Baltic Sea Bike Tour: Day by Day

Through the woods and over the hills and onto the ferry

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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.

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

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

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A hotel spangles with East German festivity:

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Cool weather, tailwinds, and paved bike paths!

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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.

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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):

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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:

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

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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.

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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.

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Map of our total route with Fähre (ferry).

© 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

 

Forgotten Women Sculptors of Berlin

We ride our bikes to see over 100 sculptures by Berlin women from the modernist era (most created between WWI and WWII). It’s the last weekend of this exhibition at The Georg Kolbe Museum: “The First Generation: Women Sculptors of Berlin Modernism.”

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The look of peace emanating from this face was captured in bronze by the Marg Moll. Moll began her career as a painter, then shifted her medium to sculpture, inspired by Louise Schmidt. She is most famous for the sculpture “Dancer,” not part of this exhibition. In 1943, Moll and her artist husband lost nearly all of their work when their home was bombed.

Many of the ten female sculptors with works on display sculpted bronze, wood, and marble. They flourished during the 1920s, a time when Berlin celebrated cultural diversity. The celebration abruptly ended with the rise of National Socialism. The Nazis closed art schools,  stripped women of their status as artists and teachers, and banned them from purchasing materials because of their gender, because they were Jewish, or both.

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Some sculptors focused on familiar animals. Renée Sintenis sculpted this donkey, but she’s most famous for sculpting the “Berlin Bear.” This figure welcomes drivers into the city at the former Dreilinden border crossing near the Zellendorf neighborhood of Berlin (photo below from Flickr):

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Sintenis was named to the Academy of Arts the 1920s, but expelled in 1934 because her grandmother was Jewish. In 1955, she became one of the first female professors at the University of the Arts in Berlin.

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Gross Daphne (Large Daphne) by Renée Sintenis.

Other animal sculptures had a more exotic quality to them. IMG_1309 copy

The small-format bushbaby (nocturnal primate native to east Africa), was created by Christa Winsloe. A sculptor in her early career, Winsloe focused most of her time on writing.  Her plays were the basis for several films including Mädchen in Uniform (Girls in Uniform),  loosely autobiographical about her experience in a military-like boarding school, and considered to be icon of early lesbian cinema. But like many female sculptors of that time, much of her work has been lost.

Louise Stomps was one of the first women to study at Berlin’s University of the Arts in 1928. After WWII, Frankfurt art dealer Hanna Bekker vom Rath supported her by regularly exhibiting the sculptor’s organic and abstract forms.  The city of Berlin later purchased several of Stomps’ works in bronze and wood.

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Kleine Ruhende (Small Dormant Figure) by Louis Stomps.

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Sakral (Sacred) by Louise Stomps.

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Kleiner Rufer (Little Caller) by Louise Stomps.

Käthe Kollwitz was the first woman elected to the Prussian Academy of Arts. A committed socialist and pacifist, the artist is known for depicting  working class people suffering from the effects of hunger, poverty and war. She lost her youngest son during World War I. After the pain she and other families endured, she wrote: “There has been enough of dying! Let not another man fall!”

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Mutter mit zwei kinder (Mother with two children) by Käthe Kollwitz.IMG_1302 copy

Abschied (Farewell) by Käthe Kollwitz.

In 1933, the Nazi party forced Kollwitz to resign her position at the Academy of Künste, and banned her work from being displayed. However, the Nazis did use one of her images, “Mother and Child” as propoganda.  The Nazis declared her to be a “degenerate artist” in 1936. During the World War II, she fled to a small town near Dresden, where she died in 1945, just days before the war ended.

She is honored in Berlin with a statue in Kollwitzplatz in the Prenzlauer berg neighborhood, where a street is also named after her.

IMG_1300 copyGottes Hand (God’s Hand) by Milly Steger.

Milly Steger became municipal sculptor for the city of Hagen (in western Germany), which commissioned her to create large-scale architectural sculptures. Four larger than life female nudes she made for the facade of the Hagen Theater created a scandal and made the artist known throughout Germany. Like other women sculptors, her work was declared “degenerate” by the Nazis. She worked for just a few years in Berlin after WWII; she died of cancer in 1948.

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Hagen Theater figures by Milly Steger. From website: https://www.wp.de/staedte/hagen/diskussion-ueber-theater-zukunft-in-hagen-auf-den-8-mai-vertagt-id7873817.html

There is a different feeling in these rooms of sculpture created by women, most noticeably in the figures’ facial expressions.  The female figures here are loving, joyous, sad, intense, beautiful, sexual — a range of human being-ness.

After wandering through this amazing exhibit, we explore the small garden and works by sculptor Georg Kolbe.

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A lovely café lunch energizes us for the bike ride home through the shady Grunewald, and back to our Halensee neighborhood.

© 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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Baroque,

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and Art Nouveau,

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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

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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

 

 

 

 

Springtime in Berlin

May is here which means bike rides beneath tree blossoms, in forests, and parks. We also celebrate International Workers Day, May 1, at a street party in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin.

First, bucolic Berlin and Brandenburg:

 

Treptow Park bike path and  Spree Park (abandoned amusement park)

Treptow Park tree blossoms

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We ride through Grunewald Forest by masses of stacked wood on the side of the road, and see a magic hut that appears and reminds us of fairy tales, but instead houses a conservation education project for students.

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Sacrower Heliandskirche (church) from both sides of the Havel River.

Off to Kreuzberg for May 1, an international holiday (so no school for Lisa!)

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Workers of the world unite! And drink beer, and eat bratwurst, or Indian food, or anything else.  We join friends from the neighborhood who tell us that the police actually started the street party. Why? Because a few years ago, the May 1  workers/anarchist march through the neighborhood was too destructive–cars trampled, trash cans  on fire, windows smashed. Now there’s live music, alcohol (nothing unusual in this city), people offering free hugs, and a Love Revolution flag troupe.

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IMG_0168We also see the club made famous by David Bowie and Iggy Pop back in the day:

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After weaving through the masses in dark clothing, we aim for sunshine along the canal. We cross “Hipster Bridge” where millenials lounge; we eschew the 90-minute pizza place (“not worth it,” according to locals), and dive into Isabel Eiscafé for superior ice cream.

IMG_0172Hipster Bridge, Kreuzberg

Dogs enjoy the spring weather too, as Mary discovers on her accidental bike ride through the largest off-leash dog park in Berlin. In the same park, there’s Jagdschloss Grunewald  (palace) and Grunewaldsee (lake).

fc0d375e-bf0c-480c-83a5-38d5493fd997Two women walk 18 dogs!

It’s still chilly in the morning, but Lisa bundles up in brighter colors for her bike commute:

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And more flowers to celebrate spring!

© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018

Waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvička jezera, Plitvice Lakes National Park on the eastern edge of Croatia, pulls Las Chicas into its watery wonderland of blues and greens and silvers and white.

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Cloudy days mute the colors in photographs, but not in person. These lakes are a result of the confluence of several surface rivers and subterranean rivers. The lakes are all interconnected and follow the water flow. They are separated by natural dams of travertine (a type of limestone), which is created by the action of moss, algae, and bacteria. The travertine basins give the lakes their other-wordly turquoise color.  The dams create waterfalls as one lake cascades into the next.

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We stay at a small B&B  just a 15-minute walk from the top of the tallest waterfalls.

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While passing by the outdoor kitchen and fireplace grill, we eye the fish which will be our dinner and their dead eyes. Mary asks “what kind of fish?” and the cook indicates he doesn’t speak English,  then answers “roasted.” We determine that the fish are some type of local trout, perhaps even Plitvice trout.

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Can you see dinner in the photo above?

Down the road from our B&B, Mary takes the broken stone staircase challenge and climbs down to the base of the falls, stepping over small piles of snow.  Lisa waits at the top, and enjoys the peace of the water, as stair climbing is not a friendly activity for her knee at the moment.

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Mary’s happy for the raincoat that protects her from waterfall spray.

Yugoslavia established this National Park in 1949.  The government built large hotels and restaurants to accommodate tourists, following guidelines that only single-story and two-story structures could be built, and must be adapted to the terrain, without standing out. So that’s what socialist vacation spots look like! Today buildings still host thousands of tourists each year. In fact, on one drizzly day we are happy to get out of the rain and into a cafeteria style restaurant after a walk in the woods.

War smashed the peace of these  beautiful forests and lakes on “Plitvice Bloody Easter” in 1991. Serbs and Croats killed each other over control of the park; the Serbs wanted this park to be part of their country, not part of Croatia. The Serbian army occupied Plitvice and the surrounding region, tourist hotels became army barracks, or they were severely damaged during the fighting.  Local Croats fled and lived near the coast as refugees. Due to the risk of land mines, the United Nations placed the park on the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger during the war years. The Croat army took back the park in 1995.  After the war, the Plitvice Lakes were among the first areas to be cleared of mines and renovated. The park is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

From our B&B, we drive to the other side of the gorge, to the main entrance of the park. There are ramps down to the water, and wooden walkways across the tops of falls and along the sides of the gorge.

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Lisa takes her turn in the mist at the tallest waterfalls:

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Shuttle buses and ferries make it easy to explore the whole park.

We see a few educational and warning signs for tourists, we learn that jezera is lake and slap means waterfall.

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After a Croat breakfast of eggs, bread, muesli, yogurt, and ignored meat and cheese platter, we head out for one more day of exploring.IMG_1986

We take a long walk on the park’s road to the upper lakes because the shuttle isn’t running that way, it’s too early in the season.  Small snow piles line the road, but a sprinkle of flowers tells us spring is coming!

 

View along the road, to waterfalls across the lake:

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We hear torrents of water before we see them. Then the most magical waterscape appears, with very few other people. Through the trees:

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Click on the photo below to see enlarged panorama:

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Or you can see professional quality photos of this area here.

We return to the main area of the park, with a few more chances for photos in the sunshine. Mary tries out the “street food,” cherry pie from a stand at the park entrance.

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We drive back to Split, passing fields and snow-capped mountains. Croatia’s coast is beautiful, but we love the magic of its mountains too.

Tread the wooden walkways over travertine dams with us in this video:

© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018