Le splendide voyage

Reflections on exploration & travel


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New discoveries along the “Golden Path”

My next assignment was going to take me to France. Thus, while researching multiple road maps, I decided to follow an unfamiliar road to learn more about the region.

The two greatest commodities in medieval times were gold and salt. For that reason, these materials  became chess pawns for the development of prolific trade routes throughout Europe. One of the best known routes was the “Golden Path” from Salzburg to Prague. Hence, this route became my chosen itinerary from Prague to Regensburg, Bavaria (Germany) and on to Salzburg, Austria.

At first, I was intrigued by the vast fields of yellow flowers abiding for several kilometers. Later, I found out that these yellow crops produce canola oil while the sunflowers produce oil and seeds.  On the side of the road bright orange, blue and red wildflowers provided inspiration for artists to take out their pallets. It was incredible to observe this natural landscape south of Prague. Close to Regensburg, I took a two day break just to walk along the River Danube and discover a series of picturesque hiking trails.

My trip proceeded toward the Alps as I entered the Bavarian’s Berchtesgaden National Park, Germany.  The eastern, southern, and western boundaries of the park shape the border between Germany and Austria. Again, numerous and amazing hiking trails are available for a traveler to inhale the magnificence of the park. In particularly, the center of the park is identified by a large lake called Königssee and also by the church of St Bartholomew patron of alpine farmers and dairymen.

After a few days in this idyllic sanctuary, I proceeded to one of my favorite cities, Salzburg (Salt Fortress) in Austria. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s birthplace was famous in medieval times for its salt production collected from the neighboring Alps.  The city is usually inundated with tourists during the summer season or during music festivals, yet in early spring it was quiet and ready to be discovered. Hence, I pursued a walking tour for awhile to learn about its history and visit Mozart’s home and then with confidence, I proceeded on my own following its the narrow lanes, its baroque architecture, its gardens while looking into the hills. At some point I had to whisper “…the hills are alive with the Sound of Music…” Indeed, the popular 1965 motion picture, The Sound of Music, was filmed in Salzburg and proximate locations. The first scene in the movie starts on a mountain with Maria (Julie Andrews) singing with open arms, pirouetting, embracing life and the wholesome resplendency around her… that scene took place in Mellweg, about five miles or so from Salzburg.

With that kind of introduction, I knew I had chosen the right itinerary and decided to stay for a few days.


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Lights, Camera & Action!

Throughout the ages, the city of Prague has been a versatile beacon of the arts. In the course of its history, Italian artists came to the Czech capital to sharpen their ingenuity while upholding the Renaissance as a blueprint. Other celebrated guests such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe also visited the city for an inspiring season of creativity.

Mozart, fell in love with Prague after his opera “The marriage of Figaro (ger. Die Hochzeit des Figaros),” was performed here in 1786.  Afterwards, the people began to whistle and sing Figaro’s arias in the streets. Thus, the composer was deeply moved and the phrase: “Meine Praguer verstehen mich (usually translated into English as: My Praguers understand me)!” was attributed to Mozart as he felt that his talents were welcomed, understood and loved by Prague’s citizens. Moreover, he felt so honored by the city’s enthusiasm for his music that he decided to premier and conduct his complex opera Don Giovanni on the 29th of October, 1787 at the Estates Theater in the city’s Old Town.

On my third day in Prague, I got lost.  Suddenly, I saw a beautiful stately building and I remember thinking: “I have seen this building before, but where? After all, this is my first time in Prague.” As I approached the structure, its name was displayed on the marquee:  The Estates Theater.  The theater is the oldest in Prague and its royal interior is conducive to performances that exude an atmosphere excitement and beauty.  In the orchestra section, a small plaque designates the spot where Mozart stood while conducting Don Giovanni for the first time. Moreover, the theater’s kinship to Mozart remains till this day as the opera Don Giovanni is still performed as part of its repertoire. However, I have not answered the question: “Why did I recognize this building?”

My keen interest in travel and film usually propels me to read a film’s final credits in search of the filming location. Accordingly, that particular day in the streets of Prague, the movie Amadeus registered in my mind and right after, Immortal Beloved. Deep in my thoughts, I visualized one of the last scenes in the movie as Beethoven’s sister-in-law disclosed a climatic narrative: “…then they announced the premier of the 9th symphony…” That scene was supposed to be in Vienna, Austria. Instead, the streets surrounding the façade of the Estates Theater and later its exquisite interior appeared in their entire splendor!

Prague has been for years a thriving film production center.  The acclaimed Barrandov Studios is one of the largest studios in Europe producing high quality films that have achieved Oscar’s nominations and awards. In addition, the city’s architecture is conducive to period films as well as contemporary European flavored scripts. It is worth pointing out some of movies that were filmed in Prague and in other Czech cities: Amadeus (1984), Immortal Beloved (1994), Mission Impossible (1996), Casino Royale (2007), Bourne Identity (2002), Spy Game (2001), The Illusionist (2006), The Brothers Grimm (2005), Oliver Twist (2005), Les Miserables (1998), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe (2005), The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008), Mission Impossible IV: Ghost Protocol (2011).

Next time you watch a movie staged in Europe or perhaps within a magical kingdom, please, wait for the final credits to roll. Who knows?  Perhaps, you will find that the film was indeed filmed in the enchanting streets and edifices of the golden city of Prague (Czech: Zlatá Praha).