Saturday, May 30, 2009

Day 17: More Wien

We got a late start today. I stayed up until 3am skyping with Ron. Lauren was busy getting 12 hours of sleep. She sleeps very well – so I wasn’t worried about going to bed late because I knew she wouldn’t be waking me up early. We didn’t leave our hotel room until about 13:30. The first thing we did was figure out how we were going to make it to the airport tomorrow. Tomorrow evening we fly to Brussels, Belgium, followed by a train trip to Bruges.

My sister had recommended a couple of “must do’s” for Vienna. Visit the Liechtenstein Museum and go to the Sacher Torte Hotel and have a Sacher Torte. The Liechtenstein museum was not nearby. Thankfully, Lauren’s navigational skills were not rusty and so she quickly had the underground train, followed by tram figured out. We arrived at the museum in plenty of time to enjoy it without rushing. This museum houses parts of the most important private art collection in the world. This is the collection of Prince Hans-Adam II von und zu Liechtenstein. This museum opened in 2004 in the restored Liechtenstein summer palace. During WWII the treasures that had been collected by this family for generations were “removed to safety and stored in depositories”. They were finally put on display again when the museum opened. The museum has many works of art by Peter Paul Rubens. One of them is just called “The Head”. It was one of many that Rubens painted. He would paint the heads of local people quickly. He then used this collection for faces when he painted large format paintings with lots of people in them. The particular head we saw today has been found in many of his paintings.

This is a picture of us in the Sala Terrena with a 17th (or maybe 18th) century golden carriage. This was the only place we were allowed to take photographs.

We enjoyed both the permanent collection and a special exhibit called “Structure and Ornament”. It was about picture frames. We learned about the history and classification of frames. Frames used to be custom made to complement the work of art they housed. They were handmade – and often carved from wood. I believe they laid out three major types of frames, Tabernacle, Cassata and Tondo frames. I recognized the distinct tabernacle type frames first. They have been seen in most of the altars or private devotion Christian paintings we have seen. They were meant to be a reflection or façade of a temple or church and so they have a distinct architectural appearance. This specific design was meant to protect the spiritual content it housed. Understanding this for the first time has made me appreciate some of the art I have seen even more.

The Palace was intimate as palaces go and really was a beautiful place to house the collection. The frescoes on every ceiling were works of art. The ceiling frescoes in both entry stairwells were believed to have been lost a couple hundred years ago when they were painted over. During the restoration period o f the palace in 2001-2003 the frescoes were discovered underneath the paint and were restored to their original splendor. As beautiful as the ceilings were – I couldn’t help imagining a conversation I might have had with Ron if he were Prince Liechtenstein and I the Princess. We would probably be on the terrace discussing painting the ceilings. I would suggest that perhaps it really wasn’t necessary to paint every single ceiling in the palace. I think I would suggest that it would be nice to have a few ceilings that were done differently. I would have liked to change it up a little more. But then . . . I’m not really a princess, so I don’t get a say in it.

After the museum we returned to the heart of the city (after picking up Austrian mints for Colby at a gourmet grocery store). From there we got on a tram that was supposed to run a ring around the city. Rick Steves ‘ had recommended taking this tram as a way to see all the major architectural sights of the city. He suggested we sit in the front of the tram and with his book read about each site and then watch for it out the window. There were not seats in the front of the tram, but we did this for several blocks from where we were. The book said we wouldn’t see anything for a few blocks. We patiently waited as the scener y changed. It was apparent to Lauren that we were going further and further away from the center of the city. I was oblivious to where we really were as I just looked out the window studying everything I saw. We ended up having to get off the tram at the end of the line on the outskirts of Vienna. We had to cross the street and wait for another tram to take us back in. This time . . . we hopped into the front seat and laughed out loud that if we had front seats from the start perhaps we wouldn’t have lost our way. If you are using the Rick Steve’s Eastern Europe book on your trip to Vienna– please mark in the margin of page 833 - that tram #2 does not run in a circle. First bad mark for Rick Steves.

Here we are at the front of the tram! Relieved to be back on the right track again.

Rick earned a second bad mark today . . .. a recommended dining spot. The Rosenberger Market . . . .let’s just leave it at “it was awful”. You wouldn’t have liked the pictures of our dinner either. Make sure you cross that recommendation off in your guidebook too.

We chased our terrible dinner with a Sacher Tort, which is basically a piece of chocolate cake covered in hard chocolate. Lauren really wanted milk with her cake just as she did at her wedding. They did serve milk . . . but unfortunately it was whole milk . . so she chose hot chocolate instead. She asked me “What does the rest of the world each with their cake if it isn’t a nice glass of milk?” I had a delicious fruit herbal tea with my torte. The fruit was a blend of strawberry, chamomile, mint etc. Very rich red color. I have never had a tea that red in color, it was almost the color of kool-aid. Very good tasting – and it didn’t need any sugar or citrus, it was perfect.

We plan to go the Kunsthistorisches Museum tomorrow. We will see their permanent exhibit and I believe they also have a special exhibit we will take in. It is about interior spaces. Something I like to think about.
After this post, the next post will be from Belgium.

Day 16: WIEN

I like to say Vienna the way the say it in Austria, "VEEN," which is why I have written it Wien in title. I also have a lot of fun with the language here - German. I am always trying to figure out how to say things in German and read the local menus. I probably sound ridiculous but I find it all pretty funny.

My favorite thing about Wien thus far is the fact that we switched to this "sterile" as my mom calls it, hotel room complete with a refrigerator and microwave. We have not used the microwave yet, but I am so excited about the fridge. Yesterday we went to the little grocery store down the street and bought milk!!!! Milk in Europe has been hard to come by. I am a pretty big milk drinker: Aaron and I buy two gallons each week or so - one for him (1%) and one for me (skim). In France, I couldn't find it anywhere. In Eastern Europe, every hotel we've been at only seems to serve whole milk for breakfast (It's been too creamy looking for us to try). We were finally able to find some 1.5% milk at the grocery store and keep in our room so we can just have cereal for breakfast. Eastern European breakfasts are much different from what we are used to. A typical one includes a meat and cheese tray, croissants, dinner rolls, and hard boiled eggs. They include cereal on the buffet table but only with whole milk. I've been sticking to the dinner rolls with butter. I can't seem to bring myself to eat ham and cheese for breakfast like I would for lunch. Kristy has been able to try it; though, I don't think she liked it much. So once again, I am so happy for this glorious hotel with its glorious fridge where I can store glorious milk. I also find it incredible that the germans/austrians have been able to simplify "frosted mini-wheats" to one word - "toppas."

Like Kristy mentioned yesterday, the street our hotel is off of is filled with shops, and a few tiny fast food restaurants. We wouldn't consider eating at any of them. McDonald's is not so tiny, but so far we have seen at least three of them in the 15 minute walk we've done up this street. They aren't your typical McDonalds's though, they are "McCafes." They are hip places with a coffee and dessert bar towards the front and then a typical McDonalds in the back. My Mom thinks that the McCafe street appeal is part of the subterfuge to lure the Austrians into McDonalds. If McDonalds in its American form were at street level -there would be less interest - so the McCafe wrapper is a marketing ploy. We ventured over there yesterday morning to use their free wireless internet services (at this hotel we had to purchase our internet rights for an expensive rate so we opted to capitalize on that when Kristy needed it for her meeting) to let our husbands know where we were and post about Prague. We tried a hot chocolate of theirs and let's just say, I would still recommend Starbucks. Although, we did see something about McDonald's attempting to acquire Starbucks...

After we got ready for the day, we were once again hungry and instead of being adventurous, we headed to our favorite spot from yesterday, Vapiano, for some more pasta and salad. Delicious once again!

We then walked to the Hofburg Palace. This palace is incredible - huge, elaborate, and rivals any palace we've seen so far. I was impressed at how incredibly preserved everything was and how much of the "stuff" from these palaces were still intact. We only heard, "this is a replica of the original" a few times. Because Wien was the capital of the Holy Roman Empire/Austrian Empire until 1918, it seems that most of the "stuff" has been preserved well.

We first viewed the silver collection - I have never seen so many dishes in my life. Not even during the whole wedding registry process. Room after room after room filled with different plate collections, settings, centerpieces, silverware, etc.
Next we visited the Sisi Museum - a museum about the life of the Empress Elizabeth - Franz Josef's wife. She was assasinated tragically in 1898 and has been hallowed as a national hero and figure since then. She was very beautiful, but very depressed. Life as the empress did not suit her well. It was quite a sad exhibit to see. Following that, we toured the Imperial Apartments of Franz Josef and Elizabeth. These were also incredibly decorated and remarkably preserved. (we weren't allowed to take pictures in any of these places). We were surprised at how relatively new the emergence of porcelain is . . late 17 early 1800's I think. Prior to that everyone ate on silver platters . . but they kept having to melt them down to pay for things . . . so eventually porcelain became more acceptable.

Next we ventured towards the Royal and Ecclesiastical Treasury. We had heard this was incredible also and we were not let down. Once again, room after room after room was filled with royal treasures. It eventually got really tiring. We were able to snap some no flash pictures of some of the most gaudy objects. I couldn't believe some of the decoration on these things.

My Mom enjoyed getting a look at some reliquaries - she had always heard about them but had never seen one up close. We saw a ton of them. Basically, a reliquary is a fancy container fasioned to hold the relics of a saint or even Jesus Christ. There containers with pieces of bone and/or hair from saints. There was a reliquary or two claiming to have a thorn from the crown of thorns. These became important treasures as the person who owned them could substantiate the fact that they were ruling by divine right. The fact that they owned the relic documented this.

My mom left the treasury with an appreciation for tapestries. She has never really liked them - thinking of them as dust collectors. Of course - she knows they served as insulation in drafty palaces and as important demonstrations of wealth and power. But . . .they always seemed dusty and faded to her. After seeing the tapestries at the many places we have visited and then seeing some smaller ones in the treasury - she now has an appreciation for them as an art form. Her favorite piece was a set of liturgical vestments. They were called antependia and would have covered the front and back of an altar. Not only were they of beautiful workmanship - or workwomanship - but they were encrusted with jewels. Absolutely mesmerizing. The treasure was dark to preserve the treasures and so all our pictures could not do it justice . . but here's a peek anyway:

Following our Hofburg Palace visit, we stopped for dinner at a nice place overlooking a park near the palace. Our food was delicious - I ordered Steak with Greenbeans and Tomatoes and Kristy ordered Venison with asparagus, an asparagus crepe and elderberries. It was delicious, and very picturesque, so I snapped some pictures of the food. (I am now considering a career in food photography - haha)

We saw this statue from our table - it looked to us like he's urinating into the tree - you may have to click on the image to get a better view, but does anyone agree with me? I think its hilarious!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Day 15 in Vienna

Linda Eder's Song "Vienna" keeps going through my brain.

I wish Ron, my true love (and the biggest Linda Eder fan I know) were here to enjoy it with me . . . "cause in Vienna we were poetry, Yes In Vienna love was alive." Some day we'll be in Vienna together.

Right now . . . I'm enjoying Vienna with my daughter Lauren. She's in bed . . so the blog for the day fell to me. I have had many of you email me that you are following our blog. We are actually having fun writing it . . . maybe it's a little like being a foreign correspondent or a travel writer. Anyway - it is fun sharing our adventure . .. thanks for your interest in it.

I just spent the last three hours "skyping" with Jennifer at the office. See our previous blog on skyping (day 9). We finalized the dental office schedules for June and July. It's basically a process of analyzing supply and demand and making sure all the staff, room, equipments etc. are available to meet the needs of our patients. It's something we do togerher every month and it's really amazing that I can do it from Vienna. It almost didn't happen though . . . . .read on and somewhere in the next few paragraphs you'll find out why.

We had pre-arranged to stay at a little pension for our time in Vienna. (Prior to this we had been staying in small local hotels) The pension came recommended and looked really cute on the internet. A pension in Europe is generally a hotel with a few rooms and run by a family. It has the advantage typically of being cost effective and can offer one a glimpse into the life of the locals. When we arrived at the pension . . . after a peaceful 4 hour train ride from Prague yesterday afterno - we took the city bus directly to the pension. The entry was off a side street, through an alley, up some common stairs and into a locked reception area. (Upon check-in I was given a key to all three areas) The room was not as cute as it was on the internet. The room was on a very loud street. The curtains did not hav blackout lining. The toilet was in the hall outside the room (though the shower and sink were inside the room). I started to feel stressful about getting sleep. It was very clean and obviously well run little place. . . but the towels were stiff and hard. A note accompanied our 2 hand and 2 bath towels that said we would get clean ones every three days. I determined that it would be ok and after delivering our bags to our room, we first started to get settled and then determined we needed to explore our neighborhood . . we could finish unpacking later. We went off to discover Vienna. It was late afternoon by this time and we decided that the street we were on looked like it was worth exploring. We strolled for a mile or so and discovered it was a shopping mecca . . . with very few restaurants. This was not normal . . . we have had no shortage of restaurants . . but this street appeared to have only shops.

We have shopped for only three things in Europe and they are all for Colby at his request:
mints - he can't chew gum in the MTC but can have mints, we are trying to find a package of breath mints from every country we go to
watch - he thought it would be nice to have an inexpensive watch from Europe to wear as a missionary
small writing book - he had almost filled his little leather moleskin book up with notes from the MTC and was hoping to have a new one from Europe to write in once it was filled.
We have looked for these things in Paris, Krakow and Prague. We had had luck with finding mints and had about given up finding a suitable watch or writing book. (I could write a sidebar here about the sad demise of wrist watches in our technology laden culture - but it's late - so suffice it to say I will never substitue an electronic device for a wrist watch. Many of the younger generations will never understand the pleasure of wearing a nice wristwatch) Well ... this street in Vienna (Mariahilfer Strasse)is full of shopping spots and we have succeeded in finding him all of his requested items.

We scouted out a place to eat dinner and were about to give up on the area when we happened across a restaurant called Vapiano. It is an Italian pasta bar. They make fresh homemade pasta on site. There have pizza, pasta and salad stations. They cook everything up fresh for you as you order. Really good, fresh food. This would be another great business idea for the U.S. My Father Ron is always looking for restaurant ideas for his developments .. . this is worth looking into if you are reading this blog today. Go to

During our walk on this major shopping street Lauren discovered an English Language movie theatre. After dinner we decided that we should go see a movie. So . . . we got tickets to the 7pm showing. We saw the movie Rachel Gets Married, which we thought was a romantic comedy, a chick flick. NOT! It was a drama - about drug rehabilitation, atonement and family relationships. Very powerful and moving . .. but not as light and romantic as we were in the mood for. (Ron just skyped me and told me that Anne Hathaway won the best actress oscar for her role. All I can say is ... what planet have I been living on because I didn't know that . . .and . . . she earned the oscar ...and . . . I can't wait to tell Lauren) The movie ended at 8:46pm and as we walked out of the theatre onto the street we discovered that it was pouring with rain. (It has rained a lot while we have been in Vienna.) We brought our umbrellas to Europe . . .but of course . . .they were in the hotel room. Anyway - I looked at Lauren and said . . "We didn't get our romantic comedy chick flick - but the Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (Called "The Womanizer" in Austria) started a minute ago. How about if we just turn right around and watch another movie?" I didn't have to talk her into it. Her eyes lit up with excitement and we turned our heels returning to the same ticket saleswoman who sold us seats the first time around (in Austria you buy specific movie theatre seats) on the 5th row again. The movie was not very good -but it was at least light. It was a fun way to spend the evening together and the rain had passed by the time the movie was over. I certainly felt luxuriously free with my time. I have never seen two movies in a row before and had always wanted to do that. I guess you might say I checked an item off of my bucket list; if I had a bucket list.

While we were going to sleep that night, Lauren and I talked about the movie and came up with a list of discussion list outline like you would use in a book group discussion. Things like . . ."how did the camera angle affect your sense of perspecive in the movie . . .Did the toasting scene at the rehearsal dinner make you feel more intitmately involved with this family and how?" We were too tired to go on and so joked that we would create discussion questions on "The Womanizer" the next day. It was great that we both understood immediately that there was nothing deep enough about that movie to warrant a discussion list.

We returned to the pension and attempted to login to the internet. We couldn't access it in our room at all . . . only in the public area, but even then . . . it was so slow. We couldn't retrieve email with any speed. It was so slow ... I knew that I would not be able to skype on it. This was the straw that broke the camel's back. I knew that I had a web meeting with Jennifer at my office the next evening and there was no way I could do it under these circumstances. So . . . I looked at Lauren (it was 11pm by now) and said something like.. . "what do you say we get out of dodge and go find us a decent hotel room with internet service?". We left the pension - (down the stairwell and through the alley previously described) and visited a couple hotels in the area. We asked the desk clerks to show us the recommended room and after about 30 minutes time we had the key to our new room. We made our way back through the alley etc. to the pension, packed our bags up (we had barely unpacked anything) wrote our host a note and arranged for payment of the bill. We slipped the note and the keys under the door of the kitchen and slipped out the door down the stairs, through the alley and back onto the street. We rolled our luggage to our new hotel and slept well all night long. (I did return in the morning to the pension just to be sure that the owner had received payment and keys.) That is how I was able to keep my web meeting appointment with Jennifer Friday night. While I was conferencing with her . . my friend Pat happened to be in the office for an appointment and I got to see and talk to her too. Technology is so cool!

Tomorrow we'll tell you all about the Palace here and the Royal Treasury. And oh yes. .. more food pictures tomorrow.

Days 13-14: Prague

Czech out Prague! We did and it was well worth checking out.

Before we left the train station we visited an ATM machine. In Poland we had just gotten used to the zloty (“zlot-ee”) now we had to get accustomed to the Czech koruna. Our cash came out of the machine in bills that said 2000 on them. We knew right away this would take some getting used to. The exchange rate is about 18 cents for every Koruna. Here is a picture of a Czech bill.

We stayed at the Hotel Julian, which was well situated for all the areas of Prague we intended to explore. As mentioned in our last blog entry, we spent the first half day in Prague – sleeping. By the afternoon we had showered and were ready to explore the city. We knew the following from our recently discovered Rick Steve’s Easter Europe guidebook:

“Until about 1800, Prague was actually four distinct towns with four town squares, all separated by fortified walls. Each town had a unique character, which came from the personality of the people who initially settled it. Today, much of Prague’s charm survives in the distinct spirit of each of its towns.”

As we were looking for something different than we had already experienced - we started in the New Town. We understood New Town was the place to learn more about Prague’s communist past. We walked a good distance to the Wenceslas square. This was the gathering place where ordinary citizenry have gathered historically to protest oppressive rule. In 1989 this was where the “Velvet Revolution” took place. Many events led up to the peaceful demise of communism in this country in 1990. We tried to imagine 300,000 people gathering on this square every night for 7 days in 1989. They peacefully demonstrated their opposition to communist rule. They wanted to be free to control their own destinies. I thought of the word “revolution” and wondered how it was linked to the word “velvet”. This is because the split from communist rule – was smooth, no one was hurt, nothing was destroyed and Czechoslovakia was able to rule itself at the start of 1990. The results of revolution are continuing to evolve as Prague reinvents itself into a capitalistic society. Evidence of this change abounds.

We found our way to the Museum of Communism. This was a museum experience unlike anything we had so far had on the continent. It was difficult to find - poor signage contributed to our difficulty in locating it. We found our way through a courtyard and up the stairs of building that appeared to have been neglected. The artifacts on display were not protected as you would see in typical museums. It was evident all around that funding for this museum was an issue. As we went through the museum we got a deeper understanding of what communism was like in this country. The condition of the museum seemed to symbolize to us that communism had died in that country – but the memory of it lingered on for its residents.

We looked for a place called Le Patio. It was a hip place with “international fare from India, France and points in between.” We did our typical dinner routine. One order for an entrée and one order for a salad, then we split them. This has worked out nicely and enables us to get a balanced diet. The food was excellent – a good find. We had Tandoori Chicken. I have a recipe for this and love to make it. The chicken is marinated in a yogurt sauce for about 8 hours before grilling. The taste is unique and light. It pairs well with rice. This dish was paired with plain aromatic jasmine rice and had grilled pineapples with it. The salad had red endive and assorted field greens. The menu said the cheese was feta, but I am quite sure it was goat cheese. We ordered a bottle of water to accompany our dinner. When we received our bill I was surprised to discover that the water cost about 75% of an individual entrée.

Incidentally, we have had a few emails and comments on our food descriptions. I have chuckled at the comments which say they would expect such detailed descriptions from a dietitian. The detailed descriptions of food and nutrition are always by me – Kristy. Lauren never goes into detail on food. The other day Lauren was blogging about our authentic polish meal in the cabin restaurant on the way to the salt mine. I told her to be sure to write about my beetroot soup with meat dumplings. I described the broth to her as thin and light like a vegetable broth and not thick and creamy as I had expected it to be. I asked her to write that the dumplings were filled with a lightly flavored ground meet and that the broth was gently – not strongly flavored as I had imagined a beetroot soup might be. I also asked her to describe the goulash and potato pancakes that we had. She laughed at me and said – “are you kidding me Mom . . do you really want me to write that detail about the food”? As I told Aaron before he married Lauren . . . she is interested in the “science “of food . . Not the food. Incidentally – whenever there are pictures of food – Lauren has always staged and performed the photography of it. This is a skill she acquired in college.

The next day we decided to learn how to use their public transport system as we were going to be exploring different distant areas of the city. Our hotel desk clerk sold us four tram tickets – they were about $1 each. She took the trouble to show us to validate them when we got on the tram. As it turns out – nobody seemed to check on anybody’s tickets and you were riding on the tram under the honor system.
The tram dropped us at the foot of the Castle Quarter. We visited the St. Vitus cathedral, Royal Palace and St. George Basilica and convent. We departed the castle via the golden lane. There were two things in this cathedral that stood out from the others were have visited. They were :

The tomb of St. John of Nepomuk - This was made with more than 1 ton of silver. It was literally in the aisle taking up space. We thought . . . . he was so important that everyone has to walk around him forever.

Wenceslas Chapel – This was quite remarkable. The wall is encrusted with semi and precious jewels. The chapel is roped off to protect the jewels. Wenceslas is the same on of the Christmas carol fame.

In the Royal Palace we learned that angry Czech protestant nobles threw two catholic governors out of the window. This is an act based on an old law called “defenestration”. It is still permitted by law. The architecture of the palace was graceful and simple. In it’s simplicity it was as beautiful as anything we had seen.

On Golden Lane we saw where Franz Kafka once lived. Lauren was horrified by the veneration of this author. She studied ‘The Metamorphosis” during a humanities class in college. It was really weird and she is unsure why it gets so much attention. “ Czech people think he is the so . . . whatever. “ That was quoting Lauren.

It was lunch time. We czeched out Rick Steves restaurant suggestions and vetoed each one. We happened upon a place called “The colonial Café”. It was of the same quality as we had had the night before and we were very happy with our selections.
We spent the afternoon exploring the Jewish Quarter. Prague’s Jews were allowed to collect and archive their treasures during Nazi rule before they were sent to concentration camps. They were warehoused in their synagogues. Hitler had plans to use many of these artifacts in a museum of the extinct race. The Jews in Prague lived like any other citizen . . . . their homes were similar, their clothing similar etc. They were distinguished by their religious practices and this enriched their culture.

The PInkas synagogue was a memorial to all Czech Jews that had been exterminated by the Nazi’s. On the walls of this synagogue was written the name of every person. The information recorded included the city they were from, their name, and date of birth, date of exportation or date last known to be alive. The cantor in the synagogue reads the names out loud continually. We visited about 6 synagogues and the Jewish cemetery. We were not allowed to take pictures inside the Jewish museums, so we cannot show you any of the beautiful things we saw inside. The architecture surprised us in that it was very similar to the Christian cathedrals we had seen. Some of the synagogues were plain –but some were ornately decorated as the Catholic sanctuaries we visited had been. We saw many artifacts of Jewish Religious Life: things that would have been used in worship such as menorahs and torahs. We saw artifacts from birth, bar and bat mitzvahs, marriage and death ceremonies and rituals. The Jewish cemetery was especially interesting. It is the only place where Jews could bury their dead. So the Jews were buried on top of each other. The dense collection of tombstones in the cemeteries illustrates this.

We strolled to Old Town Square where we took in the architecture and monuments visible there. The clock tower was especially interesting. It was an astronomical clock that had so many things going on. It shows both bohemian and modern time, indicates the time of sunrise and sunset. It portrays the signs of the zodiac and identifies the saint of the day. At the top of the upper clock circle there are four statues. One is a Turk with a mandolin to symbolize hedonism, a Jewish money lender symbolizes greed, a figure staring into the mirror is vanity. These three items remind us of death. The fourth figure is a skeleton holding the hour glass of death reminding us that our time is running out. As if that wasn’t enough for a clock to do . . . when it strikes the hour death tips the hour glass, pulls the cord, rings the bell , the windows open and the twelve apostles parade by. The clock dates to the 15th century.

We strolled down several streets and admired the architecture. Prague has examples of different styles such as Romanticism, Gothic, neoclassical, renaissance, Art Nouveau, Functionalism, Baroque, Rococo, and Cubism. This city is worth coming to – just to see the architecture. Different styles were butted right up next to each other. They were painted in different colors. It was an eclectic collection of styles and colors – but oh so beautiful. Tile roofs were predominant and added to the charm of the skyline. There were no skyscrapers, very few billboards. Everything was charming and picturesque.

Our last major Prauge tourist attraction was to stroll across the Charles bridge. My friend had commented that we must see that before we left. When she said this I wondered why the Charles bridge? There were several bridges that we could see that cross the river Vltava. We had already walked across one , the scenery was lovely. Carolee spoke highly of the Bridge; I wondered how this bridge could distinguish itself from the other bridges in Prague, what was so special about it.
Once we started walking on th bridge, we immediately knew why the bridge was so special. The cobblestones, statues, musicians, vendors, expansive scenic view, street lamps etc. made this strolling only bridge one you wanted to linger on. We enjoyed some of the musicians performing and took our time getting across. It was a memorable part of Prague. Thanks Carolee . . . without your tip we might have ignored the Charles as just another bridge.

We followed Czech tradition and touched this statue and made a wish.

We finished our evening at a Czech-Mex restaurant. Very good – we ate very well in Prague.
We foudn the menu funny.

"Traditional Mexican Chocolate Dessert"

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Day 12 - Last Day in Krakow

Our last day in Krakow was not as exciting as our other days. We spent the morning getting ready and packing our stuff up. We finally tried the “Kebabs” we had seen advertised in little shops everywhere – more like a pita filled with stuff. We thought they were pretty good.

The Australian couple we had met the day before had recommended a bike tour of Krakow with a guide. It was rated the #1 thing to do in Krakow on Trip Advisor and the description online seemed like something we wanted to do. So we showed up at the place at 1 and they were very full. They weren’t sure if there were going to be enough bikes for us but there ended up being enough.

Overall, we weren’t entirely sure if it was worth the money we paid for it, but it was a nice experience. We really enjoyed the bike riding and actually wished we got to do more of that. We’re hoping in another city we’ll be able to find a place to rent bikes and see the city that way. Our tour guide was a very proud, opinionated Pole. At every stop we made, he talked forever and repeated himself a lot. At one point, a Polish lady came up and told him to stop telling us all lies! They had a little round of arguments in the square with us all looking in. She heckled him and told him he shouldn't swindle the tourists. His version of history was too slanted for her. The tour ended an hour late – luckily, just in time for our dinner reservations! We learned a bit moe about Polish history and were surprised that we had already seen most of the important sights that he hilighted. After the tour we felt like we had really seen most everything Krakow had to offer. The tour showed us some of the Jewish Quarter, Kazimierz - something we hadn't really been to yet even though that's where our hotel was located. We didn't see as much as we would have liked (We wanted to see the Jewish Cemetary) but we did get a good Polish-Jewish history lesson. In Prague, there is an excellent Jewish quarter so we will explore that.

We did well in Krakow, feeling very comfortable there and sure that we had visited the most important sights - but we were a little worried about Prague and Vienna without our Rick Steve's Eastern Europe book as a guide. Our "lonely planet" replacement book was so bad it made us feel like we were "alone" on the planet. Still.. . .. the adventure must go on.

Old Jewish Synagogue

Schindler's Factory - I haven't seen the movie but now I guess I have to.

Old Jewish Ghetto wall

We ate dinner a great little place called Miod Malina – Honey Rapsberry in English. Our favorite part was the apple pie – beautiful and delicious! It would have passed for an apple cake in our culture. I also tried potatoe dumplings - kind of plain but ok. After dinner, we headed to another classical concert where we heard Vivaldi’s Four Seasons performed by a Chamber Orchestra in St. Peter and Paul's church or was it a cathedral? I don't remember now. The performance was actually being recorded for a DVD and I was sitting next to the Priest. Everytime I looked at the camera to the right of us it was pointed in our direction! I have a feeling that we will be known as the American Scrubs sitting next to the Priest in this video. Kristy left her email address so we could get a copy of the DVD when it comes out.

Following the concert, we had Bob the Taxi Driver come pick us up again. Once again, he was lots of fun and he had a different mission this time! He took us to the train station for our night train to Prague! He took great care of us, actually walked us to the train platform, made sure we got onto correct car and compartment, communicated with our cabin attendant, and waited around until he felt comfortable about leaving us alone. He said there were lots of gypsies and thieves in stations and he wanted us to be safe. He was really nice and helped us so much! What a great guy with a very colorful Polish personality.

Bob (James Bond) and I (Do you think he looks like Daniel Craig - only a few pounds heavier?)

Our night train was an experience. We purchased second class couchette tickets from a Pole who spoke broken English the day we arrived in Krakow. These couchettes were interesting. We had been hoping for a little more private bed-type compartment, but these were second class, not first class. We thought about upgrading but decided to just stick it out for the adventure. These couchettes slept 6 people. Luckily, everyone that joined us in our compartment were English-speaking backpackers. The first 3 Shane, R.J., and Patrick were really nice young men (mid to late 20's probably) but the other guy Adam was a little sketchy - he got on the train with a six pack of beers and no intention of really sleeping. Luckily, he found his way to another compartment for most of the night. Overall, the guys were really nice, made some great company, and helped us out quite a bit. R.J. was especially attentive to us. He was from the South and ex-marine core - a real gentleman who looked out for us. I slept through the night but Kristy was not so lucky, she was awake for most of the trip. During the night her feet were cold - so she reached into the top front zipper compartment of her suitcase, in the middle of the night she felt a book . .. she hadn't put a book in there and so curious - she pulled it out and in the light coming through the train window about 4am she could see that it was our Rick Steve's book - showing up just in time to guide us in Prague! We arrived in Prague this morning at 7, and a taxi driver picked us up and took us to our hotel. There was some trouble finding him as the station was under construction. When we arrived at the hotel about 7:30am, our room was ready for us and so I got to sleep some more and my Mom finally got a few hours rest! It was great and very needed before we started exploring Prague!

Our Couchette

The middle "board" folded down to make a third bed between the bottom and top ones.