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Prague – Day 5 – Part 2

After leaving the Lennon Wall we passed by the water wheel. From up on the bridge we noticed people stopping at the wheel and lingering. We thought they were just looking at the wheel and getting in the way of our shots. Turns out they were marveling at the wall of padlocks.

More precisely, “love padlocks

We’d seen something like this before in Florence Italy. Apparently lovers profess their undying love and the bond they share by locking a padlock to this gate and then throwing the key into the canal. Awww, how romantic! Engraved, painted and adorned with ribbons, they are really quite interesting to see. I found myself shooting quite a few pictures before we moved on.

Our next destination was Petrín, a hill in the center of Prague above the left bank of the Vltava River. Mostly just parks, but there is 1/5 scale replica of the Eiffel Tower up there that is supposed to offer some of the best views of the city.

On the way to there we came across the Victims of Communism Memorial

It shows seven bronze figures descending a flight of stairs. The statues appear more “decayed” the further away they are from you – losing limbs and their bodies breaking open. It is supposed to symbolize how political prisoners were affected by Communism.

From there we made our way to the fenucular that would take us to the top of Petrín Hill. Once to the top we went to the minature Eiffel Tower and bough tickets. At the top the view was nothing short of spectacular!

After going to the top of the miniature Eiffel Tower we went to the basement to see the museum dedicated to Jára Cimrman. This was absolutely HILLARIOUS! Jára Cimrman is a fictional character created in the 60’s and he is presented as one of the greatest Czech playwrights, poets, composers, teachers, travellers, philosophers, inventors, detectives, mathematicians, politicians, lovers and sportsmen of the 19th and early 20th century. Playing the game on his real existence is part of his characterization. My favorite Cimrman quote “I am such a complete atheist that I am afraid God will punish me.” Check out the link above to learn more.

That was pretty much a full day. We had dinner last night at Boatel Matylda, a VERY nice Italian restaurant on the top deck of a floating boat hotel. Then we went to the Dancing House to get a night photo of the building. You’ll see that later. Now is time to sleep for another day awaits us tomorrow.

Prague – Day 5 – Part 1

Another sunny and wonderful day! We woke up early and had breakfast, after which we headed off to the Charles Bridge to cross over to Malá Strana or “little quarter” area of Prague. Crossing the bridge we found the last surviving water wheel that was once one of many that lined this canal next to Kampa Island. It is said that each canal had its own protective water spirit (vodnik). Now that that there’s only the one canal, there’s only one water spirit left…Mr. Kabourek.

The first site we wanted to get to was the John Lennon Wall. John Lennon’s music of peace and freedom was an inspiration to the oppressed peoples of the communist regime. When John was murdered a young artists came to this wall and painted a picture of John on it. The authorities painted over it. The artist returned the next day and painted it again. Eventually the owners of the wall, the Embassy of Malta, stepped in and declared that the wall was sovereign territory and the the local authorities had no right to touch it. Over time many came to paint on the wall their own messages of peace and freedom and to this day the wall grows and changes as visitors come to see this symbol of freedom and expression and add their own messages to the wall.

Exploring the wall I kept finding more and more details.

Cynthia spent the better part of an hour just photographing various small and large detail shots and we both agreed that the wall was quite fascinating and the story behind it very profound. We eventually did add our marks to the wall.

Nothing lofty or pretentious. Just our names. Just something to say we were there

We really enjoyed this space. If you’re ever in Prague, go find it. At first it just seems like a wall full of graffiti. But as you contemplate it and read the messages it unfolds with greater meaning and beauty.

Prague – Day 4

Hallelujah! It is not raining! The temps have dropped but there’s sunlight streaming down from the heavens through some rather picturesque clouds. With joy in our hearts and a spring in our step we were out of the apartment by 7:45 and over the Bohemia Bagel for some breakfast. I will say this, the portions with just about any meal we’ve had in Prague have been hearty. I had trouble finishing my breakfast and Cynthia had to abandon part of hers. But we were happy to have the abundant calories because today was the day we made our way to Prague Castle. That’s it you see to the left of Charles Bridge in the above photo. More accurately, that’s the St. Vitus Cathedral and that’s what we really wanted to see. That, and the changing of the guard ceremony.

The castle complex is way up the hill so walking was out of the question. This meant we had to find the #22 tram and a place to buy tickets.

Google Maps provided the location of the tram stops and a small shop next to the rail line provided the tickets we needed.

We rode the #22 tram up the hill and got off at Strahov Monastery. In an ideal world we would have gotten off at the monastery to visit the famous library, but we knew from our research that it was under renovation. The reason we got off at the monastery was to have a quick look around and then take the pleasant and mostly downhill stroll to the castle complex.

The weather was just perfect. The sun kept coming out and there was no sign of rain at all.

The Prague Castle is probably the most visited tourist spot in all of Bohemia. Bus after bus after bus of tour groups pile into the complex and the crowds can be quite intense.

We wanted to see the changing of the guard, but didn’t know how they did it here so we didn’t end up in a good viewing spot. Cynthia got up on one wall and was able to watch some of it. I, on the other hand, decided to plunge into the crowd with the fisheye lens.

After the changing of the guard things settled down quite a bit We got our tickets and went in to St. Vitus Cathedral.

This is one impressive cathedral. And this cathedral held something very interesting to me

The stained glass window was designed by the world famous Czech Art Nouveau master, Alphonse Mucha.

This has got to be the single, most ipressive piece of stained glass I have ever seen in my life. And, unlike the Mucha museum, photography IS allowed. I shot quite a few pics of this glorious piece and may go back and shoot some more. Here are a few detail shots.

From here were moved on to explore some other parts of the complex but not wholeheartedly. We soon moved on and took the scenic walk down to the river where we had a late lunch and a nice Pilsner beer. After thar it was off to the laundromat to pick up my laundry. Aftet depositing the laundry at the apartment we wend for a walk so I could shoot some extended exposures using my tripod. I’ll have those ready to show later, but for now it is off to bed.

Tomorrow, more adventures and more photography!

Prague – Day 3

Ugh! More rain this morning. It’s bad enough when the light is poor due to cloud cover. Photos are dull and lifeless. But rain! ARRRRGH! Photographing in the rain is not my thing. Protecting the camera gear is priority numero uno. So with the wet weather the camera has not come out as much as it normailly would.

But rain or no rain, we’re in Prague and well darn it, we’ve got to make the best of it. Who knows when or if we’ll be back? Poor Cynthia, she’s more disheartened than I am PLUS she has been working a nice big blister on her toe. Bless her heart, she’s a trooper.

We bought our second umbrella and decided to walk out to Wenceslas Square, the site of the 1989 “Velvet Revolution” that saw the overthrow of the authoritarian government.

It is simply amazing to walk such historical grounds, even if it is raining. We walked up to the top of the square where you could look down the length of it. Just trying to imagine that square filled with over 200,000 peaceful protesters gave us both pause.

Cynthia noticed a building to the left of where we were standing and said “Oh! I know what that is!”

That communist era old building was once the home of Radio Free Europe. It served as their headquarters from 1995-2009. Radio Free Europe played a significant role in the Velvet Revolution and the Czech Republic, out of gratitude, rented them the building for one CZK (Czech Crown) a year. Radio Free Europe had to move to a more secure location after recieving credible threats from Al Quada.

We moved on from Wenceslas Square to find the Dancing House.

By the time we found it the rain had almost completely stopped. It was still threatening and there were some drops to be felt but I figured I would break out the monopod and get some photos of this magnificent structure. With any luck I’ll take a mulligan when the sun comes out, but for now I’ve seen it and photographed it.

Moving on we made our way down the Vltava river back to the Charles Bridge. All the way we were lamenting the weather but making the best of it.

Right after I shot the above photo, an amazing thing happened. For just a few minutes the sun came out. It was only for a short while, but a break in the clouds and golden sunlight shone down on us. Glory be! Then it was gone. Drats!

We walked back to the old town square to make our way back to the apartment and as we entered the square the sun came out again! And this time it stayed out! We shot some pics and rejoiced and then went back to the apartment to recombobulate and decided to go out again and watch the sun go down over Pet?ín Hill from the bank of the Vltava river. I took my tripod and shot some hopefully excellent shots of Prague Caslte and the Charles Bridge. I need to go through them and process a little before I present them here.

The forecast for tomorrow calls for sunshine. If that holds true we’re off to Prague Castle first thing in the morning. We’ve walked our poor dogs to the bone, but some sunshine will breathe new life into both of us!

Prague – Day 2

We spent the day getting our bearings. Prague is an amazing city! Right across from our apartment is a place called Bohemian Bagel. They server breakfast in VERY hearty portions and it is the first place in Europe I have found that gives you free refills on coffee. Believe me, this is rare. The guy behind the counter said it is something new they are trying and they hope it works. Me too!

Prague has, as Cynthia so aptly put it, a communist patina to it. You can definitely tell you’re in Eastern Europe and in an area that was once under communist rule. My observation today was that Prague has an old world charm combined with something modern, if you consider “modern” to be circa 1969-1975. Classic rock and disco music pours out of many of the shops. Even the coffee shop I mentioned earlier seems like something out of the 60’s.

We found our way to the Vodaphone store and I was able to buy a 3G SIM card for my phone. For $25 I get 3 gigabytes of data for a month. Sure beats the roaming charges T-Mobile would have me pay to get Internet and Tweet from over here!

The weather has been a mixed bag. Sunny in the morning, overcast around lunchtime and this afternoon it was raining.

We Went to the Charles Bridge and to the Astronomical Clock early in the day. We even went to the top of the clock which offered a nice view of the city.

Cynthia made her wish at the statue of John of Nepomuk. Actually, the statue is under renovation, but the plaque you’re supposed to rub to make your wish was moved so it could still be accessed.

Later in the day we walked over to the Mucha Museum. An amazing collection of his works and a joy to see. Sadly, no photography allowed.

We wandered around some more and I must confess, there’s a lot to take in. There is something fantastic around every corner.

We stopped in to the Church of St James (kostel Sv. Jakuba Vetsiho) to see the mummified forearm (more than 400 years old) hanging to the right of the entrance. It belonged to a thief who tried to steel some jewels from the Madonna on the high altar one night. But the Madonna grabbed his hand and didn’t want to let it go. The thief had to wait there until the next morning. The next day, when the Minorites came to the Church, they tried to separate the thief from the Madonna, but in vain. They had to cut his arm. Then the Madonna let the hand go. The monks hung the arm to remember this event and as a warning for other thieves. Gruesome! Sadly, no photos allowed.

In the afternoon it began to rain in earnest. We hit up the grocery store for some more supplies and came back to the apartment and made dinner. Then watched some TV via Hulu on the laptop since the satellite is out in the apartment. Hopefully it will get fixed soon.

I know this post is light on pictures. That is because I have shot a lot, but so much of it I want to shoot again when there’s better light. I am sure I will have some things to show you soon.

If you have not already done so, check out flickr.com/baldheretic as that is where I am posting some of my better shots.

Arrival Prague

We managed to have everything work out for getting checked out of the hotel in Vienna, catch the subway with one transfer and get to the train station with time to spare and catch our 5 hour train to Prague. The driver met us at the Prague station and drove us to the apartment office to get checked in and then to the apartment itself.

We’re tired but managed to get our bearings with a short walk and dinner.

This is home sweet home for the next 10 days

And this is the view from the back patio

We’ve found the local grocery store and laid in some supplies.

Vienna – Day 4 – Danube River Art Show

We decided to walk down the Danube River on our last day. We’d noticed some interesting art work slash graffiti and thought it might be worth checking to see if there was more. Turns out, there was. There were murals and sculptures up and down this one portion of the river and some if it was VERY interesting. It was like an outdoor gallery of street art. What follows are some of the more interesting pieces.

Vienna – Day 3 – Part 2

The second half of day 3 really drove home the fact that Vienna is an amazing city. When I first suggested we come to Vienna as part of our plans to visit Prague we didn’t really know much about it. I just wanted to take a full two weeks to travel and didn’t think we could fill that time with just a trip to Prague so I thought we’d append the Vienna component just to flush it out.

Cynthia as really not that sure, and honestly was unenthusiastic overall. But after being here a few days we’re both sold and both admit we’ve not scheduled enough time. We’ll be headed to Prague on Monday the 13th which means one more full day before we have to says goodbye.

We went out for a walk and again, the opera was being played on the screen behind the opera house. We made our way to the city hall where we found that more opera and symphony was being played on giant screen set up in front of the historic building.

Not only that, but there were food vendors selling everything from Chinese food to Mexican food as well as beer, wine and plenty of Austrian food. And this wasn’t a cheezy festival setup. These food vendor were super clean and the food was really good. They sold wine and beer in glass glasses! We bought two glasses of Austrian wine and the guy poured them into real wine glasses and said “just leave the glass anywhere when your done.” Unbelievable! Back home there would be broken glass everywhere. Here, it was just the way they did this sort of thing.

Mmmmmmm, Ferrari! Not sure what this was about, but it looked cool and was only protected by velvet ropes.

After we had taken in this event we walked down to the Hofburg Palace where there was some kind of Austrian harvest festival going on. We walked into a tent where there was a band playing and dancing and singing revelers were jumping about and generally acting crazy.

The music for the event was provided by these fellows

The highlight was when they played Achy Breaky Heart in German.

Cynthia and I were just dancing around and enjoying the revelry, not really sure what was happening but not really feeling like we weren’t welcome. In fact, Cynthia commented that if she had herself 4 line dancers she’d own the party. I suspect this is not far from the truth.

A magical evening and one that has sold us on the city of Vienna.

One more full day and then off to Prague.