Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Trip Pictures and Information

Hi Y'all! Finally got my pictures all in and wanted to share.

The rest of my trip pictures, for anyone interested!
Chesky Krumlov:

Some recommendations:


  • Prague Castle
  • Vysherad
  • Jewish Museum
  • Prague Square and old market
  • Petrin Hill had some nice views and was a healthy walk :)
  • Charles bridge and the area
  • Maximilian Hotel was an amazing boutique hotel in the center of the old town. Great staff, nice room and though not really inexpensive, was a great value.
Chesky Krumlov
  • Worth seeing! Walk around this cute little town
  • CK Castle
  • Hotel Konvice was in the center of the old town. Basic but very comfortable. The restaurant staff and food were excellent!
  • Belvedere Museum (and grounds)
  • Hotel Beethoven was wonderful! Great part of town, and a block from the market (which is also worth seeing)
  • The Royal Palace was excellent, and the Sissi exhibit was incredibly done, as well as touring the royal rooms
  • Pastries and Gruner Veltliner (wine). Yum.
  • Naschmarkt
  • We loved the Casati hotel. the rooms are fun and huge by European standards, staff amazing and great, safe part of town easily walkable to the sites
  • Buda Castle and the area
  • Szechenyi Bath House
  • Heroes Square
  • Varhegy
  • Chain Bridge
  • Gellert Hill
  • Market

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Budapest days 3&4

Hello from London Heathrow airport! Well, I was too busy gallivanting to keep up in my last two amazing days.. Unfortunately I am on my ipad with no keypad, so this will be brief and I'll try to add in some of what we did as I remember. That's what I get for taking no notes and not keeping up!

We sure fell in love with Budapest. It's a creeper; I didn't fall in love instantly as I did in Prague, though really enjoyed it. It's much bigger than Prague by 50 percent and feels it. Regardless, it's a wonderful place that I'd recommend.

We were decided to do a walking tour (self guided) of the Buda Castle area on the other side of the bridge in Buda. Budapest is actually comprised of two cities, Buda and pest. We stayed on the pest side but wanted to explore a bit. We walked through pest towards the Danube River and toured St Stephens Basilica before heading out. There was a funicular that led up the hill, and we decided on that. After crossing the famous chain bridge into Buda, we rode thr funicular up, enjoying the views. The area was on the top of a large hill and very quaint. There is a large church called Matthias church with a gorgeous brightly tiled roof. We walked around the fishermans bastion and through the area.

Under part of the area were some caves used during WWII. We did climb down but decided against the tour. The same went for the hospital on the rock as we weren't all that interested and felt we still had a ton to see. We saw the old castle ruins and walked around the grounds housing several museums.

We were hungry and found a cute little Italian place by the river, back in pest. The food was really good and we rolled out of there. I did get a lemonade, which turned out tone orange juice with cut up citrus fruit. It was good though not what was expected.

Kim decided to go other company's office in Budapest to make contacts and had a great time. She took a team to a bus- what an adventurous spirit! She became friendly with toe folks so Michael and I met them for drinks by st Stephens basilica. They were both from Australia and great fun.

We wandered looking for a place for dinner and came across a place called Bouchon which surprisingly had Hungarian food. It also was very highly rated in tripadvisor's top ten, so quite a find. The meal was really great. I tried another dessert wine similar to the one we had last night and Kim and Michael tried palinka, a local drink. Wow. It made the schnapps I had the other day taste like water!

Yesterday was our last day so we tried to pack a lot in. First we took a cab around thirty minutes to Memento Park to see the communist statues and learn more of the history. It was really interesting,and we had some gum mimicking the statues and taking pictures. We got back to Buda, over the bridge to climb gellert hill, where one of the statues used to reside. It was a hell of a climb but offered spectacular views of Buda and Pest.

The citadel is right behind it, built by the hapsburgs around 1850 to keep watch over the city and was later used in WWII as a bunker. We climbed down and crossed the bridge to go to the market. It was really crowded. We bought some souvenirs of paprika, salt and others and headed out to find a lunch spot. We ended up at the same place Kim and I got a drink at the first night when we got in,and it was great. The food on this trip has been really wonderful.

We then raced to the museum of terror just before it closed. It was a well done museum touring the history of the communist regime in Hungary, post WWII. It was quite artistic and hard to view in parts. We decided a drink was in order and headed out. But first tried to find the one(yes,one) pharmacy open in the city on a sat night as I developed a bit of a cold. Lovely. After an hour of false starts, we found it then very much needed that drink!

We got dinner at a place the hotel recommended and it was excellent. When we left, we were going to go to Parkin pub, which completely escapes me at the moment as to what they are, but it was raining so heavily that we headed back. I seconds we were soaked, and Kim again noted that the city was crying since we were leaving.

Kim and I had early flights. I'm heading back to the states soon. We were tempted to (try to)miss our flights but decided not to. What a truly amazing trip! I'd so recommend it as it's a really great mix of cities. I'm really sad to leave but thrilled to travel with them again.. And hopefully soon!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Budapest Day 2

We woke up late since it was pretty noisy last night, between the street noise (we are on the first floor, and had the windows open) and the opera music blaring next door. Not sure what that’s about but not going there.

Internet is down so unfortunately I can’t research the things we saw today.. we got breakfast which was great. There was actually champagne for mimosa, though we didn’t partake. We headed out down Adrassy, the “Rodeo Drive” of Budapest, and walked around 30 minutes to Heroes Square, an areas with a bunch of statues of the different heroes for the various wars fought here. We then walked to a castle, which was a replication built to celebrate the 1,000 years of this city over a hundred years ago. There was a beautiful and very simple church, and the buildings were stunning. It was worth walking through.

Then we hit our destination: the Szechenyi baths. After 8 days of walking the cities non-stop, we were ready for some R&R. It didn’t disappoint. We got our ticket at the hotel which we turned in for a watch that operates the entrance and the lockers. There are something like 15 baths inside and several outside. It was magnificent. They range in temperate from 19 degrees celcius to 38 degrees  and also have saunas as well. We bounced between them heating up and cooling off. We rented a towel which took some work, finding where to go.

In the large outdoor pool, there is a table with three chess boards set up. Over a dozen old men were clustered around them playing chess, which was fun to see. We stayed for close to two hours then decided to get going to grab lunch. We found a cute little Turkish place called Café Kara and enjoyed our meal. We got a salad with herbs, chicken, red peppers and cucumbers, and a plate of cold dips including a chilli, hummus, eggplant and tzaziki. I got a Turkish milk drink which was sweet and interesting.

We walked back to the room and rested a bit, then got ready and went to the bar in the hotel to meet the manager, a local Hungarian guy who was very nice. A little later, a friend of mine joined us and we headed out on the town. We grabbed a drink at a place Kim’s friend recommended, then found a cute little restaurant called Bouchon. Louis took great care of us, and we had a really great meal. Pretty “happy” on wine/alcohol, we made our way back. What a fun day!!

We’ll have a busy day tomorrow so today was a nice departure and relaxing. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Budapest day 1

We had a fabulous last dinner in Vienna at a place our hotel recommended. They sent us across the Nachtmarkt to a small restaurant that was adorable called Cafe Amacord. We got a cheese and fruit plate, olives and some parmesan and chantarelle risoto. Yum!

We enjoyed our last breakfast, took a few pictures, including the beautiful old opera house that you could see from the lounge area. We went to the market to grab a snack for the train of olives (some italian red olives-- yum!) and the date, prociutto and walnuts. Double yum. Got a taxi and headed to the train station.

Taking trains is such a great and cost-effective way to get around Europe. It took just under three hours and we were in a new country: Hungary! The countryside was beautiful and littered with farms. We arranged a car to pick us up at the station as we'd read that taxis are notorious here for ripping off tourists, and the man was adorable. He carried both of our suitcases, which was impressive as he wasn't young! The ride took around 15 minutes to our hotel, which is a cute little boutique hotel renovated last year. It's really cute and is a perfect area, just off a main drag and near several sights including St Stephen's Church and the Opera House. We checked in and got settled then rushed out to see this city.

Budapest is much bigger than I expected, and seems to be in size between vienna and Prague. The architecture seems similar to Prague, however, many of the buildings are a stone facade that has darkened and not the colors of Prague. It's beautiful though in an understated way and very easy to get around.

We decided to walk around a bit to orient ourselves, then went to the Synagogue for a tour. We bought a ticket, took a quick spin through the museum then met up for the tour with a guide named Ruben from New York. He speaks fluent hebrew, but then when he started speaking English, he sounded very, very New York. He was sarcastic and hilarious. He's been here for eight years.

The temple was built between 1854 and 1859 by Ludvig. It's the largest in Europe, and the second largest in the world, behind one in New York City.  It includes many very unusual features for a temple including two pulpits (as it seats 3500, they had two additional pulpits for the cantors so the people in the back could hear), an organ, and an area on the bemah/stage for a female chorus. In most temples, women aren't allowed on the stage, and especially not to sing! What Ruben shared was that the bible says you "cannot follow the voice of a woman." Well, the Neulog Jews at this temple believe that the interpretation is that since the choir is of many womEn, it's ok. They have an interesting way of interpreting the traditional rules that goes beyond this. Many orthodox temples have women sit on a level above the men, and this temple actually has three levels. In this temple, the men sit in the center and the women on the outside rows. He had several interesting stories of a similar nature.

Ruben kept calling the synagogue 'The House' and kept saying 'when in the House.' In was really funny! Now over 11,500 people attend, spilling out onto the street for the high holidays and in the square. This temple is all about making people feel comfortable to practice. The benches have been there since 1857. The chandeliers were stolen by the Nazis and recently replicated, and the building actually served as a German command center and the site of Adolph Eichmann's offices.

there were 1.8 million jews in Austria-Hungary in 1848, and now there are 100,000 in Hungary, of which 80k are in Budapest.  The area was under communist control for many years and no religion was allowed. The building fell to partial ruin, and in 1999 a new roof was put on and it was reopened. It's an interesting mix of styles of spanish, christian, turkish among others. There is a cemetery with 19 plots containing the remains of over 2,000 people from WWII and a beautiful Tree of Life memorial with names etches into the leaves of some who died.

The temple was one of the most gorgeous buildings I've seen and really impressive in it's size, architecture and beauty.

We walked around for a bit and made our way to the market, but first got distracted by one of the Budapest bridges that crosses the Danube. We took some pictures and by the time we made it to the market, it was closing. We took a quick stroll through and may go back. It's similar to the Reading Terminal in Philadelphia-- an indoor market with mostly food.

We decided to stop for a drink on a cute little pedestrian street and enjoyed a local red wine, then wandered back to the hotel, changed into warmer jackets, got a dinner recommendation from the hotel and walked around 10 minutes to get there. The place was adorable! We sat outside under heaters and enjoyed the best meal we've had! I got duck with a sour cherry sauce, and Kim got shrimp. We heard Hungarian music floating from inside the restaurant. We tried an incredible dessert white and found out where we can get some to bring home. yum!

Tomorrow we're going to check out the baths, which is something we were both told we have to try. From what I read, it's old-style Roman hot springs. A friend of mine is coming in from Amsterdam in the late afternoon so we're holding back on things he may want to do but I'm sure we'll find something fun for the day!

have a great day!!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Vienna Tage Zwei (2)

We woke and enjoyed the extensive buffet breakfast at the hotel. It was actually quite impressive. After leading up with several espressos we were ready to roll!

We headed out past the Opera and down a Main Street which is a shopping mecca with tons of stores. We then stopped to gawk at St. Stephens Church which was amazing. Encased partially in scaffolding, as everything I've ever admired in Europe is, it was intricately detailed and stunning. Inside was just as beautiful, though we're starting to get churched out.

We wandered over towards the Hofburg Imperial Palace and stopped for a cup of tea to enjoy the view of the palace. Built in 1279 and the seat of the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg dynasty, it's truly a masterpiece and worth taking time to take in. We took a tour and learned about Kaiserin Elizabeth that was really interesting. She married at the age of 15 but suffered tremendously, as she was so unhappy for giving up her freedom for the crown. She had three children who survived to adulthood and traveled extensively through europe to get away from her duties that weighed so heavily on her.

She was killed at around the age of 60, by someone who actually intended to kill someone else but unfortunately she happened to be in the area and convenient. Awful timing for her, though her life was shrowded in such depression that I expected she had taken her own life. She was stunningly beautiful and tiny-- 5 feet 9 inches and supposidely around 100 lbs. While her waist is tiny in all of the images, she didn't seem quite that thin. Anyways, she scandalized her staff by exercising to maintain her figure.

The rooms at the palace are stunning, with tapestries, fabric lining the walls and many gilded rooms and furniture. It rivaled any other castle I've seen. The royal collection of silver and porcelain plates as well as gilded pieces were gorgeous. Most of the Crown Jewels were sold and much of the plates melted down to support wars of the eras.

The tour was incredibly well done and an audio tour, and we spent a couple of hours there. We left and made our way to the Belvediere Museum as Kim wanted to see the Klimpt exhibit and this museum is known for an extensive collection boasting "The Kiss," his most famous painting. We decided to stop for a late lunch before heading in at a place across the street. I tried sturm, which the lady that we met in Prague and then again in the opera house mentioned to me. Apparently it's freshly-crushed grapes slightly fermented so they have some bubbles. I tasted the red and white, and settled on the white. I don't think it's alcoholic and tasted good.

We let the waiter talk us into a salad and fish which apparently is the special of the place. Oh my goodness.. there was a large greek salad accompanied by 8 other plates with bread, beans, chili, hummis, tzatziki and other  things. Then they brought a plate of several kinds of fish that could have fed a small army. Had we known, we would have ordered a half order as more than half went to waste. It was really good though as we'd been craving fish, and thankfully I knew how to say 'with no head' in German! lol.

The Belvediere museum was amazing and the grounds beautiful. We enjoyed them for a bit then headed in to view the three floors of amazing art. There are actually two buildings on the old palace grounds, but we only had time for one. The museum was nicely laid out and really beautiful as some rooms were really ornately detailed.

We walked around a bit on the grounds and sat outside to enjoy the view of the sun partially setting over Vienna. We could see St. Stephens in the background. We headed back on the tram, very excited that we conquered the tram in Vienna, unlike in Prague!

One thing I forgot to mention in Prague that a friend warned me about was the pickpockets-- but what they do here and in Prague is ask for you to make change for them. The other thing in Vienna is the plethora of people dressed like Mozart trying to sell concert tickets! It's intense in tourist areas and really funny as they all beeline over to Kim. teehee!

We went back towards our hotel and stopped in a cute little wine bar we've passed several times. We both have been really enjoying white wine, which is so interesting as we both prefer red. But this region is known for their whites. Kim got another gruner weltliner and I tried a (dry) riesling. We were served by a great gal from Australia who spoke impeccable German. She moved here with her boyfriend after school. They traveled europe for six months and decided to land in Vienna for a while. How fun!

We headed back to our hotel and grabbed some tea in the cute little lounge area, booked our train tickets to Budapest and rested up a bit. We're heading out shortly to check out the nightlife-- grab some wine (go figure!) and a snack and see what fun we have!

Gute nacht, mein freunden! Tomorrow we head to Budapest for the last leg of our journey. We have already started discussing what might happen if we miss our flight though... :)

Monday, October 7, 2013

Vienna Austria, Day 1

Hello from the lovely and HUGE city of Vienna! A far cry from where we've been.

We woke up this morning and got ready, planning to enjoy some breakfast and coffee in our hotel before the shuttle van picked us up 9. Well, make that 8. We got a call a minute past 8 that the van was downstairs waiting for us. Whoops.

We rushed to finish getting ready and raced downstairs, checking out and rushing to the very full van.
No coffee. Sigh. It was around a three hour drive and would have been gorgeous though it was really foggy and it obscured the views. We drove through the countryside and made our way to the city. Though it's only a couple hundred thousand more people than Prague, it feels so much larger and you notice you're there well before nearing the center city.

Our hotel is really well situated right in the downtown area near the Museum district and a block from the Naschmarkt-- a large open air market that's two city blocked and three rows. There's a lot of shops there from restaurants, bread and wine stores, pharmacy, meat markets, fish stands, candy, and all sorts of amazing treats. We were really hungry from the trip and no breakfast and grabbed sandwiches-- disappointed we didn't hold out as we saw so many great things after we got them! There's a lot of spice stands as well with some incredibly-smelling things as well. We wandered down to the museums and found the Museum of Fine Arts (Kunsthistorisches Museum). Unfortunately it was closed! Just our luck.

We walked around for a bit and a guy stopped us who was selling tickets to a Beethoven show. I was reluctant to buy as I prefer to go direct to avoid scams. We decided to make our way to the Opera House to see if we could get tickets for a show. We decided to take a tour of this impressive building. It's huge-- at least a couple of city blocks in each direction and really gorgeous on the outside with lots of carvings and pillars. Inside is impressive with marble and gold plating. Apparently 80% of the building was destroyed during World War II and was rebuit. You can see a difference in the ornateness of the rooms. One had a bust carved in the wall of every man who ever wrote an opera. The room was the most ornate. As we were standing waiting for our tour, I recognized a couple near us--turns out it was the couple from CT we met at the old town market in Prague two days earlier! How funny. We exchanged emails figuring there's a reason in a city of over a million, we ran into each other randomly again.

We decided to stop for a snack in the market and got a bunch of little bites including a stuffed zuccini, olives, and this incredible date stuffed with walnuts and prociutto. yum. Double yum. We grabbed a bottle of dry austrian wine and it was really great! Called Gruner Veltliner, which I heard of from a friend who went to Austria two years ago.

The tour was around an hour and we decided to look for tickets. There is a Puccini opera tomorrow, which we were told is very rare to see as the range required for the parts is so great that few people can play them. Unfortunately there were only two returned tickets left for the equivalent of $200. Instead we got ballet tickets for tonight to a show called Manon. It was a high-drama ballet, so similar in feel to many of the operas I've seen, which was surprising. It was well done and beautiful and the set was gorgeous. We sat next to a gal from Charlotte named Lisa who was really great. We enjoyed talking with her, so much in fact, that we grabbed dinner with her after the show and exchanged information! I love traveling and the amazing people you meet along the way.

Our hotel is Hotel Beethoven Wein and is really cute. There's a great sitting area with coffee and tea and a lovely view of an old opera house in the neighborhood. It's right off two busy streets but a block back so pretty quiet.

We walked home and got in late, but it was a really great day and we can sleep in a bit. Well, if I can, I suppose. Damn my being a morning person! Tomorrow should be a fun day.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Ceske Krumlov

My alarm never went off (well, it would have, had it been Saturday.. Oops!) I bolted awake with Kim's alarm and raced to get ready. Thankfully I had packed last night.

One hotel car picked us up promptly at 6:15 am and we checked out and were on our way to the student agency bus to Ceske Krumlov. The bus is huge and bright yellowing was surprisingly full for leaving at 7 am! We made two stops ans got into town just under three hours.

We dragged our suitcases over the cobblestone street, thankful it was after ten am. We weren't sure where to go:there was a sign that said Centro which we figured would take us in the right direction, but we asked once we got in to be sure we were headed in the right direction. It was only a couple hundred meters ahead. We checked in and surprisingly our room was ready at Hotel Konvice, a very cute place in the center of the tiny town. The lays spoke a little English and some German, so we got settled in up a narrow flight of stairs.

The room is adorable and feels almost like you are visiting your old grandparents' place. It has parquet wood floors and a large wood armoire. Nothing really fancy, but all cozy.

 We headed out to explore. This town is breath-takingly beautiful and so quaint, with mostly white, but some colored homes all lining cobblestone streets and orange terra cotta roves. The streets all wind around each other. Most bottom floors are storefronts of some kind, with coffee shops, souvenirs, restaurants and other stores. Just like in prague, dogs seem to go with their owners everywhere.

We crossed the river and went directly to the castle,which dominates the landscape of the town. We got tickets for a tour, the only way to visit the castle, and stopped for a cup of coffee with a piece of cake. It was kind of a cherry coffee cake of sorts and surprisingly good. We met up with the tour,which was well worth it.

The castle interestingly is painted on almost the entire external surface to look of stone and pillars. It's quite a sight. It started to drizzle when we got to the castle and began to pour right before our tour started, thankfully it just drizzled after. This castle is the second largest in the Czech Republic. It was only owned by four families before it became public. In 1753, the formerly gothic-style castle was updated during the Renaissance in the Baroque architecture and made into a residence. The Rosenbergs owned it, and were the richest family in Bohemia and head of the Catholic party during the Hussite War.

In 1602 it was sold to the Viennese Emperor Ferdinand II, and was then given to an Austrian Family. The Schwartzenbergs were the last owners. We toured the Chapel of St. George, used for residents for religious services from 1334 on. There is a believed tie to the Orsini family in Italy, and the RosenberGs decided to bring in bears to live in the moat area of the castle (Orsa means female bear in Italian.) When we walked to the castle and crossed the moat, we saw a pile of fruit and bread, which is to feed the bears. Many of the rooms had bear pelt rugs, as a reminder of the former furry residences of the castle.

We decided to go on search of a nice warm boul of soup and found a really cute place with an even more adorable waiter. I think Kim wanted to wrap him up and take him home. We both got goulash, Kim in a bread bowl with a side of sauerkraut, and I got it with bohemian dumplings and a salad. Yum! Very different than the goulash I has at the base of the Charles bridge, this was thicker and richer with chunks of meat. Yum!

We walked around for a while, toured a church, and made our way through the beautifully picturesque streets. We went to the eggenberg brewery, which was unfortunately closed. We peeked through the large wooden doors to see large tents set up with a lot of seating, assumedly for Oktoberfest festivities.

This city is incredibly beautiful and I can see why it's a unesco world heritage sight. People were riding boats down the river, laughing, talking, eating. Garnets and amber shops are everywhere and coffee shops too. We stopped to get a snack of a pastry we've been seeing everywhere. It's a thin dough woven around a wide round metal, pushed off and rolled in cinnamon sugar. It's maybe six inches wide, less than half an inch thick. It was warm and tasty.

We were both quite tired from going to bed late and our early wake up call, so we took a nap, then decided to head out. We went downstairs first to have a gluwein (warm mulled wine) and ponder our dining options. A couple we met in the castle raved about an italian place, though we couldn't remember the name. After a quick tour of the tiny town we learned that very little was still open and few people milled around, so we headed back to Hotel Konvice to eat and were glad we did.

We got glasses of wine, salad, and Kim got pesto pasta, while I got pork schnitzen and potato salad. We split a dessert recommended by our adorable and flirty waiter called livanze, which is pancakes, blueberry sauce, and curd. It was an interesting dish with two doughy small circles with blueberries surrounding, and a bland cheese sprinkled on top. We have been seeing honey cake around and it looked really good, but Alex said this was better. I got some apricot schnapps that they home make in some beakers that were as you entered the restaurant. Alex recommended the apricot, and the decanter said "42%" on it and wow, it was strong! Interesting, and I'm glad he gave me a small drink in a cordial glass. It was fun to try but man, I wouldn't be having more than one!

We met two women who were great: one was from Virginia and the other, her cousin, from Austria. They rotated between German and English and we got to talking with them. It is always so wonderful to connect with people on adventures like this as you meet so many really lovely people that you might not otherwise meet.

We walked for a little bit, took some night pictures in the cute little town square, then headed back. Another fairly early morning headed to Vienna and we wanted to catch up on our reading and connecting with people.

This city is incredibly picturesque and well worth the trip. Prague was SO crowded yesterday, on Saturday, that the change of pace was really nice too. It was well worth coming and we were both really glad to be here.

Tomorrow in Vienna...:)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Prague day 3

Hello and good afternoon! We stopped at the hotel a bit to unwind so I figured I'd write a bit.

We took the metro to vhyserad [šehrad], and has a much better time of it than the tram yesterday! We had to switch lines but it was incredibly easy to do. We got off into a business center and walked maybe fifteen minutes to the old castle. We knew we were on the right path when we walked under an old stone gate.

First we stopped in the basilica of St George and explored. It was a stunning traditional Catholic Church, and worth viewing. There were three gorgeous and ornate sets of doors on the way in. We walked through an old cemetary which also had some very current stones. The grounds of the old ruined castle were gorgeous.  Only a few small parts of the castle remain, though the fort walls do core much of the grounds overlooking the river. We walked around quite a lot.

We then took the metro back and crossed the river over the Charles bridge, enjoying the view. The crowds were much heavier, being Saturday. I can't even imagine what the summers here are like as it's October and packed on a Saturday. We walked through the quaint part of town by the bridge and off to Pemtrin hill, a monument to those killed in the. Communist years here. We too the vehicular train up the large hill. At the top is a small tower similar to the Eiffel Tower. We climbed up the first stairs to the viewing balcony and enjoyed the views of Prague castle, the city and the river.

We went to walk up to the top viewing balcony, and when we passed a lot of people coming the other way, realized we went up the down stairs, oops! The view was nice but it was closed in and. Really crowded, so we didn't stay too long.

We walked in the rose garden for a bit then went halfway down to the restaurant to grab lunch. We got sandwiches and some wine, and enjoyed the glorious views of the city and the castle. Wow.. it's really so incredibly breathtakingly beautiful here. Truly amazing.

We made our way back and decided to take a "short cut" through the metro. I think we just got cocky after having so much trouble with the tram yesterday! We ended up going to a spot which was as much walking to our hotel as the spot where we picked up the metro, and then we exited in a different spot then we expected and got a bit turned about. I did forget to mention that on the way down the escalator ran really quickly and it was the steepest descent I've ever seen. I was a bit freaked out honestly (yes, my paranoia of heights) and to boot, the arm piece ran faster than the steps under us so I had to keep letting go to adjust my hand on the rest. :) Oh joy. I lived and only embarrassed myself a little bit. Heh.

We made it to our hotel and took a power nap to freshen up, then hit a restaurant right behind the hotel called the Red Wheel in Czech. Great place! Unfortunately my phone was dead so I couldn't take a picture of our dinner. Kim but a chicken dish and I got a 'traditional Czech meal' with duck, pork, ham, two kinds of sauerkraut (red and white) and two types of dumplings. One was like steamed bread interestingly. We got a local Czech pinot that was really good. the place was really nice and service very good. The meal was $80 with tip and so large we only ate around half of it. Very good.

We leave early tomorrow morning for Cesky Krumlov, a Unesco World Heritage site and the location where Cinderella was believed to have been from. We heard it was beautiful and worth the trip on a bus there.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Prague day 2

Hi! I tried to post from the first evening in Prague but lost it apparently. Oh well! Nothing much! We went to a neighborhood pub with really good local Czech food. Got what was described as pork, cabbage and potatoes, and it turned out to be a potato pancake with saurkraut, port and potatoes. Yum! Got salads and some Czech wine and beer.

Ended up sitting next to a girl who is here for a semester from college, and her folks are funding her escapades through europe. Nice! She was dining with her uncle who was visiting, and her parents were coming the next day. I guess that's what you get for having your folks fund your adventures!

I ended up with wicked insomnia and only slept around 3 hours of completely disjointed sleep. Not a good start. We decided to go to Prague Castle, and after fueling up at the hotel, we headed out. It was supposed to be easy- take the 8 tram to the 22 and voila! Well, I have a good excuse anyways, but not sure what happened. We somehow got the 8 going the wrong way (we think) and though we crossed the river as we were supposed to, we ended up off course. Couldn't find the 22, or anyone who admitted that they spoke English. Even pointing to a map and the number tram was useless here.

We finally found a younger woman who was willing to help, though she was a bit confused. Take the 25, she said. Ok. So we did. We got off after seeing the castle tower in the distance and when I recognized the word for castle in Czech.

After we got off, we crossed the street where a lovely local man was waiting for us. He only spoke Czech, but recognized two damsels in distress and jumped into action, offering us each an arm and talking away in a language we didn't understand. Kim knows italian, and I know some German and Spanish, but yet they all did nothing for us here. He walked us up a hill onto the castle grounds and pointed to where we needed to go. A small tip and we were back in business!

The Castle is dominated by the spires of St. Vitus Cathedral. I actually didn't read much about the castle, and we need to head out shortly so I won't investigate now. It dominates the landscape up on a hill overlooking Prague from the west of the river, and can be seen throughout the city. it's really beautiful.

We walked back after touring the castle, St. Vitus Cathedral and Golden Lane, a row of tiny and adorable homes flocking a side of the castle. The famous Franz Kafka resided there for a time. We headed back through a cute little part of town and decided to enjoy the views with some lunch. We both had smoked salmon with potato pancakes, and I enjoyed some hot spiced wine, or Gluwein. I've been really loving that here as it takes off the chill!

We walked over the famous Charles Bridge, flocked by statues high on the bridge depicting various religious scenes. Several little music bands were playing, and we observed quite a few instruments again that seem very local. We wandered around some of the neighborhoods we saw yesterday by the Astronomical Clock and Old town square, and wandered to Weneclas Square, flocked by the National Museum at the top of the street on a hill. We saw other bands playing here too, including a lady and a horse playing a guitar.

We went to the Old Market again, which we saw yesterday and enjoyed more gluwein, chatted with some wonderful people from russia and connecticut, and ate a dish of potatoes, sauerkraut, sausage and a tasty red sauce. Yum! Kim got a nutelle crepe (why not?) and we started the wander back to our hotel, passing through the town square again. We enjoyed the sun setting over the Tyne Church and the views as the daylight faded. We again saw the poor sweet dog of yesterday that I gave water to, with only one eye. We got to pet her this time as her daddy said she was very friendly. Yes, I miss my pack o'pups.

It was only 7:30 or 8 but I called it a day. I was wiped from not sleeping and shocked I made it so long without a nap! I woke today groggy but feeling much better after sleeping for over 11 hours last night! I sure needed it.

Today we're going to go visit a castle beginning with a V, :) And maybe Petrin Hill. We got out tickets for the Student Agency bus tomorrow, and will somehow have to get up by 5 to make the 7 am bus across town. Heh. Should be a fun time.

Have a great day!!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Welcome to the Golden City: Prague Day 1

I got in last night at around 8:30 after a sleepless flight. The flight was uneventful, and the city looks gorgeous!! I had a driver get me as I knew how tired I'd be and was glad I did. With only a 30 minute nap in 24 hours, I was pretty zonked, but rallied when my friend Kim arrived at 10:30 pm. We were slow to wake up this morning but by 9 were ready for breakfast at the hotel.

The hotel, Maximilian, is really cute and I'd recommend it so far. It's a small boutique hotel with 71 rooms and a lot of nice touches. The staff was really friendly and helpful, and when I got to my room, I saw a little sign on the desk that says "Do you miss your pet? We will be glad to provide you with one of Maxmillian's fishy friends during your stay. Just ask Reception to provide you with a goldfish." I love it!! Driver was wonderful and gave me a history lesson of the Czech Republic (which I promptly forgot, but do recall the German and Russian occupation.) I was all excited to practice my rusty from-high-school German, but he said everyone pretty much speaks english except for older folks.

The hotel has a wonderful full breakfast with a large buffet: fruit, vegetables, breads, cereals, juices, pastries, meats and cheeses, eggs in a couple of styles, bacon and sausage, etc. They brought coffee with steamed milk, which was a nice touch. We left the hotel and made our way to the Jewish Museum, a cluster of synagogues and historical areas in the old Jewish ghetto, called Josephov, after the Emporer Joseph (Joseph II).

First we went to the Spanish Synagogue (Old School), Spanelska Synagoga. In Prague the Jewish town emerged before the 12th century. The people of Prague are Ashkenazi jews, though there is a tie-in to sephardic jews (thus Spanish Synagogue.) The building was Romanesque architecture originally, but was updated in the 15th C to include gothic touches. Unfortunately none of the buildings in the Jewish museum allow pictures. This one was incredibly beautiful with burgundy, navy and adorned with gold leaf everywhere.

This was the first temple to implement reform during the Jewish enlightenment, implementing vernacular in services in the 1800s. The Jewish Enlightenment was the second half of the 18th century in germany, and spread in Europe through the 18th and 19th centuries. German was promoted over yiddish. The Emporer oseph was responsible for reform for cultural and social development of the Jewish community, and in 1783 founded a Girls' Jewish School.

The first Jews settled in Prague in the 10th century, and by the end of the 16th century the Jewish Town emerged from the medieval ghetto with a town hall, administration building, synagogues and 300 houses. The entire area is really small, and only a few city blocks in either direction. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Jewish commmunity in Prague was one of the largest in Europe., and in 1850 the ghetto was incorporated into the city of Prague and known as Josefov.

We then went to the Pinkas Synagogue, built in 1535. In the late 1950s it was turned into a memorial to the Jews of Bohemia Moravia murdered by the Nazis. Over 80,000 names are represented on the walls and it's really striking. The last names are in red, and if there were multiple family members, the surname is only listed once followed by all of the names in the family and the date of birth, and the last known date. Most of the people represented by the names were killed from 1941 to 1945. It was sombering. There was also an exhibit of art from the children of Terezin, a concentration camp an hour outside of Prague. Only 242 of the over 8,000 children under the age of 15 deported from Terezin remained alive in 1945. The camp was used as propaganda by the Nazis to show what a work camp represented, and most people were shipped out to other camps to be killed. Githic arches adorned in paint vaulted the ceilings, and stained glass with simple colors and cuts are on the wall. The rest of the building is pure white with lists of names all around. The names were destroyed and replaced four times due to water damage in the building.

We then walked to the Jewish cemetary where over 12,000 people were buried beneath sandstone headstones. It's in a single city block and tombstones are stacked almost on top of each other. There were a few mausoleums but mostly stacks of tombstones.

We also toured the Maisel Synagogue, the Klausen Synagogue and Ceremonial Hall, which has a beatiful silver exhibit. Last was the Old-New Synagogue, which is the oldest surviving Synagogue in Europe and the oldest working synagogue outside of Israel. It was built in Gothic style in the mid 13th century.

I was surprised to see such a substantial Jewish area in a large city, though I read that Hitler decided to keep it there and planned to make it a museum of an extinguished race after he anhialated all of the Jews. What a horrid thought.

We left Josephov and walked toward the Old Town Square (Staromestske Namesti), flocked by several beautiful churches. It reminded me of several large squares that could be found in Spain or Italy, with a large open courtyard flocked with  open-air restaurants. It was so beautiful that we decided to stop for a coffee and take in the sights. A traditional Czech folk band was playing, and the music was gorgeous. It sounded very celtic to me with a bagpipe and drum.

There was a museum with two exhibits that we decided to visit. The first was Alfons Mucha, who is known for his art of seduction. Most of his paintings are of women with "streaming hair, delicate colours and decorative style add up to an unashamed act of temptation." He was born in Bohemia when the country was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empore and died shortly after being interrogated by the Gestapo in July 1939. I didn't know who he was, but recognized some of his work from Moet Chandon wine bottles and ads.

Then we went to the Salvador Dali exhibit. Not really my style, though he was an incredibly talented man. The detail that he put into many of his paintings and sketches was exquisite.

Next we checked out the Astronomical Clock and then walked to the river where we saw the Charles Bridge. We'll cross it tomorrow, but decided to stop and get a drink at an outdoor place overlooking the bridge and Prague Castle. It was so beautiful! We decided to eat a late lunch and since it's chilly, got some soup and a cheese plate. I got goulash, which Kim tried for the first time. Very different from what I've had, but good. Kim got a cream of mushroom soup and we split a cheese and fruit plate. It was only around $20 with tip, and we got two drinks each (I tried a Czech wine which was very good.)

This city is so stunningly beautiful and we haven't seen anything like it. It truly is amazing and everywhere you look is a more incredible view of some of the most amazing architecture I've ever seen. I've heard that Prague is one of the few cities not partially or mostly destroyed in World War II, and the city reflects that with the intricate carvings and artwork in the architecture. It's simply amazing.

We walked back towards the Old Town Square and decided to climb the tower over the Astronomical Clock to enjoy the view of the city. Wow! We then climbed down, went into the Tyn Church, walked down through Stare Mesto (Old Town) and to the Old Town Market. The market is a street lined with a buch of outdoor booths and tons of different food: interesting chips made from fresh potatoes cut in curly shapes by a power tool, which was pretty funny! Sausages, potato pancakes, more sausages.. yum. It smelled delish but we were not hungry yet, so we decided to go back. We decided to go back to our room to unwind a bit and warm up as it's getting cold now that the sun is down! It's in the 40s already and still getting cooler. Egads.. my Phoenix blood isn't used to this. It was in the 50s during the day which was quite nice for travel weather.

It's 8 pm and we're heading out for a snack and some drinks in the neighborhood. I thought it would be an early night as I usually have a tough time with jetlag and interestly I feel pretty ok. I usually fly into europe in the morning though, and maybe since I flew in in the evening it helped. I fell asleep before Kim arrived, though woke up to catch up with her when she got in and we talked until around 12:30 when we passed out. I'm catching a second wind, so I think I need to take advantage of that.

Bye for now!