Thursday, September 23, 2010


I'm writing this more for our family than for everyone to see, but if others are interested to read it that's okay. 

We hadn't had a break since last November, so we decided that we would take a week's vacation in September, hoping that the crowds of people in Europe would be less.  Ha! That's a big laugh.  There were not many children traveling, but everywhere was full of people, especially Prague.  It was crowded.  We decided on Prague because we had heard that it is a really great place to visit and it's full of history, which of course Frank and I really love.  So we made our reservations online in August.  I want to say something here about prices.  It was cheaper to fly from Donest'k to Prague via Vienna than it was to fly from Donest'k to Vienna only.  We had thought we might stay in Vienna and take some train trips to other places, but it cost $125 more per ticket to do that.  So we flew to Prague, changing planes in Vienna.  Crazy!  And our hotel-----I booked on Expedia at a price that was 1/3 of the price that was quoted on the hotel website.  And we got a discount because we stayed six nights. 

We left Berdyansk on the morning of Sept. 12 and took a bus to Donest'k to get our Austrian Airlines flight.  Driving by car the trip takes about 2 1/2 hours, but the bus takes almost four hours.  It stops for a half-hour in another nearby city, and it stops along the way to pick up and let down people.  We were cutting it pretty close to get to the airport, but we made it.  There was a crowd of people in the departure area, some of them on charter flights.  Anyway, we were okay and got to Vienna right on time, which was good because we only had 30 minutes to get to our connecting flight.  We fidgeted in the passport control line, but finally got through and hurried through the airport to our gate.  We were just about the last to get on the plane, but there were others from our first flight who also got the flight to Prague.  The funny thing was:  we got on the same plane that we had gotten off of a half-hour earlier.  And our suitcase got on the plane too.  We wondered if it would make the connection, but it was there in Prague when we got to the luggage area.  We were a little disappointed about one thing:  we entered the European Union in Vienna, so when we arrived in the Czech Republic we didn't get a stamp of that country in our passports. 

We got to our hotel about 8pm and crashed for the night, but were up at our regular time and got down to breakfast about 8am.  The breakfast was pretty good with a variety of selections.  But we have usually found in European hotels that the breakfast is much more than what Americans call a "continental breakfast."  We ate a really good breakfast everyday and then ate again about 2 or 3pm.  So we had two good meals a day, and maybe a snack in the evening.  We found two Indian restaurants in the historical area, so we ate at each of them once.  The food was okay, but it definitely needed more green chilis.  One day we ate traditional Czech food in an outdoor restaurant, under a sturdy cover while we watched the rain come down.  Czech food is good, but tends to avoid vegetables and is heavy on carbs.  One day we ate at the Hard Rock Cafe.  We had to try it since it was right there in front of us, and the food was good.  Besides, we wanted to give our kids a good laugh, thinking about Mom and Dad at the Hard Rock Cafe.  Are you laughing, Laura? Lori? Evan? Brent?  The music was loud but it wasn't all hard rock or heavy metal.   We sat under Jimi Hendrick's vest that he wore in a concert in Dallas.  Whoopee. 
I loved the guitar-shaped chandelier that we were almost under at our table.

There was also a Hooters close to our hotel, but we decided that was probably just a bit too risque for us, so we didn't go there.  And we saw a TGI Friday also, although we didn't eat there.

Let's get to the history part!  Prague actually has a fascinating history and a lot of church history took place there too, so of course we were interested in that.  Prague was one of the few cities in Eastern Europe which was not devastated by W. W. II.  The great majority of its buildings are authentic from the time when they were built.  In Germany for example many of the buildings are reconstructions of what had been destroyed.  Frank enjoyed going to Bethlehem Chapel which was the church of the early reformer John Hus.  The cathedrals were wonderful.  We were in four or five of them because the city has quite a few.  For the first time we were in cathedrals of three different architectural style:  Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque.  Each was totally different from the others.  Prague has the largest castle in the world according to the Guiness Book of World Records.  It is huge with several palaces, a large historic cathedral, other smaller churches, remains of a monastery, and lots of other buildings all connected to each other. It was like a good-sized town in the Middle Ages.  In the oldest palace the great hall was large enough for medieval jousts to take place inside.  And there was a ramp for the horses to come up into the hall from the outside.  In the castle cathedral we saw the tomb of "Good King Wencelas" of the Christmas carol.  Actually, there is a big square in Prague named after him with a statue of him at the top of the boulevard.
A view of the castle from the top of the medieval Town Hall.  The cathedral, towering over the castle, is the spiritual center of Czech history and this is where Wencelas is buried.

Wencelaus' tomb.
Wencelaus on horseback in front of the National Museum, which we did not visit.  There were too many other thngs to see.

The Old Town Square is the center of the historical district.  The Town Hall has an interesting astronomical clock, which I cannot explain to you.  It strikes on the hour and above it two little doors open and the twelve apostles go by.  When it is done striking, a trumpeter in medieval costume at the top of the tower, blows a nice short flourish and then waves at the crowds below.

We were both interested to visit the Jewish section of the Old Town, and we did go there but that day was rainy and somewhat miserable, so we didn't stay long.  We did visit the oldest synagogue still in use in Europe and it was quite interesting.  There were actually five synagogues in a small area, but some are now museums of the Jewish people.  There's a W.W.II. concentration camp outside of Prague where thousands of Jews either died or were transported to German camps.  We didn't visit that either.  I really wanted to visit the Czech Jewish Museum, but it was rather expensive.  The whole area seemed to cater to American and European Jews who wanted to come back to Prague to explore their heritage. 

The most annoying thing that happened was that our camera died right in the middle of picture-taking.  No matter what we did, we couldn't get anything on screen except digital lines and gray markings.  So we finally went to a good-sized department store and bought a new camera.  We had planned to buy a new one anyway when we were in the States next, so we bought a more expensive one than we had in the past.  Frank checked online when we got home and figures we probably paid $25-30 more for it than we would have at home.  It's a Panasonic Lumix, and has all kinds of features which we haven't figured out yet.  I'm going to have to work on that.  It has an 8x zoom and 14.1 megapixels, a wide-angle, and it takes movies.  Will I ever get it all figured out?  The good thing was that the card from our old camera works in the new camera.  So we didn't have to buy a new card.  But a new camera was definitely not in our budget for this trip.

The weather could have been better.  Our first day was very cloudy, but it didn't rain and the temperature was okay.  Tuesday and Wednesday it got colder and rained frequently.  Actually, I wore my leather coat everyday except Monday.  I also got a new umbrella :)  Thursday and Friday the sun came out, although it was still cool, and they were pretty nice days for sight-seeing.  I would much rather have it a little cool than to be hot and sweaty.  One negative comment I'll make about Prague is that the historical buildings and the statues really need a good cleaning.  They had turned black and gray with years and years of weather.  One huge statue of John Hus in the Old Town Square was absolutely green with oxidation.  The city needs to make their wonderful exhibits look much better than they do.

What did I buy?  Well, I didn't buy a lot because we traveled with only one suitcase, a leather backpack (thanks to Bud Hummel who gave it to us a few years ago), and my tote bag.  So there wasn't a lot of room to pack things to take home.  Bohemian crystal is beautiful and I bought a rose and a necklace.  I also bought a small painting of the castle and the Charles Bridge over the river.  I bought a scarf and a couple of other small items as gifts.  I really wanted to buy some marionettes for the grandkids.  The Czech Republic is famous for its marionettes, but there was no room to pack them and they were somewhat expensive.  Sorry about that Kirsten, Riley, Anika, Garrett, Brock and Lance.  I was thinking about you at least.

Aren't they wonderful?   I loved them.

We took one tour outside of Prague to an old medieval town called Kutna Hora.  During the Middle Ages it was a prosperous, booming town which mined silver.  It rivaled Prague in importance.  I did feel that we really didn't get our money's worth on this tour.  It was on Friday afternoon, and the traffic was horrible so we spent a total of three hours on the bus and two hours in the town.  Our guide and driver were eager to hustle everyone back into the mini-bus and get back to Prague, so we didn't have time to wander and see anything on our own.  There were some interesting things though.  We went through an old building which had been the mint centuries ago and we saw the old silver coins and how they were made.  We went through a famous old cathedral (another one!) which was dedicated to St. Barbara, who was the patron saint of miners.  And we saw an unusual ossuary---the basement of an old church where the bones of 40,000 people who had died in the Middle Ages of the plague and wars were carved into such things as a chandelier, the heraldic shield of the family who owned the place, and other "decorations."  Not exactly the high point of our visit, but somewhat interesting. 
The cathedral of St. Barbara, with flying buttresses on the sides holding up the walls.
The heraldic shield made of bones.
A view of Kutna Hora from the ramparts next to the cathedral.

We got back to Berdyansk Saturday night without any problems, but we crashed on Sunday.  We had a good time, and are really glad that we chose Prague for a week's vacation.  Everything there was right down our alley, so to speak.  I'll end this with just a selection of pictures with a few comments. 

This picture's for Brent---check out the old Ford.  Looks pretty good, doesn't it?
A modern sculpture made entirely of keys.
I took this picture so you could see how small the door was.
I'm rather proud of this picture!  The rose window at the castle cathedral.
Wencelaus Square looking down toward the National Museum.
No comment needed!
We were in a museum of education history and Frank pointed out that the little guy in the middle of the picture looks like Brock.  What do you think?  Of course Brock wouldn't be caught wearing a big bow under his chin!
How's this for a motorcycle?  The back side wheels retract.  You can stay dry riding this one.
Another trumpeter, on the Charles Bridge this time.
On the Charles Bridge with the castle in the background.

A final word for the family.  In Yukon next to the cemetery on Garth Brooks Blvd. there is a large Catholic Church called St. John Nepumok.  We had never heard of him before, but we found out lots about him in Prague.  He had been the confessor for one of the early queens of Bohemia (the early name for the Czech Republic).  Her husband did not trust her and wanted Nepumok to tell him what she had said in confession.  Nepumok refused and the king had him killed by throwing him off the Charles Bridge and drowning him.  There is a statue of him on the bridge (along with many others) and the spot where he was thrown from is marked by a memorial.  In the castle church there is a big silver tomb for him.  In another church there is a memorial to him with a painting of him with the queen in the background.  He is one of the important saints to the Czech people.  And there are a lot of Czech descendants in Yukon.

The memorial to Nepumuk on the Charles Bridge.

The picture of Nepumuk with the queen in the background.

I know there is lots and lots more that I could write about, but I'm stopping here.  Hmmmm, where shall we go next year for a week's vacation?  How about St. Petersburg, Russia?  Sounds like a winner to me.