Saturday, September 12, 2015

The bittersweet end to a wonderful whirlwind vacation

Rome ~ Final farewell

I decided to walk along the forums that I visited my first night, to see them during the day.  It was beautiful to see them in the daylight, with so much more than what I saw at night.  I wander through each section, taking more photos and learning more about the area.  I walk across the street and view those forums on that side, see the roman forums I took a tour of and wander back to the hotel to catch my ride to the hotel.  Farewell Rome!

Frankfurt & On my way home
Unfortunately, this layover is only a couple of hours, not quite long enough to go out to the city and explore.  I do spend most of my time wandering through the airport and getting the last of the goodies I'll bring back for my work colleagues.  

My flight was uneventful and I got home at a reasonable hour.  I slept for about 36 hours straight though once I did go to sleep.  Good thing I came home with enough time to do that!

So long Europe... It was a wonderful beginning to more visits in the future!


Friday, September 11, 2015

The most prolific place in the world

Day 4

Today was packed due to the fact that I didn't take the Colosseum tour yesterday.  I knew I was glutton for punishment, but I had to see the Vatican and knew I needed a guide to help me through it, and I wanted to get inside the Colosseum without waiting hours in line.  So I dove in head first, got soaked and punished my feet just a little more.  Hey, it's the last full day, you gotta go all out, right?

The Vatican

How can I describe this place?  The Vatican City is a massive self sufficient country in itself.  The Vatican is heavily visited - with over 26,000 visitors daily.  They have their own currency, political system, communications systems and walls to protect.  There are over 300,000 art pieces here in the Vatican.  

We began outside by meeting our guide.  One thing that is great about today's guided tours is that everyone gets a 'sound system' to wear around their neck tuned to a channel we could hear our guide better through the headsets.  Awesome!  We whiz by a line of people about two blocks long at 8:30am to get inside the crowded lobby, where our guide gets our tickets.  We go through full-on airport like security to get onto the Vatican grounds.  We rush around other tour groups to get a good spot in the gardens so that our guide can begin.  In the garden square there are about six sets of all-weather posters showing photos of the Sistine Chapel in detail, along with more information about it.  Our guide tells us that Michelangelo was 61 years old when he started the Last Judgement, in a time where people didn't usually live over 40.  

We are ushered quickly into the halls of the Vatican where we see impressive works of art, sculptures, maps, globes, tapestries and woodwork from all time.  The hall with sculptures is so crowded with sculptures, it's hard to really see one for all it's glory.  There are hundreds of people lining the halls, forcing us to walk awkwardly to ourselves as to not disturb another person.  We don't have time to linger, as our guide keeps pushing on through pointing out things of great interest and urging us to keep up else we will lose our link to him and would not be able to hear him anymore.  We are moved from room to room, hall to hall with expert swiftness, along the way being directed to see particular items of interest.

The Sistine Chapel is a beautiful chapel in which one is supposed to be forbidden to talk.  The chapel itself is quite large in square footage, and very tall.  Unfortunately, there were so many people in the chapel there wasn't much room to stand let alone sit.  As you enter the chapel, the security guards urge you to move along the outside perimeter to go to the back of the room.  There is a roar of talking echoing through the room, as people point and talk to their friends about this or that.  Every five minutes the guard yells "Silence... No talking, no phones, no photos".  For about one full second the room falls quiet, and the murmors come right back, growing in decibel levels.  Man that was a bummer.  I used my best grandma "don't even thing about talking" look to shut up my neighbors to no avail.  People were gonna talk.  This chapel is astounding.  The ceiling Michelangelo painted was exquisite, amazing and full of stories.  The "Last Judgement" piece is on the altar wall, and is profoundly ahead of its time.  Michelangelo painted this 25 years after finishing the ceiling.  It is absolutely breath taking in person. 

The Colosseum

I know I posted pictures of the Colosseum at night last night, but today is the day I take a tour of the inside of the Colosseum.  I learn that the structure itself is sitting on what used to be a man-made lake actually, and the Colosseum was an attempt by the Flavian empire to restore Rome to it's glory pre civil war.  Emperor Vespasian was the emperor that started the efforts.  With approx. 90,000 jewish slaves and 8 years, the Colosseum was completed.  According to the guide, no mortar of any kind holds the gigantic blocks together.  The reason why only part of it is standing is due to earthquakes over the years, and the fact that part of the colosseum is actually on more stable ground.  

The guide tells us that there were more hunting games in the Colosseum than gladiators fighting each other to the death, and that gladiators dying wasn't as wide-spread as some say.  We go inside and see the center oval, part of it covered by a wood floor, the other exposed so we can see what is under.  The guide tells us that when they hunted in the arena, the emperor of that time would spare no expense completely setting up the area like the natural habitat of the animals being hunted.  She also mentions that the gladiator never knew where the animal was going to come out, as there were several options and it was not discussed prior to 'game time'.

The Roman Forums

I think this was my favorite part of the afternoon tour.  We walked through the Roman Forums and imagine how early romans lived once Palestine was designated as the strongest.  We learn about the forum, how it was the center of Rome for a very long time, at least as early as 8 centuries BC.  How Julius Caesar built here and lived here, Augustus his great nephew continued growing the area  after he was gone.  We learn that the forum was flooded many times and at one point was under about 60 meters of sediment that had settled there over the years, causing romans to make second doors in certain structures.  We learn about how Rome's center moved once water was no longer easily found in that area.  We climb the Palestine hill and see the amazing views out across the land.  It was so amazing to be standing among ruins that were so very old.  Completely mind blowing.

The Colosseum

The Vatican

Thursday, September 10, 2015

David LaChapelle, Villa Borghese and WB?

Day 2

Today I slept in for a very long time and missed my planned visit to the Colosseum.  I shrugged it off, after all I've been on the go just about every single day of this vacation.  I deserve to take some time if I want to, right?!  I start off my day by heading across the street to get some pasta.  Then I start walking down the street behind the restaurant I just ate to explore a bit.  I found a beautiful church that had several different altars that each paid tribute to different times and people.  The feel there was solemn and safe as I explored throughout the church.  There weren't a lot of people here, which made it nice to see what it was all about.  

I walked further down the road and ended up at the famous Trevi Fountain, which was super cool - even though they are renovating it and you cannot see it for it's full glory.  There were so many people there it was distracting, so I headed off toward a cool little street off the other side.  

I walked through different streets, wandering really until I ended up on a main street and then found a cool museum featuring David LaChapelle, an american Photographer who is well known for taking pop culture and turning it on it's side to reveal deeper social issues.  I wander through the Palazzo delle Esposizioni (a beautiful building built in 1883) and drink in his sometimes disturbing images, the vibrant colors and sharp photos emanating so much emotion.  Fascinating.

I decided from there that I wanted to see the famous Villa Borghese Gardens, so on goes the GPS and off I go.  I walk through this private banking section of Rome with these big mansion houses that have signs in front of them stating that they are private banking.  I wonder how that works, how people with that much money go to these places to do things, if at all.  It is clear the area is full of some very serious money, with the giant mansions, gates and cameras everywhere.  I even find a Warner Brothers lot along my way!

The gardens are full of life, even at dusk when I arrive.  There are runners (both male and female) heading into the park and throughout the park.  The grounds are gorgeous.  I wander through the park, taking photos and enjoying the view.  Soon I realize it's getting really dark and I need to figure out how to head back to my hotel, and get some food.

I find a little Italian restaurant on my way back, nestled among some very high end hotels.  I try some pizza and green apple juice and enjoy the warm evening while listening to a British couple on my left and a Scottish mother/daughter on my right.  It was interesting catching brief parts of both conversations while I enjoyed my dinner.  I made my way back to my hotel and I wasn't quite ready to go in.

I walked past my hotel about a quarter mile to the Colosseum, and wandered around the entire perimeter.  I found a bride and groom on one side, taking photos with the lighted colosseum behind them.  I'm sure they had stunning photos.  My feet were killing me, so I decided to go back to the restaurant row near my hotel for a treat - a bit of ice cream before turning in for the night.  I cannot miss the epic day I have planned for tomorrow!!


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Why hello new to me place...

Day 1... 9.9.15 (9 Sept 2015)

Rome baby!  I flew out of Zurich around 3pm and headed to Rome via Munich Germany.  I got to the Zurich airport early, so I milled around the shops in the airport to kill some time.  The flight to Munich from Zurich is only an hour, so after that quick jaunt it was time to hang out for about 3 hours before my flight to Rome.  

I didn't think I had quite enough time to really go far, so I walked outside of the airport to a nearby Deutsche bank to get some Euro again (since Italy accepts Euro and Zurich generally did not).  The airport is set up for layovers, with lots of lounges and hangouts and activities as well as directions on how to get to the train and city center.  In order for me to get out of the airport in Munich, I had to go through Passport control where they ask me questions about why I'm there, when I'm leaving and stamp my passport.  I quickly found the bank and made my way back to the airport, where I decided food would be a good idea and to do a little shopping at the store.  I had never seen a regular grocery store in an airport before, I suppose it is quite convenient.  When I was done eating and shopping, again I had to go through Passport control to get back to my gate. It was actually pretty quick to get through security, I'm telling you America has one of the most unfriendly restrictive security lines at the airport than I've seen in all my travels.

When I arrived in Rome, getting my luggage was super easy and I was surprised to see that I didn't have to go through any customs to leave.  I followed the signs to the shuttles and decided I'd take a taxi to the hotel because I didn't want to lug my suitcase and stuff on a bus then train.  As soon as I got outside, I saw so many people.  This guy came to me and asked me if I needed a shuttle to my hotel.  He had the official badge on so I said yes.  He said wait here, I will find another person and you can share the fare.  So I stood in the designated spot for about 10 minutes while the guy darted in and out of the crowd, rushing back to me if anyone else tried to entice me to go with them.  It was a bit amusing, the guy walk off, another guy comes to me and starts talking, the first guy popping back and yelling something in Italian to the second guy, who then looks apologetically to me and steps away.  Finally the guy came back and off we went to the hotel.  

My hotel was near the Spanish Steps in the heart of Rome, and the Flumencio Airport is about 30 minutes away.  We whizzed through the airport roads, onto the rural freeway and finally into town.  The shuttle driver would yell at people driving in Italian, then apologize in English to us inside.  It was like driving with a NYC cab driver.  Seriously, just like it.  I loved the passionate expressions that he had and how he used his arms and hands and face when he was talking.  You don't need to know the language to get what he was saying.  We drove by some ruins illuminated by light that were huge and interesting, the Colosseum at night and darted through cobblestone side streets to my traveling companion's hotel first, then back through more little cobblestone roads zig-zagging our way to my hotel.

My hotel is a beautiful older hotel on the corner of a busy street.  There are no less than 5 restaurants across the street from the hotel, and a Subway up the street.  Around the corner and 1/2 block away theres the Piazza Venezia, a hub of Rome that is gorgeous and has the Italy Tomb of the unknown soldier and beautiful architecture and sculptures.  I discover that Trajan's Forum is right across the street from Piazza, and I can see the Coloseum in the distance as I cross the street and I'm getting excited about my choice of hotel.  I wandered slowly through Trajan's Forum and look at the ruins, lit up by lights all around, and notice that there's a light show of history appearing on the far walls lining the forum.  It was so interesting.  It shows history of the forums, what it was at one point, that there was a fire, the rebuild and what the forum looked like over the years.  It was so cool to watch.

I decided then after my wandering that I probably am hungry, so I walked back to where I saw restaurants, sat outside and had a late night spaghetti dinner that was delicious!  The waiter was so great and really protective of me, making sure no one trying to sell anything would approach me while I dined.  I didn't get to sleep until around 3am.

Today's observations:

  • Munich is huge, and the airport is like a city itself
  • I'm just now getting some German as I listen to people around me, and I'm headed to Rome :)
  • It's warmer in Rome than I expected
  • I think the ruins lit up at night are something special to see
  • The Piazza is pretty impressive 
  • Rome stays up late into the night, the restaurants and people were out well past midnight
  • Seems as though cars don't explicitly follow the signs and rules of the road
  • The language has an interesting rhythm and passion laced throughout 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Time in the city

Zurich Final day 8.9.15 (8 Sept 2015)

Today's my last day in Zurich.  My friend had a full day at school, so after finishing packing my stuff I set out to go into the city center to see a little more and explore.  I walked around the city, just wandering really.  I discovered some art, some little hideaway boutiques, an archeological dig, a super old square, new fancy stores, the Rodeo Drive of Zurich and of course more of what's around the river.  I discovered a chocolate shop, Lindt's big building, beautiful jewelry and of course exquisite watches (after all, I am in Switzerland!). I decided to take the tram to Zurich University and get a feel for the campus - there's something really cool about being on a college campus, especially as old as this one is.  Across the street a little further down was the school Einstein went to, what's there now is no doubt different from what he saw when he went there.

It was a laid back day but fun all the same :)


Monday, September 7, 2015

Small village in Germany, beautiful hills

Zurich... Day 3 ~  7.9.15 (7 Sept 2015)

Today my friend had to go over the border for some banking in Constance  aka Konstanz, Baden-W├╝rttemberg, Germany, and I tagged along.  Zurich isn't far from this German border - about an hour.  The road up feels more country-like, with rolling hills, small farms, barns, cows and other animals roaming the acres of land.  The road or autobahn is actually just two lanes, and the speed limit is 70kmh, which seems somewhat slow compared to California's freeways.  But there is an intimacy within this highway that connects the two countries together.  

When I arrived at the border, there is a passport control station much like the border patrol stations I've seen in California between Mexico and the US.  The difference is here it's only three lanes wide, and the experience is very different.  In fact today, both going to Germany and leaving to go back to Zurich was free of probing officers demanding to see ID and watching for wrongdoing.  Instead, the officers waved us through without interrogation or inspection.  

As we pass the border into Germany, we see a river to our right.  I discover that the Rhine River is what I'm looking at, and this river runs through Lake Constance (the Bondensee) and leaves the lake a larger river as it moves through. I also learn quickly that in German the "See" (Sea) is actually a lake, and an ocean (what we would call a Sea) is a " ".  I was not aware of that fun fact :).  This area was first settled back in the stone age (no joke!), and around 40AD the first Roman settlers came into the area.  This was truly remarkable to me.  Until today I had never set foot in a place that had a history that old.  I was in awe.

The town itself has all kind of winding roads through a mix of shops and residences, cobblestone streets and lively townspeople all over enjoying the sun.  We walked through the windy streets remembering landmarks along the way so we could remember how to get back to where the car was parked.  I tried to take some pictures along the way.  Once we got to the center square where the bank was, my friend was off to the bank and I was wandering the square to see what I could see.

On the side of the buildings there were often a word or three and a year - it really seemed like it was perhaps a nachname of a person (surname) and a year.  I wasn't able to confirm that though.  There are several photos of that in the album.

The fountain at one end of the square is prominent, and has both historical significance and some satire in it's homage.  It's called Kaiserbrunnen and it was built on the site of the market of 1896-1897. It was inaugurated in 1897, and was done by Hans Baur. The fountain stands on a middle stone pyramid in four niches and originally had four life-size statues. The four statues represented four German Dynasties: Henry III (Franken), Frederic Barbarossa (Hohenstaufen), Maximilian I (Habsburg) and William I (Prussia). Unfortunately, the life-size statues were taken to be melted into other things back in 1942, and in 1990, a new rather caricture-ized bust of the Emperor Gernot Rumpf was placed there, along with a new smaller fountain with what Germans see as comical sculptures of water-spouting sea hares, a three-headed peacock with three crowns, Pope and other figures that allude satirically on the council time and the city's history. There is also a bronze edition of the Treaty of Constance signed in 1183.

Interestingly enough, because of this town's close proximity to Switzerland as well as the fact the townspeople were smart and left all their lights on at night during WW2 it was spared bombing because allied forces thought it was still part of Switzerland.

Observations today:

  • This place felt really peaceful, the people seemed very happy and warm
  • This place had a lot of history - it wasn't until I got back that I found out it was as old as it was
  • Squares in Europe are cool
  • I need to explore the little villages too in Germany
  • Maybe a cruise on the Rhine river might be fun
Check this video I found out... The fountain is about 2:20 in: Happy in Konstanz

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Wandering around with no agenda

Day 2 in Zurich... 6.9.15 (6 Sept 2015)

Today was a somewhat laid back day, as there was no agenda, nothing that I wanted to rush to go see.  I went to have a lovely lunch by the water and that's about it.  Just a nice relaxing day in Zurich...


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Hello Hamburg.... Hello Zurich!

Day 1

After two weeks in Europe, my brother and daughter have to head home while I begin my third week in Europe on my own.  Today we had to be out of the apartment by 10am, but that was not a problem because I had an early flight and J & A need to catch their flight out to by 12:30pm anyhow.  I was up first, Ashley about ten minutes later.  I headed off to the bus station to catch the air shuttle to the airport around 8:30am and boy I'm glad I did.  It's not exactly simple to figure out how the air shuttle works (hint you need to get a special ticket, and the entrance to where the bus is is kind of hidden - follow signs for the S).  

 I decided to fly out from Prague to Zurich to meet up with a friend and include a long layover in Hamburg to see a little of that city as well.  I had a little more than a half day to explore a bit of Hamburg before I was in Zurich.  

Hamburg is a beautiful sea side city that I must go visit and explore more.  I didn't have much time to see a lot, but I did get a chance to see a little.  It was a blustery day, with clouds threatening rain while I was on my walk but that didn't stop people from being out and about.  I randomly wandered from the main train station just to get a feel for the surrounding area.  I happened across a flea market in this square that was really popular.  I walked through neighborhoods, discovered a small park and a walking trail and saw both old and new apartment buildings.
Hamburg Highlights

Zurich is very green and open.  My hotel is near the airport, so I'm still on the outskirts of the city.  I'll see more of it tomorrow :)

In other news... I heard late that J and A made it home safe in the US.


  • If you ever have to take the Prague air shuttle from the train station to the airport, you have to make sure you get a seat.  The bus driver I had was a very volatile driver, slamming on his brakes at the last moment, taking corners quickly and late - it's not easy to stand, keep a hold of your luggage and survive without some pain
  • The Jerusalum Synague in Prague is beautiful 
  • Lots of farmland in Zurich, the green everywhere is almost fairy-tale like
  • There is a literal fence yard near my hotel - I don't think I'd ever say those two words together - fence yard, but each time I go by it I think it
  • In Zurich, the people speak German, but a dialect of proper German.  My friend told me you have to speak to them in German and they will know you aren't speaking their dialect and switch either to english or proper German 

By the water in Zurich

Friday, September 4, 2015

Bridges and Palaces

Day 8..

Today we all woke up refreshed after our easy day yesterday and decided to take a look at some items that we hadn't had a chance to see yet.  We made a plan and headed out early (well 10am is early for Prague :) )...  First up, fuel for the day.

For our first meal of the day, of course we headed to our favorite square to find a place to eat.  We came across this street act of this guy with his face painted white and in a baby suit.  He squeaked baby noises and moved his baby body around with such silliness.  A little girl maybe 3 years old came up to him with a lollipop in one hand and the baby man motioned to her to come closer.  He wanted her lollipop but she put the baby's pacifier back in his mouth.  It was precious.  As we moved around the square we discovered another bagpiper with his band and watched them for a bit of time as well.  We ended up getting lunch next to the Irish pub at the British bar/restaurant.  

We meandered our way toward the water and found ourselves on the famed St. Charles Bridge.  The bridge itself is somewhat narrow, paved the entire length with cobblestone.  There are several sculptures on both sides of the bridge along the span, and there are vendors on both sides of the bridge bringing the actual pedestrian traffic to the center with a narrow space.  There are magnificent views of the Prague Castle from that bridge, and there are two tower gates, at the beginning and the end of the bridge.  When we got off the bridge and went through the second tower, we were immediately brought back into an older era, with a narrow street and buildings on both sides.  It almost felt like a movie set, it was surreal.  We made our way to the Wallenstein Palace where the Czech Senate meets and the nearby Valdstejnska Zahrada gardens.  This place is enormous and beautiful.

After the tour of the palace grounds we headed back into an interesting looking street to make our way back across the river.  Along the way we came across an upright piano chained to a building as part of Prague's pianos in the public program, more palaces and interesting buildings.  We had a quick dinner at a little pizza and snack place, and then enjoyed drinks at the Irish pub to round out the evening.

Observations today:

  • We saw three brides and grooms that day in the square.  Apparently Friday is a popular day to get married in Prague
  • There's a lot of dust in Prague right now.  My allergies have been atrocious and I'm happy to move away from this
  • Mercedes Prague Fashion Week is this week, red carpet, huge mirror ball and models everywhere - it's been exciting
  • Walking on cobblestone is hard on your feet and legs - it's really not fun

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Tattoos and sleep

Day 7

Today was the day Ashley was to get her tattoo.  She got up early and made her way to get some cash out, then on to the tattoo place.  She had a design already decided on, and worked with the artist to make it what she wanted.  She was well underway on her tattoo by the time I woke up, as my allergies to all the dust was really taking it's toll on me.  About 1pm Ashley texts me, then again at 2pm.  The second was urging me to wake up, as she needed me to go get some cash so that she could leave soon.  When I finally got up, I got ready and then grabbed some Czech cash around the corner so that she could pay her artist.

Ashley's new tattoo is beautiful and bigger than originally anticipated.  It sits on the inside of her arm before her elbow.  It's traditional black ink, and represents all the choices that are available and the fact that she has to remember her core values when faced with them.  She originally wanted to do a smaller version on the inside of her wrist, but upon talking with the artist she chose to make it a little larger.

Ashley and I enjoyed a nice lunch around the corner from the tattoo shop at the Irish pub that we visited a couple of days ago and hung out until the place closed.  The weather was beautiful and it was nice spending time with her for awhile.  After lunch, we headed back to the apartment to catch up with Jared.  We decided to make today a mellow day and save our energy for tomorrow, our last day in Prague.  We hung out at the apartment for the rest of the day save for the evening dinner in the square again.

Today's observations:

  • Directions in Prague is not too easy to stick to.  GPS always gets lost
  • My allergies are so incredibly awful these days, the building the apartment is in is being resurfaced
  • Prague doesn't smell so great in quite a few areas

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Strahov, Old Books and amazing history

Day 6...

Finally... It wasn't so freaking hot!

Ashley and I wanted to see one of the most celebrated historical places in Prague, the Strahov Library.  We took the subway then the tram to get up to the Monastery, which is situated on a hill kind of far from our apartment.  Since it wasn't 90+ outside we gladly took the time to be outside.

This place is fascinating.  It's inside of the Strahov Monastery, originally built in 1143.  The caretakers have collected some of the most amazing volumes of books ever printed and some of them are on display.  The oldest book we could see was from 860AC.  We saw books, weapons, chain mail, beautiful woodwork in the hall leading up to two extraordinary rooms that are awe-inspiring.

The Front Area
This area houses some select books, dating back to 860AC.  They are displayed behind glass, so that you cannot touch them but only view.  Near the books is another cabinet, housing stuffed small animals like turtles and a prehistoric dinosaur looking thing, butterflies and war memorbilia.  As you walk towards the library rooms, you see another cabinet with gifts that were given to the monks from dignitaries from around the world.

The Long Walkway
This area was lined on both sides with exquisite wood cabinets, each amazingly beautiful, but not all filled with any exhibits.  One of the cabinets had some more books, and another had more domestic artifacts such as china and glassware.

The Theological Hall
This is the older of the two halls.  This one was Baroque style, created in 1670.  A supremely ornate ceiling graces this hall, with beautiful paintings in between.  The floor is a gorgeous combination of woods in a beautiful pattern.  This library is so beautiful.

The Philosophical Hall
This is the newer of the two halls. Built in the last quarter of the 18th century, this hall is clearly more modern.  Gone are the 3d ornate sections, but in its place is an amazingly magnificent group of paintings that are simply stunning.  This library is huge as well!

The grounds
There is this really ornate gate down the way from the library that was fantastic.  Gold trimmed metal, this is a gorgeous gate.
The view from the hill is amazing.  We walked along the side of the monastery where there is now a restaurant and got killer view photos.

We caught up with Jared at the apartment and all went out to dinner in the Old Town Square, our seemingly new favorite spot.  We went to a new to us place near the atomic clock, a wonderful Italian restaurant.  We enjoyed a scrumptious Italian meal and wonderful ice cream desserts.  Yum!


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Baroque, Palaces and Opera

Day 5

Today I wasn't feeling 100%, the dust and stuff in the air was really getting to me.  I relaxed most of the day, while Ashley and Jared wandered some, then I got up and Ashley and I went to the mall before going to a concert.  Ashley agreed to go with me not knowing what she was getting herself into.

The Mall
This place is huge.  The Pallidium is not far from our apartment and is right across from the Municipal House and the dome.  Over 200 shops, multi level and wasn't all that different than American malls... except for the fact that most of the shops were designer.  I suppose you could liken it to Fashion Valley in San Diego or Valley Fair in San Jose.  I was on the hunt for some good walking shoes, as I mentioned before that the shoes I had were not helping me with my arch issues when walking so much.  

The Concert
This concert was a celebration of early music from the Baroque period.  The concert centered around the work of Claudio Monteverdi and his followers.  It was put on by Opera Barocca, and prior to setting foot at the place, I didn't actually know where it was.  I thought originally it was by the Palladium, but about 18 minutes before the show I realized that I was 900 meters from the actual venue, the beautiful and historic Clam-Gallas Palace, built in the 18th century and was the site of performances and visits by Beethoven and Mozart.  The host for the evening told us that at that palace ballroom, the city of Prague puts on a big masquerade ball each year and many people attend it every year in October.  

The concert was actually in a room on the top floor, about 600 square feet by my estimation (I'm using my apartment for comparison).  The ceilings are easily at least 15-20 feet high, and the ceiling is decorated by beautiful paintings by some artist.  The walls are covered with a damask yellow wallpaper, and then trimmed by black artistic trimming draping the sections.  In one corner was a large piece of furniture that looked like a white stove, along the window wall with giant tall narrow windows was an enormously tall mirror that turned into a vanity like desk at waist level.  At the front of the room, there was a harpsichord and three chairs along with music stands in front of each chair.

When the artists came out, the first thing one notices is the fact that they are all dressed in period attire that musicians would have worn in the 18th century.  The pants, the high socks, blouse style shirts, powdered wigs, the shoes.  Two of the artists were violinists, the third a cellist, and finally there was the harpsichordist.  They began to play and the room was filled with beautiful music.  After a couple of songs, a woman came out all made up and in an exquisite dress.  She sang with her strong operatic soprano voice a beautiful song, and then retreated again until the next song she was to sing in.

At intermission, we all came out into the stairway and mingled.  I was fascinated by the tall ceilings, the detail on the railings, the romantic look of the candlelit stairway, and the interesting hardware on the windows.  This was some person's house!  Truly amazing.

I was a little worried about Ashley getting bored or not having fun, but to my surprise as I stole several glances at her throughout the performance, she had a big smile on her face, or her eyes were closed and a soft smile graced her lips.  She said later that she felt transported to another time, as if she lived in that time when this music was new and could see what it was like then.

The whole experience was intimate and royal, in my mind this must have been what it would have been like when the Count who owned the palace wanted to entertain his family or a guest or two.  In his room, just for him and his guests.  Words cannot describe how amazing this experience was for me.

We had a late dinner at Prague's TGI Friday's not far from the apartment.  We were served by one of the bartenders, which was awesome.  It was a nice ending for the evening.


  • The Clam-Gallas Palace is huge, almost an entire city block (no joke!)
  • The original artwork on the ceilings intrigue me.  How hard must it have been for the artists to pain them, not only on a ceiling that is over 15 feet high, but the ceiling is also curved/domed
  • The walls were so big it makes sense why they decorated them the way they did
  • Baroque was all about showing wealth it seems
  • Found some shoes at the Adidas store, ironically enough they say "Los Angeles" on them :)
  • Some of the most amazing experiences are right in front of you, if you dare to just try something outside of your norm
  • My daughter continuously surprises me.  Who knew she would enjoy this concert as much as I?


Monday, August 31, 2015

Letenske Sady, Municiple House & Wencelas Square

Day 4

Today was not unlike the previous days here, we went to bed the night before somewhere around 4-5am and slept until 3-5pm.  It seems like a trend, but man it is too hot to go out earlier.  

I'm dealing with more swelling in my ankles with this heat, so I end up icing them for as long as I can stand before going to sleep and it seems to be helping.  It's time to get some better walking shoes, I know because my flip flops although comfortable don't cut it for really extended periods of time on my feet, and my bob's that I brought don't provide enough structure or impact cushion on the cobblestone street.

We went to an italian restaurant first to grab some dinner/breakfast and had a wonderful meal.  This place was an interesting blend of a coffee shop vibe with a restaurant.  The pendant lamps had homemade shades made of coffee packets.  It was so interesting.

We walked toward the water and across a bridge, then up the hill to find out what was at the top.  We had thought it was how to get to Letenske park that Catherine had raved about Saturday.  This hill was not easy to climb, even with stairs and paved trails all the way.  It was steep and sharp.  We got to the top eventually, and by the time I got up there I felt so incredibly sticky and hot it was uncomfortable.  Again we were in the heat, but this time in the shade so it was marginally better.  We walked along the park's trail, and I kept thinking of that Scorpian song "Winds of Change" and Gorky Park even though I have never really been to Gorky Park, but somehow my brain equated this place with that one, as if I had seen something connecting the two as a teen.  Now as I write this I find it quite ironic because that song's video had many scenes in it of the communism dictatorship in it, and I'm writing about Prague, which just a little over 25 years ago was definitely under communist rule.  This park is beautiful, vibrant, full of trees, grass, children's play areas and benches to relax in.  We stop in a children's play area and Ashley plays on just about everything in the area, Jared too.  I was still feeling so hot from the walk up and the sheer warmth still in the air I watched and took photos.

We kept walking down the pathway until we came across an area where there was once a gigantic statue of Joseph Stalin, but now houses the Prague Metronome.  There were many young people there, right as the sun was setting.  On one end of the enormous paved area were skateboarders grinding away, and the other side overlooking the river young lovers sat with their legs dangling down off the side of the ledge watching the sun go down.  The Metronome to me looked like a huge remnant of soviet days, and looked pretty lethal.

We decided we needed some water, so we headed down the hill to find some water.  We found the beer garden at the end of the park, and enjoyed some bottles of water.  Then Jared and Ashley enjoyed some beer and cider.  As the sun went down it cooled down nicely.  We sat next to a bocci ball area where young people were playing in groups.  It is a great people watching area.  Young boisterous people being loud, older people enjoying a beer or two, young college groups taking photos and talking in French, dogs, kids, people of all ages go here.  Some from here, some are visitors like us.  We hung out there for a few hours.  

We finished off the night out and about by going back up to the corner sausage stand we found on night one (top of Wenceles square).  Jared and I both went with the spicy sausage, while Ashley had a falafel.  The food at this little stand is amazing, and the sausage guy is so meticulous about how he makes each and every one of them.  Highly recommended.

Today's observations:
  • Hot and sticky is not the time to climb a steep hill
  • There was a bit of a sad feeling in several areas of the park, and it was more intense near where the Stalin statue was
  • The beer garden had incredible views
  • Lots of spiders come out at night and lurk in every available nook and cranny - be careful along any rail!
  • The night is the only time to go out when it's 90+Fahrenheit in Prague
  • Prague natives say this weather is outrageous and not so fun either

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Holy Moly... Another unbearably hot day?!

Day 3

As with the first day here, we were up until very late last night, so we didn't rouse today until around 3pm.  Today Ashley wanted to find this tattoo shop she had researched because she had decided she wanted a tattoo in Prague.  We took our time getting ready 'again' and went to old town to get some food first.  We sat down at this Irish Pub outside and ordered some food and beer (well those two ordered beer, I had water).  We all tried something outside of our sphere of food knowledge - Ashley and I trying Irish sandwiches and Jared trying Bangers and Mash.  We ended up spending the entire afternoon/evening/night at that pub, drinking beer/cider/water and chatting with several different people around us.

There was this group of three people at a table near us, two guys and one woman.  One man orders this giant beer in this giant glass, and there seems to be no way he is going to finish this gigantic beer today by himself.  His friend orders an abnormally tall large beer, and has even more of a difficult time to finish.

We see this group of grown men all in different costumes, Robin, Banana Man, the Joker, Spider Man and Flash Gordan to name a few.  Turns out they are from England and are celebrating a 'Stag' party - the English version of a Bachelor party.  The big brothers of the groom told everyone to dress up as their favorite superhero.  The groom didn't have a costume, so the brothers and friends dressed the groom up as a woman, with a dress, a wig, lipstick and pumps.  They were hilarious.  One of the older brothers sat with us for a few minutes and talked with us before joining the group.  They stayed at the pub almost as long as we did.

We also met two Westminster chaps sitting at the table next to us and for the next 6+ hours commenced discussions about almost every subject under the sun.  Both of our new friends were Tennis instructors back home, and both of them were friends for the better part of 18 years.  The older friend was my age, and the other was about 7 years younger.  The one that was my age, Daniel I think his name was, had two hearing aids in (has had his loss since birth) was originally from Ireland and spoke like an Irishman, super fast and very difficult to understand.  He had been to America before.  The younger friend (I cannot remember his name for the life of me) had not been to America before, but is saving to go visit someday.  We hung out, drank, chatted and then danced with them later in the night.  We learned some Irish dancing!

We also met a couple of in training Doctors from Turkey that were on holiday from school and touring Europe during their time off.  They were great sports and were out on the dance floor dancing too for awhile.  We chatted with them for a bit, they were really eager to meet new people and practice English :)

Today's observations:
  • Stag parties are really elaborate here in Prague
  • Cobblestone does radiate heat
  • Kirkwood cider is a very good apple-like cider
  • Irish dancing at times is kind of like square dancing
  • Some Irish music is similar to 'Folk' music
  • Westminister blokes are hilarious
  • Sometimes it's really nice to just hang out in one place and chat and drink
  • Ashley never made it to the Tattoo place today, she tried but she got lost the first time and the second time she went another way and found it, but they were closed
  • Outdoor beer gardens offer a ton of free entertainment 
  • Prague really seems like Europe's 'Vegas'...
  • At the very end of the night when the pub was closing we spoke with a young guy that had the most interesting English accent, different from the Westminister guys or the Stag party guys, but it was so intriguing to hear him talk

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Too Hot to Samba...

Day 2

So today we didn't even get to sleep until around 6am, so we didn't get up until 3-4ish in the afternoon.  Jared and Ashley are smokers, so they went outside first to have their first smoke of the day and came back in letting me know it was H O T outside.  It was around 94 degrees.  We took our time getting ready to go outside, and didn't go out until around 5:30-6ish in the evening.  Even at that time it was still unbearably hot in the shade.  I kept thinking after last night, this place is more and more like Vegas.

We ate at this restaurant near our apartment called "Epopy" that had original art on all the walls.  This place was featured on some travel cooking show that Ashley knew about and she was over the moon excited that the place was less than 30 steps from our apartment.  The tables and chairs in this restaurant were all old wood, so it had an old pub restaurant charm to the place.  The high ceilings were 'raw' and had pendant lamps hanging from the ceiling, while the middle partial wall was dropped in a half moon arch and painted beautiful deep red color.  On the hand-plastered white walls were beautiful original works of art for sale, something I hadn't seen in a restaurant often.  The art looked to be a combination photo/lithograph art, but my dad might differ as to the medium when he takes a peek at my photos.  We each had something different - Ashley a burger and a bowl of fries, Jared Chicken and rice with some sort of sauce, and I with a pasta dish.  It was pretty good.  We learned that in Prague, you go up to the front and pay at the register, even at nice restaurants such as this one.

After getting some food in our starving stomachs, we set out to explore the city some more.  We wandered through the streets with no particular place in mind other than to see what it was like to get lost in Prague.  Many people told us before we got here that this city was the best place to get lost in. We went up and down random little streets, following their seemingly endless winding corners and discovering interesting buildings along the way.  We stumbled upon a cool little whimsical section where in front of a hotel was a group of lit up mushroom sculptures, and across the street a man sculpture was hanging off a electricity line by his umbrella.  I took some photos of that, because you have to see it to believe it.  From the top of the little hill of the little street this is on, it is somewhat of a concerning sight until you realize the figure is not real.  We ended up near the water, and walked along it until we got to a bridge.  From this bridge you could see the famous St. Charles Bridge down the way, and an incredible view of the Prague Castle.  It was gorgeous.  We took several photos on the bridge before deciding to wander back into the city area to head back to the apartment.  We discovered a delightful dessert place along the way that had a nice cool air conditioner and we gratefully came in to enjoy some yummy dessert and coolness the place provided.  This place makes the most decadent desserts.  Ashley and Jared had a chocolate cake and coffee, and I had a creme puff with an icing that is kind of like maple icing on it and water.  The proprietor was a very nice woman who didn't speak a heck of a lot of English, but she did alright.  Again here we paid her at the register after we ate.  Seems like there is a trend there...

We kept on wandering, following the GPS towards what we thought was the house but we ended up in Old Town Square.  This place has been in movies, I just know it.  The old world charm of all the cobblestone everywhere, the two churches (one with an atomic clock), multiple restaurants and bars all lining the giant square where cars are not allowed was evident.  There were hundreds of people watching the atomic clock and waiting for the hour to strike so that they could see the apostles peek out, people sitting in the middle of the square in groups all over, just hanging out and many people at little bistro tables at the bars and pubs with seating outside so that you could enjoy the cooler night air.

Today's observations:

  • It's somewhat stinky in several areas of the city, maybe it has to do with the heat
  • Night sky makes a romantic city
  • I got a video of an awesome hologram fashion show in the window of this designer
  • Speaking of designers, there are many gorgeous dresses and garments in the windows of all these fabulous fashion designers
  • Cobblestone everywhere, don't think it's a good idea to wear heels as the cobblestone tends to follow the curve of the land, and there are unexpected dips everywhere
  • The cobblestone didn't stop this one woman from wearing sky high stilettos, I took a photo of them - they were beautiful but way too high for me.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Prague... Trains, Pubs and Hills - Day one

Today was our last day in Berlin - well not full day but partial day as we didn't have time for anything really in Berlin.  We woke up about 20 minutes before our scheduled train to Prague was to leave, so obviously we had to reschedule that.  We left the apartment around noon, headed to our new favorite coffee and tea shop down the street, and after some great conversation, coffee, breakfast bread and breakfast juice we were off to Berlin's main train station, Berlin Hauptbanhof.  We missed our next scheduled train by seconds by the time we got to the station, so we booked yet another train for the next scheduled time to Prague and vowed not to miss this one.  We hung out around the train station for another couple of hours, so we had some lunch, took some pictures, looked around at some of the stores.  Hauptbanhof Berlin is a huge train station and it has all kinds of shops to buy pretty much anything you might want.  Shoes, souvenirs, groceries, food, clothes, books, drug-store like items, they've got a shop for you.

We made the third attempt easily, and settled into our section quickly.  It's a six seat section of the car, with windows on both sides, and on one side the window is actually a sliding glass door.  The train is similar to the old European style trains I've seen on TV or movies before, where there is a walkway on the right, and these 'rooms' on the left are for groups of travelers.  We started off with five of us in the 'room', then after a couple of stops one got out and another person came in.  I took quite a few pictures on the train ride, it was about five hours long.  You of course could get up and walk around, use the restroom, etc.  I did that a few times.  Not good to do when the train stops though because confusion with people trying to leave or get on the train usually ensues.  About 1/2 way to Prague after the last person joined our room, we started talking to the two other people besides our party.  We learn that one of them is from Czech Republic but lives in Dresden, and the other is a young Irish girl that has unexpectedly needed to travel alone to Prague.  We invite the Irish girl to go have dinner with us after we all settle into our places, and she gets my information so we are connected.  The train ride was uneventful and on time, we arrive in Prague around 7pm, chat with Catherine (the Irish girl), make a plan and head to the apartment.  We pass by the largest Jewish synague on the way to the apartment, and pull our luggage across the small cobblestone sidewalk, occasionally walking on the larger cobblestone street.  About seven minutes later we are in front of the apartment, and our host greets us outside.  She takes us in and shows us around, leaves two keys and bids us adeau. 

The apartment is on the third floor, reachable by stairs or this tiny lift (elevator) that is controlled by this magnet key.  The lift has barely enough room for my 26" suitcase, backpack, me and Inka (my host).  We had to leave Jared and Ashley behind the first ride.  We go through another door to the hallway of our apartment, this hallway is shared with another apartment and is very sunny, all windows.  We go into the door of our apartment and see the two bedrooms, the 'great room' and bathroom.  This place is maybe 700 square feet big.  The kitchen is open and doesn't feel that small, although we didn't cook in it.  The second bedroom is so big it has a couch, dining table and chairs, a desk with a vintage Mac computer, two armoires and a queen bed.  Two sets of huge windows fill an entire section of the wall, and the ceiling is lined by beautiful crown molding and centered by a vintage light.  The flooring is herringbone wood, looks like it took forever to lay down.

We met up with Catherine after getting our stuff in the new place and went off in search of someplace to eat.  By now it's about 2130 (930 pm), and the area around the hostel where Catherine is staying looks pretty low on restaurant prospects that are open.  We walk around for a bit until we finally find a pub that is serving food, however, the place is full of smoke as all the people in the establishment are smoking away.  Oh yeah, I forgot you could smoke inside in Czech Republic.  We are all so hungry it doesn't matter, we pile in and enjoy a wonderful meal.  It's bright but hazy from the smoke, and I can feel it reach my throat as I breathe.  After eating the food we decide to head outside and find a bar for some more to drink (minus the smoke maybe).  We walk up and down streets for about two hours until we finally find a place that is both acceptable in terms of smoke AND has an outdoor area to drink in.  We hung out there until about 0430 (4:30am) when they closed.  We walked Catherine back to her hostel, and chatted some more until about 0530 (5:30am) when we finally headed back to our apartment and crashed.

  • Train rides through Europe are delightful
  • Belfast Irish Women are awesome
  • Man there's a lot of smoke everywhere... so many smokers that smoke inside
  • It is kind of warm here...
  • I think we scored on our apartment

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Wall

Day 6.... the final full day

The 'Topography of Terror' is the name of the documentation center that sits near what is left of the Berlin wall.  This center sits right next to the original 'Gestapo House' - a secret police prison that unspeakable treatment of people took place.  This location is also the Reich security headquarters.  The energy here is very different depending on what area of the site you go to.

The Wall
What is left of the wall stands with graffiti and small and large worn holes in the concrete. The wall itself isn't that thick, only 18 inches, and 12 feet high.  It is here that I watch people young and old, from all over the world including Germany watch, inspect, laugh, take pictures and experience.  I thought I'd feel like I did at Bernauer Srause, but I didn't.  I felt more hope and victory standing in each section.  I looked at the graffiti, some written in the 70's, some later - with simple words such as Why, to birthday wishes, to no longer understood largely worn off letters that I can only imagine what they say.  The rebar inside peeks out in several areas, like arms that are reaching from the binds of the concrete.  In one area the hole looks like someone took a wrecking ball to it, leaving a three man wide size gaping space with the rebar warped from the impact.  It's tall, and as you look to your right on the East side, you see that there were bunkers right there, keeping people from getting that close to the wall.  On the other side of the wall lies a busy four lane road, cars and bicycles whizzing by constantly - in the days of the wall being up no one could get that close to the wall. 

The Trench
Next to the wall is a trench made to uncover the cellar headquarters.  The area has many glass boards with clippings of articles, artifacts from the secret police, photos and information about the movement, resistance and people; while behind are the excavated remains of the headquarter's cellar.  Here there is so much information it takes at least an hour to read all of the sections and really absorb it all.  The feel here is mixed, some anger, sadness and confused actually. 

The House Prison
The Gestapo House Prison is no longer standing, but there is a perimeter marked next to the documentation center.  It is here that more than 15,000 people were tortured for information before they either committed suicide or were sent away to a camp or elsewhere.  The feeling at this site is interesting, more hopeful than anything else.  Sometimes I felt defiance and resolution, but more hope than anything in this area.

Across the street - West Berlin
Across the street is now the home of the German Parliament, and a large building that I never found out what it actually was.  This building looks a bit like an institution, but not that old.  There is a sculpture that represents the wall, people peering through it on one side, the other blood red handprints and marks seemingly represent the struggles that went on near the wall.  Along a fence is a cartoon depiction of the famous east German family that escaped their home by sliding down a homemade zip-line to the west.

We headed out for some food after exploring the wall and surrounding grounds.  We found a little German pub that had photos from many years ago all over.  The walls and floors were made of wood, and the inside tables were very sturdy.  We sat at the back of the restaurant, on benches along a long narrow table that wasn't wide enough for two regular sized plates to coexist  from each other.  In the center of the room is an old two-lantern light that is no longer used, as electric big Christmas like lights surround the room.  The food was fantastic and plentiful, and we left very happy.  Next up; Brandenburg Gate.

Brandenburg Gate
This gate has a long history, dating back to the 1730s as one of 18 gates in the walled city of Berlin.  It was replaced between 1788-1791with a beautiful twelve columns, and again in the 1800s with what we see today.  It was restored in 2000.  The gate is majestic.  It is dominant, formidable and gorgeous.  Many people were here taking photos just like us of this historic site.  I believe it was here that President Reagan urged for the fall of the Berlin wall in 1987, and two years later it happened.  Many celebrations are centered here, for this gate was clearly made for it.

The walk back to the train
We headed back through the Tiergarten to the train and discovered another site with tanks in front of it, the dome building and finally found an Absinthe bar near the apartment when I went a different way than we had gone before.  We all tried the Absinthe, I myself thought it was awful, super strong liquor that tasted like black licorice (I do not like black licorice or the taste of strong alcohol), but Ashley and Jared seemed to like it, they went on to have two more shots of the stuff, but different varieties.  I got a few pictures of the bar area, every bottle is of Absinthe, made all over.  Just before we left that place a group of about 20 young people came to the bar to try it as well.

Today's thoughts:
  • Did I mention how awesome the rhubarb spritzer/soda is?
  • Today is probably my favorite day in Berlin
  • So much amazingness all over the world, we in America need to get out more and explore!  OK well I definitely want to and will.
  • The wall was somehow how I thought it would be
  • The gate is just beautiful at night, and the cobblestone street is perfect
  • Absinthe + me = Nope
  • I really like Berlin