Posts Tagged ‘fall’

Prague–Day 3!

Sunday morning we had plans again to meet with Lucie at 9.  We had her for another 4 hours, and we were eager to see the parts of Prague that we missed on Saturday: Old and New Town and the Jewish Quarters.   

Lauren and Our Guide, Lucie, in Old Town Square

Walking in Old Town

 

Us!

Lauren and Russ

 

Lucie showed us around Old Town Square and taught us about some of the buildings which we had been admiring for the past several days.  The magnificent church that seems to be blockaded by the buildings…..

Church on Old Town Square

Well, the buildings were actually in existence before the church.  The church was built in between the buildings because that is “where there was space.” Parishioners  must go inside the first building to get into the cathedral.  Strange!

We saw Kafka’s birthplace, and the spot where Einstein, Kafka, and famous writer Max Boden used to meet for coffee.  We also saw the concert house where Mozart debuted “Don Giovanni.” 

Kafka

Franz Kafka Statue

Don Giovanni!

We spent the majority of the morning in the Jewish Quarter, inside synagogues, and reflecting on the horrors of the persecution of the Jewish race for thousands of years.  In Prague in the centuries before WWII, Jews were already ousted several times and eventually subjected to living in ghettos.  Despite this, Prague had one of the largest Jewish populations in the world.  One synagogue in the Jewish quarter held a particularly moving display.  The names of each and every Jewish person killed during Hitler’s reign was painted onto the wall, and unfortunately the names filled almost every wall in the synagogue.  The synagogue, along with a visit in the oldest Jewish cemetery, was very moving.  However, we have no pictures from the experience. 

After the Jewish quarter, we made our way over the famous Charles Bridge, named for one of the most important leaders in Prague, Charles IV. The bridge was LOADED with people, but the view was nice.

Gate to Charles Bridge

The View from Charles Bridge

View From Charles Bridge to Castle Town

After seeing Charles Bridge, we had to bid adieu to Lucie.  She really was fantastic–friendly and incredibly knowledgeable!  I can honestly recommend www.praguewalker.com to anyone visiting Prague!!

After leaving Lucie we found a great little place to eat lunch — Pizzeria Giovanni!

Russ and Lauren in front of Pizzeria Giovanni

The best part of our day was when we took the elevator to the top of the Astronomical Clock Tower.  We had a fantastic view over Prague and saw the trumpeter bugling live! Daryl even conquered his fear of heights enough to enjoy looking over the edge of the tower and take some pictures!

Prague

Where we ate dinner the first night!

Daryl and the view from the tower

Lauren on the Tower

Old Town Square

Daryl and the Trumpeter

After descending we stopped at Starbucks for some afternoon coffee/hot chocolate.  We assumed alternate personas since Starbucks loves to write names on your coffee.

Zoolander?

Jacob (Ya-Cub) and Birgita (Beer-gee-ta)

After a rest we had a fantastic French dinner at La Gare, a restaurant near the hotel.  It was a perfect way to end a really fabulous weekend.  Prague is a great city!! Many thanks to Uncle Daryl for a great visit.  Come again!

Cheers!

Czech Folklore Show

On Saturday evening we got a taste of some traditional Czech cuisine, music, and dance.  The “hall” where the event takes place was a little outside of the main part of Prague, so it was extra nice that the show offers roundtrip transportation to and from your hotel.  Since it was an all-you-can-drink event, and the legal driving BAC limit in the Czech Republic is a smart and seemingly obvious 0.00 %, it was an extra nice incentive!

Russ and Lauren Outside of the Folklore Hall

We were greeted at the door with shots of Honey Wine and servers in traditional Czech costumes.  We walked into a warm-colored space filled with long wooden tables and walls and ceiling adorned with traditional tools, cooking devices, animal furs, and instruments. 

Inside the Folklore Show

The Ceiling

We were led to our table which was reserved with our name…sort of.

Mrs. Lauren.....Barca?

When seated, we toasted our wine with our neighbors, visitors from France, and enjoyed our cozy seats in the lodge. 

Prost!

Soon enough the music began.  The hall was filled with the driving beats of traditional Czech music courtesy of a bassist, violinist, violist, and dulcimer player.  They also doubled as singers!

The Music Corner

Add the Musicians

Our host introduced us to many traditional Czech tunes and also called on the dancers to demonstrate some Czech folk dancing.  As any performer knows, it’s most difficult to get the crowd warmed up in the beginning, espeically when you want them to participate.  We quickly became our hostesses favorite guests because of our willingness to go along with the “shtick.”  Within no time, some familiar faces were taking part in the dances.

Czech Folk Dance

More Dancing

Dinner was also served in the traditional style.  Big pots and bowls were brought to the table, and we dished ourselves the filling homestyle cuisine.  We started with soup and bread and later moved onto the main course.  A large crock of different meats was placed on the table: ham, pork, chicken legs, and others with different types of potatoes lining the bottom.  We also had coleslaw on the side.  The flavors and menu were very reminiscent of  what we enjoy at Grandma and Grandpa McCullough’s house.  Yum!

Soup Time!

The Main Course

After some more singing and dancing and some fantastic dulcimer playing, we were asked to share a folk song from our home country.  We heard songs from France, Portugal, Greece, and of course the US.  Lauren and Daryl fought the urge to belt a tune from Broadway, and instead we sang the classic “Take me Out to the Ball Game” and asked the other few Americans to join in. 

The Folklore Hall

While Lauren was using the restroom, Russ and Daryl played with props from the show including the broom from a specific dance and an instrument made of a pitcher and horse hair, called the farnfnoch, that sounded more like passing gas than anything remotely musical. The pitcher is clay and has stretched hide over the top with horsehair threated through it.  You play it by running wetted fingers along the hair. 

Daryl and the Bachelor's Broom

The "Instrument"

It was a great night, but little did we know that our cultural experience did not end with the show.  We all were slightly uncomfortable with our driver flying down the streets of Prague, passing cars on the left, and texting on his cell phone.  We were more uncomfortable when a police car pulled in front of the van and the “Pull Over” sign lit up.  Uh oh!

3 Americans Sitting in the Van Hoping to avoid Czech's Penal System

Daryl Surreptitiously Takes Pictures by Coughing Over the Shutter Sound while Russ Gives Disapproving Glances

Luckily we arrived home safely that night, relieved and amused.  A night full of new and old Czech traditions!

The City of Defenestration

Good Morning, Prague

We woke up on Saturday morning ready to conquer the city.  After a great breakfast in the executive suite (perks of being attached to a frequent traveler), we met our guide, Lucie, in the lobby of the hotel.  She had a great 4 hours planned for us, starting on the other side of town at the palace.  We rode the subway and then a tram to get there.

Daryl, Russ, and Lauren in Prague Subway

Russ and Lauren and our guide, Lucie

As we hopped off the tram and began walking, we encountered our first glimpse into Prague’s obsession with strange ways to die.  An homage to two scientists: Tycho Brahe and and Johannes Kepler.  Poor Tycho had the unfortunate circumstance of the unusual death.  A true gentleman, Tycho refused to leave the King’s banquet when the King himself was present, despite the fact that he really had to use the bathroom.  Instead of getting pissed, (sorry, I couldn’t resist), Tycho held his bladder until the King left the room, which proved to be very unfortunate for him; some historians attribute his death to a burst bladder, others say kidney failure.  Either way, our first insight into odd death involved the privilege to pee (Urinetown, the musical, anyone?).

Russ and Poor Old Tycho

 After viewing the statue, we climbed the hill and entered into the grounds of the Strahov Monastery, a beautiful complex, and in which they have one of the largest collections of original books in the world.

Pope Marks the Spot!

Strahov Monastery

Oddly, the monastery rested just inside the fortication wall for this side of the city.  The Palace relied on the protection of the monastery to defend them from incoming danger.  The only other buildings leading up to the Palace were old houses and palaces of aristocrats.  Stunning!

The View from Castle Town

Daryl and the View from Castle Town

 

Walking Through Castle Town

Prague Created and Borrowed Architecture. This Facade is Borrowed from Italy.

The Intricacy of the Etching

And Finally, The Palace!!

The Guards Aren't Just for Show; the current Czech President works out of the palace

"Giants" Guarding the Palace

 Prague’s history is long and pretty twisted, just like many other old European cities.  I’ll try to clean it up and only tell the important parts.  Before there was a Czech Republic, Prague was part of a region called Bohemia.  And from the 10th Century on, it pretty much went like this: King dies, war breaks out, religious strife, King is ousted, religious strife, war breaks out, repeat repeat repeat.  Except that Prague was one of the most important cities of the region throughout the mess of wars and abdications, and Prague was a center of Protestantism even before the emergence of Martin Luther. 

Cathedral in Palace Grounds

The cathedral in the above picture is literally inside of the Palace, or at least inside of the palace grounds.  To attend church, people had to enter through the palace gates.  Services are still held in this church and it is open to the public, despite Czech’s presidential seat lying nearby.

The Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral

Crystal Mosaic on Cathedral

And now, the presence of the cathedral leads me to Prague’s favorite way to kill someone: DEFENESTRATION.  A reminder that defenestration literally means pushing someone out of the window and that this act was named for the city of Prague.  This is because Prague has two very famous cases of defenestration in its past. 

DEFENSTRATION #1: Hussites (basically early Protestants) were unhappy with the Catholic Church and felt that there was a lot of corruption.  In an attempt to persuade the city councilmen to release Hussite prisoners, a group of Hussites marched on the square.   Unfortunately while they were marching, a stone was thrown at the head of the organizer.  In a rage the mob stormed into the castle and proceeded to toss all 13 city council members out of the window to their death on the cobblestones below.

Defenestration Window One

Window of Pain-Defenestration Window #2

DEFENESTRATION #2: Though defenestration was definitely known by the time the 1600’s rolled around, I suppose it had not been perfected.  At this time, King Ferdinand (a Catholic) was expected to inherit the throne of Bohemia.  This caused a big problem for Protestants who feared oppression.  So what should one do? Throw the big-wig Regents out the 3rd story window!  Unfortunately for those unlucky Protestants, the men landed safely on a huge pile of dung.  And because of this incident (and others as well) the 30 yrs. war began.  Who would have guessed that so much of the #1 Bohemian city’s problems all existed because of #2.  Teehee.

Anywayyyy….from Castle Town we made our way down through Lesser Town which is full of more palaces and beautiful houses of the noblemen. 

Making Our Way Into Lesser Town

The doors were absolutely stunning!

The Seat of Congress

Russ and Lauren in the Congress Gardens

Daryl Outside the Artwall Which Can Only Be Described as "Ghoulish"

After 4 great hours of walking and learning, we had to let Lucie go.  Plus, we were pretty hungry and ready to have a seat!  We ended up at one of Lucie’s recommended restaurants, “Kolkovna.” 

Kolkovna Czech Cuisine

Russ and Daryl at Kolkovna

Beer!

After a great lunch we retired to our quarters for awhile.  We had a big night ahead of us–dancing and singing at a traditional Czech Folklore Show!

“Czech” back later for the folklore show and Prague Day 3!!

The City of Defenestration–Prague!

Ahh, Prague!  A city rich in history, architecture, and…defenestration?  Allow me to elaborate with some help from dictionary.com. 

Defenestration: 

de·fen·es·tra·tion [dee-fen-uhstrey-shuh n]

–noun

the act of throwing a thing or esp. a person out of a window: the defenestration of the commissioners at Prague.

It is no coincidence that Prague appears in the example sentence.  Defenestration was developed because of Prague, where throwing people from windows became, if not common, at least associated with the city.  Let’s turn once again to our friends at dictionary.com for the origins.

1620, “the action of throwing out of a window,” from L. fenestra  “window.” A word invented for one incident: the “Defenestration of Prague,” May 21, 1618, when two Catholic deputies to the Bohemian national assembly and a secretary were tossed out the window (into a moat) of the castle of Hradshin by Protestant radicals. It marked the start of the Thirty Years War.

Now that you can understand some of the city’s gruesome past and violent reputation, let’s start from the beginning of our travels to Czech Republic’s capital city.

Russ, Daryl, and I began our 4 hr. journey to Prague on Friday.  Initially we were pretty nervous about this (almost every website we read recommended we NOT drive into Prague for security reasons), but as flights and trains were expensive, we carried on.  We stopped on the border of Czech Republic and Germany to buy a driving sticker to make us legal on the highways and to get something to eat.  It was at this time that we realized we had made one of the etiquette errors that we simply hate in tourists; we didn’t learn the language.  Any of it.  Despite the research and the research and the detailed planning of our time in the city, we failed. Typically it is polite to at least learn the words used in frequency: yes, no, thank you, etc., but not a word was on our tongues.  We swallowed our pride and embraced our Americanness.  We chowed down on cuisine that can only be described as an “on the border” mix of German and Czech.  Daryl succumbed to his Americanness even further by ordering “Chicken Fingers ala KFC.”  I embellish nothing.  This is how it appeared on the menu.

A few short hours later and we began to realize why driving in Prague was not such a good idea.  Narrow streets, cars, pedestrians, trains, trams!  The most dangerous aspect of it all was that the cars drive on top of the rails for the trams.  No problem, right?  Well, in Prague the trams have the right of way!  You must check all directions to make sure that the trams are not coming before you turn because the trams cannot swerve or stop.

Defenestration be damned!  Enter death by tramcar.  We were more than relieved to reach the hotel and leave the car parked all weekend long.  Good job driving, Russ, and thanks!

 After we settled into the hotel we decided to head out into the streets of Prague for some exploration and eventually dinner.  It’s hard to explain the feeling of walking onto the streets of Prague for the first time.  The infrastructure was breathtaking and so beautifully lit at night.  The buildings are massive and architecturally-moving.  What struck me the most was that everything fit together, a completely integrated city facade.  This is different, perhaps, because we are used to touring German cities where we inevitably hear, “This part of the city was rebuilt after heavy destruction in WWII.”  Prague, however, was left virtually untouched during WWII thanks to an Allied agreement (save for one accidental bombing).

Russ and Lauren in "New Town" Prague

A Tower of the Old Gate Guarding the City

 

Panoramic View of Old Town Square

The concierge at the hotel had pointed us to Old Town, so we spent the night exploring.  We walked through cobblestone streets of shops, gawked at the buildings, and absorbed some local culture. Eventually we decided that it was time to take in some Czech cuisine.  Russ spotted a great outdoor restaurant that sat right beside Old Town Square.  The place was cozy and so warmed by space heaters that we enjoyed are entire meal without our coats. 

Russ and Lauren with Our Czech Specialties

Daryl with Cathedral View

The restaurant was also special because it was adjacent to the famous astronomical clock, where people gathered every hour to hear the chimes, watch the characters, and listen to the trumpet cadence.  It was great getting to experience this from our gemütlich restaurant.  (Gemütlich is not easy to translate to English, but basically means a sense of comfort/coziness/and hominess that is essential in all German households).

The Astronomical Clock

The View from our Restaurant

We enjoyed our night and our seats so much that we ordered delicious desserts.  Daryl, dumplings filled with cheese; Lauren, apple streusel with cinnamon ice cream; and Russ, real hot chocolate.  Warm, satisfied, and full of questions about the city, we decided to call it a night.  The next day we would be meeting our private tour guide, Lucie, for a get-to-know-Prague rampage starting at 9 am.  We had Lucie for 4 hrs. Saturday and again on Sunday for 4 hours.  There is no better way to see the city than with someone who lives it every day! (Degrees in history/art history don’t hurt either!).

Tomorrow: Defenestration Day!  Prepare your dung heaps! (Stay tuned for an explanation). 

Thanks again to dictionary.com for the help with etymology.

defenestration. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved November 11, 2010, from Dictionary.com website http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/defenestration

Stuttgart 21

Because we were taking a Stuttgart-to-Barcelona morning flight, Russ, Kate, and I arrived one day early in Baden-Württemburg’s state capital (Baden-Württemburg is also the state in which we live).   One of the first places we went was to the train station to meet Joe who was coming in from Cologne.

 

Stuttgart Train Station

 

Going to meet Joe at the train station, we ran into quite a scene.  Outside the train station were thousands of banners, flyers, and protest demonstrations regarding the plans to improve the train station.  This demonstration is the namesake of this post: Stuttgart 21.

 

Stuttgart 21

 

Stuttgart 21 (21st century) is really a plan to make travel into/from/around Stuttgart easier for commuters and tourists.  Approved in 2007, the plan involves almost completely removing Stuttgart’s current (old) train station in order to create a more modern station which functions mainly underground.  For advocates of  Stuttgart 21, the new station is needed because the current station is not a “through-station.”  Trains must enter and exit in the same direction, reducing efficiency.  The new plan involves a cross system that would allow trains to enter the station and depart in a continuous direction.

Sounds good, right?  Well, many people are in an uproar over the plans.  Financially, the citizens of Stuttgart and Baden-Württemburg must cover most of the cost of the seriously expensive renovation.  Residents of Stuttgart, however, don’t really feel that it will benefit their city as much as the transportation system in general.  It will allow trains more easily to pass through Stuttgart, not necessarily attract more patrons to the area.

Secondly, the new station is a huge environmental concern.  Lots of Stuttgart’s “green space” will be destroyed and literally uprooted for construction.  The week we visited, one park in jeopardy was filled with people.  Posters, poems, and memorabilia hung on and around trees.  Some people even staged “sit-ins” with tree houses.

 

Tree house in the park (and a Polizei officer)

 

 

Bear Hug?

 

 

Joe Posing By a Protest Tree

 

A week after we visited, several trees in this beautiful park that we had walked through were taken down.  In that very spot, protesters blocking the site were maced and blasted with water cannons.  Over 100 people were injured.

After this event, a mediator was brought in to try to negotiate between sides.  Demolition has been halted until the next election season is over (March 2011).

ANYWAY!  Despite the clearly politically charged atmosphere, we had a nice visit to Stuttgart with a few unwanted raindrops.  We had fun looking at the older buildings and palace and enjoyed walking through the Schlossgarten (Castle Garden).

 

Lauren and Kate in Stuttgart

 

 

Where's Waldo? (aka Joe!)

 

 

Russ and Joe in front of The Palace

 

 

Schloßgarten

 

 

I love this tree!

 

We had a nice lunch at Platzhirsch (Literally translated, Deer Place) where we all sampled some typical German fare.

 

Platzhirsch

 

Joe had the traditional Käsespätzle (mentioned before in previous posts), and I tried Maultasche (giant ravioli stuffed with spinach, potatoes, and smoked ham) for the first time.

 

Joe and Lauren's meals

 

Russ dined on Schnitzel with Spätzle and Kate was served an enormous plate of lentils, Spätzle, and weiners.  The plate of lentils was big enough to serve an army, but the waitress was very concerned when Kate didn’t eat them all.  “Das schmeckt nicht?”  It doesn’t taste good?  “Ja, aber sie ist satt!  Alles schmeckt sehr gut!”  Yes, but she is full.  Everything tasted very good!

 

Kate and Russ's meals

 

We retreated to the hotel when it started to rain (and because we had to drive from the city a small distance to get near the airport and our hotel).  We ventured out at night to eat at the one restaurant near the place.  Strangely, though, we got to watch a fire company practice working the jaws of life on a car from our hotel windows.  It was pretty neat!  Walking in the cold and the rain to and from dinner, I’m pretty sure we all had one thing on our minds–Spain!

For more Stuttgart pics from Joe and Russ:

http://rlabarca.smugmug.com/Travel/Stuttgart-24-Sept-2010/

http://rlabarca.smugmug.com/Other/JoeKate-visit-2010/

Special thanks to Joe LaBarca for unknowingly allowing me access to his pictures for the blog. 🙂

Quick update!

Never fear, we are still here!  Russ recovered from his brief illness and Lauren continues to discover the countryside on two wheels. 

Last week we set out to do some geocaching on Saturday.  The route was put together by the HDH town hall, so not only were we seeking out coordinate clues, but everything was in a rough Google-translated English.  Our combined German knowledge and intuition on interpreting the ‘literal’ translation helped some, but we were finally stymied by an error in the clues themselves, such that we could not figure out the coordinate for clue #4!  We will still give it another shot and see if we can do better… 

 

Sunday we took a road trip with no specific destination – just to hit some of the back roads near by (guess whose idea this was…).  It was a beautiful day, and a nice way to see more of the countryside (on four wheels, though we saw some more nice two-wheeled trails!).  Since it was such a nice day, the engine powered two-wheelers were out in force too, especially on the curviest roads.  We also experienced some true back-woods trail roads, where we still got passed by cars wanting to go ridiculously fast!  

Happy driver, dirty car.

Lauren took advantage of another nice weather day mid-week to do some more bicycle exploration.  Russ jealously worked indoors. 

 

Then Thursday we enjoyed a sensational sunset view from our front porch. 

 

Some more travel coming up soon, so stay tuned!

Exploring Germany on Bike

Today was a beautiful Sunday–high 60’s, bright sunshine, slight breeze.  We had planned to try our hand at Geocaching today, but unfortunately Russ was up during the night with a stomach bug.  After getting him settled in the morning with OJ, crackers, and lots of blankets, I decided that I needed to get out to enjoy the day a little.  

Russ had his bike shipped over to Germany, so I decided to give riding a go.   When I first got on the bike I had to laugh a little bit at myself.  I was a little wobbly; it had been quite awhile, sadly, since I’d been on a decent bike ride.  To begin, I took about a 20 minute tour of the local neighborhoods, testing my steadiness, the gears, and the brakes.  

After the neighborhood tour and my confidence grew, I decided to make my way out towards some other towns.  Along the way, I stopped and took some photos of the beautiful scenery.  The first place I rode was along the train tracks.  I saw two trains but didn’t get any pictures because they passed while I was riding (Sorry Dad L!).  

Bike Path

 

Along the train tracks

 

Bike Path

 

 I came across an old train station building and pumphouse  and rode right beside some really beautiful gardens.  

The obligatory picture of the pumphouse for my bedridden engineer

 

 

Beautiful Garden--the garden's owner was sunning himself on a lawn chair.

 

I rode out to Mergelstetten, a suburb of Heidenheim, and then about halfway to the next town over–Herbrechtingen.  I veered off course a little and rode among a small path in between cornfields.  There was also a flower nursery here so it was very beautiful.  The hills, weather, and corn reminded me of being on the Rail Trail in southern PA. 🙂 

I wanted to keep going, but I was afraid of overdoing it for my first time out in a long time (Let’s face it, my butt was already sore).  Plus, after an hour an a half, it was probably time to get back to my sick husband.  I felt slightly guilty for enjoying such a beautiful day while he was stuck in bed.  The good news is that we might get another bike so we can go on more of these adventures together.  🙂  Fall is a beautiful time to ride!  

Leaving Mergelstetten--5 Km to Herbrechtingen

 

Beautiful Scenery

 

More Beautiful Scenery

 

Blumen-Florist; it's hard to tell from the photo, but this is a whole field of Gladiolas

 

More flowers--the little path to the right is the bike lane where I was riding. It's so nice to have these all over Germany!!

 

And the Sunflowers!!