Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Prague Prancing

Location: Prague, Czech Republic


Rundown: Passed a few days wandering the gothic Prague trying Czech language and beer!


There are no signs indicating that you're leaving Germany and entering Czech Republic on the road between Dresden and Prague. You just understand the signs less than before! Pozor??


The city is filled with ornate and archaic marvels, including this astronomical clock from 1410 that tells the time in several different systems, marks the progression of the calendar, and comes to life i chiming and dancing sculptures on the hour.


Learned some newer history, that Budweiser is, in fact, a Czech beer! But of course, it's 'the king of beers', and we don't have a monarchy in the states.


Walked along Wenceslas Square, a long boulevard with nice shops and restaurants. At the end in front of a huge governmental building is a statue of Saint Wenceslas, as in "Good king Wenceslas looked out, on the feast of Stephen".

Wenceslas lived in the 900's AD, a century after the oldest part of the castle was built. Names from Christmas carols don't seem connected to real people until you see buildings that are as old as the people in the songs.


It's a beautiful hike up to the Prague castle overlooking the city and the Vltava river. The cobblestone streets and archaic but brightly painted buildings were a great spot to wander.



Had many delicious meals in Prague, including this brew pub with live music and fresh brewed beer.


The Czech had great meats and a terrific goulash soup, which is a spicy stew with meat and veggies. I had it a few times while I was there!


Although the weather was cold and we occasionally had clouds, there were few people wandering around Prague with us. We were spoiled to have the place to ourselves.


The night view out over Praha from the cathedral tower.



Sunday, January 8, 2012

Germany Road Trip


Location: Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Buchenwald, and Dresden, Germany


Rundown: Spent a little time in several towns in Germany between bigger trips.


Frankfurt Christmas Market


Went to a Christmas market in Frankfurt! I was thinking a few booths with Christmas ornaments, but not the case! People swarm in the streets around countless stalls selling wursts (sausages), Gl├╝hwein (a hot, mulled wine), and tons of other goodies. There are some ornaments too.



Pretty neat atmosphere. Lots of lights, lots of people, lots of food and drink. Doesn't seem like much of a tourist attraction, just people out and enjoying good company.






Heidelberg


In addition to being the site of the discovery of an early hominid, Homo Heidelbergensis, Heidelberg is a cute German town with a good university and an interesting castle ruin.

The land has been contested for so long that the castle has undergone several additions during the various cycles of sack and rebuild. Hard for me to imagine all the things that the castle has seen.


In the cellar of the great castle is a house-sized wine barrel which supposedly can hold 58,000 gallons of wine. It's so big there are stairs to a dance floor on top of it!





Buchenwald Concentration Camp


On the way to Dresden we stopped to see the Buchenwald concentration camp, one of the largest in Germany during the holocaust. It was a befittingly ugly day, with low clouds drizzling cold rain on the gray clearings. The wooden shacks that housed the 'prisoners' were gone, but their footprint and history remain.


We were the only ones in the camp that ugly day. Made for a heavy visit, being alone with your own thoughts in a place like that. It's astounding that people can be so creative in their cruelty to other people.


I've only included a few photos from the camp. It's important that people still see places like Buchenwald. There are things too horrible for pictures and too chilling for words there that need to be seen and felt first hand. Go see it.







Dresden


Spent a few days wandering around Dresden, a city that had been bombed almost into oblivion by allied planes in retaliation for the destruction of Canterbury, England. The buildings almost look like quilts. The older pieces are still dark from centuries of soot, while the newer materials that replace damaged bits are bright white.


It was bright and cold while we were there, and aside from the few Russians who are impervious to cold, we didn't see many tourists.


We went from warm spot to warm spot all day to keep out of the cold and wind. Much antifreeze was involved in our days there.




Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Barcelona Baby!


Location: Barcelona, Spain


Rundown: Spent a week in Barcelona eating tapas, drinking wine, and walking for hours and hours through the city.


I could spend weeks wandering around Barcelona. There are so many terrific things to see and do. The streets are interesting and dynamic from place to place in the city.


These street performers were making huge, worm-like soap bubbles that would eventually pop and rain soap suds all around. I guess Barcelona is trying to clean up the streets.


Walked around the Mercat de la Boqueria, with its fresh produce, raw meats and fish, makes for a colorful spectacle.


Came to Barcelona armed with a new lens for the camera. Probably spent more time behind it that I should have. Learned not to shoot and cross the street at the same time...


Spent the evenings foraging for good food in the plazas, listening to music on the street, and watching the glow of the buildings.


Had tapas, wine, and tons of other goodies in our meanderings.


We were in Barcelona just time time for the Night of the Kings. Santa apparently doesn't speak Catalan, so he leaves it to the Three Kings to bring presents to the children on January 5th. There was a massive, spectacular parade in the streets with amazing costumes and floats.



One of my favorite floats at the end of the parade.  The Carbon float!  They have red flares going off and sing about how the naughty kids are going to get carbon (coal) instead of presents in the morning!  I loved it!


Here's a link to a YouTube video of the parade.


The King's bread is a traditional ring cake that is eaten during the fest, so we naturally got our hands on one.


What we didn't know is that there are hidden treasures in the bread! There's a coin, a bean, and a little ceramic king that I almost lost a tooth on! The person who finds the coin gets to keep it, the person who finds the bean has to pay for the bread, and the person who finds the king gets to wear the crown (above) for the night. I felt pretty lucky.


You guessed it, more eating and merry making.


Spent and afternoon in the Sagrada Familia which has been in construction for one hundred years, no kidding. The length of the construction reminds me of Pillars of the Earth.


The size and scale of the cathedral was incredible. The structure and immense diameter pillars mimic a forest.


The place was intricately decorated to the point of disorientation. I could have sat in the pews for hours and stared at the columns and ceiling.


Also went to the Park Guell, by Gaudi. Originally created for a housing community, the park now is an odd gathering place for all sorts.


A huge plaza with scalloped and tiled benches overlook the entrance to the park and the rest of the city. Not a straight line to be had in the place!


Great pillars hold up the floor under the entire plaza, making a cool hiding place from the sun with neat shadows.


And a good time was had by all!