Tag Archive: Photography


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.

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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.

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 43: Arriving in Prague

We all arrived at the bus station early so that we could get good seats on the bus to Prague. The bus we traveled on turned out to be a double-decker, which made it so that we towered over all the other cars, including the trucks. The drive from Vienna to Prague (Praha) was four hours, which I mostly slept through.

The view arriving in Prague was amazing. At first the road looks plain and simple, noting very wonderous about yet another city, but then the road slopes slightly up and suddenly the bus was on top of a huge hill overlooking all of Prague!

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A little history:

Prague, located in the Czech Republic, was and still is a huge center for European culture. Like many of the cities and countries Europe, Prague has a long and complicated history, so I’ll try to condense it here so that it’s not too confusing.

During the 14th century Prague was the capital of the German Empire under Emperor Charles IV who was also King of Bohemia and who would later become Holy Roman Emperor. Under Charles’ IV rule Prague became the “Golden City” or “Rome of the North”, meaning that it was very rich and powerful. While Charles IV ruled he built a lot of wonderful Gothic buildings and founded the first university in central Europe, Charles University. He also went on to build Charles Bridge and Old Town Bridge Tower.

After the violent upheaval of the Hussite Wars, Prague was ruled by the Habsburgs and to sum up everything, the importance of Prague slowly went downhill from there. Most of the Habsburgs, all of them except Rudolf II, ruled their empire from Vienna instead of Prague.

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After we retrieved our bags from the bus, we walked only about five minutes to our hostel, called APlus. Overall, it ended up being a pretty nice place to stay and it was less than a ten minute walk to the city center. Right away we headed out to see what Prague looks like and to also find an ATM. One thing we didn’t realize is that the Czech Republic doesn’t use the Euro instead they use the Koruna. It took us long time to find an actual ATM, because all of them were hidden on the inside of the banks rather than out on the street (at least in the area we were in).

The Koruna is actually really pretty with a lot of different colors and very classic images of important people to Czech history. However, it was really confusing when I was trying to do quick math and figure out what exactly I was spending when all the bills are 100, 200, 500 and 1000. While I was buying souvenirs I felt like I was spending so much money, because the bills were so large!

After we took out enough money, we headed across the street to the Municipal House. This building is considered Art Nouveau, which was decorative art prominent in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. It is also called Jugendstil German for “youth style”. The Municipal House is now a concert hall, with a few restaurants on the inside.

While I was in Prague I discovered one of the leading artists of the Jugendstil movement, Alphonse Mucha. His artwork was everywhere around the city and I immediately fell in love with it. Mucha was known mostly for his graphic art and paintings, but he also created sculptures and did some interior decorating. One aspect of his work I love the most is his attention to detail. Mucha was often hired to create posters and although his style was very complicated and delicate, he was still able to integrate the product he was hired to advertise.

Right next to the Municipal House is the Powder Tower, which is one of the Gothic medieval towers that used to be apart of the wall guarding the entrance to the Old Town.

Compared to the other, more modern and brightly colored buildings in the area, the Powder Tower was very dark and intimidating. As one out of thirteen gates used to enter the old center, the Powder Tower became less and less important as the town expanded beyond its walls.

Next we came to a building that was constructed in the style of Cubism. This particular building was called House of the Black Madonna. It is currently a museum  on Cubism.

Right around the corner from House of the Black Madonna was Charles University. As I said earlier, Charles University was the first university in Central Europe.

Across the street from Charles University was the Estate Theater. Mozart spent some time in Prague and it was at this theater that his opera Don Giovanni premiered.

To the left is Charles University and to the right is the Estate Theater. You can see a little of the time differences between the two buildings. The University looks  more gothic while the theater is painted bright green and slightly more modern.

Outside of the theater is a statue commemorating Mozart and Don Giovanni.

We eventually arrived at Wenceslas Square, the largest city square. The square is named after Saint Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia. Wenceslas was a duke in the Přemyslid dynasty, which ruled over Bohemia. He was a grandson of St. Ludmila, who was murdered in a family feud, and later on Wenceslas himself was murdered by his brother Boleslav I.

Wenceslas Square is often a place of demonstration, one of the most commonly known being the Velvet Revolution, which was a non-violent demonstration which successfully freed Czechoslovakia of communist influence.

At the end of the square stands the National Museum Building and a monument to St. Wenceslas.

Eventually, we made our way over to Havelská Market, which is named after Václav Havel, most commonly known for being the first President of the Czech and Slovak Federated Republic, after the Velvet Revolution.

This market was one of the better places to buy fresh fruit and fun trinkets for family and friends. I actually ended up spending quite a lot of money here buying gifts!

At the end of the market is the Church of St. Havel.

Our last site on the tour was the Old Town Square. This is one of my favorite squares, it was full of life, with performers, carriages, and plenty of tourists, but it didn’t seem crowded at all.

Surrounding this square is the Prague Astronomical Clock or Prague Orloj. This clock is the coolest clock I’ve ever seen! I couldn’t even read it, but that didn’t matter, because the detail and work put into it was just amazing! The clock was built in 1410 and somehow, after all that time, it still works.

Five minutes to the hour we all rushed over to the clock and stood in a huge crowd of people to watch the clock chime. On the hour, it played a little song and above the clock rotated 12 Apostles and as a finale the golden rooster crowed.

There were a number of weddings going on right in front of the clock. Some even released doves right as the clock tolled.

Across from the clock tower and on the other side of the square is the Church of Our Lady before Týn. This church is interesting in the way it’s built. Although it’s hard to see in the photo that I took, the two towers of the church are slightly different sizes. The one on the right is a little larger and represent Adam, while the one on the left is slightly smaller and represents Eve.

After our tour we all went out to get coffee and then later we made our way to Charles Bridge to take photos. That night we had a delicious dinner and headed back to the hostel early so that we could get some extra sleep.

A view from just below Charles Bridge, where we had coffee and cake.

37: Bratislava

The friday before I left for Bratislava the other students and I had a Mexican food night. For weeks we’ve all be craving Mexican food and so we finally decided to just go out and find the ingredients for burritos, no matter how long it took. In reality, it wasn’t all the hard. Many of the ingredients we were looking for were labeled “MEXICAN” on the side in giant letters. Apparently, we haven’t been the first nor will we be the last to crave Mexican food in Austria.

That night we made a wonderful meal and we got to talk with Clifford, a student from Berlin. Currently he is staying with Addison, whose host mother has a German student, Japanese student, and an American student all under one roof! It was really great talking with Clifford. Throughout the night we shared our different experiences, with things from movies to politics to requirements to get your driver’s license, which by the way sounds A LOT harder in Germany, although they do get to drive faster here than in America.

After a very long, but very fulfilling dinner, I headed back to the apartment to get ready for our next big trip. This time to Bratislava.

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Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia and only an hour away from Vienna by train. As soon as I stepped off the train, I knew we were going to have a hard time getting around. There were barely any English signs and when we tried to ask the woman at the ticket booth how to get a bus from the station to the city center, she just shook her head, making it obvious that she couldn’t speak English.

The Railway Station

Looking at the map we had acquired in Vienna, we could see that the city center wasn’t too far from the train station, so we decided to walk down the main street. Along the way we managed to get lost because two of the street names were spelled almost exactly the same, one was Štefánikova and the other was Štefanovičova.

An example of the language, Slovak.

We also became worried, when there was no one else out on the street and we thought perhaps there really wasn’t anything to see in Bratislava. However, the giant castle that sits above the city was our North Star and eventually it guided us to the old town. Once in the old part of the city, we were greeted by huge groups of tourists. By the end of the day, the streets were filled with people. Apparently everyone in Bratislava likes to sleep in.

Anyone heading into the old district from the train station must pass under Michael’s Gate. It is the only gate in the city that has been preserved from the middle ages and it used to be apart of the city’s fortifications. In the past, if anyone wanted to enter the city they would have to enter through one of the four gates that stood around the town.

After entering the gate we decided to make our way to the castle, which basically meant wandering until we found a road that lead to it. While we walked up the hill we came upon the Church and Convent of the Order St. Clare. From the front, we got a great view of the church’s tower and also the castle in the background. While we were there a huge group of German tourists walked up to us with a guide and we stayed off to the side and listened to him speak for a bit.

Although the  majority of Bratislava is not like made of up buildings like the ones in my photos, for reasons I’ll discuss later, the roads in the old town reminded me a lot of Venice. The roads were small with only enough room for ten people or less to walk side by side.

A few of the streets had some of the worst cobblestones I’ve ever seen. They were basically just nicely shaped rocks lying in the street, which wobbled when you stepped on them. Eventually we gave up counting the number of times someone tripped and almost fell while walking.

To get to the castle we had to cross under a huge roadway, which had a lot of really cool graffiti underneath.

The Bratislava Castle or Bratislavský Hrad in Slovakian, stands on a hill overlooking the Danube. When I hear the word castle, I think of something extravagant and over the top. The Bratislava Castle is indeed impressive, but to me it was more of a fortress than anything else. The walls around the castle are not to be messed with, and although the outside walls of the castle are white and bright, they are very plain and much more intimidating that inviting. In fact, the castle was used as a fortress in the past, as it was an important point for trade routes when the area was first settled.

The current castle looks as it does because of many different reconstructions, one specific reconstruction was made because of a fire that completely ruined the castle. Inside the castle there are now many different exhibits. One of the cooler exhibits has old objects destroyed in the fire, such as a knight’s armor and swords. Some of the other exhibits included paintings of important figures, prints of the castle, modern art and the altar painting, The Assumption of Virgin Mary.

The largest tower is called the Crown Tower and it is where the crown jewels were once housed. Today, people can walk up five sets of staircases to reach the top and get a great view of the city. Climbing to the top of the tower was somewhat scary considering how steep the stairs were and by the time we reached the top our legs were burning as if we had just run a mile!

The Crown Tower, which we climbed.

One of the more interesting aspects about Bratislava was the influence of communism. I’ve personally never been to a country or a city heavily affected by communism, but just walking through a small part of Bratislava is was easy to see some of the communistic aspects.

After World War II, Czechoslovakia (which is now two separate countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) supported the Soviet Union, because the Soviets had come to their aid during the first war. This caused an extreme transformation of the country and Slovakia became a very heavily industrialized area. When we climbed the tower of the castle, it was obvious which side of the city had been most influenced by communism.

On the right there were cute little houses with cobblestone streets and red roofs. It reminded me a lot of Salzburg in a way.

To the left the city is filled with row after row of stiff-looking apartments, factories and roads. This area is called Panelák and is a good example of what buildings built during the communist era look like. 

From the top of the tower Bratislava was basically two completely different cities.

The Slovakian flag, waving proudly from the castle.

After visiting the castle it was later in the day and there was a lot more activity in the center of the town. In the streets there were statues of men sitting, working, or in the case of the photo below, taking pictures of the tourists. It was a really cute touch and every once in a while there was a real person dressed as a statue, which really confused us when suddenly, the statue moved!

The oldest church in Bratislava, the Franciscan Church.

After walking around for a long while, we couldn’t resist getting something warm and sitting down for a break. We ordered hot chocolate with mint, which actually turned out to be almost pure melted chocolate, somewhere between a pudding and a hot chocolate drink. It was wonderful on a cold day! We also wandered around the main square of the town, looked at all the trinket shops and ate at a local restaurant, which served really good sandwiches.

Soon after, we made our way back to the train station, making sure to stop by Grassalkovich Palace, Grasalkovičov palác, which is the residence of the Slovakian president. Behind the palace is also a garden, where people were relaxing and enjoying the last of the nice weather.

Tomorrow, I’ll be headed to Prague, which is in the Czech Republic. Everyone has been telling me that I need to go there, so I’m super excited for the trip!

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!

Day 23: Touring Venice

The next day we decided that we were going to see all the tourist sites around Venice, but that didn’t mean that we wanted to be surrounded by tourists, so we got up early.

Venice is divided into six districts called sestieri. They are, San Marco, Cannaregio, Castello, Dorsoduro, San Polo, and Santa Croce. There is also a small sliver of an island called Giudecca separated from the rest of the island by Canale della Giudecca. While we were in Venice it became obvious that San Marco and San Polo were the districts with the most tourist and many of the famous buildings.

At eight in the morning there were still quite a few people out on the street, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the day before, so we were able to stop by the Rialto and see the bridge before all the shops opened and the streets filled up.

What the Rialto bridge looks like when all the shops are opened and all the tourists are out and about.

Basically our apartment was in the San Marco district so we didn’t have to walk very far to reach Piazza San Marco.

Piazza San Marco has quite a few attractions, the most noticeable being St. Mark’s Campanile, the bell tower, which juts up into the sky. It looks out of place compared to the low white buildings around it. To the left of the Campanile is the Clock Tower, which rang while we were there and filled the entire square with music. Directly behind the tower is the St. Mark’s, which was very beautiful and an interesting contrast to the rest of the city.

The entire Piazza

The Piazza about halfway to St. Mark’s

The very top of St. Mark’s Campanile

The Clock Tower

While most of Venice is rundown and very old, St. Mark’s is clean, white, and covered in statues. The grandeur of the church really didn’t match the rest of the city. The church has four domes, huge arches and painted murals above the doors. Compared to a lot of the other churches I’ve seen it was a lot more chaotic, with many colors and statues.

Front of St. Mark’s

The right side of St. Mark’s, where we were standing and waiting to get in.

The outside of St. Mark’s was impressive, but inside was even more amazing. Unfortunately, photos were not allowed inside. In fact, a lot of things were restricted inside the church.

Before going in we had to wait in a long line for the church to actually open. After a half hour we finally reached the door, but there was someone there turning away anyone who wore shorts, a large backpack, or a shirt that didn’t cover their shoulders. Lucky for us, Addison knew that this would happen so we were prepared and the line moved quickly as almost every other person was turned away.

Inside, the entire ceiling was gold, it seemed almost sad that such a wonderful and luxurious church was surrounded by so many crumbling buildings. We also made it into the treasury, which had some amazing swords, goblets and stones, from many different times and places.

When we walked back outside I immediately noticed just how many pigeons there were. Although the winged lion represents St. Mark and is Venice’s symbol, I would argue that pigeons are probably the unofficial symbol of the city. They filled the sidewalks, they sat on the sills of every building, they flew through the sky and they slept on every statue they could possibly find. There was more than one time where I had to duck, because a pigeon literally flew right past my face. Although pigeons are in general dirty, I found that they added to the charm of the city.

I noticed that some of the birds were unnatural colors, the one I was able to take a picture of was green, but I also saw blue, red and purple pigeons. I suspect that people catch and dye the pigeons, however I have no idea what it symbolizes, if it symbolizes anything at all.

After the church, we decided to go up the tower. About ten people had to cram into a tiny elevator for the ride up, but the view of the city was worth the awkward ride. To look out over Venice and be able to see the entire island from one spot was breathtaking. All the buildings looked so tightly packed that it was impossible to even see the waterways. From above it was also very easy to tell just how old Venice was, there were no modern buildings and all of the buildings were more or less the same height. Looking down on the city I felt like I could have been standing in Venice hundreds of years ago.

Three of the Four Domes of St. Mark’s

One of the possible views from the tower.

When we returned to the bottom of the tower the Piazza was suddenly teeming with people, so we decided to head away from the San Marco district and explore Dorsoduro. Immediately we noticed how much quieter the streets became and at certain times we were the only people out on the street. It was a very different Venice from the one we’d seen earlier that morning. The buildings weren’t grand, but they had their own special touch to them and the suddenly Venice seemed a lot more like a city than just a tourist destination.

We ended up walking all the way to the tip of Dorsoduro, where the church Santa Maria della Salute is. While we were there we sat on the steps and ate our lunch.

We were basically the only people down on this street, although there were some children playing.

Local children playing soccer in the street.

Soon after we headed back to the apartment, but on the way we encountered a persistent gondolier, who gave us a “discount” on a ride. I say, “discount”, because I really doubt he was giving us a special offer, but he seemed to want to convince us that he was. Usually I would try to avoid such an expensive and obviously overpriced boat ride, but we were in Venice and when would I ever get to ride in a gondola again?

The ride actually ended up being pretty relaxing and it was fun to be so close to the water. The gondoliers are incredibly good at navigating the waterways and I couldn’t believe how close they would get to the walls. Sometimes they even pushed off the wall with one foot to keep from hitting it.

The Rialto from the water.

That night we went out to dinner at a place along the water and we had some authentic Italian wine and lasagna.