Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Prague Blog

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Prague is a city I’ve wanted to visit, so we were especially pleased that this was part of the itinerary.  But little did we know that in it lived a hidden gem.  Twenty-five years ago a little girl named Kati and her mother Ria lived near us.  If you’ve read the blog, you’ll know that we re-connected with Ria, her mother, in Vienna during this trip.  In all of our talking, she told us that Kati now lived in Prague and was likely to be at home during our trip.  So for one magical evening, we enjoyed time with “our” Kati as we ate, laughed, and reminisced.

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But that was in the evening, after a long day of touring and exploring.  So, first, a brief look at historic Prague. . .or at least the parts that interested me!

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Entering the castle complex in Prague we passed by these stoic guards.  Of course, the ones I didn’t have courage to photograph were the REAL guards in camo and machine guns.  Worldwide. . . security.

When we entered the gates we were surprised to see this Korean wedding couple having their picture.  That is, until our guide told us that in Korea there’s a soap opera in which the stars get married at the Prague castle.  So. . . .there’s been a huge influx of couples getting married and having photos taken in Prague.  Mike, Marty, and Marge went for a walk early in the morning and found lots of couples being photographed before the tourist hordes descended.

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Good King Wenceslas, who “looked out upon the feast of Stephen” is/was Czech (907-935) and he’s revered to this day. We found him in the cathedral and in his own square.

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St. Vitus Cathedral is the burial place of Wenceslaus, as well as others.  I found the stained glass windows especially interesting because the shapes of the glass was unlike others we’ve seen.  My iphone camera sure didn’t do them justice.

Exterior views of the cathedral.  As usual, we wished we had time for a more in-depth tour, because we find that the local experts have so much to offer and tell stories not found in history books.  But, alas, move on we must!

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Back down in the town we strolled along the Prague “Fifth Avenue” where prices were 20% higher than in NY because the shops had just been built in 2000.  Looking back over our shoulders, we saw a huge metronome, erected in 1991 to remind Czechs of their “times of the past.”  The local citizens don’t think too highly of the metronome but glad that it replaces a statue of Stalin, the largest one in the world, which was removed in 1962.

A treat we all enjoyed in Prague was the “trdelnik,” sweet dough wrapped around a core and grilled over charcoal.  Tim treated the entire group to this delight!  Warm, sweet, and delicious.

The Jewish quarter was another area I’d like to explore more.  Take a look at the clock, top and bottom.  Why does the bottom one appear backwards?  Because it is!  It’s in Hebrew!

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And further along was the famous Astrological Clock.  We waited until 12 noon to watch the 12 Apostles make their appearance, brief though it was.

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The market was nearby so we browsed and found a marionette which will be a birthday gift for Gemma.  Marionettes and puppetry have a long history in the Czech republic, often used as political commentary so that the “puppet masters” could hide behind the curtain.  But one unfortunate guy who spoke out against the Nazis got found out and sent to a concentration camp.

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Lunch. . .yes, eating again.  We found prices were extremely low by our standards, and it was easy to eat for $7-$8 per person.  Another reason to return to the Czech Republic!

An afternoon stroll along the Vltava, better known to us as the Moldau, gave us some good views of the Charles Bridge and lots of people enjoying boating and kayaking.

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Winding our way back to the hotel through local streets, we remembered the words of our morning guide who told us to always “look up.”  I can’t begin to tell you the beauty and variety of statuary atop the most common buildings.

This is just one of a hundred examples!

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After a rest at our post-Soviet hotel, which reminded me of places I’ve seen in Ukraine, we met Kati.  Coincidentally she works right down the street from our hotel at the Lucerna center, home to this MOST unusual statue!

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We went to a local restaurant which Kati suggested and ate MEAT.   Yes, more meat.  I had a steak which was tender and delicious.  But this time it was beef or fish, cooked over an open fire.  Just as a frame of reference, our entire bill for 5 people for all dinners, drinks, and tip was $110.

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After an ice cream dessert at a different outdoor cafe, it was time to say farewell to Kati.  I was wearing the necklace that her mother gave me 25 years ago, and I gave it to Kati, telling her, “You’ll know when it’s time to pass it on to someone else.”  It’s the “Sisterhood of the Traveling Necklace!”

Despite all the splendors and wonderful places we saw on this two week exploration of Eastern Europe, the highlight for me was re-connecting with Ria and Kati.

 

Dresden. . A Quick Stop

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After leaving Berlin we headed for Prague.  But on the way we passed Dresden, so why not stop for a look-see!  This was another town that was annihilated by WWII, this time by the Allied forces in retaliation for bombings in Great Britain.

I noticed all the buildings were blackened, and I thought, “Don’t these people know about restoration?”  But I was wrong.  The local stone contains magnesium which blackens quickly.  The black actually protects the stone and thus, the building.  If cleaned, it will blacken again in 30 years.

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As you can see, the day was cloudy and eventually rainy, and after our city tour we ducked into a Greek restaurant for a leisurely lunch and waited out the rain.

One particular part of Dresden interested me.  Our guide showed us the mosaic wall of the princes of Saxony, which fortunately was not damaged during the war.  It’s a magnificent piece of history.  Each piece of glass is created and fired individually.  The workmanship is truly something to behold.

She told us that under Soviet rule, “they” didn’t want students to see or learn about this wall, and kids were only able to learn history starting at 1918.  To the Soviets, nothing existed before then.  She jokingly said that as students they were glad not to be required to learn anything before 1918!

It really is amazing to me that once again, one of the most important artifacts in the town was spared the bombs of WWII.

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A walk through the Transportation Museum revealed two interesting vehicles!

Hearkening back to my childhood Lutheran roots and remembering a research report I did on Martin Luther, I was drawn into the Lutheran church, which was ornate and elaborate.  So much so, that in the square in front of the church, Martin Luther turns his back on the church, saying that it was too fancy to be Lutheran.

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A final bathroom stop led us into this beautiful, historic hotel.  Now if I were to return to Dresden, which I think I would like to do, I would want to stay here.  It’s the epitome of old luxury.  Marge and I discovered the tea room with its magnificent tea urn.  We would have like just one more hour to sit in the now-sunny garden and have a cuppa.

Maybe next time?!

Potsdam and the Bridge of Spies

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So after a day of touring Berlin, our coach set off to Potsdam, about 45 minutes away for a look at Sans Souci, the palace of Frederick the Great.  It’s often been compared to Versailles, and although we only saw the outside, it was truly beautiful.  Since we had been to Versailles just a month ago, we can affirm that the gardens and follies were certainly reminiscent!

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Sans Souci=Without worry.  Frederick retreated here for R&R.  And do you know what Frederick is most famous for?  He introduced potatoes to Germany, so Tim brought a bag for each of us to add a potato to his grave.  Boys being boys, they had to make a “thing” out of potatoes.  MEN!!

The grounds were beautiful, and I would  have loved to go inside, but it was after hours.

After strolling the grounds, we boarded the coach for Glienicke Bridge over Havel River.  Now you might not know it by that name, but by it’s popular name, The Bridge of Spies.  It was truly the spot where exchanges were made.  We walked over the bridge from one end to the other.

Don noticed that the bridge had recently been painted and I noticed that it had sparkles in it.  We guessed maybe it was painted for the movie and the sparkles added something to the lighting.  Just a guess but it was fun to fantasize!  And it was really cool to walk across the bridge and feel a real part of history.

On to dinner at a lovely location that seems to be reserved for coach tours.  But despite the somewhat “large group” feel of the place, it was really lovely, and both food and wine were good.

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So even though I wasn’t overly thrilled with the city of Berlin, there were many bright spots and I wasn’t unhappy to be there!  IMG_2310

Farewell, Berlin.  I doubt I’ll be back to see you, but I’ll always remember you!

OK…Let’s be fair to Berlin!

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I just re-read my previous blog on Berlin.  I think I was too tough on this very historic city.  Let’s take a look at some of the beauty, history, and fun of Berlin.

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One of the best known and most recognized symbols of Berlin is the Brandenburg gate.  During our time here most of this area was closed off so that spectators could watch Euro soccer.  Historically the Brandenburg gate has been the meeting place and symbol of unity and peace.

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The “Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe” is just down from the Brandenburg Gate.  It’s a massive area of stone blocks of varying heights and widths, designed to give a feeling of unease and confusion.  Many have said it resembles a cemetery.  Yes, it was cold and stark.  Now that we’re home, we did a bit more research and found some chilling information about the anti-grafitti coating used on the stones.  Turns out that the company that produced the coating was one and the same that produced gas used in gas chambers.  The full story is on Wikipedia.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_to_the_Murdered_Jews_of_Europe

On a lighter note, there was “Trabi World”!  It was fun to see these little cars from the Soviet era, made of plastic and cardboard, trundling down the streets of Berlin.  You can rent one but must follow a lead car.  We browsed the gift shop, bought some shirts, and moved on.

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And then there was this clear message about using condoms!

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At Checkpoint Charlie we got our passports stamped. Who knew that you could add a stamp in your passport at someplace other than a REAL border.

Now if you had really been on this trip with me, you’d know that I’ve gone way out of chronological order.  So I’ll return to our first night, when Don (our official finder-of-local-places-to-eat) led us to a great place by the river.  Which river, you ask??  I forget!

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We had a great time ordering, and eating, tons of sausages!!

 

Now, back to day two, after Checkpoint Charlie, the Wall, and enough depressing history, Don and I went off on our own, walked through the massive Mall of Berlin and discovered a tasty treat, iced chocolate at the Lindt store.

And back at the hotel, Don lusted after a car he could only dream of!  But, German-made!

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But our time in Berlin was not finished yet.  A marvelous dinner awaited us!

Back Home. . .Finishing the Blogs!

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We’re home now.  Honestly, about half way through the trip either the pace quickened or my body tired. . .probably BOTH!. . .and I decided to just live in the moment, enjoy the trip and write blogs when I returned home. So today is July 4 and I’m sitting on the screened porch with a cool drink (some hibiscus tea made from blossoms I got at Naschmarkt, Vienna), with a nice breeze blowing.  It will be fun and more relaxing now to relive and report on the final few days of our fabulous journey!

BERLIN. . . of all the places we visited, I was the least impressed with Berlin.  Perhaps because it was such a long coach ride to get here, and perhaps because it’s my dislike of places in BOLDFACE PRINT on maps, it just seemed like a big, busy, bustling city.  Which it is.

Two impressions I’m left with. . .

  1. There’s a ton of building going on, still leftover from wartime.

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2. The reminders of WWII.  Our guide explained that you can easily tell which buildings were damaged and repaired by the mottled coloring. Bullet holes are covered with lighter cement.

 

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I guess I just had this distaste for Berlin for what it represented in the past.  We had asked Tim, our Insight tour director, about the feelings of Hungarians, Poles, and neighbors toward Nazi Germany. He said that there really isn’t any lingering anger; people realize that there was a distinction between Nazis and modern-day Germans.  There is, however, resentment toward Russians, past and present.  But that’s another story. . .

In the afternoon we explored a remaining section of “the wall,” Checkpoint Charlie (where we got our passports stamped).

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All for now, but there’s more to Berlin.  We actually did have some fun, and in the evening had a lovely dinner by a lake in Potsdam.  To be continued. . .

 

Our Lady of Czestochowa

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We were anxious to visit the Jasna Cora Monastery in Czestochowa, especially since the national shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa is near us in Doylestown, PA. The monastery houses the famous Black Madonna, nicknamed “Our Lady of Czestochowa.” My phone was out of juice, so Mike sent me these photos that he took in the shrine. It was truly beautiful, and we saw pilgrims on their knees, making their way to pray at the Black Madonna, a much revered icon which may have originally been painted by St. Luke who painted it on a cedar table top from the house of the Holy Family.

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