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.


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.


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.


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.

“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.






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.




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.

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


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.


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.



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


A favorite, the olfactory history moment.


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

Many interesting features,


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.




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”

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, “Venus Vistrix”

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.

Sarah Sze, “Still Life with Landscape”

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

Hilde Maehlum, “Konkavt Ansikt” (translated, Concave Face)
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.

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.

But one last surprise.

Fujiko Nakaya, “Pathfinder #18700 Oslo”


© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018


Malmö: Cool City by the Sea

Las Chicas return to 🇸🇪 Sweden in hopes of escaping the unrelenting summer heat of Berlin. Our first stop is Malmö, just across the channel (30-minute train ride) from Copenhagen. Record breaking heat in Malmö too? Hotel air-conditioning to the rescue!

Malmö’s city center contains a mix of very old and very new buildings. St. Peter’s Church in the Gothic style, built in 1319:

The church is under renovation, so it holds services in this dome festooned with small rainbow ribbons representing universal inclusiveness.


Starchitect Santiago Calatrava’s Twisted Torso, which twists a full 90 degrees from bottom to top. With 54 storeys, it’s the tallest building in Scandinavia:





Above is an new extension designed by Australian Kim Utzon for the World Maritime University (below), a United Nations Institution. The brick university building is the former Malmö Harbor Master’s building.


During a day of walking around the city, Mary relaxes in a temporary lounge chair, among many couches and chairs built for fans of the upcoming Malmö festival.


The Clarion Hotel makes its bid for Scandi-cool design:IMG_1138

Green glass curves greet us as we emerge from the train station. It’s called “Glasvasen” and designed by Kanozi Arkitekter.


Like other Scandinavian cities, Malmö boasts thought-provoking public art too.


“Non-Violence” by Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd, 1 of 16 of his knotted guns around the world.

“Way to Go” includes nineteen bronze shoes that represent artists from different eras and professions. The shoes point to a place that was important to each artist.


“Optimistic Orchestra” by cubist sculptor Yngve Lundell.  He said it was a tribute to “two positively disobedient people,” Lech Walesa and Martin Luther King, Jr.



“Rubato – Free Flow” by  Eva Hild. She created this aluminum curvy sculpture as an antidote to the city’s boxy buildings.


“The Spectral Self Container” in colorful fiberglass by Matti Kallioine, with small boat harbor on the left and harbor buildings behind it.

Sculpture and shadow along the canal, but we fail to get name and artist!

From architecture to design, we visit a Swedish design store. Mary spots the neck bike helmet, created in Sweden, on sale; then we see a cyclist wearing one. We spot several cyclists using this self-inflating balloon helmet throughout our travels in Scandinavia.



More Swedish specialties! Below left: “Upcycle” display from the festival, how to use recycled glass and broken cement. Below right: “Caviar” fish paste that comes in tubes in a variety of flavors from shrimp to garlic. Mary tests this savory spread at the hotel breakfast buffet and dislikes it.

We bike to the Ribersborgs Kallbadhus (cold bath house) on the sea. We walk out the long pier to an old wooden building perched on pilings. The original building was constructed in 1898, but has been renovated several times since then.


Lisa riding the rental bike with ferry to Finland in the background; locks and tiny lockers at the bath house.

The bath house has single sex bathing areas, plus single sex and co-ed sauna spaces.  Open all year so winter guests alternate icy plunges into the sea and steamy or dry saunas. We pay our fee and enter the women’s side, changing out of our clothes and into nothing! Textile free” like everyone else, we walk outside, past the bath (actually sea water) surrounded by an interior deck and changing rooms.

Ready for this new Swedish experience, we head to the exterior deck and staircase into the open sea. Women and girls of all ages enjoy the water and sunshine.  Lisa immediately heads into the sea and dives right in. The temperature is perfect as we swim and float, get out for some sun, in again for more swimming.  At the bath, we experience lagom (pronounced laaaw-gum), the Swedish word for health and contentment.

© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018


Cologne Cathedral between Roman Towers and Crane Houses

The spectacular sky matches the spectacular Cathedral as we walk from the Rhine River to its entrance.



Above: the Ludwig Museum of Modern Art in the foreground.


The back of the cathedral


North side, flying buttresses


North tower

Below are more details of one door, and carved figures around the same door.



Construction began in 1248 and didn’t finish until 1880! Emperor Wilhelm I presided over the opening of what was the tallest building in the world. (Four years later, in 1884, the Washington Monument topped it.) Over the years, builders and architects worked from the original plans, so the church remained Gothic in style throughout over 600 years of construction.

The interior height of the nave is 144 feet, one of the tallest in Europe.

IMG_2798 (1)

The stained glass windows didn’t last through the centuries, World War II bombings and battles near the cathedral shattered many of them.  During reconstruction in the 1950s, builders replaced some windows with clear glass.




Below is a photograph taken in 1945 showing the destroyed railroad bridge and damaged cathedral. (Note: Poor photo quality, as the photo displayed under plastic.)


Modern art made its way into a south facing window in 2007, when Gerhard Richter created a random pixel design in 72 colors to cover its 1,200 square feet.




Above: Floor mosaics


God, Jesus, the 4 apostles, and a world map that doesn’t include North and South America.


The Crucifix of Bishop Gero, 10th century, the oldest known large crucifix.


The High Altar from 1322 is topped with a solid 15-foot slab of black marble

On the streets and underground, we see remnants of the 1st century Roman colony, Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium.  Beneath the Roman gate on the Cathedral plaza, we chat with two Camino de Compostela de Santiago pilgrims, beginning their long walk to Spain. We wish “Buen Camino” to them on Jakobsweg, as it is called in German.


We also visit a stone tower, which marked the northwest corner of the Roman settlement. Check out the 2,000-year old mosaic design.



On our way to mid-morning ice cream, we passed another tower, its base from Roman times.


Roman foundation stones even support the cathedral. This hall cuts through the foundation stones:


Also beneath the cathedral is a partially reconstructed storage chamber believed to part of a wealthy Roman merchant’s house.


Mary has to squeeze in one more tourist outing, so she visits the Deutsches Sport & Olympia Museum. Brutally hot due to no air conditioning, she rushes through the history of assorted sports. The museum details the Olympics’ beginning in ancient Greece and displays a replica of a Greek bronze discus.  Also pictured below, a mechanical betting machine from the early 20th century, used in 6-day racing (people on bikes in a velodrome) and horse racing.

Our final morning walk along the Rhine River takes us below three 17-story cantilevered shimmering glass and steel buildings.



Reminiscent of the harbor cranes that served Cologne’s shipping industry, they are each called Kranhaus (Crane House). Built in 2008, architects Alfons Linster and Hadi Teherani designed them.

On our last night in the city that was once part of the Roman Empire, even the spectacular cathedral is dwarfed by the sky’s colors at sunset.


© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018


Baltic Sea Bike Tour: Day by Day

Through the woods and over the hills and onto the ferry

Before we reach the Baltic Sea, our trip begins in Rostock, home to a mish-mash of architecture, sculptures and fountains. Our tour will also take us through what used to be the GDR, German Democratic Republic, aka former East Germany, before the Wall came down in 1989. The city, like others on the Baltic coast, still shows off the monumental Gothic architecture of the Hanseatic era (1400s).

The largest church in Northern Germany, Marienkirche (St. Marien church), towers in Gothic glory next to a small goat fountain from the East German era. The church was built in 1230. The goat is from the 1970s.



Ratschow-Haus from the 15th cetnury, now Library of the City–important government documents kept here:


Another GDR fountain celebrates the workers of the world, fishing and farming:


A hotel spangles with East German festivity:


Rathaus, or Town Hall, a garish mixture of pink plaster and red brick turrets built in 1270:


We walk along the waterfront in drizzle. Thankfully, we find a cozy corner table overlooking the water, in an Italian restaurant, and fortify ourselves for our first bike kilometers tomorrow.


On the way back to our hotel, we see the Steintor, one of the old stone gates of the city:


After a bit of morning misdirection (Mary blames the bike tour book), we ride on the correct path to the sea. First, we pass through lovely fields, forests, and find the sea on the edge of a campground, just over the dune.


After riding by the sea, we turn inland to Wustrow, on the bay. We have the best room, with a small balcony overlooking this harbor.


We see another large Gothic brick church and enjoy another Italian meal. After breakfast among the sea shells, blocks and tackle, net tatters, and photos of sailboats and iceboats, we’re off to our next town.

As you read in the Natural World , this day is Mary’s favorite. It begins with a pause for this horse-drawn wagon filled with children singing camp songs.


Cool weather, tailwinds, and paved bike paths!


Not too many other people on the path. Mary secretly hopes for a sailboat cruise in the long light of evening at the next port town.

We arrive in Barth to discover a town as grim as its name. Road construction stymies us on busy roads. The hotel is basic, far from the harbor, but at least there is a cat to entertain Lisa while Mary fumbles with the lock and dank garage that holds our bikes for the evening. We ride our bikes to “Thai Asia Bistro,” but the smell of rancid oil mixed with pork, beef and who knows what else quickly drives us back out the door. So we head to familiar ReWe, a German supermarket chain, shiny, new and air-conditioned with many food options. Relieved, we get our food to go, and return to our room overlooking the parking lot to watch the Tour de France. Critically, we also purchase tortilla chips to be smashed in the pannier for mid-morning snacks on the next day.

Up next, another great day of riding by bays, harbors, marshes, and thatched roof houses. Thatched-roof houses are everywhere throughout our days of touring–old houses, new thatched-roof subdivisions, thatched-roof hotels, and assorted collapsing barns.

We also visit the restroom of a lumberjack festival, happening later this summer. Note  saws as decoration.


The clouds seem threatening, and the day is a little dark, but we arrive in Stralsund in time for a late lunch at a 1970s-style restaurant. We head to the harbor to figure out the ferry for the next day, but do not figure it out, and spend some time looking at digital (Lisa) and paper (Mary) maps to determine the location of our hotel.

View of St. Jakobi church in Alte Stadt (old town):


We ride past the Alte Stadt, and another lake, drag our bikes into the hotel cellar, marginally aided by the 8-inch ramp next to the stairs. But what a view from our room! The trees, the lake, the Gothic spires of the Alte Stadt. A perfect backdrop for recovering while watching the Tour de France.

Hotel room view:


St. Marien Lutheran Church, built before 1300. Between 1549 and 1647, it was the tallest building in the world with a bell tower at 103 meters.  Parts of the church have been rebuilt ove the centuries.

Walking to dinner view:IMG_2772

We walk to dinner by the harbor, admire the fountain in the lake and studiously avoid Asian bistros. Bellini’s welcomes us with delayed but delicious Italian food. It’s a lovely summer evening in a university town.

We are überpünktlich (“over on time” or extremely early) for the ferry ticket office in the morning, then we wait another 45 minutes for the ferry.


While waiting on the dock, we chat with friendly Berlin cyclists who tell us we will love the Island of Hiddensee, And we do! No cars allowed to drive on the island–only horses, walking, and bikes.

A bit of biking on bricked bike paths, a bit of hiking to the Leuchtturm (light house), and some lounging on the beach.


Mary goes for a swim. We wait for a ferrry, early early again!


Later the same day, we catch another ferry to Breege. This ferry features an accordion player who serenades passengers from bike deck.

We arrive to the cobblestone dock in Breege, and ride on it just like Tour de France riders do that very same day (Stage 9). We have finally arrived on the Island of Rügen, home to semi-famous seaside resorts.


Our hotel is easy to find, and throbbing with 2 busloads of tourist jubilados (Spanish for retired people) in the buffet line for dinner.  It is not a seaside resort, but a friendly family-owned hotel. The owner/manager welcomes us with “I speak English, I am Dutch” and tells us where to put our bikes, and about the buffet.   Starving we are, we quickly dump our stuff in our room and head to the end of the now short buffet line. Fish and many styles of potatoes, spargel (white asparagus) soup, and ice cream for dessert.

We avoid the German and Dutch bus tour folks by eating outside with a sliver of the bay visible through the buildings across the street. We take another lovely after-dinner amble along the water in the peaceful village of Breege.



The next day, we follow the short cut recommended in our guidebook, and become lost on a rough cobbled road, followed by a slippery sandy track through fields. We follow various hiking trail signs in an attempt to get to the beech forest and white cliffs which should be the highlight of our trip.

Mary no longer enjoys riding on cobbles on rented tank bike.

Finally, we reach a town and a large parking lot where the National Park shuttle bus stops. Civilization! Salmon sandwiches and coke in the shade of a food truck restore us. We get better directions and ride on a rolling paved road through the forest. Upon recommendation of our Dutch host, we take a dirt road into the forest to Wald (forest) house.

After locking our bikes, we head down the trail and get our first views of the cliffs. Beech trees envelop us with calm, and cleanse us of our morning cranky cobbles.



Refreshed, we cruise downhill to Sassnitz. Foiled by guidebook misdirection again, we ride on more cobbles to the industrial port area. Mary says “Our hotel is up there,” pointing to the hill above the harbor. Lisa gets out her trusty digital phone to guide us to it. We ride along the waterfront, and up another hill (this time on a smooth-ish sidewalk) and arrive at our hotel that time forgot. It is overdone in a weird way that 1950s GDR architecture referred back to some golden era.

But collectibles! We discover two rooms on the first floor filled with cases of small objects from around the world. There’s also a detailed book explaining the collector and his collections – for whoever might be interested.


A groovy pedestrian bridge leads down to the harbor in Sassnitz.


We also learn this used to be a critical port on the Stockholm to Berlin immigration journey, from the 1890s:


After an Italian dinner by the harbor, we watch a large vessel with two-hulls, like a green and white super-sized steel catamaran, circle the harbor waiting for a place to dock. After another similar red vessel departs, the green one ties up.


We identify British accents and ask the man with a suitcase about the type of vessel. “It takes us to the wind farm, it’s ok to say that right?” he says looking toward the German. “Ya.” Baltic Sea commuting! Wind farm engineers work for weeks at a time, like oil rig roughnecks except on sustainable energy platforms. German, British, and Swedish firms own and operate the farms.




On to Binz! The bike route to Binz is first dangerous: we ride on a narrow bridge over a steel grid sidewalk with train tracks below. Then it turns to simply  dreary, a paved path through a tunnel of scrubby pine along a busy road. We skip the bleak community of Prora, which was the Nazi and East German summer playground for the privileged of those eras. Its Bauhaus style buildings are in disrepair or gentrified, depending on which part of the beach you visit. Find out more from this Architecture Magazine story. 

We park our bikes and stroll along the Binz seaside strand. We see 19th and early 20th century “villas,” small resort hotels that now contain vacation apartments.

The Jetsons apparently also spent some time here:


Everyone must have a beach ticket, and we attempt to pay, but the machine hates us and will not take our Euros.



Away from the busy central area, we sneak across the sand past these cabanas, to dip our toes in the water. After an ice cream snack, we’re on our way to the smaller resort town of Sellin.

We get to our hotel just before it starts to drizzle. Undaunted, we go to the main street for a delicious Italian lunch, then take a stroll to the famous pier, built in 1906 (rebuilt since then). It’s gray and blustery, so we don’t spend too much time. Later in the evening, we return to the beach where a few people still swim at 9 pm.


Rain greets us the next morning, so we greet the narrow-gauge train called Rasender Roland that takes us to Putbus, shortening our 62 km bike ride to “only” 50 km.

A bike car holds our bikes along with a few others. The train is quaint, historic, and cozy until the coal smoke blows into our car, Mary moves to the back of the car to avoid it. A couple of stops later, Lisa joins her. Thank goodness the coal-powered stove is not necessary today.


We ride along double-track through the damp forest, but the rain has gone! In the fields and forests, we see other bike tourists carrying much heavier loads than us. We’re crossing the interior of Rügen which is hillier than the coast. After a couple of hours into the wind, and across the long bridge to Stralsund, we reach civilization and the  confounding posted bike signs vs. guidebook directions. One final mis-direction from Mary “No, I’m sure it’s this way,” is corrected after about a mile. And we reach our hotel. No, we will not be climbing stairs to the second floor of the “villa” which is certainly a converted barn. The hotel gives us a regular room instead.

The next morning, we bid “auf wiedersehen” to Stralsund  at the Flix Bus stop, in the shadow of St. Marien.


Screen Shot 2018-07-23 at 5.13.47 PM

Map of our total route with Fähre (ferry).

© 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,


and the famous Charles Bridge,


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.


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,

IMG_1110Basilica St. George on the grounds of Prague Castle

to Renaissance,


IMG_1090Schwarzenberg Palace near Prague Castle


IMG_1064Inside St. Nicholas Church

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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.

Apple Strudl, my favorite,


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


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.


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



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.


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.


© 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.


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



the Elisabeth Bridge, named for a popular empress, and



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


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.


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.


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.



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


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,


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


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.


© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018





Inside Split’s Roman Palace and Old City

Before exploring Split’s Roman roots, let’s review Croatia’s complex history after World War II. Post war, Croatia was part of the socialist republic known as Yugoslavia. Not part of the “eastern block,” citizens of Yugoslavia enjoyed freedom to travel without visas, free healthcare and pensions. But the tides turned in the late 1980s with the rise of  Slobodan Milošević in Serbia and the death of Croatia’s longtime leader Josip Broz Tito. Following were 11 years of political, financial, and religious instability and struggle. At the end of this period, Yugoslavia dissolved, but the fight for Croatian independence raged against armies from Bosnia and Montenegro. Although Croatia declared independence in 1991, concurrent with the dissolution of Yugoslavia, independence remained elusive until the end of the war for independence in 1995. 

Las Chicas see remnants of this history in the socialist-era buildings dotting our bus route, in towns like Ploče, where the bus stops for one of our short breaks.Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 2.13.42 PM

The Markarsa bus station seems a bit more Jetson-ny in design with mountains pressing up against the edge of town:


Croatian radio provides the bus trip sound track, 3 American/British pop songs then 1 Croatian song. Occasionally the music matches the scenery: Tina Turner’s “We don’t need another hero,” (theme from Mad Max) for abandoned cement block buildings of communism; George Michael’s ballad “Careless Whisper” for the romantic Dalamatian coastline. Other times, the music makes us laugh, like Dolly Parton blaring from a souvenir stand just outside the Diocletian palace (see video at the end).

As the road twists and turns through coastal towns along the Adriatic Sea, we see how Croatia emerged from these tumultuous times and became a tourist destination with signs  advertising “zimmer,” “soba” or “camere,” rooms for rent. 

Finally, we reach the Split bus station, right next to the ferry dock and a short walk from our hotel.  We enter the Diocletian palace in the heart of the old city.

Centuries of reuse and misuse have transformed the retirement palace of Roman Emperor Diocletian into a maze of narrow passageways and occasional plazas. The old palace now contains  shops, restaurants, bars, churches, museums, apartments and two hotels including ours! We take some wrong turns, then a friendly chef on his smoke break explains to us where to go: past the statue, up the steps, turn, then up again. 

Hotel Slavija is the oldest hotel in Split, and is built over the old Roman baths of the palace. 

Lights on the wall show the location of our room relative to the baths:


The evening hotel clerk tells about great restaurants, that are unfortunately closed on this Easter Monday. But we find a nearby fish restaurant and dine al fresco pretending that it’s balmy even though it’s probably  about 53 degrees. Cats wander by, bicyclists and motos bomb down the cobbles next to us because we are literally eating in the street. The waiter comes bearing a silver tray of dead fish which he plunks down on our small table. Like a dessert tray, but less appealing. He describes all the fish of the day and the kuna (Croat money) per kilogram price which is just too much math for Las Chicas after a long bus ride. 

The next morning, we eat breakfast next to a Roman water pipe that supplied the baths:IMG_1764

Duly fortified, we explore the old city. We check out the cathedral and its baptistry from the 12th century:





The cathedral, built partially with Roman columns and marble from the old palace, is next to the well-preserved Peristyle, the monumental court flanked by temples in Roman times. The Peristyle now hosts formal concerts and informal guitarists entertaining café customers.  Sphinxes, allegedly 3,500 years old, lounge between columns.


Through the vestibule we discover something akin to the Oculus in the Pantheon in Rome. Once covered with a dome, the vestibule has a blue sky ceiling.


The palace maintains an elegance, with an abundance of special architectural features, including the gates in the middle of each wall. The southern sea gate (the Porta Aenea),

eastern gate (the Silver Gate or Porta argentea), western gate (the Iron Gate or Porta ferrea) and the northern gate (Golden Gate or Porta aurea). 


Outside the Golden Gate (pictured above) of the palace, the Croatian people erected their own god-like statue of Gregory of Nin, a bishop who according to legend, was the first to give church services in the national language (instead of Latin) back in 923.

Here’s a 53-second video featuring a Dalmatian men’s choir singing inside the acoustic perfection of the Diocletian Palace Vestibule (view from top). Also, a snippet of the motorized carts used to carry construction material and people through the narrow passageways of the old city.

© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018