Monday, June 30, 2008

Angels in the Architecture II

Ah, the Problem with Prague...

...I don't know where to begin! The 4 1/2-hour train ride to get here from Berlin was stellar. We wound through beautiful river canyons lined with ancient villages & Victorian-era resorts--I saw my first European castle ruin on this train ride! It was perched high up on a rock formation; I almost fainted. (On the return trip we spotted several more!) Amazing.
The first thing I learned about Prague was that things are almost always older than they look. On one hand it was like walking through a Disney Land theme park; but on closer inspection these 1,000-year-old buildings have just continued to morph with the times. Below is a picture taken inside the Hard Rock Cafe (!)--note how they let the ancient poke through the modern! Also, zoning codes forbid the changing of original interior spaces. Amazing!
Our hotel (Best Western no less!) building has been a hostel since 1307!!! (Earlier records were lost due to a fire.) The hotel had a small elevator and perfectly modern plumbing. The city intentionally raised itself 3 meters in the 1500's to avoid the constant flooding damage. So, every building has a cellar that dates to around 1100 or so!! The next 2 pics show across the street and down the street from our hotel!!! All this to say that people live and work in these buildings--or commute to apartments here from jobs in a newer business district. Amazing!
Our first day in Prague we signed up for a 6-hour walking tour and the next few pics are from that tour. Our guide, Omar (a Palestinian whose father came to Prague as a journalist and never left) was SO knowledgeable & passionate about the city (and adorable to boot!). Time & $ well spent.

The birdie below is real, the dudes on St. Charles's bridge are not. :) Cute, eh?
Here I'm getting blessed by touching a 12th century marker of St. John, a martyred confessor of one of the queens.

The next few days were filled with castles and boat rides and lunch along the medieval path to the castle up the hill--amazing.

One of the last things we did was hear a classical concert of Bach, Franceschini, Handel & Purcell done by pipe organ (below) & trumpet in Prague's oldest church--originally erected in 975!!! (2nd pic) Amazing. Amazing.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Angels in the Architecture I

Our first trip to Europe!!! One word: AMAZING. This had to be a quick trip of 7 days, but it was perfect even though short; 2 nights/1 full day in Berlin then 4 nights/3 days in Prague. Randy came through as Hero Extraordinaire once again by booking us business class on Mongolian Airlines for the 10-hr trip to Berlin (stopping to refuel in Moscow). It was only a few hundred $ more on this airline and what a blessing. This blog entry just barely covers our stay in Berlin.

Once we landed in Berlin we discovered that we had accidentally booked a hotel by the other airport clear across Berlin. So to avoid an 80-euro taxi ride (yikes!), we jumped on a bus that took us to the main train station that eventually got us to the hotel, thanks to Randy's navigation skills :) Always take the scenic route, eh?

Anyway, I loved Berlin! The trains allowed us a wonderful view/feel of the city: flower boxes everywhere (even in the most humble abodes), maniacally neat & clean, everyone eats outside (!)--and beer! Oh my--beer in vending machines (even in the airports after security!) Respectable grannies imbibe at the bus stop at 3 p.m. Locals drink it with breakfast. We found this in Prague, too. ...and, we did not encounter one drunk (OK, we were in bed reading by 9 p.m. most every night, but still...). Medieval meets modern everywhere you look and it all seems to work well side by side. We visited Museum Island and were only able to hit the Classical Museum--which contained whole sections of temples from Greece, Rome and the middle East. We also hit checkpoint Charlie and the remains of the Berlin Wall, then on to the Brandenburg Gate. After a full day of walking and before heading back to the hotel on the train we had a real German meal of brats, sauerkraut & German potato salad in a small local restaurant, outside of course :)

I have embraced my German heritage!!

The next morning we headed to the train station to catch a 4 1/2 hour train ride to Prague.

The footsie pics are of one on 2,500-yr-old marble and then one on the cobblestones of Berlin. :)

Stay tuned for Prague!

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Plan B Trip

Last weekend Randy & I were planning to hike up a local mountain on Sunday afternoon. However, the previous evening a huge dry lightening/wind storm had swept down on UB causing several big grass fires. So, hiking didn't seem the thing to do 1) because heavy breathing in all that smoke was not a good idea and 2) why go to all that effort if we couldn't enjoy a view? So...Plan B was to visit one of the few museums we've yet to visit after 4 years in Ulaanbaatar. What you see here is from our visit to the Bogd Khan's Winter Palace. This was the last residing Khan of Mongolia who was deposed in 1921 when the Manchurian Chinese invaded. The compound obviously resembles the Forbidden City in Beijing (shhh...); however, the residence was built in the 1880's and is decidedly European. You can get a sense of the dense smoke that was present that day (and the Mongolian attention to landscaping which is basically nonexistent) as well as the contrast between past and present with just a glimpse of the myriad of construction cranes present in UB right now. End note: the last Khan had only one adopted daughter who died during the "Cultural Revolution" (not what the common Chinese call it). We left wondering if anyone could lay claim as a descendant through DNA, etc. Hmm...

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