Oslo : Mostly Outdoors

Las Chicas are eager to visit Norway for the first time. Another leg on the Interrail pass proves to be a little less about comfort, as NSB (Norges Statsbaner or Norwegian State Railways) changes us, unannounced, to a bus. Some three hours later we land in Oslo, drag our bags through the train station and are greeted by one of many sculptures to come.

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An ultramodern city full of amazing art, architecture, great food, masses of water and forest, and only one full day to explore. So we make the best of the remaining afternoon hours because the sun isn’t setting before 10, and take a stroll through the city nearby.

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We don’t go far before we encounter one of the many trendy pop-up restaurants for dinner. Beer, sweet potatoes fries and Thai curry will do the trick.

IMG_3236After dinner we continue on our walk, past fountains and flowers.

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6B879536-1F44-4B60-84FE-0F7083FF1552the Parliament building, called the Storting or Stortinget in Norwegian meaning the “great assembly”,

2AC6A937-8049-44F1-BDE1-F52C7A5F5076and onto the Royal Palace.

IMG_3247Behind the palace we find water and mushroom-like creations that amuse us.

0B39EE1A-8B36-4337-A92C-BF9A4E129EE5We also enjoy some of the local street art.

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“The Priest” by street artist Dolk, who we discovered in Malmo.

The art of a local eatery close to the hotel.

After a short sleep, we head out into Oslo. We have many great tips from the Visit Oslo website. Architecture and outdoor sculpture parks should keep us busy for the better part of the day.

First to Frogner Park, where the Vigeland Sculpture Park is located. We join multitudes of tourists at the entrance to see the 200+ sculptures. Gustav Vigeland created these wonders over a period of only 20 years from 1924-1943 and donated them to the city of Oslo; the land was donated free to display this collection. The theme is focused on family and the human condition.

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3435BE1D-9676-4C6E-9FED-A5EF95A9F4A1Some pieces are a bit startling, like the series depicting the struggle between reptile and human. With the exception of the one embracing a woman, it appears the lizard is battling with or consuming the human. One source suggests the reptile represents evil and reflects the struggle of the human condition.

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596D7646-878B-40C8-AD60-F2364DFF9C1DOnto the lighter side, here are a few of our favorites.

83DEE129-7DDA-4FA4-AC7B-1723DE7F8F84The fountain, originally designed for the outside entrance of the Norwegian Parliament building.

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The Wheel of Life,  a sundial positioned at the very end of an 850-meter axis.

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The Monolith, 14.12-meter high, a symbolic sculpture consisting of 121 intertwined human figures.

Next stop, Oslo’s waterfront and the Aker Brygge Wharf, previously an old shipyard. The boardwalk is full of  many fabulous restaurants, but we choose gelato for our noontime refreshment,

IMG_3302while enjoying the SUPs in the harbor.

IMG_3300We head to the Astrup Fearnley Museum, designed by starchitect Renzo Piano.

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Surrounded by water and the second sculpture park of the day,  Tjuvholmen Sculpture Park, we opt for outside art and bypass the inside collection.

Onto the Oslo Opera House, with a few local sights on the way.

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It’s a bit warm to take advantage of this sauna boat.

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A favorite, the olfactory history moment.

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Oslo Opera House, home to the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, designed by a local architecture firm and the recipient of many awards.

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Many interesting features,

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with great rooftop views,

IMG_3348including the ever-present cranes dotting the city and building the future Oslo.

IMG_3346Onward we test the pedestrian bridge,

A30A286E-800F-411B-A7D0-AE1D4E4BC30Cwith its interesting views of the Barcode district, 12 buildings designed to resemble a barcode.

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Evening is quickly approaching and the third sculpture park awaits us. Another trip on Oslo’s impressive transit takes us to the bottom of the park, with many surprises ahead.

Shortly after entering the park we encounter sculptures by some well known artists:IMG_3368
Auguste Rodin’s “Cariatide Tombee Á Lúrne”

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Pierre-Auguste Renoir, “Venus Vistrix”

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Salvador Dalí, “Venus de Milo Aux Tiroirs”

What a special evening this turns out to be. We amble up hills and around bends to discover other unexpected treasures. The park is open 24/7, with little or no apparent security. It’s an amazing collection.

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Sarah Sze, “Still Life with Landscape”

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Dan Graham, “Pavillion”
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Louise Bourgeois, “The Couple”

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Hilde Maehlum, “Konkavt Ansikt” (translated, Concave Face)
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Sean Henry, “Walking Woman”

In addition to art, we explore archeology.

8A19B9F5-9303-472B-A1CB-7DDC8734637ASteinsetning – Stone Circle
This megalithic structure, once likely 7 stones now 4, was not excavated.

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Skålgroper – Cup Marks
These cup-shaped indentations are the most common form of rock art in Norway, dating back to the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age. The natural setting enhances the beauty of everything around us.

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But one last surprise.

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Fujiko Nakaya, “Pathfinder #18700 Oslo”

 

© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018

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Return to Gothenburg

Gothenburg is the second stop on our Interrail trip through Scandinavia. We reserved a hotel, but surprise! there are two hotels with the same name in different locations. Hmmm… taxi it is. We arrive across the Göta älv river into Lindholmen, home to a tech park, conference center, and our hotel. It’s definitely not the Gothenburg Lisa visited before. So we drop our bags and catch a free ferry back to the action.

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Mary’s dream commute: bike + ferry

We have the evening to ourselves before meeting up with Lisa’s cousin Kim tomorrow.  Our walk from the ferry takes us by the harbor.

IMG_2352Gothenburg harbor with the large schooner 

IMG_3199View with the “Lipstick Building” in the background

We search for the Customs House. The Customs House was the departure point for Lisa’s grandmother in 1897 when she emigrated to the US, on her own, at the age of 20. Instead we find a Casino that seems to be in its place, but later, with help from Kim, locate it on the backside of the Casino, by the river.

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We take a quick detour to Postgatan Street, the place where the immigrants paused while waiting for their paperwork to clear. The next day Kim explains that some never made it out of this area, instead losing their money to gambling, whores, or getting robbed.

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After wandering for a while we finally find a street with several restaurants of interest. Where do we eat? El Barrio, the “South American Fusion restaurant.” We devour delicious Bolivian tapas and sweet potato fries, a favorite in these parts.

We get a late start meeting Kim due to the torrential rains. It has not rained for months. Sweden had as many as 80 forest fires simultaneously this summer. We think this is a good sign for the drought stricken area. Kim’s partner Robert joins in the tour.

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A quick history tour before heading to the docks for shrimp and wine. We visit  Postgatan Street again,

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and then onto this memorial to Holocaust survivors.

IMG_2357A remembrance of the Holocaust circa 2009

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In 1621, when Gothenburg was settled a church was built on this site, named Gustavi kyrka, after the king who had fallen in battle the year before. Later converted into the cathedral, now standing, Domkyrkan, renamed for Gustavi Domkyrka.

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A young visitor walks along the map of the old city, laid underneath his feet in stone.

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Seahorse unicorn, Mary’s favorite.
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Kronhuset, the oldest building in Gothenburg, served as a munitions depot until 1954.

And a quick stop at the city market,

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After saying goodbye to Kim and Robert, we head to a nearby Gothenburg Botanical Garden. Among the amazing display of flowers and fountains,

the quiet serenity is quickly interrupted by dance jam/party hosted by DJ Mr. French.

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Flashing lights and music so loud it followed us all the way out of the park. We head back to our hotel to relax.  Perhaps we are not the only ones that find some entertainment among the chairs placed at the entrance to the elevators on each floor.

On our last morning we take a walk along the water by the hotel before departing for the Central Station en route to Oslo.

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IMG_3229“Kuggen” (Swedish for cog), part Chalmers University of Technology.

IMG_2424Rainbow flags all around celebrate Euro Gay Pride the weekend after we left.

IMG_3232Outside the dining room of our hotel, this sculpture spins slowly in a Göta älv river inlet.

© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018

Malmøhus Slot (Castle) and the Mexican Suitcase

We take in a little bit of Malmø history and visit the Malmøhus Slot, before heading north to our next Swedish destination.

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Originally built in 1434 Erik av Pommem, then King of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, this castle, aka Malmøhus Fortress, was important to Danish sovereignty at the time.  The Sound was a vital passage to the lucrative trade of the Baltic region. Rebuilt and renovated several times, in 1658 it came under Swedish rule. And by the end of the 18th century, the fortress no longer had any military significance so was converted into a prison, housing over 1,000 prisoners until 1914 when the prisoners were moved to a new location.

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As we head out the gate after being a little bored by this slice of history, we see a large poster advertising an exhibit inside. The Mexican Suitcase: Rediscovered Spanish Civil War Negatives. Perhaps not a topic of interest to many, but Las Chicas, having lived in Catalunya for two years, have developed an interest in Spanish history. Curious about this seemingly out of place exhibit, we pay the admission fee and head inside to investigate.

In December 2007, a Mexican filmmaker, Benjamin Tarver, discovered three boxes of negatives in the possession of his late aunt. These negatives had belonged to a family friend, General Francisco Aguilar González, a Mexican Ambassador to Vichy, France, in 1941-42. Apparently Aguílar managed to smuggle out the negatives in their twenty trunks of belongings on their return to Mexico.

Upon investigation, Tarver discovered the boxes contained 4,500 original negatives of the Spanish Civil War, negatives taken by Civil War photographers Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, Fred Stein and David Seymour (Chim), that had disappeared 70 years earlier.

Pictured from left to right, Taro, Capa, Stein, Seymour (Chim)

Born Gerda Pohorylle, Taro was one of the first recognized female photojournalists. Of German Jewish descent, Taro was raised in Leipzig but fled to Paris in 1933, where she met André Friedmann. The two reinvented themselves as Taro and Capa, and worked together to photograph the Spanish Civil War on the front lines. Taro lost her life in only one year into her coverage of the war, during one of the fiercest battles, the Battle of Brunete. She was the first female journalist to lose her life on the front lines of war.

Robert Capa, aka Friedmann, was a prominent photojournalist in the 20th century. Born to a Jewish family in Budapest, he fled Hungary for Berlin at the age of 17, because of his leftist activities, and enrolled in journalism school. He then moved to Paris in 1933, where he met Taro and Stein.

Third in the crew was Fred Stein. Also born a German Jew, Stein fled to Paris in 1933, when he was unable to practice law in his home country. In Paris he worked as a photographer and kept company with intellectuals such as Hannah Arendt.

Chim was born Dawid Szymin in Warsaw Poland to a Yiddish/Hebrew publishing family. He took to photography early and traveled to Paris to attend the Sorbonne. Recognized for his political  photographs, he photographed the entire Civil War in Spain, but from a distance, centering in on the complexities of the political landscape of that time.

The photographs tell the story of war from a variety of angles: the soldiers and their families,

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the political climate, still not well understood by many today.

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Translation: Workers! There are only two ways to win the war. Fight with determination at the front, and work tirelessly at the rear. Comrades, work intensively and with enthusiasm! So we will win!

The suffering and destruction,

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People pressing against the gate at the morgue, waiting for news about their relatives.

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Following a major air raid in Valencia

and images of a proud people supporting their country. (Below: Soldiers working alongside farmers in the fields.)

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Taro’s photos depict some of the most hideous results of the war, including her photos from the morgue. They are a bit too much for me to photograph.  Instead, here is the comment attached to these photos,

“Taro showed the atrocious consequence of a new kind of war, in which the civilian population became the main target of enemy forces.”

The content of the exhibition was made into a documentary, “La Maleta Mexicana” (The Mexican Suitcase), available on Amazon. You can read more about the story and related information,  A Secret Archive: On the Mexican Suitcase

© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018

Artsy Cologne

Las Chicas have a surprisingly art-filled holiday in Köln (Cologne). Most famous for the Cologne Cathedral, we enjoy the artistic side of the city beginning with our hotel, Art’otel.

The hotel features art prints of SEO, a Korean-born artist who now lives in Berlin. The colorful theme of her works is water – flowing and making connections.  In addition to prints of her art posted on the walls, each room has a large glass reproduction of one of SEO’s works that doubles as a wall in the shower.

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Beyond the hotel, the Rhine River creates its own natural art.

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Other art decorates the city, like HA Shult’s  golden winged car on top of the municipal museum.

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Or this more solemn remembrance:

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One cannot travel in Germany without regular reminders of the violence of the past, and the strength of those who resisted, endured, survived and died.

We continue our art-filled day with a visit to Museum Ludwig, home to an impressive collection of modern art.

The first collection we view is from another Korean artist who migrated to Berlin,  Haegue Yang, winner of the 2018 Wolfgang Hahn Prize. ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) 1994 – 2018, is an overview or survey collection ranging from textiles to journal entries, room-sized sculptures to small collections in cases.

I am moved by a series of journal entries posted on the wall talking about Yang’s immigration to Germany.  She writes,

” A person can be nervous spending even one night at another person’s house. Imagine so much more so in a foreign country. More over, I couldn’t read anything, so was suddenly illiterate. I didn’t know the language so I became deaf and dumb…” 

I have shared these experiences. Art is meant to evoke feeling, to connect people and experiences. But there is no apparent connection in the diversity of pieces in this collection. Regardless, they are engaging.

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The Intermediate – Tilted, Bushy, Lumpy, Bumpy – 2016

IMG_1988Sol LeWitt Upside Down – K123456, Expanded 1078 Times, Doubled and Mirrored

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The exhibit also provides opportunities to interact with the art.

But this is only the beginning. We enjoy art from Mark Rothko,

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Earth and Green, 1955

Helen Frankenthaler,

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Stroke of High Tide I, (Flutschlag I), 1974

and one of my favorites, Paul Klee. Klee and Kandinsky have been on our minds lately as we learn about the Bauhaus movement, celebrating its 100th year in 2019.

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Hauptweg and Nebenwege (Highways and Byways), 1929

There is also a brilliant collection of Pop Art.  Original works by Warhol and Lichtenstein.

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IMG_2024Claus Oldenburg, Giant Soft Swedish Light Switch (Ghost Version), 1966

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Tom Wesselmann, Landscape No. 2, 1964

Before leaving, Mary takes the opportunity to create some pop art of her own.

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© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018

 

 

 

Biking in Nature along the Baltic Sea

Beginning on Day 1, the strawberries are our first encounter with nature outside the city. Fields filled with workers and the delightful smell of fresh strawberries fills the air. We too are fresh and excited as we roll along the smooth paths toward the sea.

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Strawberries are everywhere this time of year. And what could be more fitting than the iconic bear we see all around Berlin, in a strawberry design.

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Red is the color of the day, and even though it’s July, red Icelandic poppies decorate the edges of the fields.

We savor the fresh smells and enjoy riding along the fields, but jump at the first opportunity to leave our bikes and climb the small hill for our first view of the Ostsee.

Later in the day, we check into our hotel, and return to another beach for some R & R.

We spend our days weaving back and forth between forests and fields. On our favorite days, we ride alongside the sea most of the day,

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and take advantage of our “self-paced” tour, stopping when the spirit moves us.

The days blend together as we continue along the coast, through forests

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and by fields.

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We tolerate the wind,

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and enjoy the quiet solitude of the water.

but we are not alone.

And yes, we also share the beaches with other visitors, but few will be pictured in the photos. Through experience, we have learned that Germans do not much care for others taking their picture.

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The island of Hiddensee takes us further away from the city and closer to the sea. Mary braves the water, and we enjoy the slow pace of life here for the day.

As we depart on the ferry, hundreds of swans flank the waters. Adults and babies alike swim alongside and in between the parade of boats large and small.

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Island magic awaits on the island of Rügen. It’s the place we feel closest to nature with its massive Beech forests and white cliffs. We ride through the national park on a long false flat, meaning it looks like it is flat, but instead steadily climbs. But the ride is worth it, as we climb down the stairs into the trees.

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The light, shadows and shapes are quieting and we linger for a time before heading to the edge to explore the White Chalk Cliffs. While relaxing in the forest, I am reminded of the Bach Flower Remedies, of which Beech is one of the 8 original formulas. Curious to see what energy is offered from these great beings, I find this description of the Beech remedy from the Bach Center webpage. For an area of Germany long controlled by the GDR, the presence of these wonderful trees seem perfectly placed:

… as the remedy for people who ‘feel the need to see more good and beauty in all that surrounds them’…People in a Beech state are intolerant of difference. They lack compassion and understanding of the circumstances and paths that other people are given, and fail to see that they too are working towards perfection in their own ways…”

Not far beyond the edges of the forest are glimpses of the White Chalk Cliffs, part of the Jasmund National Park. At first glimpse, we see the section of the cliffs that collapsed in 2005. Following a winter thaw, the cliffs lost 50,000 cubic meters of the chalkrock onto the beach below.

Just down the path a bit, we get a clear view of the cliffs in their majesty. Tempting to find our way down to the waters edge, but the next port calls and we are on our way.

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After so many years living in the desert, we are refreshed by the parade of colorful flowers,

and the sight of familiar plants like Rosehips.

Nothing seems to compare to days spent in the air and sun. As we head toward our final destination, these fence-post “greeters” seem to cheer us on.

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Across the way, a lone crane finds lunch in the wheat field stubble.IMG_2883

© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018

 

Visiting Prague: The Heart of Old Europe

Prague calls to Lisa and she hops a train to this majestic city on another 3-day weekend in May.

Prague well-known for its red roofs,

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and the famous Charles Bridge,

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holds many secrets and surprises for this first time visitor.

I arrive before noon, and step right into a vintage car show outside the train station.

Throughout the weekend I see many of these restored vintage Czech cars, from the 1920s and 30s, carrying visitors around the cobbled streets of Prague.

My hotel is in Old Town Square, Staroměstské náměstí, (can’t possibly pronounce it), but a fabulous location.

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Among the famous sites here is the Astronomical Clock,  sadly down for repair until some time summer, 2018. (Photo below from a sign.)

With only a weekend available t me, I have an endless number of choices. The architecture alone could occupy my entire visit.

From Romanesque,

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to Renaissance,

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IMG_1090Schwarzenberg Palace near Prague Castle

Baroque,

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and Art Nouveau,

IMG_0962.jpgMunicipal House

the city abounds in different styles of architecture. The most frequent I see are examples of Gothic architecture.

IMG_0744Towers of Church of our Lady Before Tyn behind other buildings in Old Town Square

IMG_1126IMG_1130St. Vitus Cathedral, on the grounds of Prague Castle

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Tower, Charles Bridge

IMG_0833Powder Tower, modeled after the Charles Bridge Tower

IMG_0868Old New Synagogue

One area of interest is the Jewish Quarter, Josefov. Friends have recently visited Prague and recommend a visit to several of the area synagogues. Unfortunately, I arrive on a Jewish holiday and many buildings are closed. So I walk the streets and take in the bits of history from the outside.

The Old New Synagogue, pictured above, is the oldest active synagogue in Europe. Dating back to 1270 it is one of Prague’s first Gothic buildings.

I walk by the Old Jewish Cemetery. The cemetery was in use between the 1400s and 1700s, but was closed in the late 1700s when all burials inside city limits were banned for hygienic reasons.  A multitude of markers representing as many as 100,000 people interred, crowd one another. The cemetery reportedly has 12 layers due to the limited space of the time and the prohibition in Jewish law of moving remains.

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Across from the cemetery, I see a more lighthearted site: the Golem Bakery. Golem is a mythical creature in Prague legends, known to be a protector of Jews.

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Before leaving the Jewish Quarter, I visit one more gem, the Spanish Synagogue, Španělská synagoga, built in Moorish Revival style. 

In front of the Spanish synagogue stands one of many tributes to Franz Kafka. Tributes to the Jewish Czech author, born in Prague, can be seen throughout the city.

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Kafka looms large in Prague, in spirit and in form, reflected in the large rotating sculpture of his head, created by Czech sculptor, David Černý. (video at end of post)

From Kafka on to another famous icon, I go in search of the John Lennon Wall. In the 1980s, the wall became an unofficial tribute to the singer, with spontaneous graffiti and messages. Although the original art is long gone, I am still drawn to check out the new additions that plaster the wall and provide entertainment to all who visit. One source suggests that the wall actually belongs to the Military Order of Malta, (what?) but clearly no monitoring or oversight exists.

The Yellow Penguins (Cracking Art Group) are nearby on the Vltava River, (they light up at night).

IMG_1036 And the famous Crawling Babies, by Czech sculptor, David Černý, are in Kampa Park.

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Near the Lennon Wall I also catch a glimpse of “Devil’s Stream” (still not clear why it is called that) through love locks. Scenes from famous movies including Mission Impossible and Amadeus have been filmed here.

Wenceslas Square brings home a bit more of the cultural history of the area, and reminds me of the not so distant struggle for freedom that took place here, and claimed the lives of many.

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The plaques, below, commemorate Palach, who self-immolated in rebellion against the end of the Prague Spring (a time of liberalization, and extended freedoms of speech), followed by the 1968 invasion by Warsaw Pact countries. Zajic, a friend of Palach, also self-immolated on the 21st anniversary of communist takeover.

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Sadly Zalic did not live long enough to see the dismantling of communism during the “Velvet Revolution”, that took place just months later.

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As I am leaving Wenceslas Square I come upon a small protest and wonder what the nature of it is. I ask the desk person at the hotel, with whom I’ve had several interesting conversations, and she dismisses this as a “paid protest” by Ukrainians living in Prague. Although I don’t fully understand the purpose of the march, it punctuates the new hard won freedoms of the Czech Republic, with the right to free speech and gathering.

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A trip to another country is not complete with a mention of food. Prague is a very international city, hosting a wide variety of ethnic foods, I come across a few that dot the streets or show up in the morning breakfast at the hotel.

The first, Trdelniks, cooked over an open fire on the street, a round pastry, similar to a doughnut and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.

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Apple Strudl, my favorite,

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and potato chips on a stick. A great snack after hours of walking in the heat around Prague Castle.

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On my last day I visit Prague Castle. I come expecting a castle similar to what I’ve seen in childhood tales, but instead find a palace-like structure, with multiple buildings including a cathedral and a basilica, all total measuring 70,000 sq. meters. A UNESCO World Heritage site, conceived in the 9th century, the website describes Prague Castle as:
“… a large-scale composition of palaces and ecclesiastical buildings of various
architectural styles, from the remains of Romanesque-style buildings from the 10th century through Gothic modifications of the 14th century. ”

Needless to say, I am not prepared to spend an entire day combing the grounds, and to add to the timing challenge, I arrive at 12 noon, with the changing of the guard, similar to Buckingham Palace.

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But I take a bit of time to view what I can of the palace from the outside.

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One sign along the way mentions the Golden Lane, Zlatá ulička, named for the goldsmiths who worked there in the 1600s, but originally called Alchemists’ Alley. According to legend, this was a mysterious place where the world-famous alchemist Edward Kelley worked on turning metal into gold. But accounts vary, and some say alchemists were never on the premises. Regardless, I’m intrigued and figure out how to purchase a ticket.

I first come upon No. 22, the miniature house belonging to Franz Kafka’s sister, and where Kafka lived and worked here from 1916 – 17.

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Just next door, Zlatá ulička 14, you find the tiny home of fortuneteller,
Madame de Thebes, aka Matylda Průšová, said to have predicted the fall of the Third Reich, and she died during Nazi interrogation.

The final stop is at number 12, which once was home to historian Josef Kazda, known to have saved thousands of Czech films from the Nazis.

Journeying through time and place, it’s now time to return to the present day. I head to the train station with hundreds of other weekend travelers, rich with experience and glad to rest my feet from cobbles for a few hours on the train back to Berlin.

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© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018

Solo in Budapest

With a four-day weekend ahead, I decide to jump in and take myself on a holiday, solo, to Budapest. I’ve wanted to go there for some time. Initially I was curious about the thermal baths there. But the adventure and challenge of enjoying a holiday solo grew on me. Home safe now, I highly recommend both, solo adventures and visiting Budapest. Good for the soul to remember my own rhythm. Budapest was awesome. The people, the architecture, the vibe…

I manage to land a three-room apartment in District 5 on the Pest side of the city, a great location that allows me to walk to almost everything.

Wasting no time, I head to the river. The Danube is massive, it is the second largest river in Europe and clearly the center of much of the activity in Budapest.

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Its many bridges add to the charm. I am within walking distance of three:
Széchenyi Chain Bridge, a stone suspension bridge, circa 1800,

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the Elisabeth Bridge, named for a popular empress, and

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the Szabadság hid or Freedom Bridge. Each leads to new and memorable sights.

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The Freedom Bridge takes you in the direction of Szabadság-szobor, the Liberty or Freedom Statue. Perched 235 meters above the Danube on Gellért Hill, I climb to see this Hungarian Statue of Liberty. Constructed in 1947, it bore an inscription honoring the “Soviet heroes” who liberated Budapest from the Nazis. Years later, following the revolution from communism to democracy, the inscription on the statue was modified to honor all those who sacrificed themselves for freedom.

 

The Elizabeth Bridge is my access point for the Gellért Thermal Baths.

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Located on the Buda side, inside the Gellért Hotel,

 

the baths were built between 1912 -1918 in Art Nouveau style, although the use of the hot springs in the area dates back to the 12th century.

 

The experience is a bit underwhelming. It’s no Aire Baths experience like we’ve had in Barcelona. From my time of arrival it takes me at least 45 minutes to navigate the passages to the locker room, find an open locker, change, and wait 10 minutes in line for a towel, before reaching the pools. The pools are cooler than expected. But put me in water and I instantly relax, taking the opportunity to swim some mini laps and enjoy some moments of sun on the Shaze lounge.

Budapest has a lighthearted feeling, quite the opposite of what I expect of a post-war communist country, nearly decimated in WWII . In preparing for the trip, a friend mentions the ruin bars that have become quite the rage. What is a ruin bar ? Just as it sounds, they are bars created from abandoned buildings and vacant lots in the old Jewish Quarter, filled with kitschy stuff akin to Macklemore’s Thrift Shop, and the center of nightlife in Budapest.

I’m curious, but pass on the nighttime Ruin Bar Tour and instead opt for the weekend farm-to-table brunch at Szimpla Kert, the original ruin bar. Along with awesome food, it’s much easier to take in the decor in the daylight. I eat in a large open air room,

 

overlooking the patio-like space below.

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Keep in mind much of the bar is open to the elements, due to the lack of a roof over much of the building. I am grateful for a sunny day.

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Upon leaving, the sign outside puts the experience in perspective.

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Not far away, I catch only glimpses of the Dóhany Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe, as I arrive when it is closed for Shabbat. Originally constructed in Moorish Revival style in the 1850’s, it was bombed extensively during the war, but restored again, following the fall of communism, and completed in 1998.

 

I also visit the Buda Castle,

 

but I am a bit confused about where the castle begins/ends in relation to the National Gallery.

 

Apparently I am not alone, as I discover when inquiring to my French neighbors sitting on the steps. The best answer from the Info Desk is I can see the castle on the outside and the National Gallery on the inside.

As I wind around and up to see where the guards are, that my French comrades mention, “… like the ones at Buckingham Palace…”,

 

I hear snippets of a tour guide’s talk about how the Parliament in Budapest is modeled after Houses of Parliament in the UK, but 2 meters were added to the design, so it would be a largest in Europe.

One more building to check out, the Matthias Church. I hear another tour guide describe the building with great pride, telling how it was originally built in 1015 Romanesque style, then destroyed and rebuilt as a mosque by Mongols in mid-13th century, and finally rebuilt in late 13th century as a church. The guide emphasizes how this final renovation removed all evidence of Moorish influence,

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except for maybe the outside courtyard, looks pretty Moorish to me…

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A few other tidbits:
… great dinner at M restaurant,


… I don’t get a chance to take in the musical side of Budapest’s history,  other than a quick walk through Liszt Ferenc square after dinner,

… I discover Béla Bartók was also Hungarian. Evening in the Country is one of my favorite piano pieces.
Free Walking Tour about Budapest’s communist past is so-so, influenced a bit by the unexpected rain, but some fun trivia.

Did you know that every communist country in the postwar eastern block, was supposed to produce a product ? East Germany – Trabant car, Hungary – Icarus buses (apparently still in service in the Middle East).

I find lots of entertaining sights as I wander through the city. I enjoy the friendliness of the people and a dip into Budapest’s history and culture.

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© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018