Love and Travel – We’re not Lost…

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Going to Crete was mostly my idea. My mother and father came to Crete after they were married as a honeymoon, and then they just decided to live there until various circumstances brought them home (one of which being the discovery that I was on the way!) As this was my honeymoon I thought it was rather appropriate.

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After deciding we would put Crete into our itinerary, we next had to decide what we wanted to do there. In my very first search I learned of many beautiful caves that scatter the island, and as caves are entirely too fascinating to ignore, I demanded that we visit one. The closest cave to Heraklion is the Dikteon Cave in the Lasithi Plateau. It is also called the Psychro cave, named after the town in which it is situated. According to myth, the baby Zeus was born in this cave when his mother fled to it for his protection, fearing that his son-gobbling father would eat him. Sounds awesome, right?IMG_3451

I like atlases. They are very useful. Somehow with the invention of Google Maps, a decent atlas is really hard to get a hold of. Without internet access, Google maps is not nearly as useful as it normally is. I spent the previous night before our cave trip using the excruciatingly slow internet at the hotel to save map images on the iPad to help us navigate to Psychro cave. Why was I going through such “painstaking” trouble? To get to Psychro there is a bus from Heraklion bus terminal. It leaves on Thursdays. If Thursday isn’t your day, too bad. I didn’t want Shana to miss one of her most anticipated sights. It was decided that we would rent a car and drive out there ourselves.

We had not used a single “real” map of Greece at this point. We were surviving solely on bad free tourist handouts and the occasional Google maps where we could find wifi. Google maps over seas are also not as helpful as they could be. Nearly all local place names are in their native language and script. It was all “Greek” to me. Also, the way addresses are written in Greece are not exactly clear, sometimes they are simply two streets intersecting, and sometimes these streets do not even have names.

The Skoda Fabia is not a good car. It’s adorable that it tries so hard to be a good car. I was so proud of it at the end of day. Upon delivery of the rental car, the main thing the agent wanted me to know was that the car horn worked really well. Oh and this, “Take lots of pictures of car, outside.DSCF2757

This is good for you, protection.” He said this to me while demonstrating just how effective the horn was. Protection from what…?

Since my stick shift skills are terrible at best, Andrew got to drive. The interior of this one began to disintegrate as soon as I climbed in. Off we went with a small collection of tourist maps and some saved images on the iPad. Since it was delivered with the fuel gauge on empty, we needed to find a gas station.

Naturally, I started off quite confident in our plan. It was quite simple. Drive to the cave. Enjoy cave. Come back. EASY PEEZY LEMON SQUEEZY. I had done a not insignificant amount of map study the night before and could visualize the route we were going to take in mind quite easily.

The Greeks drive on the same side of the road as us, but that is all that their traffic laws have in common with ours. On Crete, lanes are very much a suggestion, as it is acceptable to pass other cars by any means possible, and pedestrians have practically no rights of way at all. The restaurants in Greece take up all the surrounding sidewalks adjacent to their property to set out extra tables and chairs; sometimes these sidewalks are across the street from the actual restaurant. So when you are driving through the local cafe areas, you must be watchful for rogue waiters crossing the street and wobbly tables and chairs placed precariously close to the road.   DSCF2755

At the gas station, I didn’t know much driving we were going to be doing so I had them fill up the tank. Filling up a gas tank anywhere in Europe is expensive. Back on to the road we went. I would have been playing music but since the Fabia had concentrated all of its working parts in the horn and 3 of the 4 engine cylinders, the radio was not an option.

Maybe all of this would have been more amusing to me at the time if I had had a decent map or an innate sense of direction. I had neither and since Andrew was driving he made me the navigator. I slowly realized that as we pulled out of the gas station and on to the freeway I had no confidence in my ability to lead us. I began to hyperventilate as quietly as possible so as not to attract Andrew’s attention to my fears. This proved impossible because Andrew can read every expression on my face, especially the wide-eyed look of panic I thought I was concealing.

Women be stressin’. To be fair and despite my confidence, I had only a very rudimentary understanding of the road we were going to take. I knew we had to turn right and it was shortly after a small city on the left. Thankfully the lack of roads in general made navigating a little easier as there fewer opportunities to really screw it up. After a couple false alarms I found the turn that went up to the Lasithi plateau.

After finding the appropriate mountain road, we began to climb slowly up in to the mountains surrounding the plateau. The decision tree looked something like this, Left, Left, Right, Right, (A, B, A, B, Select, Start … just kidding). I didn’t know the names of the roads but because it was a mountain there were very few roads to choose from.IMG_3408

For being what felt like a rather isolated area, there were luckily lots of road signs telling us we were going the right direction. Honestly, if it wasn’t for these signs, I can’t be sure we would have found the place. I was starting to feel much better about our rental car decision, although being on the passenger side meant being the closest to the edge of the windy mountain road, often bereft of guardrails. A couple times we had to pass another car and I was certain that these roads were not meant for two-lane traffic. Does holding your breath for extended periods of time qualify as an ab workout?

Getting to plateau was easy enough but finding Psycrho cave was a bit more challenging. It was so poorly labeled that it seemed like they were having a contest for worst placed road signs.

Since we had driven all the way out there I insisted that we explore the area to “see what we could see.” I decided that we should go check out the other cave in the valley called Tzermiado. The road on the Lasithi plateau basically does a big loop and Tzermiado is almost exactly opposite Psychro. I came to regret this decision since the Tzermiado cave is not set up for visitors. It’s a dark pit surrounded by wasp nests with no lights and a trail that is in disrepair and overgrown. Tzermiado was follwed by some…shall we say not so pleasant roads in the back country areas of Lastithi.  Eventually we ended up back at the exit of the valley and stopped for lunch while we considered our next course of action. We had a car… we should go wine tasting. We still didn’t have a decent map of Crete but considering my successful navigation of the morning adventure how hard could it be to get to the wineries?IMG_3473

It was quite difficult.

On our way back down from Lasithi we got stuck behind a truck carrying a load of hay down the narrow mountain road. Despite all that the ancient civilizations of Greece and Crete had accomplished for math and science, physics was not on this truck driver’s strong suit. The hay bale was so tall that as he started to ascend a relatively steep hill all of the hay fell off the back of his flat bed nearly landing on the hood of our poor little Fabia and completely blocked the road. Good thing I wasn’t tailgating! As Tyche would have it there was a short dirt road bypass that got us around the failed hay physics experiment.

The directions to Lyrarakis contained streets with no names and old country roads that were not exactly labeled. Using only our free map with city names, no freeways, we managed to take a wrong turn somewhere.

I will take full responsibility for this. We made like… I don’t even know, twenty wrong turns. We got a very scenic tour of central Crete south/southeast of Heraklion. The drive would have been lovely had I spent more time actually looking around and not concentrating on the next Y-intersection. We probably spent a solid hour or so driving aimlessly, all they while I insisted I knew where I was going.IMG_3494

We still had not reached the winery we were intending to go to and then I realized that reading the signs and tourist map would be much easier if I had a compass, and luckily there’s an app for that! I finally figured out which way we should be heading, and with the help of a few conveniently placed winery signs we found ourselves heading through rows of Syrah and Plyto grapes.

Well… she figured out an easier way for me to figure out where we were going…IMG_3499

We found the central tasting room, which did not appear open, and my heart sank a bit until we saw another car that had been parked near by heading towards us. A woman who was one of the tasting room managers had stopped by to check on the property and was happy to show us around and give us a tasting.

After a great tasting session we now had the challenge of somehow carrying around 3 bottles of wine in our luggage but we also had an unforgettable experience that doesn’t take up any room in our suitcase.

It is important to understand that in my opinion, we had the pleasure of carrying 3 bottles of wine in our luggage. And all that unforgettable experience stuff too.DSCF2743

We found our way back to the hotel, dropped off the car and found some dinner.

I feel like this may gloss over what maybe one of the single greatest feats of parking in the history of mankind. Parking the rental outside the hotel was no easy matter (neither was staying alive on the streets of Heraklion).

Despite all my irrational fears, Andrew managed to help me realize that we would never be “lost” as long as we were together. We might not be exactly on track, but that’s just because we are taking the scenic route…

Happy Anniversary at 40,000ft

Happy Anniversary at 40,000ft

This will be a short post. Today we spent no time visiting anything other than the Gatwick Airport in London. We left from the hotel and caught our flight at 11:00AM and back to San Francisco we go.

However today is special because it is actually our first anniversary of our legal wedding. We went to the courthouse in Laguna Hills, CA and were wed by a Justice of the Peace with our witnesses Brian Hall and Joe Haller.

Today our anniversary will be extra long because we are flying back from London to San Francisco. That’s like an extra nine hours or so of celebration. Its really too bad we’ll likely be so exhausted from jet lag by the time we get home that we wont be able to do anything other than go to sleep.

Instead we ordered some very expensive champagne on the plane and had our selves a little toast.

A toast to our marriage.

A toast to our friends and family.

A toast to a successful honeymoon.

A toast to those who were able to read about some of our adventures.

A toast to our future.

A toast to Brian and Julie who are getting married as soon as we get back!

A toast to not being on a plane very soon.

Thanks for reading.

Love,

Andrew & Shana

How to do see a million things in one day – London edition

Buckingham Palace – St. Paul’s Cathedral – British National Library – The British Museum – The Tower of London – London Bridge – The Globe – Picadilly Circus – Top Hat:The Musical

Off into the crisp early morning of air of London town we went. A short walk from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace and God Save the Queen! Buckingham is not what I expected it to be. Maybe the British are more frugal. The Hofburg, Versailles, and Prague Castle are all substantially larger than Buckingham. Buckingham is still beautiful. It would have reminded me of Luxembourg gardens in Paris if there had been a gravel path and French people laying in the sun while having a picnic. Alas it was far too cold in the early morning autumn of London for a picnic.

Buckingham

Buckingham

After snapping a couple pictures of Buckingham Palace because it wasn’t open that early in the morning we went off for a walk through Hyde Park. Or at least, that was our intention. As it turns out that was a bit of a hike and we hopped on the Underground to St. Paul’s Cathedral instead.

I would like to take a moment to talk about London and my sense of direction. There are very few places in the world where I feel lost. In Prague, Vienna, Athens, and Venice I knew exactly where I was going at all times with only a few glances at the map and my excellent sense of direction. London was a different story. The Tube stations are so large that even though there are maps in English I would find myself walking out of the station and being completely turned around. Luckily it was Shana’s third visit to London and she mostly knew where she was going.

I bring this up because despite St. Paul’s immense size it is rather hard to locate (if you’re not from England). Eventually we found the main entrance and looked at the price sheet. It was 30GBS to enter St. Paul’s or in real money, that is $60ish dollars US. We felt that was a bit exorbitant so we passed on yet another church and hopped back on the Tube to The British National Library.

British National Library

British National Library

Why visit a library? Isn’t it just a bunch of books? Why yes, that’s exactly what it is but these are not just any books. The British National Library houses one of the world’s greatest exhibitions on books of antiquity. There are original hand penned copies of Shakespeare, an original Guttenberg bible, ancient Muslim texts, scrolls of Japanese calligraphy from feudal Japan, Jane Austen’s writing desk and even hand written Beatles’ lyrics on the back of an envelope. It is an awesome collection. There are really old science books, maps, hand-written music by famous composers and notable books from British history. This was also Shana’s third visit to the British National Library so she spent the entire time in front of Jane Austen’s desk.

All those illuminated manuscripts really whet my appetite for some archaeology exhibits. You could say I was… Jones’n… Tip your waitress folks. The good Doctor Jones and the beautiful female lead dashed off to the British Museum (WHICH IS FREE). The audio guide is rather expensive though. I was able to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine; which was to see the Rosetta Stone. Ever since I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark and studied ancient Egypt in 6th grade I have been deeply fascinated by Egyptian stuff and had wanted to see the British Museum’s collection of Egyptian artifacts. Seeing the Rosetta Stone helped bring out that child like wonder like when I had visited the Field Museum in Chicago, The Smithsonian in Washington D.C. or the Monterey Bay Aquarium for the first time. Despite being pressed for time I made a desperate push to see everything in the museum. I failed. It’s too big. Ba baba BAAAAA ba babaaaaa. Maybe there will be a sequel visit. We stopped for a short take away lunch and hopped back on the London Underground on our way to the Tower of London!

Billy Beefeater

Billy Beefeater

The Tower of London is a bit expensive so to get the most out of your visit make sure you take the guided tour from one of the Beefeaters that “guard” the castle grounds. These are former military men that now actually live at the castle and guide the crowds through with stories and insight. The tour takes off about every 30 min. The tour lasts about 45 min and then you are free to roam the castle on your own time. Trust me on this. You will want to get the tour. First of all there is a lot insight and great stories they tell about the castle to help clear up common misconceptions about its history. Second of all, they are absolutely hilarious. It was an international roast of epic proportions. Here’s a little taste courtesy of youtube. You can even follow them on twitter where they often post the dumbest question they were asked that day.

After the tour we wandered through the main castle to see the torture exhibits, the famous suits of armor, collections of swords and other knight paraphernalia. Henry VII thought very highly of himself judging by the codpiece on his armor.

One of the main reasons people come to the Tower of London is that they house the crown jewels of the United Kingdom. To see the crown jewels you have to walk into a very large safe and then get on a moving sidewalk where you cannot linger to really stare at the jewels as they are incredibly valuable. One of them is called, “The Mountain of Light,” it is a diamond about the size of Shaquille O’Neal’s fist. The guide earlier mentioned to all the women, “If you want your men to feel inadequate, go see King Henry’s Armor, if you want to feel bad about your wedding ring, go see the crown jewels.” Good thing Shana doesn’t like diamonds.

The Tower of London

The Tower of London

We wrapped up our visit to the Tower of London and headed across the Thames to the Globe. The only building in London with a thatched roof. It also just happens to be a complete replica of the original Globe where Shakespeare was performed in the mid to late 16th century. Alas, woe hath fallen upon mine eyes, forsooth we were’t able to peer into the performers’ hallowed ground, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet O’er n’ out. It was closed when we got there. However, we did get a picture of the outside and Shana had already been inside during a previous trip to London.

Back onto the subway we went and headed back to the Leicester Square and the TKTS booth to buy tickets for Top Hat: The Musical. We grabbed some dinner at a local pub near the theatre in the West End, aptly named, “The Globe,” and then enjoyed a wonderful performance of the adapted film. They sang, “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “Cheek to Cheek,” and of course, “Top Hat, White Tie & Tails.” The main part was played by Fred Astaire in the movie and the man who played him on stage was fantastic. He had Astaire’s mannerisms and singing style down. He even kind of looked like Astaire. A great way to cap off our time in London Town.

Sadly this was our final night on the road. Tomorrow we head home.

 

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V-Day in Trafalgar Square

Prague to London Gatwick – Trafalgar Square – V-Day Celebration – National Gallery – Big Ben – Westminster Abbey – Julius Caesar

Early to bed and early to rise we headed out to the Prague airport to catch our flight to London. Getting to the airport is typically pretty easy in most places but I found getting to airport in Prague from the Old Town to a bit of hassle. At the minimum you have to walk from old town to the nearest subway station which is at the Powder Gate. No big deal if you have an overnight bag but if you have a lot of luggage or anything heavy this is kind of a pain.

There are supposed to be special busses that leave early in the morning from around the Powder Gate to the Airport. We never found out. When we got to the place there was no signage, no staff and no other people waiting for the bus. I chalked it up to the unlikely event that I read the directions wrong and decided we should take the subway instead and then catch the transfer bus to the airport at the end of the subway line. This is a whole different kind of pain because it simply takes forever to get to the airport if this method is used. However, we had got up very early and had time.

The Big Eye

The Big Eye

Normally I leave the airport gripes out of these posts but I have to say Prague’s Vaclav Havel Airport is on my list with Orlando, Philidelphia and Newark as one of the worst places in the world to catch a flight. My complaint mainly has to do with the location of the security check. They have a security check at each gate, which means you can’t wander around the terminal or relax. As soon as you get to your gate you stand in line for security. Once you get through security you are in the boarding area and say if you were hungry you would have to go back through security to get something to eat. This is stupid. The worst part is I went and bought two sandwiches and one drink for Shana and I to share on the plane. I bought them in the terminal and I had the receipt. Since the screening processes is at the gate they made me ditch the 3 euro drink I had bought even though it was on the same receipt as the sandwiches and was UNOPENED. “No liquids over 3 oz.” As childish as it may seem the desire to pitch an epic fit over this minor injustice was quite strong. That desire was also met with the gravity that airport security pretty much anywhere can detain you for the slightest grievance in the name of airline security. I did not want to test the waters with the Czech TSA. Moral of the story: Prague airpot is terrible. Take a train to leave Prague instead.

The short flight from Prague to London was easy and I eventually got a drink on the plane anyway. We landed in Gatwick and made our way to the Gatwick express which is a non-stop train from Gatwick airport to Victoria station. The train is rather pricey in my opinion but it is very convenient despite the roughly 300 km 15 min walk from the terminal to the platform. For those that have visited Union Station or any major train hub Victoria station is right up there with the busiest of them. We found our train with a little help from an officer on duty and made our way to Charing Cross.

Throng

Throng

As we exited the station near our destination in Trafalgar Square we noticed an incredibly elevated police presence. Also pedestrian traffic was being routed to a different street. We figured there was a construction site or something underway which was causing the slight detour. Then it began it sink in a little. There were a lot of people getting off at Charing Cross. I had no idea if that was normal but all the people getting off were waving small Union Jack’s around. As we made the turn on The Strand to walk across Trafalgar Square to our hotel we were met with a throng of thousands of Brits gathered along the sidewalks. Holy Hell this was a lot of people.

You see the Special Olympics had just closed and the Mayor of London was throwing the city a victory parade to celebrate the athletic successes of the olympics for the Commonwealth and London. Between us and our hotel was the parade route and about six to ten thousand people hanging out in Trafalgar infront of the National Gallery. There was a guy trying to walk his bike through the crowd and we used him to create a wedge so we could start working our way to the hotel. After about 30 minutes or so for what should have been a 5 min walk we arrived. Sweaty, tired and desperately needing a shower of some sort and our room wasn’t ready. To be fair to the hotel we were very early for check in.

They let us leave our bags at the front desk and we wandered off to the National Gallery (WHICH IS FREE) and has some amazing works of art. We got lost in the National Gallery looking at Da Vinci’s, Titian’s, Albrecht Durer and many, many, many more for several hours before hopping on the train and heading to Big Ben, Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Tours of Parliament have to be scheduled in advance and since we only had about a day and a half in London we opted for a tour of Westminster Abbey before we headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up and go out and enjoy London at night.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey is a magnificent place. A truly stunning beauty and filled with Anglican history that is quite apropos to our ancestry as former British colonies. There is a free audio guide that comes with the steep entrance fee about 16 GBP. Despite the price I would not pass this place up if you are visiting London. Shana had been there before so she let me wander and point in child like wonder for the next hour or so. Then we reached, “Poets’ Corner,” which is not limited to poets but more of gathering of memorials for great thinkers. Everyone from Oscar Wilde to Chaucer and Kipling, Shakespeare, Olivier, Tennyson, Austen, Blake, the Bronte sisters in between. At the exit to Westminster Abbey is the coronation chair or King Edward’s Chair. This throne has been used for every coronation since 1308. It’s a good thing Henry VIII was crowned when we was skinny.

We headed back to the hotel, cleaned up and grabbed a quick bite to eat in Leicester Square before heading to the West End to see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform Julius Caesar. If you are in London and are not super picky about your seat selection for some shows the TKTS booth in Leicester Square is your best friend. Most of the time the tickets will be about 40% off face value for last minute seats. We wandered off to the theatre to watch a fantastically directed and acted rendition of Julius Caesar set in sub-Saharan Africa. The actors all used African dialect accents in the performance and the costumes, set design and the inclusion of African rhythms and instruments were fantastic.

We were exhausted and wanted to get up early to venture out on London town the next day so it was off to bed after our night with the RSC.

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Czech’d off the list- Prague Castle

Charles Bridge – Train to Prague Castle – Jesuit Library – Prague Castle grounds – St. Vitus – A good nights rest.

After staying out pretty late the night before we decided we would take it easy and spend most of the day all in one area of Prague. The Castle. After a light breakfast we walked through the Old Quarter to the Charles Bridge and immersed our selves with the throngs of tourists that assemble on the bridge.

Shana with St. Vitus & Prague Castle

Shana with St. Vitus & Prague Castle

There isn’t anything particularly special about the Charles Bridge; in fact it was named after Charles IV posthumously. It was originally called the Stone Bridge or Prague Bridge and did not earn the Charles moniker until 1870. Most of the history associated with the bridge has to do with it becoming damaged during floods. Prague apparently floods. A lot. Mostly time spent on the Charles Bridge is dodging the dodgey little vendor stands and picking your way through the crowds on the way to the Castle. We decided to skip the steep walk up hill to the castle and opted to walk the bank of the Vltava to the next bridge town where there is a trolley car station.

We found the ticket purchasing system in Prague to be a bit of a hassle but once we were on the tram its pretty obvious when you want to get off for the Castle. The castle grounds are massive. Using a Rick Steve’s walking tour we actually took the tram past the castle to a Jesuit library a little further up the hill. There is also a brewery and a beer garden of sorts near by but we skipped that in favor of some lighter fare. The library was definitely not worth the price of admission since the main rooms were just roped off and you could only look at them form a distance. There were some interesting bugs, sea creatures and other small preserved animals on display cases but if that is what you want to see head to a natural history museum.

Prague from the castle walls

Prague from the castle walls

After the disappointing library we walked down the hill aways to the castle grounds proper. The castle grounds are massive and listed by the Guiness Book of World Records to be largest in the world at about 70,000 sq/m. There are a couple different art museums, several churches of historical importance and the main castle itself most of which can all be visited on one rather pricey ticket. If you have all day and the inclination there are worse things to do with your time in Prague. However we found the castle proper to be rather underwhelming. A large portion of the castle had been destroyed by fire and the castle itself is rather barren. They fixed it all up but what remains is mostly empty rooms. The tour is very small considering the size of the castle.

The Basilica of St. George and Zlatá ulička (Golden Lane) come with the castle ticket. These are nice little diversions again if you are spending all day hanging out in the castle grounds. I didn’t find them particularly interesting but if Bohemian history is your sweet spot than this will be interesting. There is also a torture chamber with some original equipment at the far end of the castle grounds just before the exit. There was no one checking tickets there so you can go there without paying any entrance fees to the castle buildings themselves.

Stained glass at St. Vitus

Stained glass at St. Vitus

After poking around at all the little sights we could see without paying extra we cashed in our final ticket of the day St. Vitus. This place alone is worth the visit. St. Vitus is at the very least a tribute to dedication. It was started in 925 and wasn’t finished until 1929. Interestingly enough this major delay in finishing the cathedral means that the stained glass is brighter than the typical cathedral found in Europe. Also the stained glass is in an Art Deco style. There are examples of many types of architectural styles throughout the cathedral because of its lengthy build.

After spending a long time in the cathedral we meandered down through the neighborhood south east of the castle grounds towards the Charles Bridge and made our way back to the hotel. We had an early flight to catch to London!

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A bone to pick…

Prague Day 3 – Ham Chips – Kutna Hora Day Trip – Sedlec Ossuary – Lunch in Kutna Hora – Cathedral Santa Barbara – Wine Tasting – Italian Square – Old Town – Missed Connection – Prague Ballet Festival (Swan Lake)

A guided day trip from Prague to Kutna Hora

We had been enjoying our tours with the company in Prague so far, so we decided to take yet another one of their guided adventures, this time as a day trip to a small city east of Prague named Kutna Hora. The main tourist attraction that brings people here is the Sedlec Ossuary, which is a small church started by Cistercian monks which has since been decorated with the bones of 40,000 people. Sounds interesting right? So we signed up and met our guide David, originally from Budapest, and got on the train.

Sedlec Ossuary

Sedlec Ossuary

On our way there we made friends with a couple from Canada also on their honeymoon, Matt and Caroline. Andrew even shared the snack he had purchased at the train station, ham chips. Think Lays with a picture of a sliced ham steak on the bag. Apparently they tasted exactly like ham, I did not have the courage to find out. After another train and a bus ride, we arrived at the church and headed inside where all the bone decoration is located.

Since we had been prepared for the rather morbid decor, the actual site was not as creepy as one might have expected. This was also probably because it was filled with tourists taking pictures. Believe me, if you had been strolling down the small lane and wandered in unknowingly to this church when empty, you would immediately remember “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and run out screaming. The church is very small, so we did not spend a lot of time in the church outside of snapping a few photos and admiring the chandelier made from every bone in the human body, the several display cases of mortal head wounds and the coat of arms made entirely out of bones.

Seriously.

Seriously.

Obviously this experience had worked up everyone’s appetite, so we headed to lunch next, where we had the best Czech food of our trip: roasted pork (Maso), beef goulash and fried cheese. We managed to scarf all this down in about fifteen minutes since we were on a schedule, then grabbed our bus to the Santa Barbara Cathedral. The Cathedral, while gothic, looked much more pristine than most we had seen. The outside was clean and not under scaffolding!

After touring the interior of the church Andrew bought some wine from a stand outside we sipped wine as we walked through the small old town of Kutna Hora to catch our train. Which we just missed. We had an older woman who seemed to be in bad health on the walking tour, so things took longer than the guide was allotted time for. The next train didn’t leave for another hour, so we headed to a pub of course, where David bought us a round “on the tour.”

Kutna Hora from the Cathedral

Kutna Hora from the Cathedral

Finally on our train, we made it back to Prague about thirty minutes before the ballet show we had bought tickets for (excerpts from Swan Lake). It was excellent and Andrew stayed awake! We then headed to an Irish bar next to our hotel where we had decided to meet up with Matt and Caroline. We talked so long we closed the place down, and headed back to the hotel around 2am to rest before our final day in the Czech Republic.

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Prague on foot

Astronomical Clock – Walking Tour/History Lesson Old Town & Jewish Quarter to Wenceslas Square – Climbing the Clock Tower – Failed attempt to attend a hockey game – Beer tasting

After a long night we slept in and ventured into Old Town Square just before 11 to catch up with a free walking tour.

Prague is probably the most walkable city in Europe. Most everything that a tourist would want to see is very close together and in pedestrian friendly zones. There is an underground train system as well as a complex network of trams but for the most part the next thing on the list is probably within a few hundred feet.

Astro Clock

Astro Clock

Lots of small tour companies offer free walking tours of the Old Town and the Jewish Quarter so we took advantage of a free tour from the same company that sold us our beer tasting and pub crawl the previous night. Our tour guide was an irishman named Luke who was going to be married soon to a Czech woman and had moved to Prague permanently. We arrived several minutes before eleven in the morning to a very large crowd of people gathered around the “Astronomical Clock” which is at the center of the Old Town Square.  Every hour the clock puts on a little show. By show I mean its a giant cuckoo clock but instead of a bird its all 12 of the apostles come out and wave at you as you watch the clock strike the hour. Pretty underwhelming.

After that we started our tour and followed our guide around the Old Town Square out to a world renown concert house then through the old Jewish quarter. The Jewish Quarter was once a ghetto and the least desirable place in Prague to live. After a great flood much of the architecture was rebuilt and is now one of the nicest places in Prague. Narrow streets and pristine art nouveau architecture surround the tourists as they walk in between the shops and the tourist sites in the area. After the Jewish quarter we headed to Republic Square where the Hybernia Theatre, Powder Gate and the Municipal House are all located. The Powder gate is the ceremonial entrance to the old city where the King of Bohemia would start his coronation procession through the city.

From there we went to the border of the Old Town (Stare Mesto) and Nove Mesto (New Town).  Stopping briefly at a memorial statue for Franz Kafka who despite being Czech had only had his work translated in to Czech language in the early nineties.  We stopped in Wenceslas Square which was the sight of many events of the Prague Spring and the Velvet Revolution.  Five hundred thousand Czech’s filled the square and began waving their keys in peaceful protest.  No blood was shed as the Czech’s were allowed to freely elect a new government.

Kafka

Kafka

We walked on to Mozart’s favorite concert house which was the sight of many of his premiers and ended the tour. I had planned after this tour to look into heading out in the Prague suburbs to one of their three hockey arenas (hockey is the national sport of the Czech republic). However there is not a singular source for tickets like there are for NHL games and no one could seem to give me a straight answer as to which arena was actually hosting the game since it was a preseason game. We scrapped that idea and climbed the clock tower in Old Town Square to get some nice views of Prague before we wandered back towards our hotel for the afternoon.

On our way back we stopped at the only place we encountered in either Austria or the Czech Republic that has developed the “beer flight.” This restuarant was called The Beer “Museum” of Prague. I put the word museum in sarcastic-quotes because it was really just a restaurant that had roughly 30 Czech beers on tap which was about 30 times more than any other restaurant in Prague. Typically most restaurants carry one or two Czech style beers and some bottled imports. Corona is a luxury beer in Prague. The Beer Museum for about ten dollars gave us two flights of totally different microbrews from around the Czech Republic. Several of them were fantastic and I kept the receipts so I would be able to say what they were when I got back!

Tomorrow we would set out for another day trip to a small Czech mining community called Kutna Hora with another tour guide…

 

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