Prague Castle Gardens and the Toy Museum

October, 2000

Yesterday, the first crackling, bright fall day after a week of nonstop drizzle, we made an expedition to the gardens below Prague castle with the kids. First, we stopped at a great little pizza place near Staroměsta Namesti to pack in some carbohydrates. Even picky four year old Liam likes the brick-oven traditional Italian pizza at this place. And lunch for four costs about $12.00!

We entered the gardens through the Sala Terrena. I guess that means “garden room” in Italian, because that’s just what it is. On the side there is a lovely portico-type thing with handpainted frescoes in earth tones and reds all over the walls and ceiling. From that point onward the gardens wind upward toward the castle. You climb up by following a maze of staircases that occasionally dead-end, or disappear behind a piece of sculpture.

The kids loved this, for obvious reasons, and Liam charged up the slope with a sense of mission. At this point in the year the terraces are occupied by a combination of tourists and Czech families out enjoying the sunshine. There are lots of older Czechs sunbathing on benches and making who-knows-what silent observations about tourists and their comparatively rowdy, undisciplined children.

At the top of the gardens there is a wonderful view of the city, and the kids enjoyed looking through a powerful coin-operated telescope and spying on people in the streets below. Liam enjoyed edging closer and closer to to the low stone walls overlooking thirty-foot drops and getting a rise out of his poor, long-suffering Mom.

Just past the lower entrance to the castle we found the Toy Museum, a surprisingly nice little place with lots of antique trains and dolls, complete with English-language signs on most of them. There are not many things for the kids to touch, but there are plenty of mysterious mechanical objects such as music boxes and steam-powered toys for the kids to speculate about. Liam enjoyed it quite a bit as long as we were willing to guess at the answers to his various questions about how things worked.

There was a Barbie exhibit on the second floor that was pretty interesting. I never played with Barbies, personally, but the dolls, which ranged from the 1940s to the present, were a fascinating record of American history and fashion. No wonder I never played with them, I thought, in the 1960s and 1970s they were really weird-looking! Bouffant hair, huge boobs, and my favorite doll: “Bad Hair Ken.” The earlier, 1950s ones, dressed like Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast in Tiffany’s” were much classier.

My favorite Barbie was the pregnant one. Yes, Barbie eventually got knocked up, and the baby was delivered by “Doctor Ken.” This Barbie has a removable stomach with a tiny, folded-up baby inside. I guess she is “C-section Barbie” because there is no other way for the baby to come out. What this teaches kids, I don’t know, but it did raise questions with mechanically-minded Liam, who asked at the top of his lungs: “Mommy how does the baby get out of the Mommy?” Right in the middle of a room full of tourists. I did what any responsible modern Mom would do, and told him that Daddy would explain it. So we made a hasty exit and I handed the budding biologist to his father, who, having overheard the remark and subsequently tried to escape unnoticed, was not amused.

Right. So I’ve made a note on my calendar: “Explain Facts of Life to Kid.” Fortunately, Liam was able to let this particular line of questioning go for the moment, as we distracted him with ice cream in the sidewalk cafe outside the museum. Remember, in Prague there is always a nice little café. Sometimes they are really very handy!

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