It wasn’t a long drive from Krakow to Prague but the dreary weather continued and we were disappointed that even though we had to backtrack about a hundred miles, traveling the same road we had taken from Bratislava to Krakow, we still didn’t see much through the haze and gloom. We continued to be amazed by how green the fields were. And we were thankful for good roads and once again we were pleased with our Airbnb. The location was amazing. We were on a main street less than a block from the tram that would be our transportation for the next week. And between us and the tram was a tobacco shop where we could buy our daily tram tickets costing us less than two dollars each for limitless travel for 24 hours. We have found tobacco shops throughout Europe to be a convenient stop to purchase stamps and public transportation tickets. They are also very good at answering basic questions about the area. (Where is the nearest bank, post office, etc.)
At the top of our sightseeing list was Wenceslaus Square. The square is named after Wenceslaus, the patron saint of Bohemia, best known for giving alms to the poor on the Feast of Stephen (as the Christmas carol tells us). It’s the main square of demonstrations. In 1968 this is where the protests took place after the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia. Protests became violent and first Jan Palack, a university student, set himself on fire followed a month later by Jan Zajic.
It was here too, in 1969 that the Czechs celebrated their victory over the Russians in Prague’s Ice Hockey Championship Games. The celebrations were short-lived and soon put down by force. I can remember seeing pictures of the crowds during the protests of the Velvet Revolution in the late 1990’s just a week after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Memorials throughout the area serve as reminders of the cost Czechs have paid for their freedom.
We made a couple of visits to Old Town Prague. The Astronomical Clock built in 1381 and installed in the tower in 1400 is complete with calendar, clock dial and the twelve apostles who parade hourly. But honestly trying to tell the time is no easy feat!
The Astronomical Clock sits at the edge of Old Town Square where we saw some unique buskers. It’s amazing how energetic these folks are for what must seem like an endless day. We were also amazed by their entertaining antics that followed whenever anyone put coins in their containers. Across the square from the Astronomical Clock we found a small art museum. Each of their three floors was devoted to a different artist: Dali, Warhol and Mucha. I find Dali interesting but confusing. His unusual work always reminds me of Alice in Wonderland. We have encountered Dali and Warhol museums on various stops in our travels. Mucha is a famous Czech artist.
Another must see for us was the Charles Bridge, named for King Charles IV who initiated its construction. It was built in 1357 (known as the Prague Bridge until 1870) and was the only way to cross the Viltava River until 1841. It’s an interesting stone bridge that contains more than 30 statues of saints. On the way to the Charles Bridge we jumped off the tram for a quick stop to see the Dancing House by Frank Gehry. The museum is nicknamed Fred and Ginger! (Gehrey also designed the Biomuseo in Panama City as well as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.)
We loved the Czech food. Around the corner from our Airbnb we found the Andel restaurant, a wonderful authentic Czech restaurant. We decided by the number of locals that it must be a pretty good place. We were not disappointed. The menu had lots of traditional Bohemian dishes including: sausages, goulash, pork hocks and schnitzels. When we realized the three individuals sitting at the next table were Americans (They were discussing Big Ten sports.) we asked where they were from. Turns out, they were in Prague to recruit international graduate students to their respective universities: Indiana, Purdue and the University of Colorado. How surprised we were to find out the Indiana recruiter was from Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, just 40 miles east of our address in Big Rapids. Small world!
Markets are everywhere in Europe and Prague was no exception. We enjoyed strolling through the Havelske Trziste (Havel Market).
The market is named for Vaclav Havel who was the last president of Czechoslovakia serving from 1989 – 1992 when it first broke away from the Soviet Union. Havel was also the first president of Czech Republic from 1992 – 2003. He was a politically active playright whose work was banned because he had participated in the Prague Spring.
Everywhere we turned in Prague the architecture was particularly interesting. The Powder Tower, so named because it held gun powder, was completed in 1475. This was the starting point for the Royal Route, the route of the Coronation Parade. Not far from there we came upon the House of the Black Madonna. This was the first example of cubist architecture in Prague and was built with the specific goal of fitting into the existing neighbohood. The designers had to get government permission before they were allowed to construct it.
After a week in Prague it was time to head back to Paris and turn in our rental car. But there were a couple of places we wanted to see on the way. Nurenberg, Germany, was our first stop. The weather continued to be miserable. In addition to the rain it was getting really cold. We layered up in all we had: tee shirt, sweater, jacket, scarf. We decided to splurge and stay in a hotel right in the center of the old town so we could limit the amount of walking time to get to the sights!
But even with the inclement weather, both Bob and I fell in love in Nurenberg and wished we had more than a night there. The views from the bridges were lovely and the market square was surrounded by new buildings and old. There are interesting sculptures scattered across the area. My favorite was the Ship of Fools which is based on a satire by Sebastian Brant. He created St. Grobian, the patron saint of vulgar and coarse people. This conception allowed him to use his voice to criticize the church.
We were looking for a place for lunch and the woman in the Tourist Information Center suggested the Bratwursthausle Werner http://die-nuernberger-bratwurst.de just around the corner. We went in and found it was very crowded. Thinking there was no availability we were ready to leave when a waiter came to seat us at a table where four people were already seated. I had read about “community tables” but never before experienced them. Already seated was a young couple from the US who had been recently married. The husband had just completed his tour of military service and his wife had quit her job and they were touring Europe for a month. There were also two older men seated at our table. And while they spoke only a little English, their English was far superior to our German. They were from Cologne and part of a tour group. While their wives were out visiting the sights of the city these interesting guys had chosen to avoid the lousy weather and enjoy some refreshment in the tavern instead!
We learned from the American gentleman that there’s a legend that the small bratwursts, about the size of your pinky finger, were made to a specific size so that if folks returned to Nurenberg late at night and found that the city gates were already locked, citizens could pass these little sausages through the keyhole so that while the city was inaccessible at least they could get food! Interesting, don’t you think?
From Nurenberg, we wanted to pass through Luxenbourg and decided Luxenbourg City, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Luxenbourg, was a good place to spend the night and do a bit of sightseeing.
While it’s a lovely city we found it extraordinarily expensive. It has the second highest cost of living in Europe. Because of this many who work there choose to live in France and commute.
From Luxenbourg City it was on to Paris. We had arranged to return our lease on the way into the city not wanting to have a car in Paris. Now that we were back to using public transportation we had to be far more careful about how we packed our things not wanting to have to lug around more than our individual suitcases and carry ons.
The woman who ran the Airbnb was extremely accomodating telling me to text her when we got in the taxi and she would meet us at the bar right in front of the apartment. Manuela, our host, was both helpful and friendly. Her husband owned the bar in the same building as our Airbnb and he was just as outgoing as she. We felt like we had known them for years. We were pleased that our apartment was on the main floor very securely located behind two gates and located in a great gentrified neighborhood with close proximity to many of the sights we wanted to visit.
While we only had a week in Paris, there were a couple of places missed on our previous trip that were at the top of our list for this visit. Cary was able to fly in and spend a long weekend with us and she, like us, had never been to Versailles. Since both the Louvre and Versailles are known for their long lines I decided to order the tickets online. (As it turned out because we were there in November it wasn’t necessary to prebook but I didn’t want to take any chances.)
We were a little taken aback by our Uber driver on the way out to the palace. While he knew the roads well, he cut from the far right lane across several lanes of traffic to make a left turn. And when we got to the Arc de Triumph I just closed my eyes and hoped for the best. As we came into Versailles the palace dominated the landscape. It’s difficult to comprehend that it was actually a residence. We were able to walk directly into the castle and while there were still hundreds of people touring, we in no way felt overwhelmed by the crowds.
In one room we were amused to see the place where the King ate publicly. It’s hard to imagine having a place to eat where people can come and watch! Also there was a sign in the king’s bedroom that read: “Here the Royal Rising and Going to Sleep Ceremonies Took Place.” But my favorite part of the palace was the Hall of Mirrors. Having seen it in movies and in books didn’t matter; it still took my breath away. Of course since it was November the gardens weren’t in bloom; I’d like to go back in the summer or fall and just tour the gardens.
On the way back we really lucked out with a fabulous Uber driver. When he saw me taking pictures, he immediately slowed down and even opened his moonroof so that I could better pictures along the Seine and particularly of the Eiffel Tower. He obviously loved what he did and was very much a people person!
Because our Airbnb was so conveniently located we could walk to the Louvre. The Louvre is the largest art museum in the world. When Napolean was in power he had it renamed Musee Napolean. Of course he did! In 1793 it was first opened as a public museum. We knew there was way too much for us to try to see in one visit so Cary had searched and found several lists of “must sees” on the internet and from those we made our own list.
The building itself is just as impressive as the art on display. It’s difficult to comprehend that we were actually viewing the Venus de Milo or The Coronation of Napolean. But perhaps most surprising for me were the mobs around the Mona Lisa. People pushed and shoved to get up front in order to take a selfie of themselves with the portrait. It made absolutely no sense!
I don’t think I could ever spend enough time in Paris but it’s an expensive city so we have to carefully plan our time there. On the morning we were to leave we found a scrumptuous Sunday breakfast buffet at the https://www.letoiledunord.fr/letoile#. This seemed a perfect way to end our Paris visit just before Cary flew back to Rome and we took the train to Amsterdam. With the exception of what to do with our luggage, I find train travel exceptionally enjoyable. It’s generally inexpensive, we see the countryside, and we meet interesting people. It did give us pause, however, that as we pulled out of the station a group of four men walked through the train with signs on their back indicating they were police. Given that we were traveling at a high rate of speed we could only wonder what they might be looking for and what would happen if they found it!
We stayed at the Amsterdam airport Ibis just as we had on our first night in Europe a couple of months earlier. We met two interesting older couples at dinner who were from Friesland, Netherlands and were familiar with Michigan, particularly Holland. It seems whenever we travel we continue to make Michigan connections.
We were really lucky in that our flight home departed Amsterdam at noon and arrived back in the States seven hours later at 3 pm DC time. We’re beginning to know the routine of coming through customs and reentering the country. With new technology the process is becoming more and more efficient but I have to admit I really miss the customs agent’s greeting of “Welcome home!” After checking in to our Airbnb we met up with Patrick for dinner and were able to stay awake until a reasonable bedtime allowing us to make an easier adjustment to the time difference. It was now time to relax and take a break before heading out to Tucson via Pittsburgh, southern Indiana and then following Route 66 west. But in the meantime we had 10 days to catch up with our DC/Maryland family and enjoy Thanksgiving together.