Sunday, July 4, 2010

Prague Adventure, May 2010

Prague, in the Czech Republic has been on our list of "must sees"! We got a three-day weekend and were very excited to make the trip.

The local police were also very excited for us to make this trip! In fact, they were waiting for us. No sooner did we cross the border than we got stopped and cited for not having a certain toll sticker. Who Knew? Rick Steves guide book said to check into this at the border station - which was not there! A 10 euro toll and a hundred euro fine! Welcome to the Czech Republic!

Before we reached the city of Prague we chose to stop at a smaller castle some friends had recommended. We were unclear on the parking options so we followed another car up a small road towards what looked like a small market square. Uh Oh! No parking up there. Vendors only! Gary dropped us off and promptly exited to find appropriate parking. Too late! The local police were actually blocking the exit with their vehicle waiting for him. We were a bit sour on the Czech's welcoming committes. It cost us 4o more Euros (paid on the spot of course) to escape.

We finally reach the wonderful city of Prague and are anxious to see if all this "trouble" is worth it.

We were plannng on staying at Alexanders Pension 12 near the mission home/church. But there was a plumbing incident and he arranged for us to stay at a different place but for the same great price! He even came and got us for Breakfast both mornings:) His place was a bit more convenient for walking into the city sights each day - so it worked out well.

This is a city one visits to see many of the old buildings in their original construction. But we managed to see an odd modern touch or two. It's not often one gets to see a sculpture made entirely of keys.

Mel is determined to get the whole height of this church into the photo. Her passion for the shot requires her to sit on the ground to check the sighting. Gary will need to pose to do his part in this effort.

Ta Da! We got the steeple and Gary! Mel is pleased and Gary says, "Now, can we go?"

Prague is a wonderfully preserved city with numerous churches and they are each unique. Most churches offer a concert nightly during the heavy tourist season. Vivaldi & Bach were typical of the programs presented.

This church is near the castle but not within the castle grounds or wall. Just imagine all the bells ringing multiple times each day. No need for an alarm clock!
We really enjoyed the feeling of all these saints looking over the people on the street. We chose this church to attend a concert on our first night in town.

Each church interior is delightful. The architecture adds to the chamber feeling for the music presented.

From one of the lower, minor squares of Prague we can look up to the Prague Castle. There is a cathedral right on the castle grounds, one just outside and another where we stand for this photo. And there are dozens of other cathedrals all over the city.

Here Gary is outside the Prague Castle. Our friends the Whiddons are heading on but we want to preserve the memory through photos. Well, Mel does anyway:)

This church is within the castle walls. I guess it would make it easier to get to church on time having it so close and all. It was quite ornate inside.

Just this one alter piece contains several tons of silver. The contributions to make grand interiors in the churches were apparently generous.

We witnessed the changing of the guards outside the castle. But inspite of Mel's efforts he was forbidden to smile or respond. Apparently, they take the guarding of the castle, the church and their treasures quite seriously:)

We were interested to see that the roads, at least in this case, were repaired one brick or stone at a time. As charming as the cobblestone is...ohhh it's hard on the feet after a 10 hour day of sightseeing!

Gary takes a peek through a piece of an old city wall up near the Prague Castle. Originally these slits allowed arrows to fly in defense of the castle.

But today there is just a pleasant view of the residential area surrounding the castle walls.

The buildings surrounding the main square are just the sights you'd expect in fairy tales! Here you see a very old church tucked behind buildings that are a bit more modern (still old and charming).

Looking back at the old city from the St. Charles Bridge you can get a feel for the charm that is just squished into one photo! From this bridge gateway you can see that there are many layers of "old".

On the Charles Bridge there were many street vendors and musicians. Gary especially liked the trumpeter. The performers looked like they were having fun.

In the main city square there were many tempting food options. Above is bread dough grilled on rods and coated with sugar afterwards. A bit "smokey" but tasty.

A bicycle built for five! We noticed the advertising on jackets was in English. A clever way to pedel tourists around the city. It requires the cooperation of the two employed pedlers to manuver through the crowed pedestrian areas.

" Pig grilled on a stick "was also an option. Big, huge slabs of pig were wacked off and served with a piece of very hearty bread.

It's a miracle! Gary found a stand that specialized in Potatoes. The plain baked ones looked "normal" but the rest of the dishes were too strange for him to consider:)

The astonomical clock on the old town square.Everyone stops as the apostles march out from the door at the side of the clock each hour on the hour. Then a bugler blows his horn in several directions. Then, everyone goes back to cafes and shopping.

The details in Prague were not disappointing! Weathered and worn doors boast amazing hardware.

Prague's Jewish quarter still has some charming buildings. Admired by both Jews & Gentiles.

The hemlines were nearly as fascinatating as the skyline:)

Great memories from this place. For us, this worn but wonderfully preserved city by the river Vltava riveled Paris for charm. Many big and grand buildings.

Just look at the variety of rooflines as we gaze down most any street! We are so happy to have visited was on our "Bucket List". This may be our last "big trip" (3day) for quite awhile...but there are still plenty of amazing places to go on our Saturdays:)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

More castles and a Medieval Parade

Welcome again to our adventures in Europe. It's Sunday morning and raining--again! We have had a few nice days, but have been overall surprised by how often it has been cloudy and/or raining. It hasn't "rained on our parade" however as you can tell from the pictures that follow.

So many castles and so little time! This is an impressive one about half hour from our home. We didn't stop to tour the inside of this castle in Braunfels; but these impressive, centuries-old structures dot the land here. The town square buts up against the castle walls and gates and is a charming place to have lunch. (or shop?)

This is the small market square, Braunfels. Gary is smiling because he is anticipating a lunch of fresh white asparagus (called Spargle), potatoes, and snitzel for lunch. No, we are not losing weight, but we walk so much we aren't gaining that much either.

This is looking over Speyer, Germany--another town with roots to Roman times and with a medieval history.

As you can see, not every thing in Speyer is medieval. This is a pretty cool shot of a 747 taking off, but it's not really taking off. It's a full size static model which is part of an air, locomotive, and car museum in Speyer.

More of Speyer as seen from a rather old tower over the old medieval gate to the city. All of the old cities were surrounded by a wall for protection with guard towers. This one in Speyer is pretty tall and good views!

On the way back from Speyer we stopped in Lorsch, Germany. You can see that there are still some holdovers from the middle ages in this town. These are locals preparing for a parade through this little town. (Reminded us of the Oakley parade - for those of you familiar with that--at least in the sense of a local, home grown affair) Falconry was big in the middle ages.

Here we have the serfs getting ready to start the parade. They are near one of the towns old wall an impressive gate and watchtower. It is among the oldest in Europe still standing.

Notice the medieval maiden (??) next to the serf. Yes, Mel has this need to mingle with the natives where-ever we go:) This was the staging ground for the parade.

We moved to a better viewing location to see the pageantry. This is a shot of the actual parade: serfs, maidens, knights, princesses, monks and the pope? Sorry, this photo doesn't show the horses and dragon already mentioned.

And here we have the local drum and fife corps. Not exactly the US Marine marching band, but they added nicely to the festivities. Mel finally got one of them to smile! They were taking it way too seriously:)

Our next blog entry will cover our recent trip to Prague in the Czech Republic. We love you all and miss you!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Tip toe thru the Tulips...and beyond

Gary takes time to "smell the roses" - only they are fragrant hyacinth
at Kuekenhof Gardens in Lisse, Nederlands. (Holland)
We start this edition of our blog in Nurnburg, Germany. The city was largely destroyed during the war, but has been rebuilt in an interesting mix of old and new. This is where the Nazi war crime trials were held and where General Eisenhower had his headquarters for a time. The cathedral above was just a shell after the war. We saw movies of tanks coming out of the side of the church when it was a rubble pile, and of bull dozers scraping the debri from the inside. They redid the shell and completed the inside to replicate it's original style and configuration.

Believe it or not, this home is still in use and it was originally built around 1300 AD. Homes like this survived the war and stand immediately next to new construction.

We also toured Luxemburg on our way home from Holland. The US has a beautiful cemetary and memorial there which includes the grave of General Patton. His grave stands at the head of the thousands of others in the cemetary, but it's notable that his marker is exactly like all the others. No immense statue or crypt, which we think fits the American way of looking at things.

The Germans, and all Europeans in genereal are very big into recycling. We struggle to divide our rubbish into all the assorted requirements. Mel's struggling to figure out things like where the dryer lint goes. The other day we stopped for a soda which came in a bottle. We had to drink it there or pay and extra 20 cents to take the bottle. Grandma takes all of our used bottles back to the store for a refund. If you can read the German, this recycling box has divisions for 3 colors - white, brown and green glass. They get kind of technical, don't you think?

We had a bit of a challenge finding availability at any of the motels on our way home from Holland & Belgium. Big Biking event created "no room at the inns". But it was worth this stop just for the sign in their lot. We often see parking reserved for woman or woman with children. Old folks like us are also sometimes treated to a preferred parking as well.

Speaking of parking, you might not be able to make it out, but this is a multilevel parking garage in Amsterdam for bicycles. We never saw so many bikes in our lives. Wonder how they ever find their own bikein this huge pile.

This is another shot taken from a boat on the canal. The garage had four levels and it was completely filled to the max with bikes. We parked at a Park n ride outside Amsterdam. It worked out great. For 6 Euro we parked for a whole day, recieved train tickets for the 4 of us into the city and had the option of recieving bikes. Not 6 per person - 6 euro for all of us!

Can't go to Holland without visiting windmills at the Kinderdijks. They were originally used to control water levels and as grinding mills. Not in use any more except as a picture platform for tourists. You might notice one of those in this picture.

Speaking of unusual signs. We've seen plenty of graphics with the slash through indicating no pooping of your dog. Seems that this IS a place where dogs ARE allowed to do what comes natural. Might be why the grass doesn't look so good.

This is a fairly typical Dutch house in the country. Like this one, many of the roofs were (still are) thatched. The Dutch are very clean. Each yard was neatly landscapped and no trash or weeds that we could see anywhere. We travelled with our friends the Whiddens. Arendje Whidden was born in Holland and lived there first 8 years and even wore wooden shoes as a child. It added to our trip to go to her birthplace and hometown. Her grandparents home was now the local firestation.

Did we mention that there were a lot of bikes in Holland? This is pretty typical. Lots of folks riding in business suits and mothers with kids on board. It's common to see a windshield on a bike like the one on the right.

This picture is from an area just outside of Rotterdam. (Kinderdijk) There were twenty or so windmills along the waterway. They are pretty much like they have been for centuries in this one place.

The Keukenhof Gardens hosts a world famous tulip festival for two months every year. Thankfully, we got there early in the day, because as we left we passed (literally) a 6 mile lineup of cars and buses waiting to get in. There are 85 acres of perfectly manicured gardens with tulips, grass, lakes, and statues. There are also several buildings with prize tulips in every style, color and configuration imaginable. We took a lot of pictures but none do justice to the beauty (and sweet smell) of the place.

The theme for the festival this year was "From Russia with Love". Some flower beds made designs such as the cathedral you see here, others were just amazing in their abundance of colors, and size.

Here we have two blooming idiots amid all the other blooming wonders.

Again, pictures don't really do the scene justice. The colors were very vibrant (and did we mention the sweet smell?)

There is a unique architecture found in Amsterdam. This picture was taken from our boat trip down one of the many canals in Amsterdam. You can see the top of a house boat, thousands of which line each side of the canals; then the apartment building just beyond. Most of these builings were orignially warehouses along the canals that have been turned into apartments. Notice the hoists up high - for bringing large items to the top floors. The stairwells are usuallly quite narrow. Pretty smart!

We heard that everyone in Holland has two or three bicycles. Could be. Seemed like more bikes than cars.
We hope all of our family and friends are doing well. We love you all and miss you. We are seeing some interesting things and visiting fun places when we can. But nothing compares to family and friends. Until next time.