Saturday, August 31, 2019

City and Countryside

Shall we take one last look at Prague? If I don't step this up, I'll still be posting about this trip come December! I'm choosing the highlights as there is so much we saw and did. My journal is filled with perceptions, observations, and details which you would tire of reading.

We spent a morning visiting the Jewish Quarter, choosing a self-guided tour this time. The Jewish Museum in Prague comprises a complex of buildings and sites and one ticket covers all of them except for the Old-New Synagogue, which is a separate entrance. That building is also the only current Jewish house of worship and prayer in Prague.

The Jewish Town Hall, above was built in 1586 and renovated in the 18th century. I found it a particularly beautiful building with the blue walls and white trip (I'm a huge fan of blue and white), and the dark clock tower atop. 

One of the most moving sites we visited was the Pinkas Synagogue where the walls are covered with the names and places of the 80,000 Jews taken from Prague by the Nazi regime. No photos are allowed. It is a quiet place other than for the continuous reading aloud of the names written on the walls.

In another part of the synagogue there is a display of artwork done by the children of Terezin camp, a "model" town devised by Hitler as a means of placating the Red Cross about the treatment of displaced Jews. A Jewish artist from Vienna, Freidl Dicker-Brandeis, brought art supplies in her allotted luggage and worked with the children of the camp, using art as a means of expressing their emotions. When she knew she would be transported to Auschwitz, she hid more than 4000 pieces of art in the attic where it was discovered after the war. You can read more about it here.  

When I looked at the artwork, I could not help but compare it to the lighthearted drawings my own grandchildren create. The Terezin children drew pictures of camp life where guards hover, of families torn apart, of waiting for transport to who knows where. It was a sobering sight. 

Hitler's plan was to maintain the Jewish Quarter in Prague as a memorial to an "Extinct Race" and so he brought many artifacts from other parts of Europe to Prague where they remain today. Another synagogue explained much of the daily life of the city. The graveyard is an astounding site. The Jews were forbidden to expand the boundaries of their quarter, including the graveyard, so new layers of soil were added on top of old graves, and the old stones removed and placed in the new soil along with the new gravestones. This happened many times over 3 centuries and now the graveyard is several metres higher than street level with the most amazing hodgepodge of gravestones. 

We like to get out into the countryside, away from the more touristy areas, if we can. We're sometimes asked how we do this without knowing the language. Google Maps is wonderful, and can be downloaded to use offline. Transit schedules are often on the internet, as well, and we used that a lot. 

Divoka Sarka is a nature reserve on the outskirts of Prague with a walking loop of about 3 hours. There is a lake, but you can't walk all the way around, because of a fenced complex, as we discovered, and had to back track. Going the other way we soon left the lake (where it seems homeless people like to hang out), and entered a lovely wooded area with a little stream. 

It was another very very hot day and we took our time. We had brought a lunch (sandwiches from a bakery) and sat on a bench in the shade enjoying the peace and quiet. There was a flock of goats along the way, but very few people. 

We left Prague, by train again, headed for Linz, Austria, where we met up with our cruise boat. The views from the train were lovely; fields of newly mown hay, white houses with red tile roofs, lots of trees, and the occasional view of a village in the distance. 

I find that it takes time to distill experiences such as these. Tim and I talk about various bits and pieces often. Reviewing my photos bring back a lot of memories. And it's fun to share them with you, my readers, and to read your comments, as well. 

Linking with Mosaic Monday, hosted by Angie of Letting Go of the Bay Leaf

Monday, August 26, 2019

Prague Castle

Prague Castle is an extensive complex of churches and palaces and is the largest medieval castle in the world. It is indeed massive and would take days to explore. We were there for an afternoon and evening saw just a fraction of it. 

The towers above belong to St. Vitus Cathedral, begun in 1344, in the French Gothic style as the master builder was a Frenchman. 

It remains the largest and most prominent church in the Czech Republic and is the resting place of many Bohemian Kings and Holy Roman Emperors, including Saint Wenceslas, also known as "Good King Wenceslas" in the Christmas song.

Construction of the church was characterized by many stoppages throughout the centuries as money ran out, wars occurred, and priorities changed. In the 1920s Alfons Mucha, a painter in of the Art Nouveau movement, completed several windows in the church. The church was finally completed in 1929, 600 years after its start. 

Our tour guide took us to this room in the castle where the Second Defenestration of Prague took place. Defenestration is the act of throwing someone out of a window as a means to execution. In 1618 the Czechs, mostly Protestants, got fed up with the Habsburg representatives from Vienna who were trying to force the population to become Catholic, and tossed two of them out of the window. The men were saved by the pile of straw and manure below the window and escaped with minor injuries. 

However, the whole affair blew up and was a major factor in the start of the Thirty Years' War that devastated Central Europe, killing between 5 to 11 million people. 

The view from the Castle is impressive. There are long flights of steps to walk up to the Castle (we took a bus, but walked down). The tall modern looking structure in the distance is the Zizkov Tower, built between 1985 and 1992. Its purpose was to block television transmissions from the West during the Soviet era, however, it wasn't completed until after the fall of Communism. It's now used for communications and tourism, and was once voted the ugliest building in the world. 

There are so many beautiful buildings in Prague. This one, with its buttery yellow paint and ornate decoration, caught my eye while our guide was talking. Did you notice that only part of the building is painted yellow? Behind the tree, the walls look dingy and not so well-cared for. I wonder why? 

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Domestic Affairs

We've been home for a week and are settling back into normal life again. As soon as Tim filled the bird feeder, there's been a lot of activity with nuthatches, house finches, chickadees, and sparrows vying for space. I love the agile nuthatches who seem to like to feed upsidedown. What sharp and pointed beaks they have.

The house finches fly from the hedge to the feeder to the fig tree. Figs came ripe while we were away and it appears that the birds got them (there weren't that many) because no one else has owned up! I was hoping one of our children would get them. 

I was surprised to see a hawk on our gazebo, just outside the kitchen window. He moved to the lemon tree shelter where I took this photo. There wasn't a small bird to be found anywhere when this predator appeared. He hung around for awhile then took off in a flurry of wings. 

The first couple of days we were back we attended to the garden. Huge piles of clippings and weeds were taken to the yard waste dump. I trimmed the lavender, deadheaded roses, cut back the hydrangeas, and more. 

I've been intending to paint our living and dining rooms for more than a year, but the time was never convenient. Deciding it was now or never, I bought the paint (Chantilly Lace by Benjamin Moore), and prepared the walls. Tim took down the curtain rods and moved furniture. The china cabinet needed to be pulled out and for that to happen I emptied it, piling everything onto the dining room table. I wanted to protect the teacups, so I placed them into a tray. I liked the look so much that they are now sitting on the hutch as you see them. Those teacups spark a lot of memories. 

Painting went well. My daughter came and was a huge help (Tim was at work). We have not yet hung the pictures on the walls as I've rearranged things and need to think about where I want things to go. 

The dahlias, roses, and zinnias are providing me with lots of flowers. How luxurious it is to go out and clip away in the garden. 

This week I'm entertaining two grands. When both parents work, childcare in the summer requires lots of planning. I'm happy to help out. 

Next week I'm back at school for a prep week before classes begin after Labour Day. The summer has zoomed by so quickly. I'm not quite ready for it to end. Are you? 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Exploring the Czech Countryside

Most of our time in the Czech Republic was spent in Prague. One day, however, we ventured out of the city to Krivoklat Castle, in Central Bohemia. We purchased our train tickets at the main station, and found our way to the correct train. We knew, from reading Rick Steves guidebook, that we would change trains at Beroun, to the cute little diesel train seen above.  

As our train curved and climbed through the hills and mountains, we saw people swimming in the river, lots of campsites, and green forests. At every stop, hikers and backpackers got on or off the train. Clearly, this area is well-used for recreation. 

Krivoklat Castle was first built as a hunting lodge before the 13th century. The Gothic towers lend a fairy tale air which is enhanced by the castle's setting in a lush forest. Later, the castle was used for incarcerating prisoners. The top right photo shows one of the kitchens - let's just say I'm very thankful for my small, but efficient, and light-filled place to cook. 

The castle is perched on a hill overlooking a small village. The steep climb from the train station, on a very hot day, had me looking for every bit of shade along the way. What a great view!

On the way back, we stopped at Nizbor for lunch in a converted former railway station. Flower boxes and tables made from old treadle sewing machines made it a charming stop. We ordered a traditional Czech dish, svickova - tender beef slices in a vegetable puree sauce, with dumplings and a bit of cream and cranberry sauce. It was filling (very) and delicious. It's one recipe I may try to recreate here. 

After lunch we walked across the railway track to the Ruckl Crystal factory and watched glass blowers and cutters at work. I admired the precision and speed of the gentleman above, cutting the patterns of lead crystal by looking through the glass. 

Soon we were on the train again, chugging our way back to Prague. The train station in Nizbor had these pretty geraniums on the window ledges. 

Venturing out of the more touristy areas and relying on public transport was an adventure that turned out well. I am so impressed by the graciousness of everyone we interacted with - we don't speak Czech, but English, on varying levels, is common - and so we muddled along. 

Linking with Mosaic Monday, hosted by Angie of Letting Go of the Bay Leaf.  

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Home Again

Well, hello there. It's been awhile. We were off gallivanting for 3 weeks and arrived home late on Monday night. We left Budapest at 3 pm and arrived in Victoria at 10:30 pm, however, there is a 9 hour time difference, so it felt much, much later. We're still recovering from jet lag - last night I tried my best to stay up until 9:30 and almost made it, but not quite. Then I was awake at 2:30, so I got up to see if I could see the meteor shower - no luck. I crawled back into bed and dozed a very little bit and thought a lot. 

On our trip we visited the Czech Republic, went on an 8-day river cruise, and spent a week in Budapest, Hungary. Because the river cruise started in Linz, Austria, and included air fare, that's where we landed, on a hot afternoon that just happened to be our 42nd wedding anniversary. We figured out public transit and made our way to our Airbnb on a farm property in Leonding, a small community just outside of Linz. Those striking blue doors were part of the farm complex where we stayed.

Although we were in Leonding for less than a day, we thoroughly enjoyed it. We wandered around the town and found a restaurant with a terrace where we enjoyed a dinner that featured local chanterelle mushrooms. Yum! Better than dinner was breakfast. In the freshness of early morning we walked to a bakery just across the square from the restaurant. There we sat outside enjoying fresh bread, a boiled egg, and coffee and tea. It was one of those "pinch me" moments. 

Later, we caught the train to Prague. I had asked our three eldest grandchildren to draw me a picture of themselves to take along on the trip. They did such a great job. The Flat Grands had many adventures along the way that I posted on Facebook for their entertainment. Here they are on the train, settling nicely into their seats.

We arrived in Prague 4 hours later and made our way to our lodgings. It was hot, very hot, during our 6 days there. Prague is beautiful, with striking architecture at almost every view. It was not damaged during WWII, so there are old buildings from medieval to Baroque to Gothic.   

Prague is known as the City of 100 Spires, but in actuality there are between 500 and 1000 spires, depending on one's definition of a spire.

We had an amazing trip, and I'll share some highlights over my next posts, but I don't want to bore anyone with the dreaded "come and see our slide show" kind of thing. The garden didn't take a vacation during our absence and we've spent the past two days wrestling it into some sort of order. Tim returns to work tomorrow and so we're slowly getting back into normal everyday life. 

Of Spare Rooms and House Guests

  If you've ever read L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables , you'll remember the importance of the spare room. It was a long-...