May 11th, 2011

I just got back from a weekend trip to Budapest (pronounced BudapeSHt). Budapest is an amazing city with a interesting history and beautiful sites.

View of the city with the Danube River

The Danube River cuts through Budapest, which used to be two different cities named respectively Buda and Pest. The city has been under such empires as the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Habsburg Empire, and under Soviet rule.

Our first, and my favorite site, was St. Stephen’s Basilica.

It isn’t actually a basilica because it has a greek cross groundplan, but when the Pope came to visit he called it a “basilica,” and who is going to argue with the Pope? The basilica was completed in 1905 and named after St. Stephen the first king of Hungary and the owner of the hand, which sits in the church as a reliquary. The basilica is the same height as the parliament building, which symbolizes the importance of worldly knowledge and faith.

Another beautiful church on the Buda side of the River, Matthias Church

Parliament Building

Supposedly, the architect loved the British Parliament building so much that it inspired his plans for the Hungarian Parliament Building.

Goulash with noodles. Yum.

The food was similar to Czech food. Very hearty and lots of MEAT!

Hot spring baths

Budapest is located on natural hot springs. When the Turks took over they created many open air and indoor baths for the people to enjoy.

Budapest was such an enjoyable trip. I had fun, relaxed, and learned. But, I had to leave because I needed to get back to Prague. Two weeks left!

Bone Church

May 1st, 2011

Today I visited the old silver mine town of Kutna Hora. In its hey day the town was Bohemia’s second largest city, the other being Praha. But, today the silver mine is pretty much depleted; therefore, the town relies on tourism.

I have two favorite sites in the city. One being my favorite gothic church to date.

St. Barbara’s Cathedral was built in 1388 by miners, which is appropriate because she is their patron saint. I love this church because it is the prettiest gothic church, in my opinion. I love the symmetry, and, of course, the tent like roof.

My second favorite site in Kutna Hora is another church, but I like it because of its creative interior design.

Yeah, those are HUMAN bones.

Inside the Sedlec Bone Church there are bones of 40,000 people. The bones come from the 14th century plagues. The original designers want people to remember that church is a community for the living and the dead. Later designers strayed from theology, just to produce interesting art. For example……

The chandelier is made of every bone in the human body.

There are three other large bone pyramids just like this one in the church. None of them use bonds to keep the bones together. They are carefully stacked.

Completely morbid, but totally worth the trip.

Karlstejn Castle

April 29th, 2011

Cassie and I traveled out into the Czech countryside to see a high gothic castle called Karlstejn. King of the Czech Crownlands and Holy Emperor Charles IV built the in 1348 to house the crown jewels and his holy relics.

Here are the pictures from our day of fun.

Here’s looking at you, kid.

April 27th, 2011

This past Easter holiday Cassie and I traveled to “The City of Lights!” Even though I love living in the “Hidden Jewel of Europe,” there is something wonderful about “The Illuminated City.”

I am in love – in love with Paris. This city is always alive. People are moving at all times, which makes me think it could rival NYC for coveted title of “The City that Never Sleeps.” Another thing that draws me to Paris is the cityscape. It is absolutely stunning! Paris dedicates its beauty to the 19th century urban remolding. Like most European cities, Paris used to have narrow streets producing a Labyrinth. The urban renewal cleared slums and neighborhoods to make room for the large boulevards, terminal vistas, and neo-classical architecture. This organized and pleasing cityscape makes Paris quite picturesque.

Another amazing feature of Paris is the public transit system. I’ve never been on a metro system so efficient! You can get to any where in the city and in a timely fashion. Unlike most public transits, when a the Paris schedule says a train will be there in two minutes the train is there in two minutes…not ten (D.C. metro).

It's huge! Nothing like the STL Metro.

First and Last thing we did…

Nutella CREPE!

And Orgenia!

We did a ton of sight seeing. Here are the highlights.

Pont Neuf

Pont Neuf or “New Bridge” is an interesting name for the oldest standing bridge in Paris. It is called Pont Neuf because it was new in 1607. It is an arched stone bridge. Pont Neuf joins the Ile de la Cite Island to the banks of Paris. It was the center of Paris.

The Louvre Pyramids

There is a lot of speculation of how long it actually takes to go through the entire Louvre but here’s a ball park answer: 6 to 9 months! We just did half a day to see the highlights and our personal favorites. The Louvre was not always a museum for famous art. It used to be a fortress in the 12th century. Then it became a palace. If you look at the construction you can how each successor added more to the building. The pyramids (including the inverted pyramid) were finished in 2002 by the architect I.M. Pei.

I had to fight to see this. I hope you appreciate the picture you could have just googled.

Me in front of a very modern structure. Why does metal = romance?

The Eiffel tower was built for the 1900 World’s Fair in 1889. It truly is amazing! The amount of engineering is astonishing. Also, the idea that this is the international symbol for Paris is also very interesting. When you think  Paris you think Eiffel Tower. When you think Eiffel Tower you think Paris. Interesting. I took a nap under it. Don’t judge I was sleepy.

Me getting my head blown off at Napoleon's tomb. Classic.

Notre Dame in its glory.

Notre Dame is situated on the Ile de La Cite.  Completed in 1345, the cathedral is one of the first to use flying buttresses. It was badly damaged during the French Revolution, but now it stands in all its glory.

For a day we visited Versailles. Wow. This place is big and opulent I think the French are even amazed. It has 700 rooms, 67 staircases, and 2,153 windows.  Its grandness shows it as a symbol of absolute monarchy.

The Hall of Mirrors in Versailles

This is my favorite room out of 700 in Versailles, the Hall of Mirrors. It has 17 mirror-clad arches. At the time mirrors were super expensive. Also, the mirrors reflect the beautiful gardens. Besides its grandness, I love the history tired to this room, like, the end of the Franco-Prussian War and WWI.

The French Baroque Gardens are amazing! I took a nap there, too.

It really is that pretty.

When I think of the Palace I think Hall of Mirrors. When I think Garden I think Fountain of Apollo.

We ended out trip in French style. We ate crepes, journaled, and read French books in the Luxembourg Garden.

Paris was a wonderful trip. Now I’m scheming ways on how to get myself back to the city. Any suggestions?


April 18th, 2011

While in Poland, I visited Auschwitz. Even though it is the most depressing place I have ever visited, it was a worthwhile experience.

"Work Makes Free"

There were three main camps at Auschwitz (Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II – Birkenau, Auschwitz III- Buna). In 1940 the Nazis turned an old Polish army barrack into Auschwitz I. 7000 Polish and Russian POWs built up the camp so that it could fit 18-20000 prisoners. Out of the 7000, only 36 survived the slave labor, cruel conditions, and gas chambers.

Auschwitz II, or Birkenau was a large complex first for Russian POWs, then for Jews, Romas, and Nazi opponents. The capacity of the camp was 100,000. The crematoria could burn 4500-8000 corpses in 24 hours. Today the gas chambers and crematoria are partially damaged because the Nazis tried to get rid of any evidence of their crimes.

Auschwitz III or Buna was a labor concentration camp. It does not exist anymore. Living conditions were terrible. The houses, resembled stables, held 1000 people. The people there worked extremely hard jobs, such as, repairing the river banks nearby.

Auschwitz I

Auschwitz II

Auschwitz is a place where you can physically feel the pain and suffering of the people. The history of places like this need to be told so that something like this never happens again.

Krakow, Poland: A Pleasant Surprise

April 17th, 2011

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the former capital of Poland, but Krakow was a very pleasant surprise this weekend.

Some important historical dates:

  • 8th century Wislanie tribe set up a state with Krakow as its capital.
  • 1241 Krakow demolished by Mongols
  • 1364 King Casmir II the Great founds Krakow University
  • 1683 King John III Sobieski led his Polish army form Krakow to Vienna, won it from besieging Turks.
  • 1918 Poland is reinstated.
  • 1939 Nazi and Soviet divide up Poland.
  • 1945 Soviets capture Krakow
  • 1989 Fall of communism in Poland
  • 1991 First democratic elections since 1939

The first thing we see outside our hotel is this medieval structure.

The Great Barbican of Krakow and the Great Tour Guide Z of the Czech Republic

This used to be Krakow’s main gate. The circular structure is made for military defense. The walls are 3 meters thick! It has 7 turrets and 130 loopholes. However, no more defense killing is done in the Barbican. Today the 500 year old structure houses summer concerts and theaters.

Florianska Street is the main street leading to the main square of Krakow, Rynek Glowny. The street is named after St. Florian who is the saint of Poland and firefighters.

The Main Market Square dates back to the 13 th century. It is the largest medieval town square in Europe spanning 430,000 sqft.

This weekend there was an amazing Easter market where I shopped, ate pirogues, and watched two British women fight like the Real Housewives of New Jersey. I love a good train wreck, so I grabbed a chocolate covered banana and watched the drama unfold.

Within the square is St. Mary’s Basilica. One the hour, a trumpet is sound from the towers. It is to commemorate the famous 13th century trumpeter, who was shot in the throat while sounding the alarm before the Mongol attack. The style of the church is brick gothic of Polish cathedral style, which can be seen in Chicago at St. John Cantius Cathedral.

The two towers were built by two brothers. The legend does not have a happy ending.

The brother who made the shorter tower was jealous of his brother’s taller and more beautiful tower, so he killed him (what else would you expect). Then he killed himself.

The murder weapon.

I shopped in the Sukiennice, which used to be a hopping place for international trade. It used to sell spices, silk, leather and wax.

I wanted to visit the Czartoryskis Museum which holds one of da Vinci’s most famous paintings “Lady with an Ermine,” however, it is under construction.

We visited the Wavel Castle, which was the seat of Polish kings for 500 years. Inside the castle grounds is the Cathedral, which is the most important Polish Church. There are massive prehistoric bones hanging from the outside, which are thought to be dragon bones (actually it is a mammoth’s shin, skull of a rhino, and a rib of a whale). If these bones fall, then the world ends. Hello, 2012.

Statue of Pope John Paul II. He used to be a priest in Krakow before he became pontiff.

I joined a protest against Nuclear Power. I will never be able to run for President of the US or Poland for that matter.

As you can tell, Krakow was a pleasant surprise!

Austrian Voting Age is 16

April 17th, 2011

At 16 I could barely drive, but in Austria I could vote. I’m still a bad driver. Good thing that doesn’t affect my voting status.

I went on a weekend trip to Vienna, Austria last weekend. Here a few fun facts about Austria:

  • It has the 3rd highest quality of living in European Union.
  • People there speak German
  • The city center in Vienna is a World Heritage Site.
  • The largest emerald of the world, which is of a whopping 2860 caret, is displayed in the Imperial Treasury in Vienna.
  • It is situated on the Danube.

Ahhh! But, first let me take you to a one of a kind city.

Excalibur City!

This is a special place we stopped at for lunch. It had an amusement park (kinda weird), grocery store, Elvis, KFC, water games, and this thing…..

We chose to eat in the actual airplane, which wasn’t too far from this pretty lady.

According to the decor we were going to Africa.

Vienna is beautiful! The weather was magnificent! The trees were in bloom, the sun was shining, the birds were singing!

Vienna is the capital of Austria, which is south of the Czech Republic. The city is situated between two banks of the Danube River.

In the 14th century, Vienna or Wein was the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. By the end of WWI it was the capital of Austria. The Habsburg or Hapsburg Dynasty ruled Vienna and almost the world at some time fore some time. Their imprint is still on the city.

New Town Hall

This building may look old, but it is actually 19th century Neo-gothic. On the central spire there is a metal statue of a knight, which represents municipal sovereignty.

Imperial Parliament

The Parliament house was built is the second half of the 19th century in a Greek Style. It even has a fountain of Athena in front.

Fun Fact: the stones to build it were cut from the same quarry as the U.S. Capitol Building

We also visited the Hofburg, which sat the old Habsburg emperors. It is open to the public and has nice parks and paths to walk in. You can also see the Imperial Treasury Schatzkammer. It holds treasures and jewels of of the Holy Roman Empire and the Austrian Empire. It even holds the Holy Lance or the St. Longinus Spear, which pierced is thought to have pierced Jesus’s side. I didn’t go there, but I did go to mass at the Hofburg Chapel. I got tricked into going to mass to see the Vienna’s Boy’s Choir. These boys have voices of angels.

There is a ton of stuff to do in Vienna, such as, go to St. Stephen cathedral, where Mozart had his wedding in 1782 and his funeral in 1791. OR, learn more about the genius composer at the Mozart Museum.

For a beer break we went to Griechenbeisl, which is a famous inn/restaurant that Beethoven, Mozart, Mark Twain and Johnny Cash visited. I was drinking with the best of them!

We visited the Minoritenkirche church, which was built in 1224. There is a life-sized mosaic copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper.

Could not take photos in Church. Picture from http://www.vienna.cc/wienpix/minoriten7.jpg

But, I have to say biking through the city was my favorite part. We rented bikes and road all over town and through amazing parks! I had too much fun!

Vienna is an amazing city to visit. The weather was perfect, the food delicious, the architecture breathtaking and the history interesting. What more could I ask for?

It Rained In Dresden

April 10th, 2011

Recently, I went on a day trip to Dresden, Germany. It’s not far from the Czech-German border, so the bus ride wasn’t bad at all.

Unfortunately, it did rain the entire day. I was soaked to the bone. But, I did manage to learn some things as I continuously wiped off my glasses.

Dresden, capital of Saxony, is located near the Czech Republic boarder on the Elbe River. It’s a large metropolitan area that focuses on manufacturing, transportation and culture. Since it was heavily bombed during WWII, Dresden is filled with new, old, and recreated architecture.

The fist thing we saw was the Zwinger Palace, which is a massive example of Baroque architecture. However, it was destroyed in the bombings of WWII. The people of Dresden voted to rebuild the palace in its original Baroque plan because they feared that the Eastern German Government (under the USSR-German Democratic Republic) would build over the remains in their typical socialist realism.

Gardens just about to bloom in Palace courtyards.

Across from the square from the Swinger (Remember w’s are pronounced like v’s. Makes it more fun to say.), is the famous Semper Opera House or Semperoper. This building is typical of the “Dresden Baroque Style” even though it uses aspects of Baroque, Renaissance, and even classical Greek styles. There are two reasons why this building is so famous. First, its architect, Gottfried Semper, was a genius. This is one of his most important buildings. Second, as our wonderful tour guide, Z, told us, “If you can sing in the Semperoper, then you can sing any where!”

The original building was destroyed in WWII. It was rebuilt in the exact plan because of Semper and his influence on architecture.

Mr. Semper himself!

Then we visited the Hofkirche, which is the catholic church in a very protestant city. Since the king at the time wanted to be the King Of Poland he converted to Catholicism because there’s nothing more catholic than Poland.  The people of Dresden, not being catholic, did not want anything to do with the building of the Church. The king had to out source the work to Italians because his own people didn’t even want to build it.

Sorry for the statue. Don't hate me. I'm not a professional.

Another amazing religious structure we saw was the protestant church, or the Frauenkirche. This buildings was built entirely by the people because they weren’t wasting their time on building the Catholic Church. It was built in the 18th century, but like most things in Germany and Dresden was heavily bombed in WWII by the Allies. The people called on help from all over the world to rebuild. It is pretty cool because you can see how they used the original stones because they are darker than the new ones. The gold orb and cross at the top of the dome was a personal gift from the Queen of England.

No statue.

There is also new architecture in Dresden. The New Synagogue was completed in 2001. It was built on the same location as the Semper Synagogue, which was destroyed in 1938 during the Kritallnact.

My picture had a ton of trees in it, soooooo this is from the Wikipedia site.

We did other things in Dresden, like, eat at a beer house, eat street pastries, and walked up and down the Elbe River. It was a really fun day, and I learned a lot!

It Was Like Mozart Was There

April 8th, 2011

Back in March, I can’t believe I haven’t posted in so long!, I saw the opera Don Giovanni. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote the music for the opera. Actually, it first premiered in Prague at the Estates Theater (the same theater I saw it in)on October 29, 1787. Pretty Historic Night.

My friend Kirby.

Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

March 23rd, 2011

“Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it’s Turkish delight on a moonlit night”

– They Might Be Giants

Istanbul is the 3rd largest city in the world with a population 13 million. It is so big because it is located in a very important area, which connects the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. Did I mention it’s on two continents?

We (my friends and I) flew in on Turkish Airlines. Best flight ever! I got a full on meal, wine, and hazelnuts. I was treated like a sultan.

After the eating extravaganza on the flight, we settled into our hotel that was in the historic center of the city.

The hotel was perfect. It was quaint, but very homey. It had a courtyard in the center where we ate breakfast, free tea in the lobby, and my room had a balcony.

After taking some time to unpack and get our bearings, we headed over to the Blue Mosque. Built in 1609, the Blue Mosque is one of the most mosques in all of Islam. Since it is still in use, we (the girls) had to cover our heads with scarves. Worth it because the interior of the mosque is breath taking.

See the minerates (tall towers)? That's where the call for worship comes from 5 times a day. Yes, even at 4:30am.

Outside the Blue Mosque in the Hippodrome (large amphitheater for races) is an Egyptian Obelisk. It was brought to Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 390AD.

Next we ate. I had some lamb, the meat of choice in Turkey.

The meat is under all that cheese and eggplant. Yummy!

I washed my meal down with some Turkish Coffee, which is made by boiling coffee grounds and leaving them in the bottom of the cup.

After eating, we strolled down the street to a hookah bar.We smoked hookah, learned some Turkish dances, and tried Raki.

Reading my blog then most of you know that I will eat and drink almost anything, but I did not like Raki. It tasted like black liquorish, and to be honest, that’s one of the few flavors I can’t put down.

The next day we visited an even more important mosque, the Aya Sophia. It was a christian cathedral from 360 to 1453. Then it became a mosque and now it’s a museum. What is amazing about this structure is that 1) it is beautiful, 2) it traded religious hands and retains both decorations, 3) the dome is supported by the outside walls not by columns.

Byzantine mosaics

Writings from the Koran

Outside shot.

Then we went to the Sultan’s pad. The Topkapi Palce was home to the Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years. There is amazing architecture, decorations, gardens, clothing, royal jewels, and relics from the prophet.

Some of the sultans many ladies. One sultan had 27 kids!

86 karat Diamond.

Inside the palace, outside the palace, and all over Turkey are these cats! Stray cats are everywhere. There is no control over them, well, except for the stray dogs that eat them.

After our day of tours, all the girls went to a traditional Turkish Bathhouse for some R&R.We were relaxing until 11pm! I guess we got carried away. Then we had a very nice dinner together.

Next day we traveled underground to the Basilica sistern. Istanbul has no source for fresh water therefore, they had to build elaborate aqua ducts to bring water into the city. The water would collect into these underground sisterns. This sistern was interesting because all the columns were different because they were taken from palaces all over the Ottoman Empire.

Don't worry this is a safe Medusa. She won't turn you into stone. Or will she?

After the Basilica sister we went to the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market. Both are covered market areas. The Grand Bazaar has over 4,000 merchants selling gold, silver, carpets, slippers, books, food, and much more. There you also get to bargain for the prices.

Spices in the Spice Market

Yes, it is always this crowded.

After shopping a few of us took a ferry to ASIA! Now, I can finally tell people I have been to Asia. I’ve been to three out of the 7 continents. I didn’t stay long in Asia, so I guess I will just have to go back.

In the evening we went to the modern area of the city around Taksim and Istiklal. This is an area filled with modern stores, cafes, and modern architecture. It’s pretty cool to compare the different parts of the massive city.

After our big day in the city, we went to bed to get good sleep for our travels home.

At the airport the next day, there were protest about the confrontation in Libya. There seemed to be a lot of confusion, so we quickly got through security to our gate.

I’m back in Prague (my new second home) safe and sound.