08 June 2009

Berlin!

When we were booking this trip, we tried everything to make it as cheap as possible. The cheapest scenario involved an overnight stop in Berlin on the way from Prague to Copenhagen/Sweden. I LOVE Germany, so I was definitely a fan of this little plan. Here are pics of the GIANT Prague airport! We even saw someone rollerblading in here. Weird! We arrived in Berlin around 7pm and took the excellent subway system, the U-Ban, to our hotel. We booked this hotel on priceline and it was definitely not what we would have picked on our own. The Art Hotel was Andy Warhol themed (read: creepy and dated) and didn't provide breakfast. And it was really far from all of our destinations. Worst of all - either the AC was broken or it just didn't work. When we checked out in the morning we actually saw a crane putting something on the building's roof - I guessed it was a new AC Unit....

We quickly dropped our bags and headed back to see some sights. No time for food (even though I was starving) because we were losing the light. First we hit up the Brandenburg Gate, which at one point was in East Berlin. Ryan got some great pictures. He brought his tripod, which came in handy more than once, and right after sunset the sky turns this very deep blue. Here, see for yourself: From here, we walked to the Reichstag. The Reichstag Building is the home of the German Parliament, with a glass dome that has been built on the top of the building. This gives you a 360 degree view of the city, and you can look down into the main hall and watch government happen! We arrived just before 10pm, and were in the LAST group to get let in. Yes! Plus it was FREE! Here is the dome from down below: Bradenburg Gate from inside the dome. You can see how close it is to the Reichstag. Here is the Sony Centre - looked very cool, but we didn't have a chance to make it there during the daytime. Some Fireworks! Why? I don't know...Do you ever really NEED a reason for fireworks? Now inside the dome looking down into the Reichstag. You can see the blue chairs where the "magic" happens. The Column is full of mirrors that are used to light the room.












View from the inside. These ramps wrap all the way up to an open-air platform at the top of the dome. After the Reichstag we were tuckered out, so we hopped on the U-Ban back to our uninviting hotel. I still was STARVING, having not eaten since our plane ride at 4ish (a teeny tiny airplane sandwich (and I didn't get much of a lunch that day either (I don't want you all thinking I have some sort of over-eating disorder))), but we were hard pressed to find food at 11:15pm. Ryan left me in our sweltering hotel room to fight with the air conditioner while he left in a quest for some good eats. He returned triumphantly about 20 minutes later with two Duner's and a giant beer. I was so defeated from my battle with the AC unit that I could barely eat or drink. I decided to put myself down for the night, still hungry and sweaty.

Getting up and out of the hotel in the morning was no problem. We stashed our bags and stopped by a bakery where I was delighted to find a chocolate croissant! Too bad it was more air than food! After a quick stop at an Internet cafe to check flight times we were off to the East Gallery, where you can see old sections of the Berlin Wall. I have to admit, I find the Berlin Wall completely fascinating. I was only 5 years old when the wall came down in 1989 and I am a little naive when it comes to this part of history. I just can't believe they would throw up a wall in the middle of a city! This was only 50 years ago.....And West Berlin was the only free area within all of Germany. Apparently 98 people were killed trying to climb over the wall. Many more were killed trying to flee by other methods. Artists were repainting sections of the wall, but we were able to see a variety of different artwork throughout the gallery. Here is a newer painting. Definitely a clear message! It felt a little strange taking pictures next to the wall...but we got over it... Next we were off to the Berliner Dome! The pictures cannot express the immensity of this structure. Once inside, the dome's size is even more overwhelming. You could play football in here! Ryan took this shot with his SUPER zoom! We went down in the Crypt where some caskets of important people are stored - who, I cannot say. I don't READ GERMAN! This steel casket was damaged during the war. Now let me fill you in on my favorite thing to encounter when traveling: stairs. Lots of them. These really weed out the faint-of-heart-travelers. Don't get me wrong, it SUCKS for handicapped people and for that reason I am genuinely sad, however, this keeps many bandwagon travelers away from some of the coolest sights, and means its less crowded for ME! The Berliner Dome has secret stairs that lead up to the VERY TOP of the dome. As you can see, these are NOT for the faint of heart.
We stopped along the way, here's a viewpoint looking back down into the dome. And me at the top! If you thought the top of the space needle was scary, stay away! The walk around the dome was only about 2ft wide. Again, good thing there were very few people up there! From here we thought we had enough time to check out the Sony Centre. As you can see from the lack of pictures, we did NOT. En route, we got suck in some sort of road-closure induced traffic jam and had to redirect ourselves to the hotel to grab our bags. We were concerned about time and had to skip our lunch plans. This means my only real meal in Berlin was a few bites of Duner and a disappointing chocolate croissant...

We were told it would only take 20 minutes to get to the airport from our hotel. Someone was drunk when they provided us with that information. Over an hour later, we arrived at the airport. We SPRINTED to the check-in area and found a 3-hour line (I am not exaggerating, they told us). I went straight to the front of the line (luckily, they had just made a last call announcement for our flight) and we were able to check in just in the nick of time.

Unfortunately, our battle to make the plane was not over. We still had to contend with airport security (blegh) and get to our gate. For those of you familiar with IKEA, you'll understand what I mean when I say the airport was set up like an IKEA. You literally walk THROUGH the stores on the way to the gates...or in our case RUN through. First we had to dodge strollers and alluring liquor displays in the Duty Free store. Then it was a souvenir shop, followed by some sort of luggage store, and finally a greasy-floored Burger King (I threw up in my mouth a little) before we made it to our gate! But we made it! No one can say our 18 hours in Berlin were uneventful!

Next blog: Copenhagen & Lund, Sweden!

07 June 2009

Kutna Hora: The Bone Church

For weeks before we left I kept going to websites (http://www.kostnice.cz/) talking about this Bone Church, but nothing could prepare me for just how STUNNING this place is in person! Here is a brief history from the website:

The cistercian monastery was founded near here in the year 1142. In 1278 King Otakar II of Bohemia sent Henry, the abbot of Sedlec, on a diplomatic mission to the Holy Land. When leaving Jerusalem Henry took with him a handful of earth from Golgotha which he sprinkled over the cemetery of the Sedlec monastery, consequently the cemetery became famous throughout Central Europe and many wealthy people desired to be buried here. The burial ground was enlarged during the epidemics of plague in the 14th century (in 1318 about 30,000 people were buried here) and also during the Hussite wars in first quarter of the 15th. century.

The present arrangement of the bones dates from 1870 and is the work of a Czech wood-carver, FrantiĊĦek RINT and the ossuary contains the remains of about 40,000 people. The largest collections of bones are arranged in the form of bells in the four corners of the chapel.


We left Prague on the first train to Kutna Hora, which took about an hour (or so I'm told, since I was napping per usual, ha!) We walked straight to the Ossuary. The church is surrounded by a small, very beautiful cemetary. Even without the "holy dirt" I can see why people would like to be buried there. Many beautiful flowers were growing in the cemetary One other person was there when we arrived, but he left quickly and for about 30 minutes we had the whole place to ourselves. You walk in and are immediately stuck with just the sheer enormity of the amount of bones. EVERYTHING is bones, from the chandellier to the coat of arms to the wall dressings. I believe these pictures speak for themselves...the pyramids of skulls are over 40 feet tall! Seriously, it's not creepy at all, just so cool! Just as we were leaving, a full bus of Japanese tourists arrived! SOOO GLAD we went early! Imagine how different these pictures could have looked!!!

We left the Bone Church and headed into the main centre of town, which wasn't much more than a big church. This was much more impressive from the outside, but it was so massive it seemed out of place in such a small town. Sorry it's not a better picture, the sun was so bright and the church is positioned on the edge of a big cliff so it's hard to get a good shot!







Although, Kutna Hora is home to Phillip Morris, and they were having a little showcase if you will. Gross. No wonder everyone in Prague smokes so much!












After about 4 hours in Kutna Hora, we headed back to Prague. The perfect morning, which we topped off with some delicious ice cream cones! Our scenery on the way back was great too - these are Canola Oil Seed plants!

Prague

After the wedding, we were off to Prague! We arrived very late in the evening as our flight was delayed out of Frankfurt. Getting to the apartment was only supposed to take about 40 minutes, but the directions were a bit "lost in translation" and it took us over two hours.But we arrived safe and sound and were pleased with our accommodations, which consisted of a bedroom with working computer and free Internet, a kitchen with a washing machine, and a nice bathroom! Good digs huh?

The first morning we got up to explore Praha in all of it's glory. Our neighborhood looked much nicer (and less we're-going-to-get-mugged-with-these-giant-backpacks-on) during the day, and you can imagine my elation when Ryan shared that our neighborhood had the most bars per capita than anywhere else in all of Europe!Our walk took us to Wenceslas Square. Yes the same Wenceslas as in our American Christmas carols, however he was actually a Duke and war hero and not a king. Here's Ryan standing at the beginning of the Royal Mile, which we walked on our way to the Old Town Centre. During this walk, we encountered the first of what would be many HYDSIN's....Hair You Don't See In Nature. Many women all over Europe seem to think this hair color is a good idea....I am not convinced.

En route, we went up in an old tower that gave us great views of the city! I just love the red roofs! Hundreds of years ago, Prague was surrounded by a fortification wall. Some of the old Towers still stand. A quick story: Ryan and I have recently been introduced to this show called Three Sheets - it's both a drinking/travel show and a drinking game. You should really youtube it! Anyway, the host, Zane Lamprey, went to Prague for an episode and was fascinated by this sign....so we took a picture for our own records! It's pretty weird, you have to admit! Here is Old Town Square. It's too bad someone built those buildings in front of the beautiful church!
And at night We paid to go into the church, but it was certainly worth it!!!
Now this I don't quite understand....what sort of "technical reason" could cause a Crypt to be closed??? Did the body just decide to get up and walk away??? After all of our touristing activities, we stopped at a little italian eatery for some food action, oh, and of course BEER! Beer is SO CHEAP in Prague, not to mention very, very delicious! See how happy it makes me - not bad for about $2! For food, I decided to order a little calzone...for those of you who are familiar with my 2006 European Adventure, you will remember the Calzone I ate that was the size of a small dog. Of course, I finished the whole thing, but as Allison so eloquently put it, I had to be rushed back to the hostel for an emergency siesta. This calzone did not have the same effect and I was grateful! Boy was it tasty! And for those of you who don't remember, here is the ORIGIONAL Siesta Inducing Calzone I digress....After lunch we headed across the famous Charles Bridge toward the Prague Castle. I love these tiny little streets! So European! Now, for the sake of blogging, I am going to combine all of our different trips/sightseeing excursions in Prague into the rest of this blog - so I apologize to those of you hoping for a chronological play by play. In all, we spent 3 days in Prague, and did a side trip to Kutna Hora, which was so cool it will get its very OWN blog post.

Here's the Prague Castle in the background
And the same shot, except at night! Ryan brought his Tripod along with his fancy camera, so we were able to get some really cool dusk pics! Crossing the bridge - apparently you have to touch this for good luck!



















Here's a fellow begging for money....and by fellow I mean puppet!
We stopped into the Congressional Gardens. This is a art instalation/wall fortification technique that also acts as a bird sanctuary. Interesting perspective on the castle The steps up to the castle!I heard someone else's count...385! Looking back down! The front of the palace entrance. On this day the whole thing was blocked off, most likely for a visiting consulate. The Cathedral at the top of the hill! Here's the inside....I used my Student ID to get a discount...shh don't tell! Looking down on town from our perch on the hill The back of the cathedral. Who doesn't love a good "flying buttress"??? I want this knocker for my door!


















One of the afternoons we explored the old Jewish Centre. Prague was targeted by the Nazi's in WWII, and all of the Jews were rounded up and put inside this centre that was closed off to the rest of the city. Over 50% of the residents died of starvation and disease. Now, the Jews have rebuilt and reclaimed this part of the city! The old Jewish Cemetery was closed for the day, but I didn't let that stop me from catching a peek - or bouldering, if you will!
















Now, I know you didn't think I could make it all through a blog without some debauchery, so here you have it! One of the nights we decided to go on a tour inspired by Zane Lamprey from Three Sheets. Our first stop was this restaurant, where we each enjoyed 4 delicious beers and some MEAT! I had Ribs, as you can see. Ryan went straight for the Pig Knee - yes you did read that right! Cleaned it right down to the bone! After paying our larger than necessary bill (pretty sure they added an "American Gratuity" charge!) we set out to find a Budweiser Bar. You see, America STOLE Budweiser from the Czech Republic, and what they have there is completely different from our American BUd. In fact, you wont' find a bar in the whole country that sells Bud. Budweiser comes from the Budwar region and comes in two choices, light or dark. I like the dark, Ryan is a fan of the light. But to be honest, Budweiser is no better than Bud. I say stay away from both!

The last stop on our tour was the amazing Tiger Bar. You would not know this was here unless, well, you knew it was there! When we walked in the place was packed, and I'm pretty sure I was the only female in the whole place! We were just turing to leave when the bartender grabbed Ryan by the collar and motioned to a few people, who parted like the red sea for us to sit down. Then, two beers were immediately plopped in front of us. That's right, they only sell one kind of beer, the local Pilsner, and they will keep bringing you a fresh beer until you tell them to stop. They keep track of how many you've had by putting marks on a piece of paper at your table. When you are done, you simply pay for the number of drinks at the cashier. I want to open a restaurant like this in Seattle!!!

After two beers apiece, we figured it was time to stumble home!

The next morning, we were definitely dragging. But our lives were better than this guys! Check out how they tow cars in Prague!!! Well thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the update (finally!) Here are some parting thoughts on Prague.

Drink Beer! Lots of it, and always try the local stuff, becuase it is the best, and even if it isn't delish a pint will only cost a few bucks!

Be prepared to pay for bathrooms. Like most other places in Europe, bathrooms cost money to use, generally about 25 cents. But in most cities you can find free bathrooms in McDonald's and Starbucks. That is not the case here, so make sure you have small change, becuase there is NOTHING worse than having to pee and not being able to becuase you can't pay the toll!

Smoking in Prague is BAD! The worst of anywhere I've ever been. Bring fabreeze with you for clothes or something.

And finally, before we came we were warned that the locals are not very helpful. We found this to be absolutely true, at least for those people paid to work in the tourist industry. For example, everyone at the train station was less than enthused about answering our questions, even when we tried to speak in Czech. But I did encounter some very friendly HOtel Employees and people on the street seemed nice enough, so it wasn't all bad.

In general Prague was clean, cheap, and beautiful. A must see for any European Adventurer!