We have been back in Alberta for a week now, the jet lag has faded and I have had time to look over our pictures and think about the trip. So some final reflections on the places we visited….

Berlin is full of history – with such significant 20th century events – and museums abound, telling those stories and those of more distant history, as well as featuring an abundance of art treasures. It is a gritty city; outside the tourist centre, graffiti covers almost any reachable surface and in the early morning, you encounter litter of bottles and fast food wrappers. But it gives the impression of a livable city – unpretentious and vibrant, full of new construction as the former East Berlin still grows, 24 years after the fall of the wall. Also, the local people were so helpful – offering assistance when we hadn’t even asked!

Having visited Berlin, would I return? It’s not on the top of the list, but given the opportunity, I wouldn’t pass it by. I would like to delve a bit more into the history, by taking a walking tour and spending more time on Museum Island. I would also like to visit Potsdam and take a boat ride on the Spree.
We arrived in Dresden in the early afternoon and departed the next morning, so my impressions are fleeting. The central core we visited was an interesting mix of the old and new – or perhaps the new and the new made to look old, as 75% of the Old Town was destroyed by WWII bombing and many of the historical sights have been reconstructed. We were in Dresden on the Day of German Unity, a national holiday commemorating the reunification in 1990, so my impression is of a busy, fun area, full of local German families enjoying their day. Probably not the scene every day, but it made for a fun day for us as we mingled with the locals, enjoying wurst and Gluwein (hot mulled wine).

On another visit to Dresden (again, not topping the list, but worth consideration if in the area) , I would take the time to actually know what I was looking at, rather than just admiring the fine Baroque architecture. I would like to visit the interior of the Frauenkirche – this church from 1743 was completely destroyed by bombing, but was painstakingly rebuilt with international donations and reopened recently. Unfortunately, due to the holiday, the line-up was prohibitive when we were there. Other sights to include on a possible future visit are the Historic Green Vault, which houses a glittering Baroque treasury, and Volkswagon’s Transparent Factory where the Phaeton is produced.
Ah, Prague – what a beautiful city! I would describe ‘Praha’ as charming, historic and so unique. The architecture is amazing – the city of spires and an eclectic mix of architecture, ranging from Gothic and Renaissance to Baroque and Art Nouveau. All of the people we encountered were so friendly and made us feel welcome in their city. The opportunities for entertainment are many and varied – street performers, classical concerts, black light theatre…… And the food – we ate in small, local restaurants that rival some of the best I have encountered anywhere.

I would love to return to Prague – to wander the streets, to try more small restaurants and to further explore the sights – more time in the Castle and Jewish Quarters, a concert at the Opera House and a paddle boat on the river.
20131029-162451.jpgCesky Krumlov
Cesky Krumlov is a well-preserved fairy tale town. The narrow streets are fun to stroll through and the castle gardens are beautiful. The small town is probably crazy during the height of tourist season, but on an October afternoon and evening, it was delightful.

If passing by Krumlov in the future, I would probably stop in for a night at the wonderful Penzion Delanta and enjoy the ambiance of the town again.
Vienna is an elegant, opulent city, with wide boulevards, beautiful architecture, grand classical music and shopping for the rich and famous. But away from the central area, it is home to small excellent restaurants and coffee shops, concerts in historic venues and everyday people enjoying their lives.

I can’t quite put my finger on why, but Vienna captivated my interest and I would love to return. I would visit the Opera House, attend another concert and a church service in one of the beautiful churches, watch the Lipizaner Stallions practice or perform and spend an evening at a wine tavern. I would love to take a day cruise through the Danube Valley or return to visit the Christmas market in December!
20131029-163430.jpg Salzburg
The hills really are alive in Austria. Travelling through the countryside, especially with the fall foliage, was awe-inspiring – similar, and yet very different, from travelling through the wonder of our Rocky Mountains.

Salzburg shows a different side of Austria from Vienna. It has a well preserved old town, a foreboding fortress, beautiful gardens, pride in Mozart everywhere and the Sound of Music! But it also seems fresh, outdoorsy and fun!

We didn’t have enough time in Salzburg and I would love to return to visit the Fortress, Hellbrunn Castle, spend another evening at the Augustiner Braustubl and travel to the lakes district.
20131029-170157.jpg Rothenburg ob der Tauber
It was a treat to visit Rothenburg. This well-preserved medieval walled town is visited by 2.5 million tourists per year, and there is a reason why! It is magical, transporting you to the Middle Ages when it was a free imperial city and a major trading stop. There are sights to see, and we enjoyed visiting some of them, but it was such fun to just explore the many small narrow streets, walk the wall, wander through the beautiful countryside outside the wall and snap photos at every turn. The Nightwatchman’s Tour is a must, again accentuating the feeling of being in the Middle Ages while outlining the history of the town.

I think we covered most every street inside the walls of old Rothenburg, so as much as we loved Rothenburg, we probably wouldn’t return – unless it was to share this fabulous experience with someone who hadn’t previously visited.
20131029-170637.jpg Wurzburg
Wurzburg wasn’t even on our trip itinerary, but we had some time to kill enroute from Rothenburg to Frankfurt, so we stopped in and were pleased that we did. We only spent a few hours, so again my impressions are from a quick look. As we drove in and out of the city, it could have been most any large city anywhere – there appeared to be urban sprawl and we could see a city skyline of tall buildings (not something we had typically seen on this trip). The Old Town that we visited was a lively, downtown area with a mix of old and new and we enjoyed wandering there.

If I were to have some time to spare on a future trip beginning or ending in Frankfurt, I might again stop in Wurzburg and further explore the Residenz Palace and the Marienberg Fortress.
20131029-170951.jpgIt was a marvellous trip – we saw so many wonderful sights, learned so much history, ate great food, drank great beer, wine & coffee and walked many kilometres. We are so lucky to be able to take trips like this and I can hardly wait for next time! Stay tuned for the next stops along our long and winding journey!


Bev & Harvey

Well, That Was Interesting. . . . . Probably Brilliant – But Maybe Not

You may recall that we attended a Black Light Theatre presentation in Prague. Our theatre critic, Debbie, provides us with a review of the production. (She reserves her talent for such matters of importance.)

Black light techniques were first used minimally in ancient China to enhance artistic productions, but it was the Czechs who perfected the art and introduced Black Light Theatre. The Czechs thought that a different kind of production was needed to trigger imagination (probably an antidote to all that ancient classical music and jazz). By chance, we saw a black light theatre production advertised in Prague – “Yellow Submarine or a Small Story From the Great Time of the Beatles”. Our favourite, the Beatles! In black light! We just had to go. We scurried to the ticket outlet and laid out 550 Czech kroner each, about $30.00 each.

Picture a huge packed auditorium with hundreds of plush seats, one Beatles hit after another, amazing light and sound effects – Utopia! We ate supper early in order to be the first ones at the gate wanting to choose the best seats but not in the first four rows as that was known to diminish the artistic effects.

We entered the single wooden door . . . picture a dark little theatre with a total of 120 seats (wooden chairs) with an audience totalling 17 people, all tourists. Picture dusty puppets on the walls and a crumpled curtain with holes in it. The production began with a rather lengthy slide show of the Beatles before the combination of floating yellow submarines and big floating lips, two main characters acting and dancing, a backup ensemble of loosely termed ‘dancers’, about five Beatles hits, and some strange artistic effects. The show progressed in story format, starting with an elderly couple playing some LP’s and whirling back in time to the origin of the Beatles and time travelling through the main historic occurrences of the Beatles’ reign. At one point, Bev burst out laughing and commented that this was one of our stranger adventures, not to mention the skill, or lack thereof, of the backup dancers. Larry became quite appalled and reminded us that “all you need is love.”

Barely one and a half hours later, including a 15 minute intermission, we exited the theatre, a little bewildered. Was that an amateur money grabbing performance or was that sheer brilliance? After ruminating on it for awhile, we decided that the two main actors were very good, the backup dancers were amateur, the black light effects were great, and some of the techniques such as John Lennon’s death were brilliant. The whole production certainly made us think and forced us to use our imagination to reveal the story lines behind the strange portrayals.

We do not regret our black light experience and it certainly achieved the original Czech aim of triggering the imagination. My view is that our pre-conception was vastly different than reality, and I think we would get a lot more from the production if we were to watch it again.


OK, Rick, we’re not mad at you after all

Today was a full day, with lots of incredible sights and views. We began by taking the little passageway by our apartment, which emerges on the street leading up to the Castle Quarter. When we first arrived, it seemed a bit crowded, but with good planning and some tips from Rick Steves, we were able to artfully dodge the tour groups and take our own self-guided tour.

The Castle Quarter sits high above Prague on Petrin Hill. It is an enormous complex, consisting of several churches, palaces, and the everyday buildings and residences that were required to keep royalty living in the way that they were accustomed.

We arrived at Castle Square, where we enjoyed the music of a great quartet. Here you are surrounded by the Renaissance Schwarzenberg Palace, where the Rozmberks stayed and now housing collections of the National Gallery, the Rococo palace where the archbishop still lives, the Sternberg Palace, with more National Gallery treasures, and the Castle Gate. Also in the square are the Plague Column and a statue of Tomas Masaryk, Czechoslovakia’s first president.
20131008-092248.jpg20131008-092337.jpgWe entered through the Castle Gate, purchased our tickets and started at St. Vitus Cathedral. Started in 1344, this gothic cathedral was actually not completed until 1929. As Larry said, those contractors really stretched out that job! 🙂 The cathedral is home to magnificent stained glass and carvings, as well as the Royal Masoleum (the tomb of the first Hapsburgs to rule Bohemia) and many other tombs, including that of St. Wenceslas.
20131008-093327.jpg20131008-093409.jpgOutside the cathedral, we noted the obelisk, built in 1928 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the establishment of Czechoslovakia.
20131008-093638.jpgNext we entered the Old Royal Palace, which was the seat of Bohemian Princes, starting in the 12th century. The Large Hall, with it’s interesting gothic design and domed, flowered ceiling, has been used for jousting, royal elections and as a marketplace for the nobility. There are a number of smaller rooms where the royals conducted their business. We also enjoyed a great view from an adjoining balcony.
20131008-210233.jpg We then toured the Basilica and Convent of St George, Prague’s best preserved Romanesque church and the burial place of Czech royalty. St. Ludmila, the grandmother of St. Wenceslas, is also entombed here.
20131008-182114.jpgWe strolled down through the castle grounds and along the Golden Lane, which originally housed castle servants and now is the home to many small shops. We also stopped in at the medieval prison.
20131008-095439.jpg Leaving the castle grounds, we meandered through the Little Quarter and stopped for lunch at a restaurant in an Art Gallery. Debbie and Larry enjoyed soup and salad, Harvey went Italian with spaghetti and I had the American staple of a club sandwich and fries. It was all very good and D&L especially liked the Turkish coffee.

After lunch, we headed up Petrin Hill, stopping to take in the Monument to the Victims of Communism. This moving monument consists of several statues – as the statuettes move up they hill, they gradually atrophy, not dying but losing body parts.
20131008-210653.jpgAfter a very strenuous climb up the hill, we reached the Petrin Tower, which is loosely modelled on the Eiffel Tower – it is 1/5 the size, but it’s position atop the hill gives it similar elevation. The views of the city as we climbed the hill were wonderful!
20131008-211714.jpgA path from the tower lead us to the Strahov Monastery, Loreta Square and back to Castle Square. Here we stopped at what arguably could be Starbuck’s most picturesque location – overlooking the city of Prague.
20131008-211948.jpgWe toodled back home for our afternoon wine and then decided to return to yesterday’s restaurant for dinner. Larry & Harvey swapped dishes, each having what the other had the night before. Deb ordered the grilled, smoked chicken leg (which she described as so good, something she has never tasted before) and mashed peas with fried onions. I tried the baked pearl barley & wild mushrooms (delicious) and farmer sausages (which turned out to be basically wieners – could have given them a miss). Again, the presentation and flavors were so far above what one would expect of a tiny neighbourhood pub.

A stroll across the river and back across the Charles Bridge and the end to a very interesting day!



We go for the croissants…

This morning started with a yoga class, conducted by Debbie, with Bev and Harvey as participants. Harvey dropped out part way through with a foot cramp??

Then we were off on the streets of Prague once more. We walked through the Letka Park, with beautiful views of the city. It also has a giant metronome that was erected to replace a statue of Stalin. Random…


We wandered around the Jewish Quarter, looking at some of the exterior sights, but decided not to visit the interiors.

We did however, stop at the Franz Kafka Cafe, now it seems it is known as Kafka Snob Food, for coffee/lattes and treats.

We also encountered a restaurant that definitely attracted Deb’s attention –

We then made our way through Old Town and stopped to purchase tickets for a Black Light Theatre performance this evening. From there we stopped off at Wenceslas Square for a bite to eat for lunch.

We spent the afternoon exploring nooks & crannies, stopped in at a department store to check it out and relaxed at the apartment with wine & cheese.

For dinner, we traveled just up the hill a bit to U Magistre Kelly, a very small restaurant, obviously family owned & ran. And the majority of the small number of tables were filled with what we suspect were family members, visiting and having a beer or two.

We were expecting some traditional home cooking. What we got would rival some of the finest restaurants we’ve been to. Bev & Deb each had cauliflower soup and spinach salads; Harvey had potato dumplings stuffed with smoked meat and served with sauerkraut that he said was unlike any he has ever had (don’t tell his mom); and Larry had goulash with potato pancakes. The flavors of everything were superb and the presentation was wonderful. And did we mention that all of these meals, and beer, and expresso & dessert for Larry, totalled about $35.

After dinner, we were off to Old Town once more and the Black Light Theatre production of Yellow Submarine, Rock Therapy. This was a very interesting experience. Stay tuned for a guest blog review of the performance, by our own arts critic, Debbie!

Another great day in a great city!



She sang – and the crowds parted…

Today we got our first real taste for the city of Prague. And what a grand city it is!! The architecture is amazing and will warrant its own blog post later in the week!

We started with a brief wander through the local streets and following the sounds of music, we arrived at the castle quarter. Our plan is to visit this area on Monday and seeing the crowds of tour groups, we hastily retreated.

After stopping for a check on the car, we ambled roughly parallel to the river and crossed at the Manesuv Most, passed the Rudolfinium (concert hall) and entered Old Town.

We visited Old Town Square, with it’s many great sights, the Church of St Nicholas, Jan Hus Memorial, National Gallery, Tyn Church, Old Town Hall and the Astronomical Clock. There were crowds of people and many interesting street performers.

By this time, it was time for lunch. We left the tourist filled streets and after walking only a short way, we found a delightful restaurant, Chilli Lilli. We are unsure of what the genre of the restaurant really was, but it was delightful. We all had delicious tea and soup (B&H – goulash in a bread bowl, L – mushroom potato in a bread bowl, D – borscht). Deb also ordered a small salad with a cheese plate. We were not expecting it would be literally a plate made of cheese (fried Parmesan). Wow, so good.

Fully fortified, we carried on to New Town and Wenceslas Square. Lots of action there – food & beer stalls and people enjoying the day. As we walked down the square, we imagined the day in November 1989 when 300,000 people filled the square, jingled their key chains in solidarity and chanted at the Communist government, “It’s time to go now!” This Velvet Revolution led to a free Czechoslovakia.

As we walked the streets of New Town, we passed the New Town Hall, Charles Square (a lovely park) and a memorial outside the National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror (note the bullet holes in the wall).

We continued on past the Dancing House. This modern building is said to be reminiscent of ‘Fred and Ginger’ dancing.

Our way home took us past the Lennon Wall. Although this wall reminded us of much of Berlin’s graffiti, it has a great back story. During the communist time, John Lennon’s ideas gave many of the Czech people hope and a vision of freedom and peace. Upon Lennon’s death in 1989, this wall was spontaneously covered in memorial graffiti. Nightly, the police would paint over it only to find it reappear day after day. Finally, it was left and freedom fighters gathered here until freedom came in 1989.

Now it was time for a glass of wine and a load of laundry. We weren’t entirely sure how to use the washing machine in the apartment – it seemed to go through a lot of cycles over an extended period of time, but the clothes did come out clean. 🙂

When we were leaving the apartment in the morning, the fellow from the pub across the lane said he would make an ‘appointment’ for us at 7 pm. So we crossed over about that time and he waved us right over to a large table with a reserved sign. The restaurant has the curious name of The Meeting Place of all the heads of the Baracnici because twice a year the heads of these societies from villages and towns across Bohemia have assembled here for centuries. We don’t know what this means – something between Freemasons, Lions, and Roundtable and social movement clubs, perhaps. Nevertheless, the beer hit the table immediately and the food was great. Deb had carp, Larry – pork medallions with whiskey sauce, Harvey – slow roasted beef ribs & potato pancakes and Bev – braised beef in creamy vegetable sauce with dumplings. It was all amazing!

After our dinner, we sauntered down to Starbucks for a finishing touch. It was a great day!



Are you really Mr. Diblik?

After a McDonalds’ breakfast, we loaded the suitcases and headed out of Dresden. Once out of the city, we veered off the main highway and ambled through the countryside. The terrain was different than yesterday, more forested and hilly, quite picturesque.

We stopped in the town of Pirna at a supermarket where we picked up some snacks. A ways down the road, we crossed into the Czech Republic. We noted the former border crossing buildings but of course with the EU, we just sailed right along.

Shortly after the border, we came across a small village basically built in a crevasse. It looked interesting so we stopped. After some confusion with the elderly gent who was manning the parking lot, we wandered off to see the sights. Very shortly, we were back at the car after quickly perusing the stalls with substandard goods for sale. Deb – “I think these are leftover from the communist days”. We then had a bit of a picnic lunch in the car and continued on our way.

In Decin, CZ, we stopped to get some Czech currency. Deb & I tried the ATMs at 4 different banks and were denied at each. Scotiabank – didn’t you tell me any ATM with the PLUS sign would work?!?! We chatted with a teller at one bank who although being a very friendly young lady with great English, had no clue what the problem could be. After the 4th unsuccessful attempt, I spoke to a great young man working in the bank. He watched Deb try the machine to ensure we were using it correctly (which we were) and then led us through the bank, upstairs to another equally helpful young man. After discussing the situation, he telephoned the transaction centre who said that the system didn’t recognize Scotiabank and therefore, couldn’t access our data. Hmm… Next step, we were back at the ATM, with our first helper in tow as he was curious and worried for us. We then tried withdrawals on our Visa cards – with success. Yay!! I will be speaking to the bank about this on our return.

A funny aside – the bank dispensed a 1000 kc note to Deb. Seeing the size of it and in our confusion of the whole event, she went into the bank to have it broken into smaller notes. Only when we were back in the car and on our way, did we realize the value of that bill was actually about $50. They probably were laughing at us in the bank….

We hurried on to Prague and encountered quite heavy traffic. Harv did a fabulous job of driving through the narrow streets and Petula (as we have named the GPS in the car) brought us right to the location of the VRBO apartment that we had booked. It is just past the American Embassy and we had to stop while the Policie ran a mirror under the car and looked under both the hood and rear hatch. We found the alley to our apartment, but nowhere to be found was Mr Diblik, who was to greet us. Luckily, the very nice doorman at the Grand Alchemist Hotel & Spa allowed us to park in front of the hotel and led Deb to the desk, where they assisted her in phoning Mr Diblik. He was distraught that he had forgotten about us and came right out. Harv manoeuvred up the narrow alley, we unloaded and then we took the car to the church lot nearby (where we will be making a hefty donation for the privilege of parking there). All was well, the two bedroom, 1 1/2 bathroom apartment is good and again we will be getting our exercise climbing up many steps!

After a glass of wine to relax, we headed out to find dinner. We had hoped to go to the restaurant/pub right across our narrow lane (where Mr Diblik is the manager), but unfortunately they were full. We stopped at the base of our street but after entering the restaurant, we promptly left as it was stereotypically touristy. We headed away from the touristy area and stopped at the Luka Lu. What a great find! On our arrival, the wonderful waiter put us in area all to ourselves (what looked to be a courtyard that has been covered in to become a room) and was very informative and friendly. The restaurant is a Balkan restaurant, with staff & food from Croatia, Serbia & Bosnia. Deb & Larry each had the Hunters Stew, a delightful concoction of meat and vegetables, and shared a mixed salad. Harvey had the stew as well, while I enjoyed a skewer of beef, lamb, bacon, peppers & potatoes and we shared a tomato & green onion salad. All of this with incredible bread, fresh from the oven. The food was so good, we forgot about pictures. At the end of our meal, the waiter brought us all complementary cake, again right from the oven. The restaurant was beginning to fill as we left. It was a wonderful experience.

To wear off some of the great dinner, we went for a long walk – across the river, along the east bank and then joined the throngs of people on the Charles Bridge. It was great to see the Castle and other buildings lit up.

We stopped at the grocery store where we spent $150 – oh wait, that was 150 Kc, about $7.50.