon district

• Viennese coffee and pastries; Bohemia was once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire

• Moravian wine

• Budweiser beer – brewed not in the US but in its Czech home, Budejovice

Getting there:

There are no direct flights to Prague from Manila. The travel time can take an entire day, including layovers in another Asian country and a European hub before the final hop to Prague. There are direct flights between Prague and South Korean capital Seoul.

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