Saturday, August 30, 2014


Thursday was "scatter" day.  Kara and Bill left for Paris the day before and Keith, Marge and Steve left for Vienna the same morning we left for Prague.  It was a long travel day from Budapest to Prague but a stop in Bratislava, capital of Slovokia, broke it up.  I didn't realize we would be traveling through yet another country so that bumped us up to 8 countries, languages and currency!

Here is how we got the current Czech Republic and Slovokia.  After WW I and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the nation of Slovaks and Czechs established their mutual state -Czechoslovakia. A separate Slovak state existed during World War II and was a client state of Nazi Germany (from 1939 to 1944). In 1945 Czechoslovakia was re-established. The present-day Slovakia became an independent state on January 1, 1993 after the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia.

This town reminded me of the beautiful villages that dot the Rhine River that we have enjoyed on other cruises in Germany.  Finally we were emerging from the recent communist influence that had scarred the countries we had visited.

We walked the cobblestone streets beneath a canopy of trees and were told the significance of what was once a major player in Hungary.  It is now a college town.  Lunch was included and was tasty but weird looking.  It was beef (pot roast sort of) with what looked like slices of undercooked bread that turned out to be dumplings covered with what we thought was mustard sauce but was pumpkin!  Ted of course asked for one without sauce and was given meat, roasted potatoes and grilled peppers.  Everyone was jealous except the one lady who got the same thing as her gluten free lunch.

We had left at 8 am and it was 6 pm when we arrived in Prague.  We ate in the hotel with a couple we have befriended from Virginia.  He worked in the Reagan administration as a czar but has been a retired pediatrician for some time now.  

The next day was a walking tour of the Palace area of Prague.  Most of these opulent complexes are now government buildings or museums.  We visited St. Vita's Cathedral but toured the rest of the area from the outside.  We planned to return another day to go inside some of the buildings but we never made it back.

In the afternoon we boarded a bus for the ride to Sychrov, a chateau built by a noble French family named Rohan.  It was passed through generations before being confiscated by the government after WW II but was later returned to the family in the 1990s.  A special treat was a short concert performed in the chapel on the 18th century organ, by the local music school's principal.  He was joined for the Ave Maria by a lady with the voice of an angel.  We really enjoyed that.

The house and its contents are remarkable.  Our docent was very good and certainly knew her history.  Europeans' ability to restore things to their original state is amazing.  Despite wars, natural disasters and normal wear, tearing something down to make it bigger, better or more modern is not an option.  The only modern things besides businesses in large cities that we have seen are the large concrete boxes of apartments that the communist governments built to house the people whose homes and land had been confiscated. 

Dinner was more usual for us - smoked salmon on lettuce, lasagna, tiramisu and the ever present goblet of wine.  Everyone slept on the way back to Prague.  We are all tiring from the constant activity and walking.  

Yesterday we visited Lesser Town in Prague.  Once again we rode the metro into the center of the city and had a wonderful walking tour of the area.  One highlight for me was visiting the church of Our Lady Victorious that houses the Infant of Prague statue.  We returned and attended Mass there today.  The black walnut and gold leaf of the altars are reminiscent of St. Michael's Church used in the wedding scene of The Sound of Music that we saw near Lake Constance in Austria years ago.

We were turned loose by our Program Director and finished the afternoon having a snack in a garden restaurant, walking Charles Bridge, visiting Lennon's Wall where I wrote Love from Texas and Ted did a drawing of Kilroy.  It started raining, the first we've had, and we took refuge under the bridge.  When it stopped enough we made our way to the Metro station to come home.  We stopped a station short to inspect Flora Mall as a place to have dinner then hopped back on for one more stop to our hotel.

We met our Virginia friends for dinner and decided to walk to the mall.  However, we walked the wrong way!  When we didn't come to it, we asked a lady and her gesturing and speaking Czech indicated we were heading in the wrong direction.  Bobbie's pedometer indicated we walked three miles by the time we reached the mall.

We ran into a couple from our group who said more of our group was in Coyote's inside so we headed there.  The manager shoved another table over so we all chatted until they had finished their meal.  After we ate, we tried to find ice cream for Bobbie but they only had a gelato store and she didn't want that so we decided to head back to the hotel.

We exited the mall at the Metro station level and not street level.  We were tired and decided to take the Metro.  The only way to get a ticket this late was from a machine and having the correct coins was going to be difficult.  Ian suggested we just chance it and ride the one stop without one.  We could hear the train coming so we ran to catch it.  Ted said police were in the hall but everyone was rushing past them and they didn't stop anyone.  Now we have to add Czech trains to our list of trains ridden without the proper ticket.  The other ones were in Strasbourg, France and Munich, Germany!  Sometimes ignorance is bliss.  Other times it is a $250 fine!

Today after breakfast we attended an English Mass at Our Lady Victorious complete with organ music and a choir.  Afterwards we walked to the funicular and rode to the top of Petrin Hill.  There are lovely rose gardens, massive slates of The Stations of the Cross, an observatory, Mirror Maze and several other buildings.   We were headed to the 1/6 replica of the  Eiffel Tower.  The view from the top was spectacular and we were able to recognize most landmarks.  It was cool and rainy so we stopped for a hot drink before heading back down.  The rain stopped so we strolled around a bit, had a bite for lunch and eventually rode the Metro back to the hotel.

This evening was our farewell dinner at the Lobkowicz Palace.  The view was great but not very different from what we had seen from Petrin Hill earlier in the day.  Our dinner was nice and the rain had stopped by the time we got back to our hotel.  We wished everyone safe travels and packed up all we could.  That 2:15 wake up call for the 3:15 airport departure will roll around quickly.

Next stop - the piney woods of East Texas.

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