Friday, April 24, 2015

Liberation Day

Today Italians celebrate liberation from Nazi occupation and Fascist rule. The song above, "Bella Ciao" was sung by the Italian Resistance during the war and is played at festivals and parades throughout the day. There is a really good post about Feste della Liberazione over at Never Ending Footsteps for a quick overview:


Bella Ciao in English:

One morning I woke up

Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao Ciao Ciao

One morning I woke up

And I found the invader

Oh Partisan, carry me away

Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao Ciao Ciao Oh Partisan,

carry me away

Because it feels like death

And if I die on the mountain

Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao Ciao Ciao

And if I die on the mountain

You must bury me

And you must bury me

Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao Ciao Ciao

And you must bury me

Under the shade of beautiful flowers

And all those that pass

Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao Ciao Ciao

And all those that pass

Will say 'what beautiful flowers

And this flower of a partisan

Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao Ciao Ciao

And this flower of a partisan

Is the flower of freedom'

Thursday, April 9, 2015


My only regret about Prague is that I couldn't spend more time there. It's impossible to soak it all up over a long weekend. We saw most of the highlights in the centrum, but it was rushed. It was also a very busy time to be in Prague. Easter is a huge deal in the Czech Republic, as religous celebrations weren't permitted under Czechoslovakia's communist government.

Vendors sell real painted eggs to hang from branches. The wands are called pomlázka. They are made of braided twigs and ribbons, and used to swat girls on the legs. It comes from a tradition that says it will "chase away illness and bad spirits and to bring health and youth for the rest of the year to everyone who is whipped."

Emily got to feed animals in a petting zoo and decorate an egg. She was too excited to sit next to the children's egg tree for a picture and ran around pretending to drop her egg and chase it as it bounced away over and over. It took a while but we finally snapped this:

On the flip side, a major part of what I hoped to see was pretty much shut down for Passover. The oldest remaining sites of the Josefov quarter- the Old-New Synagogue which has been operating for more than 700 years, the historic old cemetery, crowded with over three hundred years worth of tombstones, and the museum exhibitions detailing the history of the local community through the centuries. Most of the Jewish Quarter was torn down in favor of urban renewal at the beginning of the 20th century and these places tell an important story in the history of Prague. It's one more reason to return.

Prague survived World War II with much less damage than other European cities. In fact, the bombing it sustained was supposedly an accident by Americans who mistook it for Dresden. Because it fared so well overall, it is still one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, with swirls of art nouveau decoration on tons of turn of the 20th century buildings (I can only assume this displaced a load of residents in Josefov, but haven't seen anything addressing it online though), churches, the beautiful Charles Bridge, and many other places that take you back through Prague for hundreds of years.

Monument to Jan Hus, early church reformer.

The astronomical clock. Once an hour the figures on the clock move to the delight of crowds waiting around to record it. We kept missing it by 5 minutes. :(

The Renaissance era Minute House, where Franz Kafka lived as a child.

Absinthe was a thing here I guess.

After walking all over the centrum, we stopped for lunch at a really average restaurant, but it allowed us to at least try some of the famously cheap local beer, along with some goulash for Cody.

Emily zonked out like 5 minutes after we left, so we took a nice walk back to our airbnb. One of the things I wanted to see on the way is the Church of Cyril and Methodius in the Karlin neighborhood. It was consecrated in 1863.

St Therese of Lisieux, c.1937/8

This is the neighborhood in Karlin where we stayed. Our cab driver told us it was a little unsafe. Another travel guide called it "shabby." If this is shabby, I'll take it. Side note, there is an excellent brunch place/coffee house here called Muj salek kavy (My cup of tea in English). All concerns I had about good vegetarian dining dissolved after my ridiculously good soy latte and whole wheat pancakes. The servers were lovely even though we were minus one reservation and plus a giant stroller.

The next day, despite having this feeling that it was going to be too much for a certain grouchy three year old, we set off for Prague Castle. I wasn't extremely interested, but it was close to the Kafka museum that did want to see, so hey why not? We took the metro, which included a serious hike. In hindsight, the 22 tram is a much better option as it drops you off right outside the entrance. Emily, as expected, was in a mood to shriek and run away and everything else she isn't supposed to do. We had to cut the visit short and nearly cut the whole day short (a nap in the stroller, followed by pizza, somehow, fixed everything).

A view from the castle. This is why I came to Prague.

A great hall and the throne room.

Outside St Vitus Cathedral, the central feature of the sprawling castle complex. We had to wait until after Easter services, and by then the line to enter was a mile long and Emily wasn't going to last. One more thing to come back for.

The Golden Lane. This was my favorite part. All the teeny tiny houses are either gift shops or recreated homes from different eras; the fortune teller's house, the silent movie theater crammed with film reels, the goldsmith's workshop. I didn't get to see it, but the little pink house next to the half-timber in the top photo is another Kafka home.

In the late afternoon we crossed Charles Bridge into Lesser Town. This is also the point where my camera battery died and I had to switch to a cell phone. Even if I had a better lens, it's very crowded, so to give you a feel of how magical it can be, here's a swiped picture:

photo credit

Our next stop was ye olde Starbucks and on to the Kafka Museum. The museum was interesting. I will avoid calling it Kafka-esque, which it was definitely going for.

photo credit

It did an excellent job of creating a timeline through letters and journals, photographs, family and cultural background.

We ended the day with yummy trdelník from a little shop near the Vltava river, wandered over the bridge, bought a half dozen painted eggs, and headed back to the flat for dinner.

Prague, until we meet again.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Garmisch Part Three: Neuschwanstein Castle and the Zugsptize

Recently Cody won a free 2 night stay in a hotel in Garmisch, so we took an all too short weekend road trip up to Germany. Emily is finally old enough to have real fun there, so we all found things we enjoyed. Our hotel was extremely child friendly, so even though we had 3 hours to kill before check in, Emily had a ball with coin-op games and a little theater set up for children in the lobby. When that got dull, we took a walk downtown for rides and time to run around the pedestrian zone.

Saturday morning we set out for Neuschwanstein Castle. This is the unfinished work of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. With limited powers and a total disinterest in state duties, he spent his time as king immersed in the operas of Wagner and built fanciful palaces far from the reaches official life. He was by all accounts extremely introverted, preferring a world of creativity where he could be the king he imagined himself to be, one of romantic days gone by. He never married, therefore never produced an heir, and stopped attending official functions. At 40 years old, he was declared insane and thoroughly unfit to remain in power. He was arrested and taken to Munich. The king was found dead in Lake Starnberg one day later. The cause of death remains a mystery. The castle was opened as a museum six weeks after Ludwig's death.

I'm not real happy with these shots-harsh sunlight and no time to hike over to the foot bridge for the full sidelong view.

Walt Disney is said to have been inspired by Neuschwanstein. When we first reached the castle walls, and certainly when we began the tour, it felt like I was in a Fantasyland castle. Something about the idealized version of the past, and bold, bright decoration lend itself to Disney's brand of theme park experiences and storytelling. Here's a picture of the Singer's Hall, where the tour ended. It is still used for live performances every year.

photo credit

We took a horse and carriage ride down the hill where we stopped for lunch in the town of Hohenschwangau. The shuttles weren't running, and sometimes you just have to make sacrifices.

We hopped in the car and drove toward the Zugspitze, Germany's highest peak. The Garmisch area had snow as recently as Friday, and we were excited to take the seilbahn up to the top. Ever fearless, Cody and Emily stood right in front to watch the cable car fly so high it shot up at a 90 degree angle to reach the summit.

The frozen Eibsee to the left.

I liked this more than I thought I would. The snowy peaks go on as far as you can see. Halfway across the observation deck you can cross the border into Tirol, Austria. Peaceful and very beautiful.

On the way down we took a different seilbahn to connect with the train that runs up and down the mountain at a very steep incline mostly through a tunnel. It took a little longer, but it was fun for Emily.

We ended the day at our favorite Bavarian restaurant. It ended up being an interesting night to be there. The back room had a party booked for a large group of traditionally dressed Alpine men, some with beards curled up on each side in huge loops you could hold a tin can in. This is something I really like about Bavaria. Every time we pass through we always see people in dirndls and lederhosen and it isn't necessarily for the sake of tourists. On our drive out this morning, we came across a Bavarian band walking down a road toward a small church. Another group was outside it, each holding a long pole of bound flowers and grasses for some springtime tradition. This was in an area with no tourist presence, just a quiet Sunday morning. Tradition is still alive here.

Dinner and a show with music and dancing. You can't beat that. Plus the apfelstrudel mit eis is killer.

At one point yesterday, Emily looked up at me and asked, "Is this the fairy tale land, where magic comes from?"

"Yes, it is."