Last full day in Prague

 

This photo was taken from the Charles Bridge this morning when I was out earlier than the crowds.  The boys wanted a morning to just hang out so we didn’t leave until it was time for lunch which we ate out in the court yard of Globe Bookstore and Cafe just around the corner from our apartment.

We then figured out how to buy tickets for transportation and took the funicular up the hill to Petřín Tower, a mini Eiffel Tower. Members of the Club of Czech Tourist were inspired after viewing the Eiffel Tower in 1889 and decided to build a similar tower.  Just a quarter of the size of Eiffel, it is also has an octagonal  verses square cross section.  We climbed the 299 stairs the top observation deck for a spectacular view of the city.

You can also see The Hunger Wall, commissioned by King Karel IV in 1361, was created to provide work for the poor and unemployed during the famine. It is several miles long.

We ate dinner at a restaurant on Dětský Island, a small narrow island on the Vltava River.  Literally Children’s Island, as it is a fully fenced playground with all sorts of courts and play equipment except for the reastaurant at the end.  The tapa restaurant, La Terrassa, had lovely views of the river, boat cruises, and the Dancing House.  Which is why I wanted to go there.  Here’s why Kevin wanted to go there:

The kids were able to play while Kevin and I finished our drinks.  Fortunately, our table was covered so we didn’t get drenched when it started pouring.  The kids loved it.  We saw a hugh bolt of lightening as we crossed the bridge on our way home.

Farewell Prague

Sunday we took a taxi to the airport so we could rent a car.  This will be our mode of transportation until we fly from Budaspest to Bari the last week of August.  Our taxi driver warned us that Czech drivers are homicidal maniacs.  The driver that brought us to Prague last Sunday explained that speed limits are not posted.  If pulled over, the police will ask for high fines to be paid directly to them on the spot.  He advised that we can and should negotiate the fee down.  We’re hoping to avoid that type of education while traveling.

We managed to find our way to Kutná Hora and Sedlec, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites about 100km east of Prague.  We saw the massive Saint Barbara’s Church as we drove around Kutná Hora looking for a place to get lunch.  We then found the Sedlec Ossuary, the purpose for our round-about journey.  Some guy, an abbot from Sedlec, long ago brought some earth back from the place where Jesus was crucified.  He sprinkled it over the abbey cementary, thus greatly increasing the desire for people to be buried there.  Then the Black Death greatly increased the number of dead…and so, many years, many skeletons. In 1871 a bigwig Bohemian family hired František Rint to put the heaps of bones in order.  Wondered if this is what they had in mind?

Without incident, we headed north and found our way to Turnov, our home for the next week.  Here’s some pictures I took along the drive. We are staying on a sort of family compound.  The family we are renting from lives here in one house with their two small kids, his brother in another, and his father lives here too.  The boys have enjoyed playing with cats, dogs, frogs and crickets.  I thought it would be nice to get to the country and away from the loud cities.  It’s a different din.  Roosters don’t just crow at sunrise!  Mad moos, barking dogs…all the town dogs were riled up by a hot air ballon that drifted above the peaceful countryside.  We were told the town was going to turn of the power from 8a-4p on Monday, so we whiled away the day without electricity.  I read an excellent memoir, Farewell to Prague.

 

 

bohemian paradise and dresden

Today is our last day here in Turnov, in the center of Bohemian Paradise or Český ráj.  It is stunningly beautiful here.  So much skala!  We went to Besedické SkályKalich – Chléviště, rock labyrinth, and Maloskalsko where we climbed up a long ladder at Suché Skály and climbed around the ruins of the Vranov Castle- Pantheon.  From such heights we enjoyed spectular views of the valley and the Jizera River.  We plan to explore more today.

Thursday we drove to Dresden, Germany.  It’s just over a 2 hour drive northwest of here.  We started off with a guided tour of the Die Gläserne Manufaktur, a gorgeous glass factory that makes transparent the assembly process of the VW Phaeton.  A luxury sedan (a luxury VW?) sold mainly to Germans and Chinese, the Phaeton failed in the US selling less than 2,300 in 2005-6.  They will most likely try the US market again soon.  Customers can watch the full 36 hour assembly process of their vehicle or just the “marriage” of the body and chassis being bolted together.  A special way to bond with your luxury vehicle.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the assembly in action as all the assembly workers – clad in white gloves and uniforms – are currently on a 4 week vacation.  But the design of the factory is amazing.  The ergonomic wood floor conveyor belt, electronic suspension rail, indirect lighting, and magnetically driven componet baskets were cool to see. (in case your drooling and want more, click here).  Willem and I are certain the circular ‘silo’ parking garage was in MIssion Impossible – Ghost Protocol, but I dare you to prove us wrong.  The factory is in the corner of a hugh park very near the historic center of Dresden.  They use trams to bring in all of the parts to reduce traffic and noise.  The landscape around the factory blends in with the surrounding park.  In the first years, birds kept flying into the glass walls, so they now have recorded sounds that prevent birds from flying in that territory.

Dresden is spacious and not as crowded with tourists as Paris and Prague.  In the final months of WW2, most of Dresden was destroyed by heavy bombing from the US Army and Royal British Air Forces.  Significantly reconstructed since the reunification of Germany, Dresden has the feeling of a new old city.  One architect critic labeled the attempt to reconstruct the historic character of the city as inauthentic and likened it to the recreation of Venice in Las Vegas at the Venetian Resort Hotel.  I have to agree when in Neumarkt seeing chains such as Starbuck, Subway or even an Escala boutique, there is a similarity to Las Vegas or any other suburb baroque-styled shopping center.

We climbed the dome of the Frauenkirche and saw the sites of the city from above and walked along the Elbe River on Brühlsche Terrasse – known as the Balcony of Europe, passed by the Academy of Fine Arts, saw the Semper Opera House in the distant, and just walked by the Zwinger and Royal Palace.  We saw the porcelain tiled Procession of Princes. The boys were entertained there by a street performer and bought souvenirs from one of a few stands set up there.

We also saw:  Pfunds Molkerei, the World’s Most Beautiful Dairy Shop according to the Guinness Book of Records, the Loschwitz Bridge or Blue Wonder, completed in 1893 it was one of the longest bridges built not supported by pillars, paddle steamers on the river, and a trio of castles across the river.

 

We then headed to the neighborhood, Innere Altstadt, where we walked through funky Kunsthofpassage and hung out in the park before dinner at Villandry — the best food I’ve had on this trip!

 

 

 

 

 

 

krakow

Here are some pics of where we’ve been staying while in Krakow.

Our apartment is right behind a grocery store, very convenient but loud in the morning. It is next to a highly rated restaurant. We all had dinner there one night and shared an assortment of appetizers. Another evening the boys had dinner in the apartment while Kevin and I went there for dinner. They brought me a chicken salad instead of the chicken gnocchi. While they were correcting that mistake, they brought each of us a glass of wine and told us they would reduce our bill by 50%!

I watched the Roman Polanski movie, The Pianist, based on Wladyslaw Szpilman’s biography of how he survived WW2.  I’ve been reading the book Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account.  I decided the boys should not tour Auschwitz at this age.  So the day Kevin went on the tour, the boys and I had a lovely brunch at Charlotte, a french bistro. For 25 Polish Zloty (~$7.50) I had a coffee, a basket of breads served with a pot of raspberry jam and pot of chocolate sauce, a boiled egg, and a glass of Pol Remy – such decadence!

The boys and I then went shopping as Willem was in need of new shoes and socks already. We had a very hard time finding shoes that were real leather and his size. Finally, after looking forever, we found a pair of Ferrari Pumas on sale for 50% off that Willem loves.

Yesterday we did a bicycle tour, which was a pretty fun way to see an overview of the city. It was hilarious to be cruising around while listening to the accordion tunes of street musicians. Krakow is a very easy city to get around. It was a four hour tour but almost an hour was spent just hanging out at a beach/bar along the Vistula (Wisła) River. It just started to rain and was rather windy as we finished up our tour. We were starving, so headed directly to the taco restaurant that we had eaten at another night. The owner is a very friendly and happy guy.  Originally from Mexico, he lived in Chicago for six years before coming to Krakow with a Polish girlfriend.  So now he is here and makes piñatas for children every week.

slovokia stopover

We left Poland on Sunday and headed for Poprad, Slovakia. We spent the night at the foot of the High Tatra Mountains at the water park resort, AquaCity –

a green resort powered by geothermal and solar energy.  The boys had a great time in the many different indoor and outdoor pools and water slides.  Plus there was a 3D laser show with animated holographic images projected on a sheer wall of water!

It was an interesting drive, never a direct route.  We saw grazing cows chained close to the road, funny cone-shaped haystacks, some tall skinny houses with steep roofs, and lots and lots of sunflowers.  Besides being the flower of my home state, the sunflower is mathematically fascinating.  Their seeds are used to make sunflower oil, their leaves can be used for cattle feed and the stem fiber can be used for to make paper.  All the sunflowers we passed, were passed their prime though and droopy rather than sun adoring.

We are now in Budapest, Hungary.  Here is a link to pics of our apartment in Pest for 10 days.  We are all pretty tired.  Our first full day here was pretty lazy as we tried to mentally adjust to being in another country, another city…

I finished reading Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account by Miklos Nyiszli and Five Chimneys by Olga Lengye, both horrific tales from survivors of Auschwitz.  Of the two, I would recommend Five Chimneys as it covers much of what the doctor recounted but with less autopsy detail.  Several things haunt me, but these three from Lengye’s book struck me the most:

“Could such conditions really exist in Europe in the twentieth century?” – When I first learned anything about the terrors of the Nazis, I was at an age when to me anything ‘historical’  – especially anything that predated the ‘invention of color”! – was long ago.  But now, 40+ years past my birth, I realize that events that happened 30- years before my birth really didn’t happen that long ago.

Chapter I – 8 Horses – or 96 Men, Women, and Children – In May 1944 the author’s husband, Dr. Lengyel, was to be deported to Germany immediately.  Apprently, his hospital didn’t order enough pharmaceuticals from the Bayer Company, a company which collaborated with the torcherous experiments conducted on prisioners at Auschwitz.  Encouraged to join her husband, she, her two sons under the age of twelve, and her parents were waiting at the platform in the railroad depot when they realized any desire to turn back was impossible as the entire station was surrounded by hundreds of soldiers.  Anyway, after six nights with 96 other people and their hastily packed luggage in a cattle car that would under normal conditions carry 8 horses, it was a relief to finally reach a destination.  I often feel uncomfortable around strangers in tight spaces – usually it’s not even 100 people and in a much larger space than 12 people/size of one horse.  Add the uncertainty of not knowing where, how long, no bathroom…I’d have been shot before the train left the station.

“With rare dignity, the Greeks refused to kill the Hungarians!” – The scale of the mass liquidations the Germans took on was a lot of work requiring a lot of cooperation.  The authority of few commanded the obedience of many.  Sonderkommandos were prisoners who were tasked with assisting the exterminations.  They were given better living conditions in exchange for the unimaginable tasks they were ordered to perform – for about four months  – then they were killed and replaced.  One of the 14 generations of Sonderkommandos revolted on October 7, 1944 and killed over 70 SS men and damaged one crematoria – 451 Sonderkommandos were killed that day as they would have been anyway.  In the summer of 1944, as the Hungarian transports arriving increased, the need for more Sonderkommandos increased.  At least 400 Greeks were ordered in the Sonderkommandos but refused.  “They declared they preferred to die themselves first.”  The Pro-German Hungarian government cooperated with the deportations of the Hungarian Jews but these Greeks refused to cooperate.

I started reading The Peasant Prince: Thaddeus Kosciuszko and the Age of Revolution, a book recommended to Kevin.  The Polish Kosciuszko was a national hero of Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, and the USA.  A firm believer in equality, he requested that the assets from his estate be used for freeing and educating slaves.   Very interesting book and hopefully I will finish it.  I’ve moved on for now and just started a fiction book, The Devil Speaks Hungarian.

Speaking of speaking Hungarian (magyar)…apparently the ‘English language is more closely related to Spanish, Russian or even Hindi than Hungarian to any of the above.’  I haven’t even attempted the basics yet.  I read ‘Hungarian is a beautiful language, but it is a prison’.