Sunday, May 08, 2016

Four things that made the Magic Prague Tour MAGIC!

This was my second visit to Prague, so its magical properties were not a surprise. I was already in love with its antique splendour, and the sights-that-must-be-seen: Charles Bridge, the beach behind Kafka's Museum where the swans hang out, Prague Castle's vast complex, Rabbi Loew and his Golem,
the gargoyles saucily defying gravity from high on St. Vitus Cathedral,

the Strahov Monastery Library ceiling,

a forest of tile roofs and spires afire at sunset,

a shy peeper beside the Astrological Clock.

So what's so great about seeing all this again, but with a crowd of strangers, on someone else's schedule, and in someone else's choice of hotel?
I'll tell you!

1. Our guides
To walk through Prague again brought a smile to my face every day. Add to Prague herself the knowledge, personality and humour of our two guides and you have a magical mix. Eva and Tereza, of Praga Caput Regni, rounded us up every morning at 9:30 and off we strode through the cobbled streets, learning the inside scoop, seeing with new eyes, hearing the history and legends. The owner of Praha Caput Regni, Markéta, who came up with the idea for this magical tour, was sadly unavailable to walk around with us most days, but joined us for some key events. Her children even served us tea and goodies on our first evening at the Big Boot! 
Not only did Tereza and Eva feed us facts and fancies, they pulled cards from the Tarot of Prague whenever we came to a place or piece of art featured in one of the cards. They had done their tarot homework especially for us!

Here is Eva at the Golden Lane, the so-called "Street of the Alchemists" about which much fiction has been written, holding the Hermit. (Those are not the Hermit's legs below the card.)

And Tereza with the Seven of Pentacles from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot at the Bone Church in Kutná Hora. (I know, it's not the Tarot of Prague, but the Bohemian Gothic is full of images from this Ossuary, and I didn't get to it the last time I was in Prague.)

2. Our hotel
We completely filled up the House at the Big Boot, where the owners Jan, Jakub, and Thomas could
not possibly have done more to make us feel at home, pampered, and welcomed. I'm a tea-drinker moving through a mostly-coffee-driven world; imagine my delight when Jan greeted me with a freshly-made pot of tea! A POT, people, not a bag and cup of hottish water! Instant 5 stars, and I hadn't even seen the huge bouquet of fresh flowers in my room yet, nor sampled the sweet-tart plum jam and best-ever scrambled eggs at breakfast! No matter what time we rose or returned, there was a cheerful staff member there to make us hot chocolate, tea, coffee, or find us orange juice for our champagne (which, along with other beverages, was for sale at very reasonable prices from an honour-system fridge in the lobby). We had the run of the whole place, and at the end of each day's excursion, opening that door felt like coming home.

3. Guests on the tour
I have always cringed at the idea of going on a tour. All those people that I have nothing in common with and don't want to talk to, and will never want to see again - ever. Like the worst bits from that movie, My Life in Ruins.
So how did this tour work?
Splendidly! People came from Brazil, Australia, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, the UK, France, the US, and Canada (me). All of us were followers of Alex and Karen's work, and everyone used tarot in some way, so there was a good base line on which to build. And build we did! Congenial breakfasts, extra little sidebars and shopping excursions, much laughter and oohing and aahing, sharing of life stories, and general goodwill. I may even have begun a lasting friendship or two, and that's an unexpected blessing.

4. Our hosts
I'm a big fan of Baba Studio and the work that Karen Mahony and Alex Ukolov produce. If you read this blog, you already know that! To have the opportunity to spend time with them every day for a week - seeing their Prague, sharing meals with them, getting to know them a bit - was priceless.

These two put their whole hearts and creative minds into everything they do, and the results are staggeringly original, and breathtaking in their artistic scope. For me, climbing aboard the first-ever Magic Prague Tour was, as a friend said simply, "a no-brainer".

I appreciated Alex and Karen's generosity with their time and energy, their knowledge of Prague, and the varied products of Baba Studio. While we were there, the first boxes of the newly redone Tarot of Prague began arriving. We were, as Karen said, the "first people in the world to see this deck." Wow!
They prepared so many special events for us - for instance, a private marionette theatre show in our hotel, and a nighttime ceremony on Charles Bridge (where we got to wear one of Baba's velvet capes from a recent castle photo shoot of theirs!).
One night when we arrived back at the Big Boot, exhausted from trekking, full from another great dinner, Alex wondered who might enjoy being with Karen as she read from their newest jewel, the metallic overlayed Tarot of Prague. YES, PLEASE! So there we were, ranged around a table in the stone-walled cellar of our Renaissance hotel, drinking mint tea, and listening to the deck's creators talk about the meaning of each card, and where in Prague the images were taken. I could feel the presence of Prague's magical history in the room with us that night.

Here is our group thank-you card, presented to them at the farewell dinner on our last night of the tour. Our heartfelt gratitude was expressed on every inch and centimeter of that very long card!
         (Thanks to Jennifer Shepherd for this picture, which I chopped into three pieces to fit here!)

Thank you, Karen and Alex, for this unforgettable magical experience!

(Coming soon, a review of the new Tarot of Prague.)