Saturday, 29 June 2013

'Czech'-ing in #3......and finally!

Part three - you might need to grab a tea/coffee before you start! I make no apologies for the amount of photos here - it was so hard having to choose which ones to include! ;-p

So, the last leg of the journey (see previous two posts for the earlier 'adventures'!) saw us travel from Vienna, over the border back into the Czech Republic and north to Prague.

To break the journey we stopped just over the border at what I can only describe as the most bizarre service-area ever:

(yes - that's a real jet, welded to the side of the building!)

Gobsmacking, isn't it! ;-p

Anyhow, rested (?) and refreshed we set off up the motorway to Prague city, avoiding many of the flooded roads.

Arriving early evening we dropped our bags at the hotel and set out for a quick explore while it was still light outside; we didn't venture far, but we found an amazing bar with live music, called La Republica  :
(the band were sitting on the raised platform in the centre of the picture)
We returned here a couple of times as the ambience and food were excellent:

Someone was very happy to sample the Pilsner Urquell!

They serve it fresh from the 'tank'! (those 'torpedo'-shaped things!)

So - our tour of  Prague started just a few minutes' walk away, at the 15th Century 'Powder Tower' :
Built on the site of one of the early medieval gates into the old city, this used to store gunpowder!

Passing through you soon emerge, via some winding streets filled with old shops, into the main square:

It looks like something out of a fairytale! The large tower, slightly to the left in the picture, houses the famous Astronomical Clock:

Created in 1410 it is still working, with frequent restorations of course! As the clock strikes the hour, the little doors above the astronomical dial open and the twelve Apostles 'parade' through, together with various animated figures lower down. The story goes, that the town officials were delighted with this 'wonder' and jealously guarded the secret of it's construction by putting out the eyes of its creator, to stop him producing copies for other towns. He got his own back by secretly disabling part of the mechanism! Later it was restored and now it is one of the main tourist attractions. Here's a video I found on Youtube, so you get a better idea:

Other sights in the square include:
The Týn Church

Beautiful wall paintings and decorative architecture on the buildings

The view from the café, where we watched the world go by...
....while we ate this!

Of course, when in Prague one needs to visit Wenceslas Square:
(although, it's more of a rectangle than a square! ;-p)

Through the winding streets we finally came to the Charles Bridge:

Normally only open to pedestrians, this medieval bridge was closed at the start of our visit because of fears about the raging waters, but after inspections we were allowed to cross it the next day:
This is one end of it....

...and approaching the other end!
You can see why they were concerned - this was after the waters had subsided a bit!

As I've already mentioned, the effects of the flooding had curtailed some of our activities, one of which was an evening dinner cruise along the Vltava river. Alas, not only did the swirling waters of the swollen river make this impossible, it also meant that with the water level rising the boats could not actually get under the bridges!

Instead, we went to the Folklore Garden - not on our itinerary but our tour guides arranged it at short notice. It required a trip on the metro (their escalators are so much faster than in the UK - you have to jump on, then run for your life at the end!!) and then a further tram ride. Faced with a soggy evening, (the rain had settled in for a day or two) we didn't quite know what to expect - but we were pleasantly surprised!

As much food and drink as you could manage,
 they just kept topping-up everything unless you stopped them!

Pork, chicken, pickled cabbage and root vegetables followed a hearty vegetable soup - there was a wonderful apple pudding, but it didn't survive long enough to be photographed!

...and all the while we were entertained with traditional music, songs and dancing:

I think this was much better than a riverboat cruise - it gave us a real flavour of Czech culture!

....and finally!

Next to the Powder Tower stands the Municipal Hall:

This beautifully decorated building is among the many iconic Art Nouveau-style buildings in Prague. We were very fortunate that our visit coincided with the start of a World tour exhibition of one of Prague's famous 'sons' - Alphonse Mucha - displayed in this building. For those of you not familiar with his work, here's a few pictures from the internet (no photography allowed in the exhibition)


Ivan Lendl, the former number one tennis star, began to collect Mucha's work in 1982, amassing a comprehensive portfolio over three decades  - 116 of the 119 total posters created by the artist. (of the remaining three - one is 'lost', the other two are in museums in New York and Hamburg).

Lendl decided that the works deserved a wider appreciation than being housed in his own home in America, so the collection is on tour - with the stipulation that it must have its premier in the Czech Republic, as both he and the artist Mucha were born there.

I feel very privileged to have seen these wonderful posters as they have never before been on public display in totality; if you get the chance do go and see them - you will not be disappointed!


....and that's the end of my 'holiday snaps' for now............but upcoming is a trip to New England in September! :-)

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

'Czech'-ing in stop - Austria!

Carrying on with our brief mid-Europe tour (and dodging flooded roads!) after our time in České Budějovice (see previous post) we crossed the 'border' into Austria. Of course, within the European Union, the formal border demarcations are now a thing of the past, although a few of the original 'checkpoint' buildings remain as a memorial to times gone by. So we simply drove, unhindered, into a different country with a different language and a different currency.

As I said earlier, this was just a brief visit and our destination was Vienna, but our route took us via Melk Abbey - rising majestically above the town:

It's just as well it is so high up, as the Danube had burst it's banks and flooded part of the town below. The Abbey itself was truly beautiful to see, photographs don't really do it justice, but here's a few pictures:

One of the inner courtyards

This is the ceiling painting over the gateway (centre of previous picture)

Through the gateway - into the inner courtyard and the abbey church

Outside, it was sad to see the devastation surrounding the Abbey and the town:

The Danube, making its presence felt - not very blue, is it?

There will be a lot of clearing up to do, so many homes and businesses affected. This is the open-air auditorium - no concerts here for a while, I think:

Then, we were back on the road and off to Vienna.We spent a couple of nights here, two-minute's walk along the road from the Lower Belvedere palace:

It was 8.30pm as we strolled though the magnificent grounds surrounding the palace - although we had to be aware of the joggers making their late-evening circuits - they stop for no-one!

There are far too many pictures to post up here and comment about - so here's just a few of the Hofberg Palace, the famous Lipizzaner 'White' stallions of the Spanish riding school, and the Swiss Gate.

Empress Maria-Theresia had her own detachment of Swiss guards at the palace,hence the name 'Swiss Gate'.

Of course, food and drink are always part of a holiday - we found this delightful brew-pub-restaurant just along from our hotel:

A bit smaller than the Budweiser brewery! 

Caught in the act! (the picture angle's deceptive, honest, the glass wasn't that big!)

Don't think I've ever eaten straight from the pan before!
Beef and mushroom stew with dumplings (the green stuff) and sour cream - mmmmm!

(I wasn't the only one drinking.....!)
We enjoyed the food, the beer and the ambience......we did it all over again the next day!

More piccies in and around the city:
Love the horses' ear-caps!

The Rathaus (Town Hall)

The entrance to the subway - very Art Nouveau!

Interesting 'bus' tour!

The New Year's Day concerts from the Musikverein are broadcast around the world.

....and how would you fancy having your dinner suspended from a crane! 
(I had to borrow this image  from the internet as my pictures didn't come out)

As I mentioned previously, the devastating floods in central Europe had taken their toll of the countryside and part of our itinerary had to be changed. Hubby and I had already planned to visit the Kursalon and attend one of their Strauss concerts, but our tour company came up trumps by giving us all free tickets (by way of consolation for the parts of the tour that had to be cancelled) - and free champagne on the terrace, to boot!

(again, 'borrowed' images, but too good not to share!)

Leaving Vienna to return to the Czech Republic, we stopped off at Schönbrunn Castle, summer residence of the Hapsburg Royal family:

(Having re-watched the James Bond film "The Living Daylights" after our visit, we've discovered continuity blips in the scenes shot in Vienna - one second 007 and his lady are in the middle of Vienna in a horse drawn carriage, the next they're pulling up at the steps of this palace - er, I think you'd need more than a couple of horses to manage that so fast!)

No internal photography means I can't show you the magnificence inside but you'll get an idea here

..... and so we headed north, back across the border - but you'll have to wait for the next instalment!