Posted in Food, Photography, Travel

Day #15: Prague

Čtvrtek 4 Leden 2018

Pražský hrad (Prague Castle) was on the agenda for today … it’s the largest castle complex in the world and took us most of the day to wander around it.

The castle complex began its development in the 9th century! That’s mind boggling to me.

I could say loads more about the Royal Palace, St Vitus Cathedral, St George’s Basilica, Golden Lane, plus the nearby Strahov Monastery … but my words could never do them justice. It’s the history of the place that amazes me … the recorded history as well as the history written in the stones, decorations, artworks, altars, weapons, torture instruments, plus the histories written in the hidden places and the public spaces.

A history full of intrigue and violence and sacrifice and conflict … of visionaries, philosophers, designers, architects, goldsmiths, jewellers, and of kings and mothers of kings, and priests and monks, and those who spent their lives building these massive structures – those who aren’t remembered, who aren’t written into the official records but who were central to these records of history.

So many years’ worth of visible, recorded, in-your-face history. It forces me to ask questions about our own history and how we engage with it when it’s not as visible; a history that’s more spiritual and engaged with the environment – a history so unlike European history it’s easy to see how the first Europeans missed it. They were looking for structures and monuments and artworks and society’s visible, tangible marks on the environment … there are questions and thoughts and inklings of ideas to ponder here, to contemplate and reflect on …

******

As well as exploring the history of Prague and the Czech Republic more broadly, we’ve also explored the food. We’ve discovered it’s good food. Even Tim can eat it. On our first night at a restaurant called Vinohradský Parlament, I had dessert – not something I generally do – but one of the options was one I simply couldn’t resist: Podilové taštičky: u nás dělané taštičky z bramborového těsta, plněné povidly, podávané se strouhaným tvarohem, přepuštěným máslem a moučkovým cukrem (in other words potato gnocchi with plum jam filling, grated cottage cheese, a butter sauce, and icing sugar).

As you can imagine, I just had to try it. It was fabulous!

For one meal I had goulash, which is Hungarian rather than Czech, but I was particularly interested in the dumplings. I’d said to Tim before the meal arrived ‘what if they’re circles of white bread?’ and when it arrived we saw that’s exactly what they were … but somehow more delicious than circles of white bread, or maybe that was the sauce.

I also had a much more traditional Czech dish, svíčková na smetaně, made up of beef (very tender), some kind of gravy/sauce, bread dumplings (or circlets of soft white bread) and then, on top of the beef was a dollop of whipped cream and one of cranberry sauce on a slice of lemon. Delicious.

Svíčková na smetaně

Then there was the dessert of apricot dumplings swimming in sour cream with icing sugar sprinkled over it all, adding a touch of sweetness. Surprisingly, it too was delicious. Although I had too much and felt very sick for a while.

On the whole though the food was very good. And very cheap. Czech money is Crowns and the traditional meal I had was 195 of them. Sounds a lot, but when you work out it’s about 12 Australian dollars you realise it’s a bargain. It wasn’t unusual to have wads of 1000 crowns in our wallets!

Don’t try to pay for something costing 50 crowns with a 1000 crown note though! Not unless you want a stern talking to – it was in Czech so we couldn’t understand the actual words, but the tone was enough for us to know we were in trouble.

One more full day in the Czech Republic and then we have to face the idea of making our way home. I’m so not ready to go back yet – there’s still so much to see and do.

* Please note: As you’ve seen from some of the words in this post, there are plenty of accents in the Czech written language. Here are a few snaps I took as we wondered around the area we were staying in. I reckon you can work out the final word on this first sign.

 

Posted in Photography, Travel

Day # 14: Prague

Streda 3 Leden 2018

Dobry den from Prague. If you’ve been following along on our journey, you’ll have picked up our penchant for starting out in a new city by going on a photo walk with a local guide. I’d found Johnny’s Prague Photo Tours online and was impressed with his images, so booked a morning tour – which meant being out in the middle of Prague at 7:10am. One thing to be aware of, if you’re reading this from Australia, is that the sun doesn’t rise till 8am and it’s usually around 4C-5C at that time of the morning – or colder. So getting up early and heading out into the cold shows our dedication to capturing images of the places we’re visiting.

Or that we’re slightly mad!

Johnny contacted me last night to say that the forecast was for rain and he didn’t think we’d have a very good time in the morning so could we go in the afternoon? We could … the bonus of course was that we got a sleep-in and we stayed warm just a little longer. It also meant checking out the local pradelna – what an amazing place. No, really! It was very cool and a much more friendly space than the laverie had been in Paris.

So with our washing done, a visit to the potraviny for some mleko bez laktoza, vejce, maslo, ryzove kolacky, and a few other bits and pieces, we were ready to head into the city on the #22 tram (thanks to Darko for the info he gave us last night we knew where to buy tram tickets).

Our first stop on the photo tour was Black Madonna House – I struggled to get a good shot, but here’s one attempt. Hopefully I have some better ones.

We had made our way to the Charles Bridge and noticed the clouds were getting very dark. Before we knew it, it was hailing (very hard), and we ran for a restaurant close by. We sat and chatted while the storm (complete with a peal of thunder and flash of lightning) rolled over the city, and then headed out again.

It’s a beautiful city. Tim’s photos are way better than mine so keep an eye out on his blog in case he decides to post some. In the meantime, here’s just two of mine:

Posted in Photography, Travel

Day #13: Venice – Prague

Martedi 2 Gennaio 2018

We had decided to forego the train from Venice to Prague in favour of flying … mostly to make the most of our time in the Czech capital. It meant we had the morning in Venice, and so we spent it seeing some of the sights we hadn’t yet seen or that we wanted to return to after our photo walk with Vinnie.

Or that was the plan. Vinnie had told us of a great vantage point from which to look out over Venice … the top floor of the new shopping mall. We’d been two days before but the terrace was booked out (yes, you have to book) so this was our last opportunity. We arrived early, wandered through the shopping centre (gorgeous red escalator that Sakye would have loved), then headed for the 4th floor and joined the line.

There’d been lots of rain the day before and apparently the terrace was dangerously slippery and so they weren’t letting anyone out there. Too much of a risk, so no looking over the rooftops of Venice this trip it seemed.

Except we had a back up plan … Vinnie had taken us to a place we’d never have found by ourselves and we returned there, climbed the thousands of steps, and managed to see the rooftops of (some of) Venice.

We had worked out what time we needed to catch the vaporetto to the airport and from which ‘station’ … but what we didn’t bank on was the height of the tide. We’d seen people wearing plastic knee high boots over their shoes and thought they were being extra cautious – there was no water spilling over from the Grand Canal – but when we arrived at the vaporetto station we were told the boat couldn’t go from there because the tide was too high. We’d need to go to San Marco instead and catch the blue line rather than the orange line.

We had six minutes to get there.

The closer we got to St Mark’s Square the more crowded the streets became and the more people there were selling the plastic boots. We soon saw why.

The Square was flooded.

We made our way around the outside – the non-flooded bits – only to be confronted by more flood waters at the other end of the Square. There was no other way around it – we had to wade through ankle-deep water.

Luckily my knee high fur lined boots were waterproof – as were Tim’s, except his weren’t knee high and so he ended up with wet feet.

We made it to the vaporetto station just as the boat was leaving the wharf. The orange line, the one we’d planned on catching, took 15 minutes to get to Marco Polo airport. The blue line, the one we now had to catch, took over an hour. By this time it was after 12 and our plane left at 2:40. Tim had read that it’d take 2 hours to get through check-in/security/passport control and it’s safe to say that by this point he was slightly stressed.

We waited in line only to realise after 15 minutes of waiting that it was the wrong line. Climbing through the fence to the right line was ungainly, so I didn’t do it, instead choosing to hobble as quickly as I could, through the throng of people in the line, out the gate that thankfully were open, around the barrier and up the jetty to join the right line – just as the boat pulled in.

We had a lovely trip across the Lido, then to Fondamente Nove where we’d been the day before, across to Murano, and then … finally … we were on our way to the airport. I hasten to add at this point that Tim didn’t think it was a ‘lovely trip’ but I was feeling quite relaxed.

We (finally) arrived at Marco Polo, ran (yes, ladies and gentlemen, you read that right, I ran – Tim was walking fast but for me to keep up I had to run), and followed the signs to the terminal. It was a 10 minute walk we did in six minutes.

There was no one at the check in counter – they’d all amassed at the gate by this time – and things were proceeding well until the machine spitting out the baggage stickers got a baggage sticker stuck in it and it took the girl quite some time to get it unstuck. You can imagine Tim’s state of mind at this stage.

Finally, the stuck sticker came unstuck … but she now had to change the roll. Tim was tearing his hair out.

Right, baggage stickers stuck on our bags, away they went on the conveyer, and away we went to security. Remove my watch, my hat, my gloves, my buff, my shoes, my jacket … something still beeped so I was led away to be checked over more thoroughly.

I looked around to see where Tim was, and he was as pale as a ghost and looking decidedly sick. He’d lost his passport and boarding pass. He was in a mad panic, upturning the security bins, reefing people’s belongings out of them to see if his passport was underneath their jackets, scarves, gloves, computers. He’d left his bag with me, and that apparently looked suspicious because I was called over to the security guard for another personal check of my person and both bags.

A shout of jubilation … he’d found it!

I bade a fond farewell to my patter-downer and off we raced for the gate. The plane was late and we had fifteen minutes before we had to board! Time for a coffee to calm Tim’s frazzled nerves, and a toilet stop and we were on our way to Prague.

Not the best way to leave Venice it has to be said! It strengthens my resolve to train it when next we find ourselves in Europe.

Small plane to Prague – one of the ones with propellers – but very smooth and uneventful. We’d booked a shuttle to our accommodation – ‘there’ll be someone holding a board with your name on it’ I was told.

There were about a dozen men holding boards with people’s names on them, and at the back a massive Macedonian with my name on his board. I approached cautiously, but as soon as he smiled I could see he wasn’t anywhere near as scary as he looked.

This was no ordinary shuttle – this was a meet and greet service. Darko, for that was the name of the massive Macedonian, provided us with lots of information about Czech people, how to stay safe from pickpockets and those who might want to take advantage of our foreignness (Prague is the 6th safest city in the world, so there really isn’t too much to worry about), where to change money and which currency exchanges to avoid, which tram to take to get into the city, the best stop to get off when visiting the castle, which pharmacy is open 24 hours a day (just in case you need), where to buy food, which restaurants we should try … he even took us into the apartment to point our how to get in, how to get out, what to do with the key … it’s a fabulous service.

What a lovely way to be welcomed to Prague! It was especially welcome after the stress of leaving Venice.

Posted in Photography, Travel

Day #12: Venice

Lunedi 1 Gennaio 2018

Yes, it’s the New Year and we’re in Venice! I heard the fireworks last night as the sound bounced around the canals and streets from Piazzo San Marco, but didn’t manage to see them. We’d seen squads of police heading towards the Piazza late in the afternoon but we didn’t feel like joining them.

Murano and Burano were on the agenda for today. It was another drizzly day but we figured we couldn’t let a little drizzle stop us getting out and about so we walked to Fondamente Nove to catch a vaporetto to Murano. The tide was high and water was lapping very close to the edges of the streets – in some places spilling over the edges – but we managed to get through without getting our feet wet.

Murano was quiet – it was too early for the shops, and given it was New Year’s Day the glass factories weren’t open either. But it was lovely to get lost amongst the laneways and follow random strangers in case they knew their way out of the maze of streets, to see places tourists wouldn’t usually get to see, and to end up in a bar with a group of old men drinking wine like it was water and they were dying of thirst. It was fascinating to sit there and listen to their interactions, the ways they greeted each other, the ease with which they welcomed each newcomer into their circle, their comraderie and gentle ribbing, without understanding a word they said.

More and more visitors were arriving on the island and the shops and factories were opening. The water continued to lap at the footpaths and before long it was drizzling. We rushed into a restaurant to have an early lunch, then set out for Burano, the island of colourful houses and lace making. We hadn’t made it very far onto the island before the rain intensified … Tim managed a few shots (including the gorgeous one below), then we ran for the vaporetto station and a very welcome hot (and sweet) lemon tea.

I went back to the apartment to dry off while Tim explored the Doges Palace. I still haven’t made it into the Basillica. Perhaps next time.

Italian pizza for dinner – one more thing ticked off Tim’s bucket list, then back to the apartment to pack for the next leg of our journey.

Posted in Photography

Day #11: Venice

Domenica 31 Dicembre 2017

Tim has a penchant for supermarkets. He found a few in Paris he quite liked, although his favourite was M&S because they had a lot of English food and English food means he can read the labels and therefore avoid the nasty things that would make our trip most unpleasant.

But there is no M&S in Venice, so he had to battle through lists of unfamiliar ingredients to find products safe to eat. It’s the sort of challenge he takes seriously – and, what’s more, the kind of challenge he enjoys. He manages just fine though and returns with unfamiliar but safe foodstuffs. (More on the exciting topic of grocery shopping later – I bet you can’t wait!)

We make our way to Ponte dell’Accdemia where we meet Vinnie. He’s our photo walk tour guide for the morning and I won’t say anymore except that we had a fabulous time wandering through parts of Venice we’d never have found ourselves. Of course there are so many bridges and canals it’s hard not to take the sorts of shots that Venice is famous for.

Here are some photos I took along the way …

Posted in Photography

Day #10: Basel – Venice

Samstag 30 Dezember 2017

We ate a huge breakfast as it’d be our only meal till tonight, then hopped on a tram for a quick spin around the city. We hopped off at a deserted outer suburban stop and hopped on another one going in a different direction.

Fortunately it was going in a direction we needed to go in.

We checked the board when we arrived at the train station – conveniently located across the road from our hotel – to discover our train was 10 minutes ritardo. We had 40 minutes to change trains in Milan, so still do-able.

This train was slower than other ones we’d traveled on in France and England, and stopped much more frequently. At each stop we became a little more ritardo, and there was mention of technical issues.

In between stops though we travelled through snow-covered landscapes and mountains in the distance that are far bigger than mountains back home.

I was glad to be travelling by train and not hiking!

At Monza we had a 30 minute delay (unspecified and ongoing ‘technical issues’ apparently) – Tim started investigating other options for getting to Venice from Milan, but we arrived in Milan with five minutes to run from platform two to platform five – plenty of time!

A steward came around offering free drinks and biscuits – but my Italian is so bad that I smiled politely and he moved on. After, I might add, an extended conversation with the three other people in my four-seater compartment (Tim was in the one next door – weird seat numbering), where I think they talked about the Australian sitting amongst them too stupid to learn some Italian for her long-awaited return to Venice.

Venice, and one more means of transport today … trams in Basel, trains through Switzerland and Italy, vaporetto in Venice.

Thankfully our huge breakfast had sustained us. Even more thankfully that there was a kebab shop next to our apartment because if we’d had to go further afield to search for food things might have started to get ugly!

Yes, even more ugly than a crowded kebab shop late on a Saturday night where the only option for eating in was standing at a small though tall red plastic table. Not our finest gourmet experience, it has to be said!

Posted in Photography

Day #9: Paris – Basel

Vendredi 29 Decembre 2017

It’s with great reluctance we say au revoir to our Bastille loft this morning. It really has been a great place to come back to each evening – so spacious and warm and comfortable.

But we’re heading east to see yet another city in yet another country and so saying au revoir is inevitable. We can certainly see ourselves coming back though!

We decide to walk to Gare Lyon – it isn’t far and it’s an opportunity to see a different part of the city. There’s no passport and security checks here as there was when going to the UK and that certainly makes the beginning of our next train trip much more pleasant and stress free.

Without any fuss we’re heading off through the suburbs. Ludovico Einaudi provides the soundscape once more – the exquisite delicacy of the piano in Run is a fine counterpoint to the industrial nature of the cityscape flashing past outside. The trains are so comfortable and roomy and the leisurely nature of train travel (despite hitting a top speed of 320kms per hour) makes moving from one place (city or country) to another a seamless experience that has a certain rhythm and flow – an experience I particularly enjoy.

We are heading to Venice but have decided to stay overnight in Basel, a city sitting almost at the juncture of Switzerland, Germany, and France. If we’d had more time we’d have stood on that spot of confluence, but our time was short and the helpful man at the tourist centre gave us loads of ideas for things to see in Basel itself.

We had designed it as a stop over only, but found it a lovely place to visit. The old town is gorgeous – and that’s where we were when it snowed a little (amazingly exciting experience – so amazing I made a video). We wandered through the old town, watched large groups of young Swiss people dance outside the Cathedral with some nuns, were carried over the Rhine on a boat connected to a wire (which stops it floating off in the current), wandered through the Christmas market, were amazed by the redness of the Rathaus, came across a food van selling spinat borek so had to try one (delicious), bought some Swiss chocolate for a colleague of Tim’s (which he ate, so he had to buy some more!), and miraculously found our way back to the hotel (well, when I say miraculously I really mean ‘thanks Google maps’) where we drank tea like the posh people around us and listened to the piano player, trying not to doze as that would have seemed rude.

I sat there thinking how fortunate we are to have this experience – to spend even small amounts of time in other cities, to see different cultures, to experience different ways of life. And to know that I can handle the cold – and not whinge about it! Not even once 😜.

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Anyone would think I hadn’t seen snow before! Well, I haven’t had it fall on me before and certainly not in a town!!

Posted in Photography

Day #6 – Cheddar – Bristol – London – Paris

Tuesday 26 December 2017

Our whistlestop trip to Cheddar was over and we headed back to Bristol via Cheddar Gorge. It had rained overnight – hailed even if the ice on Melanie’s car was anything to go by – and there was plenty of water lying about. Mel had just finished saying that the particular road we were on sometimes floods, when we crested the hill and saw the flooded road ahead of us.

The Gorge is wild and rugged and we’ve decided we need to come back in the warmer month to explore it more fully.

What a treat it was to spend a few days with family when we’re so far away from home – a real shame we couldn’t spend more time in England to catch up with Aunty Carol. Next time!

We arrived at the bus terminal with plenty of time to spare, and were fortunate enough to catch the earlier bus, meaning we weren’t so squeezed for time in London getting from Victoria Cross to St Pancras. Our Uber driver took us past Buckingham Palace but we didn’t have enough time to pop in.

Buckingham Palace from the back of the Uber

Why don’t we have trains like the Eurostar in Australia? It’s fast, it’s clean, it’s comfortable … we hurtled across the English countryside and then the French countryside in comfort and before we knew it were back in Paris.

Adrian, our AirBnB host for this part of our stay in Paris, had given us detailed instructions for getting to his place from Gare du Nord and despite it being dark by the time we arrived we found our way through cobbled laneways and the early dinner crowd with ease.

Djidji – Adrian’s assistant – was there to welcome us and show us all the features of the apartment. She spoke enthusiastic, but broken English, which was still much better than our French, and we eventually worked things out.

The apartment was amazing, with the world’s comfiest bed – if you’re heading to Paris in the near future and looking for a fabulous place to stay let me know and I’ll give you the details.

 

Posted in Photography, Travel

Day #4 – Paris – London – Bristol – Cheddar

Dimanche 24 Decembre 2017

Christmas Eve.

To be completely honest I was expecting Paris to be more Christmas-y than it was. Maybe we don’t go into those areas that were Christmas-y, and maybe the sex shops of Montmartre didn’t need Christmas baubles to lure customers in, but still it was a touch disappointing. I’d heard so much about Paris at Christmas and how pretty it was.

And there was no snow.

Yes, I know. I hate the cold, but snow is pretty and that would have made up for it. Wouldn’t it?

Spending Christmas on the other side of the world is all well and good, but I’ve not had a non-family Christmas before and so, when we were planning our trip, I asked my niece Melanie and her partner Craig if we could barge into their Christmas celebrations.

‘Yes, absolutely’ was the quick response, and so we added one more country to our itinerary.

Melanie and Craig live in Cheddar, a small village in the south-west of England. The closest big city is Bristol, so we made our way there (Eurostar – Uber – National Express bus – Melanie in her blue Ford) … I’m not sure what was faster, the Eurostar or Melanie, but we made it safely, although I have to admit to having my eyes shut most of the way so I didn’t get to see much of the countryside between Bristol and Cheddar.

I can’t remember if this was taken on the Eurostar or in Mel’s car!

I’d not been to Cheddar before so was keen to see it, but as it gets dark at 4pm, that wasn’t going to be today.

Mel’s place was Christmas-y … a giant tree, baubles galore (including the one from New Zealand my sister Debbie had entrusted into my keeping), and if it’s possible, more presents than baubles.

Bruce, the rabbit, had made a start on opening some of the presents, but he only likes the paper … and the tags.

Another early night for us – a combination of jet lag and the fact it’s dark so early (4pm – that’s the time it gets dark, not the time we went to bed!!) … this time in a bed that wasn’t made of concrete!

 

Posted in Life, Photography, Travel

Day #3 – Paris

Samedi 23 Decembre 2017

When Tim mentioned he’d like to go to Paris for Christmas, I have to admit that my response was not one of enthusiasm or excitement.

Christmas in Paris means winter.
Winter means cold.
I hate the cold.

No, you don’t understand.
I really hate it!

But I said yes anyway – who could say no to Tim’s obvious enthusiasm and excitement, and I made a promise to myself to limit my whingeing about the cold to a bare minimum.

Luckily for Tim, it hasn’t been too cold so far. 10C each day – which I’ve been able to live with quite comfortably. It helps that we stocked up on merino tops, merino thermals, merino socks, merino buffs … and, for me, fur-lined boots. Sharon, a colleague from work, lent me her duck down, knee-length puffy jacket and matching beanie … so with multiple layers, and thus, nowhere for the cold to touch my skin, I’ve actually remained surprisingly warm.

Luckily.

For both of us!

The l’Orangerie was on the agenda for today – a Christmas gift from Daniel and Cathy – and sitting (calmly – as the sign asked us to) taking in Monet’s waterlillies was a fabulous way to spend the morning. One of the things I love about Paris is the ready access to artworks we often don’t get to see in Australia – except for travelling exhibitions. Downstairs from Monet’s waterlillies were works by Picasso, Modigliani, Renoir and others … a visual treat!

We find our way to No Glu – a gluten free cafe (thanks Michelle) – for lunch (our first meal for the day) and do a lot of Google translating to work out the menu before the waiter brings us the English version.

It’s started to rain but we are warm and dry inside our layers as we make our way to the Louvre – ready to laugh our way around it. Cedrik is our guide – a historian and stand up comedian. It’s an entertaining way to see key works in the world’s (second?) largest museum – apparently, if you were to spend two minutes looking at each of the art works, you’d be there for 150 days!

It’s an overwhelming place – so much history, so much art, so many people and selfie sticks and pushing to get a photo with the Mona Lisa. We didn’t push, but we also didn’t get selfies with her. Her smile was enough thanks.

On our way to and from the Louvre, we make some of our own art works – works of a photographic nature. Here’s a small sample of mine. As you can see, it’s a very wintery day!

From Pont Neuf looking towards Tour Eiffel

 

Looking from Richelieu Passage into the Musee du Louvre

 

The French Institute – home to the Immortals