Tag Archive: beautiful


Day 62: Berlin

Berlin is impossible to tackle in only two days.

We were very ambitious though and decided that if we only had two days we were going to make the most of them, from dawn till dusk.

Our first destination was Checkpoint Charlie. It is one of the more famous points of crossing between West Berlin and East Berlin.

The sign says, “You are entering the American Sector. Carrying weapons off duty forbidden. Obey traffic rules”.

Looking towards the East.

We walked up towards the checkpoint coming from the East, which was a good choice, because just before reaching the checkpoint there was an outdoor history exhibit. Learning about history in the safety of a classroom is always informative, but actually standing where the events took place gave me chills. Looking from East to West, I really felt like everything was suddenly put into perspective.

Throughout the city there are different colored bricks laid into the road. These trace the outline of where the wall used to stand. There Checkpoint Charlie museum is just to the left.

The Checkpoint Charlie museum was a little overwhelming. Imagine the entire history of WW II to the end of the Cold War, in four different languages, covering every single wall of the museum from top to bottom. I tried to read everything, but halfway through the first room my eyes were already swimming.

The best part of the museum was actually the stories about how people crossed the wall without getting caught. Some people swam, some people used zip-lines, others dug tunnels, one group actually built an entire hot air balloon and flew across the wall. The most popular seemed to be hiding in cars. The examples went from simply hiding in the trunk, to turning someone into the equivalent of a car seat. It was inspiring to see the lengths people would go to for freedom.

The last Kremlin Flag, hung on the side of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum.

After Checkpoint Charlie, we headed down the road a little until we came upon the museum called “Topography of Terrors”. Part of the wall has been left up in this area, and below the wall is some of the remnants of the headquarters of the Gestapo and the SS. All along the bottom of the wall is some more history, this time centered more around WW II and the cruelty of the Nazi party.

The museum and the old headquarters is below street level, while the wall is above.

A part of the wall left standing just above the headquarters.

Next we walked to the Jewish Museum, which is a must see for anyone who goes to Berlin. In fact, it was probably one of my favorite parts of the whole trip.

The first part of the museum is the most moving. It was built by Daniel Libeskind, who had a vision for the museum as a place where not only the things inside the building are important, but the building itself is critical to the understanding of Jewish history.

Upon entering the museum we had to walk down a flight of stairs that opened up into a crisscrossing of distorting hallways. Although the ceiling of these hallways are level, the floor is not. This made it seem as if the further I walked down the hall, the smaller it was getting. Libeskind calls these hallways Axis. There is the Axis of the Holocaust, Axis of Exile and Axis of Continuity.

The Axis of the Holocaust is a hallway with stories of those who had been influenced by the Holocaust. At the end of the hallway is an almost invisible door that leads into the Holocaust Tower. The Holocaust Tower is something I will never forget. The walls of the tower are completely smooth and there is nothing at all inside except for a small slit in the roof that allows only the faintest amount of daylight into the tower. The walls of the tower slope in until they reach a point directly under the light, which allowed me to stand between two of the walls and feel them pressing in on me. It was quite except for the hush of cars outside on the street. Standing there in the dark is hopefully the closest I will ever come to knowing what it was like to be trapped, to know that you were probably going to die, and yet the world is moving on without you and doesn’t even know or care that you exist.

The Axis of Exile led outside to a garden filled with blocks of stone. The ground was tilted and the stones were also angled, just enough to make it hard to walk without getting dizzy. Again, I could almost feel what it must have been like to be kicked out of your country, to flee, and to feel as if you were in exile. Sometimes I would see other people in the garden, but then they would disappear and it was like they had never been there in the first place.

However, there are trees growing on top of these stones, in which I felt represented hope and a new opportunity.

Lastly was the Axis of Continuity. This lead up the Sackler Staircase, which from the bottom looked as if it went on forever. This axis leads to two millennia of German Jewish history. However, before reaching the history exhibit, Libeskind forces everyone to walk through what he calls a Void. Voids are areas of the museum with nothing in them. They are painted completely white and there are many of them throughout the museum, but only one is open to the public. They represent death, which can’t really be represented by anything in this world. I felt like these voids really allowed each person who entered to fill it with their own feelings and beliefs about death. For everyone death is something different and therefore it shouldn’t be represented in any particular way.

Sackler Staircase from the top.

Walking through the only open void, the Memory Void, led us to an exhibit created by Menashe Kadishman. This exhibit is created out of 10,000 faces welded out of pieces of metal and dedicated to all the victims of war and violence. They are scattered on the floor and those who would like to can walk upon them, but not quietly. As people walked on the faces the clang of sharp metal rang throughout the entire void. I believe it was created to show people that no matter how carefully you might step your actions will still effect those around you.

The faces of the Memory Void.

The last and final axis was the Axis of Continuity. It was the permanent exhibit about Jewish history, culture and traditions.

After the museum we were all starving, so we went out to search for a little known restaurant called Zur Letzten Instanzwhich one of Addison’s roommates from Berlin had suggested. Allegedly, Napoleon Bonaparte ate there at one point, but really the food itself was worth the visit. The dishes were on the more expensive side, but the portions were large and it was probably one of the best meals I’ve had so far at a restaurant.

The restaurant is tucked into a side street, keeping it off the main track.

Inside was very cute and cozy. We were probably one of the few tourists there. The plaque on the table shows where Napoleon supposedly sat.

After lunch we still had half a day left, so we went to the DDR museum. This was another of my favorite museums. Unlike most museums, this one allowed you to interact with everything. There was nothing you couldn’t play with and although it did have some interesting history, it mostly talked about how people lived in the DDR, which I find really interesting.

By the time we left the museum it was dark and everything was closed, so we caught a tram back to our hostel, stopping briefly to check out the left over festivities from Oktoberfest.

The fest was located on Alexanderplatz. It wasn’t very crowded, but most of the stands were still out.

The Radio Tower.

Ari and I couldn’t resist the smell coming from the candy/popcorn stand, so we bought chocolate covered strawberries.

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Day 60: Trümmelbach Falls

The following day we woke up to the pouring rain, so we figured it would be the perfect day to go visit one of the caves in the area. We arrived just in time to catch the bus, but when we asked the driver for directions, he informed us that the caves were closed because of flooding.

That little setback didn’t stop us. We had also wanted to visit Trümmelbach Falls, so we took a train there instead.

That day was overcast and never stopped raining, but we weren’t put out by it, considering that we all know what Oregon weather is like.

As we drove along the road, the mountains towered above us with small waterfalls throughout the cliffs. Some of the falls even seemed to empty into nothing, becoming only a misty cloud halfway up the mountain.

Once we arrived at the falls the surrounding area was so beautiful that I took out my camera and turned it on to take some pictures. It was only then that I realized I had made one of the biggest camera mistakes one could make. Charging the battery and then not putting it back in the camera.

At first I was really upset that I had forgotten my battery, but later I realized it was probably for the best, because we got completely soaked through.

Despite my camera mishap, the falls were amazing and I can’t even believe there is such a place in the world. This particular falls isn’t massive like Niagara or even that tall. From a distance it’s almost impossible to even see the falls, but this is because most of the falls isn’t outside, but inside the mountain.

There are ten different “stops” along the falls. The first eight or so can be reached by an elevator, which you can ride up and then walk down a path along the falls. The last few lookout points have to be walked, but in reality the entire hike up and down only takes a half hour if no stops are made.

Because we wanted to get some exercise and breathe in some fresh air, we decided to just walk the entire thing. The first and probably most impressive stop along the falls is just to the right of the elevator. We walked up the short flight of stairs not really expecting much, but when we rounded the corner we were met by a massive roaring spout of water shooting horizontally from a hole in the mountainside. It was spectacular!

We stood there getting completely wet, but all we could do was look at each other in amazement and laugh. There was one corner where we could stand right next to the spout of water and feel the wind and mist. It almost felt like we were standing directly under the falls.

Half of the hike is outside, while the other half is inside a sort of crack in the mountain. Inside the mountain there are lights all along the stairs and corridors, so it was easy to walk and the stairs were nice and even, making it an easy hike. It was really cool to see how the waterfall had carved a tunnel right through the mountain. Sometimes, we were so deep in the middle of the mountain that all we could see was a slim crack of sunlight high above.

Afterwards, we were all completely soaked through our jeans and in Ari’s case her purse. My purse seems to not only be theft proof, but also water proof, which was lucky because I had my battery-less camera inside.

That night we had another wonderful dinner and we watched “Whose Line” while drinking hot chocolate and listening to the rain outside.

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The following day we boarded another train (this time everyone made it safe and sound) and headed up to Berlin.

We arrived later that night and checked into our room at The Circus. It was a really nice hostel, with very friendly people as well as secure and clean. We decided against going out that night, because we were so tired, so we ate unlimited pasta served at the hostel until we were full and then called it an early night.

The lounge of the Circus

Day 59: Jungfraujoch

I had never heard of Interlaken before going there, so it was all thanks to Ari that I even made it there in the first place! It’s almost a given that if you go to Switzerland there are going to be mountains, and big ones none the less, so I wasn’t surprised when Ari informed us that just an hour from Interlaken was one of the highest train stations in Europe.

The station is called Jungfraujoch and it stands 3,454 meters high or 11,333 feet.

The night before we had asked one of the employees at the hostel, which day was going to be nicer. She told us immediately to go on Monday, because the following day was going to have horrible weather.

Monday morning, after a fitful night of sleep (mostly everyone in the room was snoring that night), we woke up to a bright day. There were a few clouds in the sky that covered the mountains, but even before we had finished breakfast they had begun to clear away.

There are multiple ways to reach Jungfraujoch. All throughout the little valleys there are a number of small villages, all of which are connected by train. Admittedly, getting to Jungfraujoch was pretty expensive (over 100 swiss francs), but we got to ride on the train the entire way up and none of the destinations points at the top cost any money. However, not everyone who visits Jungfraujoch has to take the trains all the way up. If we had had more time in Interlaken, hiking part of the way up would have been wonderful. There are plenty of hiking trails around the area that make it pretty simple, but as it was, we traveled by train all the way up, from Interlaken, to Lauterbrunnen, switched trains to Kleine Scheidigg, and finally boarded one last train to Jungfraujoch.

The entire journey from bottom to top is amazing and breathtaking. At first we were low in the mountains and our view consisted of rolling hills overshadowed by giant craggy cliffs, but as we climbed up the side of the mountain the world began to unfold around us. Suddenly we could see hundreds of peaks stretching out and many small villages tucked safely inside the valleys.

Looking back down the hill from where we came, all we could see was bright green grass and trees, but looking ahead, the landscape drastically changed and suddenly all I could see was snow, crumbling rocks and barren land.

About half way up we were able to spot the end station, it’s so high and yet it still doesn’t reach the summit! On the right of the Jungfraujoch station is Jungfrau at 4,158 meters or 13,642 feet. To the left of the station is Mönch, which is a little shorter at 4,107 meters or 13,475 feet.

Once we reached Kleine Scheidegg the train basically dissapears into the mountain and the rest of the way up we had no view. There are, however, two spots where the train stops and we were allowed to leave the train to see the view. One of the stops was called Eigerwand (Eiger Wall) and the other Eismeer (Sea of Ice).

View from Eigerwand.

As we climbed it was easy to feel the difference in temperature, luckily the train was heated, although the one before hadn’t been. After about an hour and a half of riding we finally arrived at Jungfraujoch. The tunnel we arrived in was long and dark and as I stepped out of the train, it hadn’t quite hit me just how high up in the mountains I was.

At Jungfraujoch there are a number of things people can do, but in general people stick to the “guided” tour. I say guided, but really there were only signs telling us where to go. After exiting the train we had to walk down a long tunnel until we came to the Jungfrau Panorama. Basically this is a giant room with wonky projector screens that show you what you’re going to see outside. It was kinda cool, but at the same time I would have liked to keep the view a surprise. However, the projections of the view, as you can probably imagine, are nothing like the actual view itself.

To get to the very top of Jungfraujoch we had to take an elevator to the Sphinx. The Sphinx is the platform outside on the mountain. It has a inside viewing area with two levels and then an outside viewing area with a large deck. It was one of the most amazing and absolutely freezing views I have ever experienced. I had dressed appropriately for going to Switzerland, but I hadn’t realized that we would actually be going so high into the mountains and I forgot a hat or a scarf. Despite my lack of hat and scarf, when I stepped outside I completely forgot about how cold I was.

The Aletsch Glacier

Standing there I felt so insignificant, just looking at the Aletsch Glacier and imagining the sheer power it must take to carve through mountains. I took so many pictures of the same view that my fingers were beginning to hurt from the cold and I could already feel my ears turning red and my cheeks stinging, but we must have stayed out there for at least twenty minutes. We had been completely lucky and there were barely any clouds in the sky, so we could see for miles and miles on end. It was the perfect day.

From the Sphinx we were apparently suppose to be able to see France, Germany and Italy, although I was all turned around and really couldn’t tell which way each country was.

A helicopter far off in the distance. There were also a few jets flying overhead. They would circle the mountain and then come around and fly over Jungfraujoch, probably showing off for the tourists.

On the opposite side from the glacier. One of my favorite things was the low-lying clouds hiding in the valleys.

After we had officially all frozen into icicles we decided to head back inside and check out the rest of the area.

Exiting the Sphinx, the tour signs led us down a long hallway that came out in a room with a giant snowglobe. This part of Jungfraujoch is called Alpine Sensation. Basically, it was a long tunnel full of lights and music, and some history.

The giant snowglobe that would change from day to night and then through the seasons too.

The second thing I was most looking forward to at Jungfraujoch, after the view, was the Ice Palace. To enter the palace we had to walk down a flight of stairs and then step into a very long tunnel completely made of ice. It was really exciting and fun to slide around on the ice with our shoes and walk through little tunnels made completely of ice.

The entrance to the palace.

A small ice tunnel that I could basically touch the roof of with my head if I stood up straight.

An example of the ice sculptures that were placed throughout the palace.

After goofing around in the ice palace we headed to the last stop on the tour, the Plateau. The Plateau is off to the side of the Berghaus, or the main building, and it allows people to walk out onto the mountain. There were ropes on either side of the Plateau, but it was actually a little precarious walking out there, because it was so slippery. Right outside the door the snow sloped up to the Plateau, so we had to shuffle our way inch by inch until we could reach flat ground. It was hilarious seeing so many people shuffling along up the hill. Luckily no one slipped.

The small hill everyone had to climb to reach the Plateau. It wasn’t actually that steep, but ice makes everything tricky.

After we took some photos Ari and I decided to have a race down the hill, so we both sat down and using our hands pushed ourselves down the hill on our butt. It was a safer and much more fun way of getting down.

Completely frozen and exhausted from the altitude, we decided to get lunch at one of the restaurants in the Berghaus. We were lucky, because after we were done eating the Plateau was closed, maybe because it was too icy.

We ended the day by traveling back down the mountain. This time we went through Grindewald instead of Lauterbrunnen, because Ari and I wanted to explore some of the smaller villages. We stopped for a half hour in Grindelwald, giving us just enough time to walk down the main street and enjoy the disappearing sun.

Walking the small streets of Grindelwald.

We arrived back at the hostel late that night and thanks to a special deal we had with the hostel we were served a three course meal at one of the local restaurants called Des Alpes. It was so delicious that we decided to return the following night. For one of my dinners I ate Rösti, which is a traditional Swiss dish made out of potatoes, onions, cheese and bacon. Yum!

All in all our trip to Jungfraujoch was a day that fell perfectly into place. We got lucky with the weather, we were able to walk out onto the Plateau before it closed, and we were served a cheap and delicious dinner.

St. Stephens is a central point in Vienna. There is nowhere you can go in the first district and not see the South Tower looming above the rest of the buildings. Therefore, I thought I would dedicate an entire post to St. Stephens Cathedral.

St. Stephens was built in 1137, during the rule of the Babenbergers. Originally it was built in the Romanesque style, but later it was rebuilt in the Gothic style and also Baroque.

I’ve visited St. Stephens a number of times already, simply because there is so much to do in the area. St. Stephens sits right in the middle of a huge shopping street called Kärntnerstraße. All around the cathedral are clothes shops, food stands, restaurants, ice cream, and always plenty of tourists. On a nice day, I’ve often walked from the Institute past St. Stephens and eventually I’m only one U-Bahn station away from my apartment.

The front of St. Stephens.

The lower part of the front is Romanesque, but the upper part, including the small towers, is Gothic.

Inside of St. Stephens, much of the front section is Gothic. It’s easy to tell, because of the intricate details carved from stone.

I love the criss-crossing lines on the ceiling. I think they add so much character to the building and make the ceiling look like it was put together like a puzzle.

The pillar supporting the pulpit. It was like a maze of interlocking pillars filled with small swirls and tiny sculptures. I can’t even begin to image the skill and steady hand it must have taken to create such a masterpiece.

Below is the architect, named Anton Pilgram. He can be seen just under the pulpit, peeking out from a small window.

The main altar of St. Stephens. It was redone in Baroque.

To the right of the central nave is Friedrich III. He was Holy Roman Emperor and also Archduke of Austria. He was the last emperor to be crowned in Rome by the Pope. Friedrich III, along with his son Maximilian I, gained a lot of territory for empire through marriage. Also buried in St. Stephens are, Prince Eugene of Savoy, Rudolf IV, and some victims of the Black Plague.

St. Stephens has two towers, but there is a huge difference between them. The South Tower is much higher than the North Tower. In 1359 Rudolf I * ordered the construction of the South Tower. It instantly became a symbol of Vienna. Later on the construction of the North Tower was initiated, but it was never finished.

Legend goes that one of the masons, working on St. Stephen’s North Tower, was in love with the architect’s daughter. Her name was Maria. The mason asked her father for his approval, but the father said that the mason could only marry Maria if he could make the North Tower just as high and as beautiful as the South Tower in one year. As the year progressed the mason realized he would never complete the tower in time and so he made a deal with the devil. The devil promised to help if the mason didn’t speak any holy names. The mason agreed, but one day, in excitement, he called his love’s name. Therefore, he was struck on the head by a scaffold and the North Tower was never finished.

In reality, most people believe that the architect just ran out of money, but the legend sounds cooler.

 The South Tower

The North Tower

Anyone can get to the top of both towers. From what I’ve heard, the North Tower has an elevator, but I decided to brave the South Tower and climb all the way to the top, step by step. Annika and Addison also came with me and together we made the climb.

It was actually a very intense workout. The staircase was always spiraling to the right, which made for a dizzying climb and the steps weren’t large enough for my entire foot to step on. The other tourists climbing the tower made for a difficult climb too. I often had to stop and squish against the wall so that others could pass and for some reason there were a lot of people who thought it would be a good idea to bring ALL their shopping bags up to the top with them. It wasn’t.

Climbing all that way was very claustrophobic. The stairs never seemed to end, there were hardly any windows and our voices echoed off the walls, making it hard to tell if there were people above or below. At one point, I felt like I had been climbing forever and that I would have to keep climbing forever. It was a little nerve-racking.

Our first resting point.

We emerged from the stairs, into a room full of windows. I’m assuming a bell used to hang there, but the room was empty except for a few gargoyles. Off to the right the stairs continued to the top.

The view was worth the exhausting climb. One of the things I love about St. Stephens is the tiled roof. I’ve never seen anything like it on a church before and I think the zig-zags are really fun and bright.

The Prater ferris wheel.

From St. Stephens it probably takes 15 minutes to get to the Prater by U-Bahn.

One of the decorations on top of the church. It looks like it might be the symbol for the Habsburgs, the two-headed eagle.

The roof of the church had a row of these cute little windows.

Climbing down the tower was just as hard, but mostly because I got really dizzy. I was constantly turning in a circle, but to my eyes it looked like I was never getting anywhere, because the steps never changed.

The back section of the roof has tiles that create the two-headed eagle of the Habsburgs.

The back of St. Stephens. This is where all the carriages wait for tourists.

Detail on the North Tower. You can also go to the top of this tower, this one has an elevator, so there’s no need to climb.

There are a number of gargoyles all along the outside of St. Stephens. Some of them are still in really good shape, while others might be missing a head. Many of the statues from St. Stephens and the original glass windows are now in the Wien Museum.

On one of our excursions our professor said that St. Stephens is always being worked on and there’s hardly ever a time when you can see the entire building. Right now the South Tower is being spiffed up, so much of the bottom half is covered. Often you can see workers up on the very top of the steeple.

EDIT 10/17/12: I’m still learning about all the Habsburgs and since they’re all named basically the same thing sometimes I get confused. Rudolf I was the first Habsburg ruler, but Rudolf IV was actually the one called “The Founder”.

EDIT 11/10/12:

Addison and I decided to visit the crypt under St. Stephens, which is a guided tour only. The first half we were in the “new” part of the crypt, which had the sarcophagi of Rudolf IV. Many of the Habsburg’s organs are also kept in the crypt separate from their bodies, which are in the Imperial Crypt just a few blocks away.

We then headed further down into the ground to the older part of the crypt, which is where victims of the plague are buried. We walked down a long dark tunnel until we came to the first open room. The room we stood in was completely surrounded in stone, and during WW II it was used as a bomb shelter. The creepy thing is that it was once a room that held bodies and in the floor were still some bones that had been ground into the dirt.

There was a small room just to the left of that, which we could see through an grated window. In the room were piles of bones and the last remnants of some coffins. People actually used to pay to be buried in this room, but over time their coffins rotted away and now it’s mostly bones.

Next we made our way past an open hole in the ground where they threw the bodies of plague victims. It astounds me that they buried people right in the center of the city. The bones completely filled the hole and were beginning to pile up to the opening. Last we came to another room, where they had begun to stack the bones making a wall of skeletons, so that more people could be buried there.

It was an interesting, yet morbid tour.

As a part of our program we have to do some community service work. Lucky for us, the Institute has some good connections and Friday we were given the chance to work in a vineyard run by Josef Regner.

We woke up early that morning so that we could catch a train that would take us about 45 minutes outside of Vienna to the Weinviertel, which means wine quarter. It was promising to be a good day, but we were all a little nervous about what we would be doing. From what I’ve heard, harvesting grapes is a delicate process and so I thought that perhaps we might only get to watch as the professional workers picked the grapes.

As soon as we arrived, I realized that I had been dead wrong. In a rush, we all piled into a van, which was driven by Josef’s wife Anita and co-piloted by her dog, Lila. She drove us directly to the field. Right as we got out we were given clippers for the vines, quickly shown how to cut the grapes and then we were off!

The first field we worked in.

It was one of the most enjoyable ways to spend a Friday. The sun was shinning, we had a wonderful view, and every once in a while we were able to taste the delicious grapes. All around us were other workers, some were from Austria, but others were also from Slovakia and Hungary. We ended up working for about two hours straight and probably got around six rows done. It was really soothing to stand out in the sun and cut grapes, just working with our hands and not really thinking about much else.

By the end of the first session my hands were completely covered in grape juice and super sticky. Everyone piled around the van and we all took turns rinsing off our hands with water from a bucket.

All the grapes we picked! With everyone working together we must have gotten at least three wagons full of grapes by the end of the day.

We all had to pile into the back of the van, which was really dark and had a tiny lightbulb in the corner that lit only a portion of the van. While we drove, I talked to a couple who lived one town over. They were really interested in the wine grown in Oregon and also about our stay in Austria. Soon we arrived at the Heuriger, which is a small specialized tavern in Austria and serves new wines. When we arrived Anita had cooked us pumpkin soup, lasagna and a variation of vegetable salads.

Below is only a portion of the Heuriger. There is a house to the left and also a little shop out of sight. The actual dinning area was quite large and could have probably fit 50 to 60 people, but we were all able to fit at one table. They also had a little garden with pigs in a pen.

After lunch we headed back out to work, this time we worked up on a hill, which gave us a wonderful view of the entire valley. While we worked, Anita’s grandfather kept us company, telling us about friends and family he had in America and also scaring us with a giant grasshopper. He was the perfect example of a cute old Austrian man. He wore a little hat with a feather in the side and he was a little hunched from all the long years working in the fields.

From our vantage point we could see a little bit of Vienna off in the distance, but mostly our view consisted of rolling fields of grass and pumpkins.

After another hour or two of work we headed back to the Heuriger, finished with the day’s work. We had a delicious cake for dessert and afterwards, when everyone else had left, the grandfather was kind enough to show us around the town. We walked up the one hill in the entire town, passing by the school (which is apparently where he was born) and headed towards the wine cellar.

To get to the wine cellars all we had to do was walk down Kellergasse, which means cellar alley.

When we arrived the owner of the vineyard, Josef, was a little busy cleaning the cellar, so the grandfather led us around the back. As soon as I rounded the corner I felt like I had been placed on the set of The Hobbit, we were led up a small pebbled trail towards a tiny door placed in the side of a hill. Once we went inside we walked down steep stone steeps to go down into the cellar.

The entire cellar was made completely out of dirt. I touched one of the walls and it was moist and earthy. The tunnels leading to each individual cellar we small, long and dark, only lit by little bulbs at our feet.

We were led through the different sections of the cellar, one had fermenting tanks, one with barrels full of wine, one was a room with a giant table, a fireplace and a cool midlevel looking chandelier and another had bottled wine just waiting to be tasted. Eventually, we reached another flight of steps leading back outside and I was surprised to find that we had basically walked through the entire hill.

  After entering the cellar at a completely different spot, we came out of the ground using the door through the second house on the left.

We then got to taste test Sturm, which is wine stopped early in the fermentation process. Sturm is one of Austria’s specialties. It is low in alcohol content, looks a little foggy, and can either be sweet or sour. While we drank we watched the grapes we picked go into the cellar.

After test-tasting we thanked both Josef and the grandfather and headed to the train station. To our surprise it was already 5 in the afternoon! We were all exhausted, but full of delicious food, Sturm, and the satisfaction of a hard day’s work.

The following day our tour was all about Jewish history in Prague. The picture below is where the old Jewish ghetto once was, although it is now one of the most expensive streets for shopping in Prague.

We walked further down this street until we reached the Jewish Museum. In this area there was the Klausen Synagogue, Pinkas Synagogue, the Ceremonial Hall, and the Old Jewish Cemetery.

The entrance to the Jewish Museum.

As we entered the museum we first entered the Pinkas Synagogue, which is now used as a memorial for the 80,000 Jews from Bohemia and Moravia who died in the Holocaust. It was a very humbling experience. The names were stretched along the entire room, from top to bottom and continued up to the second floor. The simplicity of the memorial was what really made it hit hard and the sheer number of names was too horrible to imagine. Another part of the memorial was a room full of pictures drawn by children who were being held at Terezín or Theresienstadt Concentration Camp. This was even more difficult to see.

After the memorial, we made our way over to the Old Jewish Cemetery. This cemetery is not only extremely large for a cemetery in the middle of a city, but it also has twelve layers of graves, with about 6 hands of space between each level.

Rabbi Loew is buried in this cemetery. In a legend Loew created a golem to protect the Jewish ghetto. This golem is now said to be resting in the attic of the Old-New Jewish Synagogue waiting to protect the Jewish community if need be.

The exit to the cemetery leads to a back road and at the end of this road is the Old-New Synagogue. This synagogue is built on the old level of the city, Charles IV was forced to raise the city after it continued to flood.

In the vicinity there is also the Spanish Synagogue. This was an amazing building and even though the exterior is amazing, it just doesn’t do the interior justice. Once again, pictures were not allowed to be taken inside, but the entire room was covered in gold with millions of tiny interlocking lines and flowers. The dome was made up of lines that created a sort of mesh or net which spiraled slowly into the center.

The upper balcony of the synagogue was dedicated to the history of Jews in Prague. It spoke about what life was like in concentration camps, but it also focused on the accomplishments of individual Jewish artists or authors.

After this museum we went just across the street to a really wonderful and authentic Czech restaurant. We all had a delicious dish with a Pilsner Urquell on the side, which comes from the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic is known for good beer, in fact they also have a Budweiser, but it is different from what we have in America and apparently, there is a deal between the two companies not to sell their beers in the same place.

After lunch our tour was over so we decided to head over to the Jerusalem Synagogue on our own. This synagogue was a little further from the others, but still only a five minute walk. The synagogue is squished between two other buildings and on a very small side street. It was a little hidden and if it hadn’t been for the impressive blue arch and the red and gold stripes, we might have passed it by.

After touring the old Jewish ghetto, we decided to head back to the Old Town Square one last time before we had to get on the bus and ride four hours back to Vienna.

The two-tailed lion is the symbol of Prague.

There were a lot of symbols like the ones above and below. We ended up seeing a lot of these on the older buildings, because they were used as a sort of address system when the houses originally had no numbers.

Many of the buildings in Prague were painted on. This one was on one of the buildings on Old Town Square. Some of them depicted entire stories!

Our last day was probably the best day for street performers. This band had a sort of southern twang to it. Their music filled the entire square and they had a huge crowd clapping and laughing along with them.

We also came upon a woman creating huge bubbles. It seemed like the boy in the red might have been her son. He would often stand up and chase after the bubbles, while she tried to make them pop over his head.

Day 44: On Top of the World

Our second day in Prague was another day of touring around. Our plan was to ride up to the Prague Castle and then slowly meander our way back down.

Riding to the castle, we were able to catch one of the old street cars. They are probably one of the cooler ways to get around the city, Vienna has some of these too, but the ones in Prague were very different. It seemed to me that these particular trams were made so that no one would have to interact with anyone else. There was only one seat next to each window while the entire middle of the tram was completely open. Everyone in our group found it very amusing and to me it seemed a little unpractical, but the rattling trams really brought life to the city.

Once we reached the top, the view was amazing! Even though it was a little cloudy, we could still see most of Prague and to the left we could see St. Vitus and the Prague Castle.

Before arriving at the Prague Castle, standing to the right of Castle Square, is the Schwarzenberg Palace. The entire building is black and white and the patterns on the wall are all carved. It was really impressive, but also confused my eyes, which wanted to make the triangles and blocks three dimensional when in reality they were flat.

A closer look at the amazing detail.

As we walked up to the castle, honestly I was a little disappointed. It seemed small in comparison to some of the other palaces or castles that I’d seen, but the Prague Castle actually hides it’s size. It might look small from the front, but once we walked through the gates, I realized that inside there is a huge courtyard surrounded by three other sides.

Outside the gates were two guards dressed in blue, they didn’t move an inch while we were there and the poor guards had to endure about a million people taking photos of them. They were there for the protection of the President who uses the castle, or at least a section of it.

This castle like many of the buildings in Europe has gone through a number of restorations. One of the most important or interesting facts about it is that this is the castle where the 30 Year War started, with the Defenestration of Prague or Prager Fensterstruz in German. Defenestration literally means the act of throwing someone out a window. In this case, emissaries of the Habsburgs were thrown out of the windows by Protestants, who did not like the counter-reformation that the Habsburgs were backing. No one who was thrown out the window was killed, but it was one of the sparks that set off the 30 Year War.

Inside the castle there is also a very beautiful hall called Vladislav Hall. It was often used for tournaments with knights and they would actually bring their horses inside the building to compete. This is why the stairs leading into the room are not actually stairs, but more like a ramp.

Unfortunately, there were many places inside we were not allowed to take photos, so if you would like to see more click… here.

Just behind the Prague Castle is St. Vitus Cathedral. It is a Neo-Gothic cathedral and one of the more amazing cathedrals I have seen. As soon as we excited the courtyard it was right there, dominating the entire sky. I love Gothic (or in this case Neo-Gothic) churches, because of the attention to detail and intricate handwork. There’s no comparison to the dedication it must have taken to finish such a building and it amazes me even more that this was built 600 years ago!

The side of St. Vitus. This church completely Gothic, the green cap is Baroque.

Inside the cathedral it was packed with tourists, but that didn’t take away from the overall feeling of the church. The ceiling was incredibly high and seemed to go on forever, while the light that filled the church from the windows made the entire place glow.

There are many important Bohemian kings buried inside the church. Below in the royal crypt rests Charles IV and Rudolf II.

One of my favorite parts of the church, and probably one of the things that really sets it apart from other churches I’ve seen, were the stained glass windows. The colors and stories were just breathtaking and they really made the church come to life.

There were a number of different windows all done in different styles, my favorite is the one below. It was created by the Jugendstil artist, Alfons Mucha. In the very center is a depiction of St. Wenceslas and his grandmother St. Ludmila.

Once we reached the very back of the castle, we walked behind the church and found Golden Lane. This is one single, very small, alley. It has cute one-roomed houses along the left side.

Originally, it is thought that this lane was called Goldmaker’s Lane, because it was housing for goldsmiths. However, there is a legend that Emperor Rudolf II housed alchemists here, hence the name, Golden Lane. This legend could possibly be true, because it is said that Rudolf II was more interested in the arts and sciences than anything else.

Just an example of how small the houses were. Even I had to duck to get inside and I’m only five-foot-three!

This is a wreath outside one of the cutest stores on Golden Lane. It was all handmade ceramics with very detailed and original designs. Just a fun fact, Franz Kafka lived on Golden Lane.

After exploring the castle we headed back into town, this time by foot. Although it looks life a very long walk, it actually didn’t take too much time before we arrived at Charles Bridge.

The road leading down into town.

We had the rest of the day off so we decided to go up the Old Town Hall Tower, which has the Astronomical Clock below. From above we could see the entire city.

It was funny seeing how many tourists were looking at the clock. Just the other day we were apart of that crowd, waiting for the clock to ring.

Somewhat of the same shot, but with the rest of the city stretched out on the horizon.

Looking towards St. Vitus and the Prague Castle.

Church of Our Lady before Týn

Old Town Square with a monument to Jan Hus in the middle. He was the leader of the Hussite movement.

Prague by Night (Day 43 & 44)

We stayed a total of three days and two nights in Prague. Both nights we went adventuring around the city and although it was near impossible to get any good photos without a tripod, I was able to get a few night shots.

The nightlife in Prague was really great, there were a lot of people out and about. My favorite part was a group of young musicians that played on the street. They were having fun and just playing some of the new hit songs, while there was a huge crowd of people laughing and singing along.

The Old Town Hall Tower and Astronomical Clock

A close up of the Astronomical Clock

One of the many possible views from Charles Bridge

The statue of John of Nepomuk. He was confessor to Wenceslaus’ (the King of the Romans) wife and when asked what the queen had told him, John of Nepomuk refused to divulge any confessions to the king. So, John of Nepomuk was thrown off of Charles Bridge and died in the Vltava river. Underneath his statue is a picture of John of Nepomuk being thrown off the bridge and it is said that if you rub it, you will get good luck. It was easy to see the millions of hands that had rubbed the picture, because the metal around John of Nepomuk was completely golden, while the rest of the metal was gray and brown.

Another view from the Charles Bridge of the Prague Castle off in the distance.

EDIT 09/30/12 : Whoops! Almost forgot a photo.

This is one of the squares we had to walk by to reach the main part of the city. To the right there was a more official stage with a band and then there were some booths for wine tasting.

Day 29: Belvedere

It was a very nice Friday, so we decided to go and visit the Belvedere gardens. The gardens consist of two palaces, which were Prince Eugene of Savoy’s summer residence, the Orangery, and the stables. Inside the Belvedere there is also a museum hosting work from Gustav Klimt.

We were able to walk around the gardens and see both the palaces, one which is on top of the hill overlooking Vienna and the other at the bottom of the garden.

While we were walking around we couldn’t help but compare the castle to Schönbrunn, and we all decided that we had become palace snobs. So far nothing I’ve seen has come very close to Schönbrunn in terms of the expansive garden and giant palace.

Don’t get me wrong though, Belvedere was huge too and I wouldn’t complain if that was my summer residence.

The gates to the upper Belvedere palace.

This was only the very front garden, behind the building is a much larger garden.

Front of the palace

As soon as we rounded the corner of the upper palace we encountered two sentries. The garden itself provided a spectacular view of the city.

Whenever I see a sphinx I think of The Neverending Story. 

Mermaid fountain with the Lower Belvedere in the background.

The upper palace from further into the garden.

I did think that the flowers were more impressive than the ones at Schönbrunn. Belvedere had some really beautiful flowers that grew a little more wild and colorful, which I think is a good thing when it comes to flowers.

The following day we decided to explore the less crowded areas of Venice.

Although the residential areas weren’t full of towering churches or enticing designer clothes, I ended up liking the quiet streets more and more as we explored them. The ground was dirty, the air smelled like salt water and fish, and the buildings were crumbling, but it was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I’m so glad that I was able to get to see Venice, because it really is a very different city.

One thing that I thought was really cool were the wooden posts in the water. Somehow I think they made “traffic lanes” in the water and all the boats seemed to know exactly where they should go. It was also fun to see the water line on the posts showing how high the tide reaches.

On the nights when there was a possibility of rain, which while we were there was every night, the gondolas would be covered in blue covers to keep the fabric on the seats and the inside dry.

The gondola’s themselves were each very unique and very fancy. The all had a little couch in the center and then a few chairs on the side. The fabric was usually a bright red, while the embellishments around the sides were golden.

There were about a million pigeons on the island, perhaps just as many pigeons as there were tourists.

Below is my favorite set of stairs I found in Venice. They looked like they should have lead to something, but only disappeared into the water. There were a lot of stairs that went into the water like this. Most of them are for getting out of boats, but Venice is (or was according to some) sinking, so I like to imagine that maybe there’s something more hidden beneath the water.

For this picture we were walking along a bridge and I just love the way the buildings look like they are floating.

A lot of the walls of the buildings were crumbling like in the picture below. It looked like people had tried to repaired the wall multiple times, but it just continued to fall into disrepair.

There were also a lot of buildings that were obviously uninhabited.

Even some of the nicer places had stains and streaks running down the side of the building.

In many of the courtyards there were these huge wells that were sealed shut. Although I never saw anyone use the wells, which probably don’t work anymore, there were other smaller spouts that constantly poured water and more than once I saw residents walk out and grab some water from the spouts with a bucket.

There were a surprising amount of dogs in Venice. Sometimes it was hard to tell if someone owned them or if they were strays, because there were so many out on the street without a leash or collar. The dog below was just relaxing, while his owner was somewhere inside the building.

There were at least two towers that I saw that looked slightly unstable leaning to one side.

Eventually we wandered over into the Castello district and found the Arsenale. The Arsenal was the shipyard and armory for Venice.

Walls of the Arsenale

After a very long day of exploring we headed back to our room for the night and began to pack for our flight the next day. We all felt a little relieved to be leaving, because we had been on the go from dawn till dusk for about three days, but it was also sad leaving Venice knowing that we had only scratched the surface of things to do and see.

The next day we had to leave the apartment at 11 and although we didn’t have our flight until 7 p.m., we decided to meander through the city towards the bus station. It ended up only taking us about a half hour to walk slowly across more than half the island. Once we arrived at the airport we weren’t allowed to go through check-in until two hours before our flight. By the end of the day we had sat in the airport for seven hours and compared to that our 50 minute flight was nothing!