My Visit to Small Worlds Museum in the Czech Republic
by Zoe H
In July this year my husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, and to mark the occasion we decided to spend the weekend in Prague. When I say “we” decided, I have to admit that actually I chose the destination myself and that I had an ulterior motive…
From the moment Dolls’ Houses Past and Present member, Cestina – a.k.a. Gil Bomber – announced her intention to set up a dolls’ house museum in the Czech Republic in 2012 and began to blog about it, I had been hooked. I had followed the creation of Small Worlds, or Malé světy as it is known in Czech, from conception to realisation with great interest and now was my chance to visit it!
We arrived in Prague on Friday the 10th of July and spent Saturday sightseeing around the beautiful city, including a visit to the Toy Museum, which is housed within Prague Castle and is well worth a visit.
Sunday, however, was the big day and with no more than half a dozen words of Czech between us, we set off from our hotel to venture some 135 km or 83 miles south to the small town of Bavorov. Thankfully, Gil had been enormously helpful and emailed me details of the tube and bus stations we should use, as well as relevant bus times. We were aiming to catch the 10.01 am bus from Na Knížecí bus station, in the suburbs of Prague, and to arrive in Bavorov at 12.15 pm.
Leaving our hotel at 08.45 am, the Mustek Metro (underground/ tube) station was an easy ten minute walk away. After some slight confusion at the ticket machines, and largely thanks to a very helpful young Czech man who spoke excellent English, we purchased our tickets for 24Kč each (about 60p). Basically you buy a ticket for the amount of time you think you need to get to your destination, in our case the young man thought 30 minutes would be ample to get us to the bus station, and then you insert your coins – no notes taken. We found our platform easily and a tube going our way arrived within the minute. Three stops further down the line and we alighted at Na Knížecí bus station.
Gil had told us we needed bus stop no.5 and our bus arrived there promptly at a little before 10.00 am. Thanks to Gil’s advance research, we handed over the correct fare (129kč - about £3.50), earning us a nod of approval from our strictly Czech-speaking driver. We took our seats on a very comfortable, modern, air-conditioned coach and thoroughly enjoyed the wonderfully scenic two-hour journey through the Czech countryside to South Bohemia.
We ALMOST alighted one stop too early, thanks to the faulty electronic message board on the bus, but commonsense prevailed and we stayed put until we arrived in Bavorov. We were very kindly met in the town square by Veronika, Gil’s young assistant and family friend (she informed us in excellent English that she had known Gil since she was three years old!).
Veronika outside Small Worlds Museum, Bavorov.
Small Worlds Museum is just off the town square in Bavorov, a two minute walk away from the bus stop. Having followed Gil’s blog for so long, everything looked very familiar and I was extremely excited to get my first glimpse of the museum itself.
A first glimpse into Small Worlds!
Entering the museum – a room full of miniature delights!
Just some of the wonderful exhibits.
The children’s corner - no ‘look but don’t touch’ rule here!
Veronika at Gil’s desk/work area.
It was great to meet Gil and to see the museum at long last and after a very welcome cup of coffee and a chat we were ready for our guided tour of the houses. There are so many houses in the museum with such wonderful stories to go with them that that, coupled with my total fascination with all things miniature, meant the tour took almost two hours – poor Gil, she must have thought it would never end!
One of the first houses we looked at was ‘Mouse Mansion’. I remembered this house and its inhabitants from Gil’s blog and it was lovely to see it ‘in the flesh’. It is home to one Maximilian Mouse and his troupe of amazing performing mice. The little felt mice with tiny red eyes are absolutely darling and they are all up to something different in every room.
Maximilian and his Troupe in ‘Mouse Mansion’
I was also very excited to see the ‘Opera Singer’s House’ or ‘Diva dum’ in Czech. The house is a beautiful big L-shaped Greenleaf with an open back. Gil’s daughter, Alison was responsible for the decoration of the house and created the story that goes with it. It is home to a successful opera singer who has had a long and celebrated career, which she now combines with teaching opera to students in her beautiful music room. I love the way Alison has injected the opera diva’s personality and exquisite taste into in every room. You can see more about how the house was created in Alison’s blog here.
The Opera Singer’s House or ‘Diva dum’ in Czech
A house I hadn’t seen before, perhaps I missed a blog somewhere, was the ‘Czech Village House’. This was made by Colin Rose, an English painter and good friend of Gil’s, who lives part of the year in the next village from Bavorov. Colin had visited Small Worlds and felt the typical Czech village house - the style is known in Czech as Selsky barok – should be represented, and so made this excellent model for Gil. The view below is of the courtyard in which householders traditionally kept their animals. Gil’s own house in Bavorov is a beautifully renovated example of such a house, though she has made her courtyard beautiful with flowers and herbs, not animals.
The courtyard of the ‘Czech Village House’.
Another treat was to see the ‘Walmer Victorian House’, home to an extended family of very pretty dolls made in 1:12 scale especially for this house in 1982 by Judith James who, up until then had only produced 1:16 scale dolls.
Charlotte and Robin in the nursery of the ‘Walmer Victorian House’.
The ‘Colonial Bungalow’ has to be one of my favourites and is another of Alison’s wonderful creations for the museum. It is very simply but authentically decorated and furnished, and conjures up the life of the Englishman who lives there perfectly. It is set at the end of the 19th century and the gentleman administers a region in India. His fiancée is still in England because her father will not allow her to marry and move to India. However, on the desk in his office is a letter from her which I was assured says “Dear Jack, Next year I will be with you as father has at last relented.....” Aw!
The ‘Colonial Bungalow’.
The cleverly named ‘Tyger tyger’ shop, caught my eye too, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a miniature lighting shop. What a great idea!
Upstairs in the ‘Tyger tiger’ lighting shop.
No small world would be complete without a tavern and once again Gil’s daughter, Alison, was behind the thoughtful creation of this Elizabethan one with authentic Tudor-style wall and floor treatments and furnishings. Alison, who has strong Shakespeare connections through her work with the Royal Shakespeare Company, has based the interior on the Boar’s Head Tavern in Shakespeare’s plays Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 and there are even signs that a young Will Shakespeare himself might be a regular!
The ‘Tudor Tavern’
I love the cool blues and both the white and contrasting dark wood furniture in the ‘Cape Cod House’. I could easily spend hours soaking in the tub of the gorgeous bathroom… This is yet another of Alison’s creations and in fact the décor and furnishings in it are exactly as she would like to live. I can quite see why.
The ‘Cape Cod House’
Everywhere you look in Small Worlds there is another house or miniature scene, no surface has been left unfilled. I have only touched on a fraction of the wonderful exhibits. There are dozens more, including an Art Deco house, a charming little ballet school, a Japanese house, Gosthwaite’s department store and even Mr. Bean’s bedsit! And I haven’t even mentioned ‘Triang Corner’… However, after two wonderful hours spent absorbed in the small worlds within Small Worlds I think I’d just about worn Gil and Mr. H out and tummies were rumbling. It was time to say a reluctant farewell to Veronika and the museum.
Mr. H having a look at some of Gil’s miniature scenes
Gil had very generously offered to make lunch for us at her house and when she mentioned omelets made with the wonderful Czech eggs I’d heard about from her blog, who were we to say no? They were fabulously tasty and looked so good, I had to take a photo of mine!
The ‘famous’ Czech egg omelet!
After a leisurely lunch and a very pleasant couple of hours getting to know Gil a little better, it was time to return to Prague. Gil had wisely booked us seats on the busy 6.05 pm bus back to Prague and after waving goodbye to Gil and Bavorov in the town square we settled down to a rather hotter, longer return journey, since this bus wasn’t air conditioned and we were held up in heavy traffic on the way into Prague – folk returning after a weekend spent away from the capital with family and friends. I took the opportunity to have a mull over the fabulous, dolls’ house-packed day I’d just enjoyed. We arrived back in the city at about 9.30 pm for a late dinner - I was happy but worn out and only just managed to stay awake for it!
If you ever find yourself in Prague or the Czech Republic I would highly recommend a visit to Small Worlds. Some exhibitions and museums are about antique dolls’ houses and some are about dolls’ houses and makers throughout the ages. It seems to me that Small Worlds is about neither of these things. For me Small Worlds is about Gil and her love of dolls’ houses and the creation of homes within them for the miniature inhabitants. The magic of the houses within Small Worlds comes from the thought and creativity which has gone into bringing them to life and the stories which have been woven around them and into them by Gil, Alison and all the other family and friends who have contributed.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Gil for looking after us so well and for a wonderful day out. I would also like to congratulate her on the amazing achievement that is Small Worlds.
If haven’t seen Gil’s blog and would like to, you can find it here.