At first I intended to compose some kind of small but holistic story from my photos of Prague. However a lot of time has passed since my trip and my job, matters of personal business and everyday routine kept me from initial plan. Something unavoidably gets erased from memory, my point of view may also change in some cases with time. So I’ll just try to select the best photos of Prague and provide them with my comments.
Outside of Nový Smíchov shopping mall.
Inside the Nový Smíchov.
By the way, Smíchov district in Prague-5 generally mixes new and old fine.
Even the trams here are from different eras.
On one side of the street there is grey building with sharp geometric forms…
… and on the other there are houses that had seen a lot of history during the last century.
Equa Bank office makes tourists like me to rise heads while local people demonstrate indifference.
Being a tourist I had to visit Old Town Square in the oldest part of the Prague.
There is always a lot of people.
Prague astronomical clock was undergoing restoration at the moment…
… but well recognizable (if not by name then by silhouette) Church of Our Lady before Týn was available to inspect in all of its glory.
Also back side of old town hall looks pretty picturesque.
One more clumsy selfie.
Some people there take a ride of horse-drawn carriage.
Others prefer mini-train tours.
Those on feet tend to spread among expensive food places located around the perimeter of the square
or catch bubbles with their cameras.
Even the Minnie Mouse got there somehow.
Jan Hus observes all those activities with respectable stoicism.
Buildings bear more sculptures than some of Russian towns.
Narrow walking street near the Old Town Square.
Another view of old Prague.
Church of Santa Claus. No presents though. It functions solely as a museum.
One of the problems every old city with significant history has is there are always some restoration works going on. Thankfully, there is no need to close streets in order to do that.
Example of modern abstract art near the river shore.
Vltava river view.
Prague Castle. People on the other bank are feeding the swans.
Some more of western bank of Vltava.
Religious frenzy of centuries long gone peaks at the Crusaders’ Square. Church of Saint Salvator. If I’m not mistaken that is the place that was Vatican in “Eurotrip” movie, precisely place of that scene with swiss guards, ice cream and one very special boy.
At Crusaders’ square you can also find old catholic church of Saint Francis Seraph.
Old Town Bridge Tower
Statue of Charles IV
Just beside the monument people are taking photos with strangely colored pigeons.
I didn’t take a walk over the Charles bridge that day. Instead I along the river to the south admiring the architecture. Prague is truly magical in a way that even if there were no museums, theaters, exhibitions and other cultural events, the city itself is a piece of art because of its architecture.
See the beauty. There are unique balconies, pinnacles, gargoyles, bas-reliefs and bold use of colors everywhere… Try your best to find two identical constructions.
Of course, I couldn’t miss the famous dancing house.
On the little island in the middle of Vltava you can rent a boat.
Even though it’s hard to call Vltava a clean river there are wild living nutria.
Most noticeable among the vegetative lifeforms were blooming chestnut trees that could be found everywhere you went.
That day I had a dinner in a lovely place called “U Gráffů” which I liked a lot. There I could watch and eavesdrop a bit people from all over the world some more while I was waiting for my meal. For example, this company of old German ladies (one of several I saw during the trip) was masterfully drinking considerable amount of beer.
Interior of the restaurant was inviting to contemplate too.
On my way back to the hotel. Red lights of a legal club had already lite. One of the next days there was a girl dressed lightly for a cool night air. I was too shy to take the photo of her without asking the permission.
I was always interested not only in traveling to fictional worlds but also to the other parts of our quite real blue and green ball. Not long ago I was able to find time and to satisfy my interest to some extend. In this post I want to share my photos and impressions of Prague in May of this year the way it presented itself to me.
Before we get to the main theme, I have to mention my point of departure. Kurumoch airport near Samara has undergone a renovation recently. I must give credit where the credit is due, the job was well done. Airport now is comfortable, stylish, completely modern and civilized with a lot of consideration given to details. Getting a little bit ahead of myself, I’ve had a far more positive impression of it than of Václav Havel Airport in Prague.
A colleague of movie racer from Marseille tried to talk to me all the way to avoid falling asleep and got me to the the place with a lot of time still left, because speedometer in his Škoda Octavia was showing number greater than 140 km/h multiple times during the trip. On a night intercity road that lacks street lights and even other cars, while it felt like the asphalt was coming into existence from the emptiness of the universe right before the wheels, such speed was high enough to tickle the nerves. The driver told me he has been driving for more than 16 hours and had visited four towns that day.
Notice there is even baby care room to the left of duty free store. This hall after the customs and border control was lighted mostly by a huge screen.
Took a selfie while waiting for the boarding. I still don’t really know how to do them.
The last look at the airport before the takeoff. It was really dawning already. Soon Airbus A319 of Czech Airlines started the acceleration.
That is Czech Republic already, after three and a half hours, viewed from above. Though that’s not Prague yet. It’s quite interesting how low we were during the last part of the flight.
Morning in Vaclav Havel airport in Prague.
Near the I.P. Pavlova subway station. Take a look at the truck in the last photo. It’s pretty unusual thing to see in the center of Prague. You have a better chance of seeing Ferrari there. By the way, about the bus. Those are exclusively for transporting tourists. Locals have to use streetcars or subway.
I must say that my first day there included many troubles, one of which was total lack of Internet. Before the flight I had consulted my mobile provider (MTS) about what I need to do, I had added fair sum to my account, activated option for data roaming (which cost a bit more than 7$ per day for unimpressive 128 Kb/s). However there was still no Internet access for me. I could receive SMS about my banking operations and incoming calls fine. At the same moment WWW was indifferent to my shamanistic actions and kept rejecting all attempts to load anything. Wi-Fi at the hotel was also at the level they were allowed to mention it without false advertising. It was so unbearable slow and unstable I couldn’t even view simple static pages or email mobile provider’s support to resolve the problem. So without maps or any other sort of navigation I was for some time trying to find Starbucks near the subway station called in the name of Russian physiologist as it wasn’t particularly easy. At one moment I had lost faith in my ability to find it, so I started asking people on the streets to show me the way. In attempt to be polite in a foreign country I was speaking Czech (well, I was trying to the best of my ability at the time). Turned out all the people passing by who I guessed could be visitors of such pretentious coffee place were also tourists who didn’t understand Czech and were unfamiliar with the city. Only on the eight or ninth time two nice Czech ladies helped me. I was very close to my target after all.
At Starbucks I must had been looking like a total weirdo buying three plain black coffees without anything else. It didn’t matter because there was new fast router that allowed me to connect to MTS support and to force them to provide service properly. With google maps and online dictionary it became much more comfortable to explore Prague that I have never seen before. That was the moment I could take a deep breath and start enjoying my vacation.
Statue of Saint Wenceslas surrounded by four other Czech saints.
Wenceslas Square. At the information booth there was very polite English-speaking young lady that provided me with paper map with one of the best exchange places in Prague marked on it for free.
National museum was undergoing the restoration at that time. Once I photographed crosswalk I should say that there are many of them in Prague, and usually there is not need to jaywalk. Most of the drivers are unbelievable polite. They let you go and wait for you even when you haven’t reached the road yet on unregulated crosswalks.
Sokolská street is one of the busiest in Prague. Thick cables come down to earth without any additional isolation. Nobody seems to have an idea to protect them from vandalism or metal looters.
Monstrous figures at the entrance with hookahs and cannabis leaf behind the glass make it hard to walk by without at least taking a photo.
An eclectic picture in the quiet street of so-called “new town”. Soviet-looking crude building in the distance coexists with more noble pieces of architecture. The scenery is completed with modern cars on the old cobbles, trash cans and ubiquitous, exceptionally pointless and tasteless graffiti.
Metal plates to commemorate the victims of nazism that once lived there.
How is it possible not to visit Švejk?
In no way. So I came in.
Inelaborate doll of good soldier Švejk greets the visitors.
2nd Lieutenant Dub. Some inscriptions show Russian origin.
Portrait of emperor Franz Joseph I that was unmercifully shat on by flies.
Hostinec u Kalicha presents itself as the exact place that was called The Chalice in the book “The Good Soldier Švejk” where Josef Švejk and first-class private Vodička agreed to meet at six o’clock after the world war. Dim light, wooden old-looking furniture, walls painted with caricatures, green lamps, full-sized dummies that depict characters from the book, headdress of Austrian soldier on the visible place and waiters in old-fashioned clothes altogether create there atmosphere of Great War times. Menu consists of Czech national cuisine mostly, though I was able to find grilled cheese to suit my pescetarian taste. If you know and love the main literary work of Jaroslav Hašek, it might be interesting for you to come there, have a drink or eat something.
Contrasts of Samara. Those two buildings are located on the same street about 100 meters apart from each other. The spring dirt is truly inescapable…
Shiny business center Millenium is right beside the rusty wavy roof of old building. By the way, parking is for employees only.
The memory about heroes of old times is displayed along with the preparedness to create new ones.
Facades of apartment buildings are being painted in bright, cheerful colors all along the Moscow road in preparations to the world soccer championship. Though it fails to save them from omnipresent dirt and monotony of typical architecture.
There are lots of ongoing construction sites, which don’t add up to the esthetics of the city views.
Moskovsky mall is quiet and even deserted at midday on monday.
That was the Samara that I saw on this serene spring day.
Following the best traditions of Abibas and PolyStation here we have russian pasta brand Pan Mac. Mimicking or not, the brand magic works. I was unable to pass by this product. I wonder what Russian Author’s Society thinks about that.
Yesterday I had some free time and decided to make use of good weather in one of these last days of summer. So I walked a bit through the older (though not the oldest) central part of Togliatti and took some photos.
Let’s begin with the big construction of a mall that stands out of the typical old soviet architecture.
Fast food stall and small beer bar squeezed between the main building and the parking lot.
Fountain with drawn fishes and transparent elevator inside.
Aerohall stands right next to social apartment complex where a lot of events you see then in local criminal news happen.
Some graffiti on the walls on shared balconies.
Not all the sides of the town are pleasant to look at with dusty roads and rusty posts… but, well, it’s all part of the urban scenery and adds up to general impression.
The ugliest moment of the whole day. This sloppy shit with an angle around 45 degrees legally counts as a required ramp in Russia. Unusable for both wheelchair users and walking persons.
Then I moved to the part of town where few unique buildings surrounded a bit of a public space. On the next photo you can see one of just three hotels that were built during soviet era. If I’m not mistaken now it’s called Azot (which means nitrogen). Ground floor accommodated a grocery store which was lucky for me because I could stop there and buy a bottle of water. The day was really sunny and hot.
New Year decorations on the balconies still keep the soviet stars.
Fountain in front of concert hall.
Let’s have a closer look.
Kids carelessly enjoy the fountain. Their happiness must be spreading around because even unknown old lady stopped to express her admiration. She told me it was a wonderful moment to capture on photo. She also regretted either the fact she had no device to do it herself or that there was nobody to take photo of her – I didn’t get that part exactly.
On the other side of the area, to the right there is a conservatory. So vintage-looking benches and unusual lamps supposed to demonstrate to random passer by like me it was a place of culture.
Though inhabitants of standard “khrushchyovka” nearby may have other opinion.
View from another point. Notice the hanging wire between lamps.
Deeper into the block the lush vegetation takes dominance. It’s so abundant and unruly you can barely see anything behind it. On some paths big trees intertwine their branches to form some sort of low ceiling covering ground from sun as if it was a forest.
Occasionally town fights back.
Even though living houses in this district are often worn off and neglected, people here do their best to beautify the outdoors with simple flowers.
Some things you simply can’t beautify.
Empty kids playground.
Here my battery died saving you all from more photos. Thanks for your time if you made if here.
It’s easy to perceive picross, nonograms or griddlers (call it whatever you like) as something that existed seemingly “always” like chess, jigsaw puzzle or solitaire. However this kind of pastime is younger than me or majority of world’s population being created around 1990. There seems to be no undoubted information about author of this puzzle, though it’s common knowledge it has Japanese origin. It’s even literally called “Japanese crossword” in Russian for some mysterious reason. All in all it is as widespread and well-known as any other popular brainteaser of pre-www era.
It worked perfectly fine on paper with grid and rows of numbers printed in newspapers. You just had to shade squares that correspond with the number sequences with pencil and mark empty cells with tiny crosses or barely visible dots. In time when percentage of internet users and non-users is almost equal on a global scale there is no surprise picross takes electronic form.
Variation I was spending tens of hours on last few weeks came from Steam Greenlight. Picross Touch was made by independent developer Jon Gallant. Game’s title unambiguously hints that it was ported from Android, where it was released supposedly in May of 2014.
When somebody makes game based on such background there are mainly two ways to do it. You either try to replicate the idea as close as possible or you can take creative approach and modify or add features to spice things up with higher risk of screwing everything up. Jon Gallant took the easier way. Picross Touch offers the same very basic and unoriginal concept, but it was made brilliantly comfortable this time. Things just work without causing any problems. All actions are done with mouse. Playfield scales conveniently to fit the gird and all the numbers. Players are allowed to choose color of interface to suit their taste and mood. It shows that despite common opinion and snobbery of big studios Unity engine can be useful in some cases.
Developer keeps updating the game. The whole time I was playing, little details like time stats and players top for each puzzle were added here and there. Steam workshop is used the best possible way. There is editor that helps you to easily create your own nonograms that are automatically uploaded to workshop and then become available for anybody to see without closing the game. You rate completed puzzles so they can be sorted by rating, date created or size.
There are some downsides however aside from predictable minimalism of the gameplay. Grids are limited to 25×25 squares maximum which is not that much. I clearly remember bigger ones in printed form from my childhood. There also is no music at all. A thing to expect from solo developer and there is no fictional world, no complicated premise that music may help to submerge into. Still we live in a reality where even abstract logical games from commercial Bejeweled or Lumines to one man band indie titles like Vesa Halonen’s Zetrix offer soundtrack.
Still, Picross Touch offers not the worst way to pass few hours of time while keeping your brain alive. It’s also free and I really mean it. No freemium bullshit, no annoying advertisements (just link to developer’s other game on the main menu screen), no paid DLCs. So if you enjoy puzzles, go grab Picross Touch from Steam.
The governor of Samara oblast Nikolai Merkushkin starts to really annoy with his petty tyranny. That was the 5th weekend this year when public alcohol sales were prohibited in my region. That’s the way things are in Russia. We have laws that ban the sales of alcohol to minors, punish drunk driving and inappropriate public behavior while being intoxicated, and politics as a populist move just add another ban instead of enforcing those already existing laws. There is not a single reason why I as a grown up man with a job, home, responsibilities and no criminal record whatsoever should not be allowed to buy a bottle of wine or beer. Not to mention retailers’ losses, this stupid act prevented me from buying classy tasty drink for the dinner while failing to prevent one completely wasted company of youngsters from making drunk noises in my neighborhood through most of the night.
Director: Alexei Balabanov
Despite the risk of making impression of one more banal dead heroes fan on some inattentive readers, I must begin this review with comprehension of the position director had in rather thin cultural layer of Russian cinematography. While Alexei Balabanov’s earlier movies (“Happy days” for example) weren’t well known to the general public due to experimental nature and creative search for new forms at historical moment that wasn’t quite right for that, he hit the huge success later with one good shot. “Brother” wasn’t just unbelievably successful movie (which deserves its own story), it also started the strong line of movies that found different paths to the minds of many people. Some simply admired the determined and forceful heroes, while attention of others was captured by ably applied provocative themes. More sophisticated part of the public also had place to look for the deep meaning in shrill realistic drama and even European festival circles weren’t put aside of that. “War”, “Dead Man’s Bluff”, “It Doesn’t Hurt me”, “Morphine” – here are just few most vivid and memorable titles. There surely were some other sporadic local breakthroughs by different Russian directors, but no one else was as consistently good as Balabanov while being fully involved in work as true author and therefore stylistically recognizable.
Now with the realization of this fact let’s focus on his last work – “Me too” which once again wasn’t left me indifferent. This movie could be called the rethinking of famous “Stalker” in way of Russian orthodoxy with overloading of sometimes painful realism. The story that switched from sci-fi to mysticism is still very alike. It tells us about the group of people who’ve had enough in their lives that go to some wondrous and deadly place “somewhere between the Saint Petersburg and Uglich” in the quest of obtaining happiness. Well, saying mysticism is a bit of exaggeration because I meant not the dogmatic, fat, official Russian orthodoxy that speaks from high positions, constantly protests against something and kills its own congregation by expensive cars but rather naive and down-to-earth one. Metaphorically saying it’s orthodoxy narrated by simpler folk who’ve never read the Bible but who believes “there is something”. So in this film you won’t find judgemental rage or strict sacred rituals like in “The Exorcist” but there is plenty of primal fear, echoes of the pagan consciousness and scary stuff from popular folklore opening to the attentive eye. Even the incomprehensible and intangible higher power that presents here doesn’t vent its canonical anger upon the heads of unworthy. On contrary it silently ignores them leaving them to spend last minutes in deep uncertainty what was wrong. So you have no idea was it god, was it devil, great cosmos or smoke in mirrors.
By the way, what’s wrong is a really intriguing question. I personally am very far from idea of separation of people on totally good and absolutely evil like in mormons’ books. Moreover the group of characters in “Me too” has enough diversity and the only one thing probably to unite them is fact they have nothing to lose by and large. Fantastic phenomenon from Russian boondocks apparently works the same way everyday material world around us does: some were given, others weren’t, somebody was taken to the happy neverland, somebody was left to die on the dull earth.
There are more differences from “Stalker”. Strugatsky brothers despite being somewhat off the fickle political course were possessed by truly soviet idea of decomposing, analyzing and estimating every thing to cultivate those useful for their purposes and to destroy those that aren’t. Alexei Balabanov presents us pure chaos of existence through the eyes of worn-out man who have no time and no energy to find out the secrets of nature. That man is ok with gods’ chariots rattling in the sky and goblins lurking on the outskirts of the village. People in the movie are different from the poetic stalker portrayed by Tarkovsky. They don’t carry on lengthy conversations about the meaning of power and weakness, statics and mobility. They just breathe in abruptly after taking a sip of bitter alcohol medicine for too thickening reality. There is nothing to admire but strangely still something is catching you. Maybe it’s a poignant drama and familiar feeling of despair.
Regretfully some actions and their consequences are questionable, sometimes completely illogical. That’s where the visuals step in to bolster the whole construction. It’s filled with the aesthetics of frozen hell from western mythology where Russian people described in bylinas manage to live for centuries. Decay, darkness and death with time enshroud characters more and more tightly and seemingly touch the mind of a viewer as well. Because of that there is no time to seek out bloopers and technical mistakes. Look here! Second slanted electric pole that resembles cross. Was it a reference to “Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds”? No, perhaps not. Why is this girl in desperately try to survive the cold rushing to the drafty ruined church without a dome where the light of christian eternal life in the murals on the walls was trampled by inexorably disintegrating bricks instead of running to one of the abandoned houses? Considering such a satiation of visual images it’s almost shocking to know no decorations of any kind were build for the filming. Turns out moving the camera in the opposite direction from centers of civilization was enough work. Though view is fascinating in the city too. This includes Saint Petersburg in may with paint peeling from the walls, its claustrophobic courtyards and century old buildings which purpose you can never guess by the exterior. Most of the time those masterfully adjusted scenes are accompanied by psychedelic, almost shamanic rhymes whispered by Leonid Fedorov. The final result is so good that even when two fortune seekers move through dirty corridor with no words spoken it’s still not boring at all.
The approach to acting is the same as with filming locations – to maximize the use of actors’ nature. They had not much to add their play. I don’t know for sure was it a big win in casting or scenario was written with certain actors in mind (some of them appeared in previous Balabanov’s films), but almost all of them had to play themselves. The role of determined thug was given to Alexei Mosin who actually fought in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Young son of the director Petr Balabanov played the unusual boy with strange abilities. Laconic old man in telnyashka was performed by rustic looking person in years by name Victor Gorbunov (internet shows nothing about him). Oleg Garkusha and Alexei Balabanov himself had roles of seasoned Russian rock musician who brings his guitar everywhere and famous movie director respectively. They didn’t pretend to be somebody, they lived few hours on camera. You can not be more natural than that.
Likely “Me too” didn’t become greatest Balabanov’s movie. He put himself in such a high standard of expectations that it became a very difficult task. Nevertheless this work is important both to form a correct perception of his whole way as creative author and to understand modern Russia as it was described in song – “half of the head is gone, half of the head is poison”. At the same time it is the demonstration of succession of generations and connection between different ages in the world of arts. Humanity always craves for happiness but even it the fairy-tale it seems impossible to everybody without anyone going away unsatisfied.
I’m starting a new project called Planestranger’s Movie Beauties where I will present you series of short videos. The main goal is to attract viewers attention to some old, rare and obscure movies, unknown to most of the people. Here is the first episode. Comments, votes and shares would be appreciated.
Think about all those people who are playing on their 3DS or PS2 connected to old CRT TV at the moment. They have a lot of fun playing with their beloved toys and nothing distracts them from an easy going electronic entertainment. There are surely lots of them while I’m sitting here with a rueful mien along my custom-made gaming PC with hi-end six-core CPU and couple of top gaming video cards carrying 6Gb of overclocked GDDR5 memory. I spent last hour and a half trying to run another game flawlessly at its fullest but still was unable to activate SSAA. It came with no surprise there is no such option in the game. I modified existing driver preset for game many times trying lots of combinations but got nothing. I attached the game executable file to older tested presets and again nothing good happened. I’ve opened nvidia inspector (because nvidia control panel is completely useless) more times than I will open the game itself. At this point I’m really tired of the fact that I have to solve mindblowing puzzle every time I start new game if I want to see absolutely everything it has to offer. With last game I spend more time searching for solution in Internet and configuring options than it took me to beat the game itself.
At the time I’m typing this words some restless feeling of hatred raises from the depths of my mind. Powered by constant frustrations this feeling grows but it can not find its direction. Who should I hate for that? Game developers who never care about demands of the advanced users? Hardware manufacturers who prefer to sell 1000 video cards from lo-mid segment rather than 50 hi-end models, and treat drivers customization accordingly? Huge gaming portals that believe it’s appropriate to post such screenshots? Masses of casual gamers who don’t know what hardware is inside their computers and mix up anti-aliasing with anisotropic filtering? Or maybe I should hate myself for knowing and seeing too much?