Olomouc, Czech Republic on the way to Krakow, Poland

Day 5, Friday, August 30, 2019

We are driving to Krakow today and stop to visit Olomouc on the way. We find parking easily, which is always nice, and walk to the town square. One of the first buildings we pass has this charming little still life on a window sill. I wonder who put it there and how many people passing by notice and appreciate the effort?

We are amazed at how huge the town square is. There aren’t very many people around but we imagine that in the peak tourist months it is probably much busierBob gets a couple pastries at the first bakery and we sit on a bench to eat them and watch the people walking by. It is hot again today, 29°.  I have heard that European flours are often tolerated by people with gluten sensitivities, so I have a couple bites. 
Doesn’t everyone want to ride on a turtle? I almost went right over backwards when I climbed on!
The Holy Trinity Column dominates the town square. “The column is dominated by gilded copper sculptures of the Holy Trinity accompanied by the archangel Gabriel on the top and the assumption of the Virgin beneath it. The base of the column, in three levels, is surrounded by 18 more stone sculptures of saints and 14 reliefs.” ~wikipedia. It even has a small chapel in the base. 

I said I want a flower column like this in my yard! We wonder what this shop sells? These figures were made out of straw. It was closed so we couldn’t go in to find out. We climb another bell tower in the Church of St. Michael just off the square. There wasn’t any place to see outside and get a view over the city, which was too bad. The same church had steps to a crypt so we went to explore,.. and we found this little shrine and a small pool of water. These ladies caught my eye.  St. Wenceslas Cathedral was originally built in 1131 and was rebuilt in the second half of the 13th century. The facade was renovated in 1999-2008. It is very impressive. Of course the interior is just as impressive. We visit Archdiocese Museum which is much more interesting than I had anticipated. It is only $3 Cad each and we probably spent a couple hours exploring. Each room was closed off by a door which was opened by an ‘older’ woman who then made sure that we saw every exhibit that was discussed on our audio guides. They opened and closed doors behind us, which was actually very helpful as it wasn’t easy to figure out which doors we were supposed to go through. I love the statues and paintings of the Virgin Mary. There is something very appealing about the way the artists depicted their faces. More fountains in the town square as we make our way back to our car. This bar catches my eye. I am sure I know this name and look it up. Sure enough, it is the name of a show on Netflix about a gang in England in the early 1900’s.When we cross the border into Poland we are surprised that there is no indication that we were leaving one country and entering another.  One of the interesting things about travelling is how different things are from home. Sometimes the differences are challenging and sometimes the differences make me smile. This is what I saw in the first bathroom I entered in Poland.

Bridges on the highway into Poland are certainly different.We were frustrated when our SIM card stops working once we cross the border. We were told it would work in all the countries we were visiting. We finally find a MacDonalds so we can contact our bnb host, who is waiting to hear from us. It is late when we finally make it to our new apartment, which wasn’t very easy to find in the dark, but we are here, and tomorrow will be a rest day for us.

Punkva and St. Catherine’s Caves near Bruno, Czech Republic

Day 4, August 29, 2019

Bob is doing an excellent job researching where we should go and what we should see. He discovers the Punkva and St. Catherine’s Caves which are a 45 minute drive north of Bruno. We find out we should have reserved tickets weeks ago but we take a chance and drive up early in the morning hoping there might be some last minute tickets available.  We are successful and we are soon on our 1.2 km tour of the Punkva Caves. Giant formations inside the cave. The Macocha Abyss is a surprise. Like an underground world with trees and a small lake. The first discoverers of this cave lowered themselves by rope 138 meters into this abyss. Next we are loaded into boats and travel along 440 meters of an underground river. The overhanging rocks are very low and we need to duck at times to avoid banging our heads. No photos were allowed on the boats. We stop and disembark to view this beautiful white cavern then back onto the boats to finish our tour. After sampling the local fare we go for a hike to the top of the Macocha Abyss that we saw from inside the cave. Lots and lots of stairs! This is a picture of a picture, but it shows looking up from the bottom of the abyss better than any of my photos.

It is just a short walk to St. Catherine’s Cave, named after a shepherd girl who got lost and died in the cave looking for some lost sheep. This cave was inhabited by Palaeolithic man and many bones of cave bears were discovered here. This is the largest cave dome in the Czech Republic. It was impossible to get it all into one photo it is so huge. Cave bear remains are found in this pile of rocks and bones and there is an assembled cave bear skeleton on display. These were very big bears who lived 50,000 to 30,000 years ago! This is called the Bamboo Forest with its high, stick shaped stalagmites. These are unique and not found in any other caves in this country.
Crazy beautiful formations. We are allowed to touch this stalagmite. It is said that if you touch this formation with two fingers your wish will come true. Here’s hoping…The entrance to St. Catherine’s cave. The temperature inside these caves was about 8 °C and the humidity is 99%. We emerge into the 29° weather and our glasses and camera lens all fog up.

We stop for much needed groceries in a nearby town and it is almost dark when we get home. Time to pack up again. We leave tomorrow so we will not have a chance to see anything in the town of Bruno. We have decided that the next trip we take will have 3 night minimum stays, even when we are just stopping to get from one place to another. There is so much to see everywhere that a 2 night stopover with only one day to sightsee just doesn’t work. I also hate having to pack and unpack so often. Oh, and according ot my FitBit we walked 14,200 steps and climbed the equivalent of 39 floors! No wonder my legs and feet are so tired.

 

Telč, Czech Republic UNESCO Site

Day 3, Wednesday, August 28, 2019

On the way from Prague to Brno we stop at Telč, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The drive took longer than anticipated due to the heavy traffic and road construction. We have never seen so many trucks on the highway anywhere else. Luckily the trucks stay in the right lane, because at one point we passed 85 trucks that were stuck in traffic and not moving at all! One of the many small towns we pass on the road to Telč.

The countryside is beautiful and not so different from home.The town square at Telč is a visual feast. Every house is painted differently, each one vying to outdo its neighbours in beauty. The well-conserved Renaissance and Baroque houses from the 14th century have high gables and arcades on the ground level which provide sheltered walkways and display areas for the ground floor shops. It also hides any modern signs and advertising from view on the square

There are two fountains in the centre of this large rectangular square with benches for relaxing, which we take advantage of. It was a great spot to enjoy some goodies from the local bakery and enjoy the sunshine. At the far end of the square we see the bell tower so of course we go see if is possible to climb to the top for a view of the town.The first 50 stone stairs are very narrow… but soon we are climbing another 100 steps on old wooden timber steps up to the bells. This bell is named Marie and she was cast in 1550 and weighs 950 kg! A bit more climbing and we are looking down on the two bells, Jacub and Marie, before climbing to the viewing platform at the top. The view from the top was wonderful. Telč is a very pretty town.

Next we take a tour of the underground tunnels and cellars of Telč. All the houses have underground cellars that were connected by tunnels. They were used to store food and supplies and as a place to hide if the town was attacked. There are 11 km of tunnels but only about 150 meters that we are allowed to visit. That is just fine as we have to bend at the waist and crouch to walk through the dark tunnels with only a flashlight to find our way. This crucifix was at the end of one dark tunnel . We were the only people on the tour who actually went and explored all the tunnels. Everyone else stayed in the larger rooms that were used for some displays and a short video about Telč. Back above ground we walked through the grounds of the palace. We didn’t have time to take a tour of the inside, but Bob got a chance to try wielding a sword. They are very heavy! We also met some interesting creatures. This ten year old python and… his 4 year old albino friend. This beautiful ironwork was on one of the doors of the palace. We visited our first (and certainly not our last) church, the Church of St. James the Greater which dates from 1273, but has been rebuilt many times since then.This panorama gives an idea of just how many houses line just one side of the square. They are all in a row, not in a curve as they appear in the photo. These houses continue on from the right side of the photo above. It is hot, 28° and we finally feel like it is summer. It was a cool wet summer at home so this is a nice change. 

A quick photo from the car on the way to Brno. There are lots of very brightly painted  houses here, and yellow and bright green houses are very common. I have no idea what this is supposed to be but it is certainly unusual. I wonder if someone lives here? We finally arrive in Brno, find our apartment but can’t figure out how to get into the building! Finally we message our host who comes down to meet us. It is a beautiful bnb apartment, the foyer alone is bigger than our whole place was in Prague!

Prague and the Zizkov Television Tower

Day 2, Tuesday August 27, 2019

We go for a walk to explore our neighbourhood and notice this tower near our apartment. It is the Zizkow Television Tower which was once ranked as the fourth ugliest structure in the world!  The tower stands 216 meters (709 feet) high, and the observatory is 93 m.(305 feet) high. You can click on blue highlighted words for more info.

Three of the pods are used for equipment related to the tower’s primary function and are inaccessible to the public. The other six pods are open to visitors, and give a panoramic view of Prague and the surrounding area. The lower three pods house a restaurant and café bar.If you look down in the lower right corner you can just make out some of the headstones of the old Jewish Cemetery which located beneath all the trees in the bottom of this photo. Prague is a pretty city with lots of parks and green spaces.The old Jewish Cemetery is thought to contain more than 100,000 graves, some with multiple bodies stacked up to twelve deep.  There are ten six foot tall babies crawling on the tower. It is quite the sight, and it does make us smile, They were placed on the tower to help make it more appealing to the people of Prague, who were not in favour of the tower when it was built.

We sit in a park we saw from the tower, for a snack and I sketch this building for 45 minutes. Bob starts a crossword puzzle but then he has a little nap on the park bench.

DSC00183

DSC00461

Walking home we passed these whimsical apartments. They look like they belong in a storybook.We go home to pack for the beginning of our road trip tomorrow through the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany,                                  .

 

On Our Way To Prague

Sunday August 25, 2019 and Monday August 26, 2019

We left Edmonton Sunday morning and arrived in Prague Monday morning. The flight was better than expected…we had been bumped to a Air Canada Rouge plane which is the economy airline operated by Air Canada for our 8 hour flight from Toronto to Prague. All the reviews on this plane were very negative so I was expecting a very difficult flight.

To our delight we had three seats for the two of us on both legs of our travels. This made a huge difference in our comfort level and we were both able to get some horizontal time which was wonderful. This was our first International flight that left in the morning. It was very strange to have two full days without any night time in between. We take a bus to the train station which is a enormous beautiful building. It is basically a shopping mall with a train station attached. We take a taxi from here to our apartment. We decided last trip that this is money well spent, as we are tired and in a new city. It is so nice to be delivered to our front door.This is the view from our Prague apartment. We have two nights here to rest and sort out our phone SIM card and pick up our rental car before we head to Brno. we have had some difficulties with internet so I am a bit late getting these first posts online. I should catch up tomorrow.
So glad you are following our blog and we hope you enjoy travelling along with us.

We Are Home!

Day 99, Tuesday December 12, & Day 100, Wednesday December 2017

We now have one more day in Rome due to our flight cancellation. When Bob checked flights out of Amsterdam Tuesday morning, just to see what was happening, we discovered that our original flight to Amsterdam was “uncancelled”!  So if we hadn’t done what we are supposed to do and checked our flights the night before we would have saved ourselves a lot of grief and a very long travel day home.  Then to add insult to injury we get a reply to our request for a refund of the cancelled flight and we are told that the flight wasn’t cancelled! We are a no-show, so no refund!  We never thought to take a screenshot of the cancellation notice on the airline’s site, so we have no proof that it was showing as cancelled for six hours last night. Very frustrating!

We spend a quiet day at home and finish all our packing and cleaning of the apartment. The alarm is set for 4:00 am tomorrow morning so we can catch the 5:30 metro to the Termini train station .

Wednesday morning we arrive at the metro on time but our train is almost a half hour late! This is the first time we have had a late metro train. When we arrive at the train station we need to run to catch our train to the airport. The conductor sees us and waits for us, so we are lucky and thankful to be on our way to the airport.

Rome’s airport is very large so we are taken by bus to our plane.

Flying over the Alps…towards Germany…
and Munich
I didn’t know that houses in Germany were all white. It is very pretty.

We are delayed in Munich due to mechanical problems so we arrive in Rekyavik at the same time we were supposed to be boarding. We make a mad dash though the airport hoping we will not miss our flight. However when we arrive at the boarding dock we find that boarding is late, so now we get to wait in line for a while.

The rest of our flight was uneventful and we arrived home to find our good friends waiting  for us at the airport. It was a long 24 hour travel day and it is very good to be home. We certainly had some challenges this trip but in spite of that, we still had a wonderful holiday.

Adjusting to being home after such a long trip takes time so it took me a while to finish the last few days of the blog.  Thanks for following along with us. I hope you enjoyed the trip!

 

Climbing St. Peter’s Dome and Not so Wonderful News!

Day 98, Monday December 11, 2017

This was our last day in Rome, and I really wanted to climb the dome at St. Peter’s so that is where we went today. It was cloudy and windy but it wasn’t raining so that is good. I think they close the dome when it is raining so I kept my fingers crossed that we get to do this today.
After a twenty-minute wait to get through security there is no wait to climb the dome. I was willing to climb all 551 steps to the top but Bob thought we should take the elevator for the first 231 steps so we did that. When we get off the elevator we go inside the dome and get an up close look at the mosaics and the beautiful interior of the dome.
We will be climbing up to that little circle of light high above us!Everything in the Church far below us looks very small. This is the area where the service for  Peace in the Congo and the Sudan was held the first time we came to St. Peters. This is our third visit to St. Peter’s.From one of the windows, we see the backs of the huge statues on top of St. Peter’s. 
There are another 320 steps that we climb to get to the cupola on top of the dome. We are inside the walls of the dome so they slant quite steeply. It is very strange to walk with such sloping walls.The stairs get progressively smaller and more enclosed. I wouldn’t recommend this climb for anyone with claustrophobia.
Here we are on the cupola high above the ground.  At 450 feet high, this is the tallest dome in the world, and we are standing on it!On the way up I took the first photo from a window. It felt pretty high already. Notice the dome with the scaffolding in the first photo, and then see how much higher we climbed by comparing it to the same dome in the second photo.This is the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel.  You can see how long the hallways were on either side of the interior courtyard. Also there were inscriptions carved onto the roof of the dome with Pope’s names and dates.You can see them in the bottom of the photo.
St. Peter’s Square with the Christmas tree, and the road that leads to the river and the Castel Sant’Angelo. The view from up here is amazing even with it being an overcast day.It is very windy but no rain, so we are happy. We spent at least an hour up here, just enjoying the view. We even had our tea and cookie break on the sheltered side of the dome. Not sure if we will ever get back here so we wanted to soak it all up!This is looking up towards the cupola just above our heads. These are the windows that are visible inside the church at the top of the dome.
The Vatican Gardens look beautiful. We didn’t get a chance to tour them, maybe another visit?This photo clearly shows how apartments are often built around an inner courtyard that is not visible from the street. Also another look at an inscription on the dome.
We climb back down the 320 steps and we are delighted to discover that we get to walk the roof of the basilica. How amazing is that? We get up close and personal with the huge statues, check out a souvenir shop, a cafe and the bathrooms, all on the roof top of St. Peter’s!There is a great view of the dome from the roof top.
We were right up on the top, behind the railing. I was very excited about the whole visit.We walk down the last 231 steps and emerge inside St. Peter’s. Looking up at the dome it is crazy to think that we were up there. We were on the inside just below the windows and then on the outside away up above that tiny opening, which isn’t really all that tiny and walking above these beautiful ceilings!We visit the grotto below the church which contain chapels dedicated to various saints and tombs of kings, queens and popes, dating from the 10th century. The holiest place is St. Peter’s tomb, visible on the right side of this photo. The monument to Pope Paul VI (1978) is here but the tomb of Pope John Paul II (2005) is upstairs in the church. I took a photo before I was told that no photos were allowed and it just happened to be this one of St. Peter’s tomb.Back outside we watched changing of the Swiss guards. I love their uniforms. They are inspired by Renaissance uniforms and they are the colour of the House of the Medici.On our walk back to the metro we pass shops that sell robes for the clergy. This was a surprise for us but I guess they need to buy these vestments somewhere. We wonder if you need to show ID to make a purchase?When we arrive home we check our flight to Amsterdam tomorrow and find out that it has been cancelled due to bad weather in Amsterdam! This is the third flight that has been cancelled on us this trip!!

We spend the next five hours trying to figure out how we are going to get home. No use booking another flight as it may get cancelled too, and there are no busses that would get us there in time. The train can only guarantee to get us to the German-Netherland border and then we “should” be able to stay on the train and just pay the conductor to get to Amsterdam!  That means there is a chance we might get stranded at the border late at night!!

In the end our best option is to rebook our flight and fly from Rome to Munich, then to Reykjavik and finally home. Instead of a short flight to Amsterdam, a relaxing night in a hotel and then a flight home, we now have a 24 hour travel day starting at 4 am and it cost us a lot more money!!  Oh well, we decide to not worry about it and at least we will still get home on December 13th. Luckily we are able to book another night in our bnb so we didn’t have to move somewhere else for one day. We finally get this all sorted out near midnight. Not a nice end to a lovely day in Rome.

 

Packing Day and Wonderful News

Day 97, Sunday December 10, 2017

We decide to start packing and organizing for the start of our trip home on Tuesday. I didn’t want to leave it all until the last day and it is raining so it is a good day to stay home and get that done.

We received wonderful news today. We have a beautiful new grandson! We can’t wait to meet Arland once we are home. 

The Roman Catacombs, Italy

Day 96, Saturday December 9, 2017

We get a wave from a friendly Santa this morning on our way to catch the bus to the catacombs.

We arrive at the San Sebastiano Catacombs only to find this note tacked to the door. Too bad they didn’t bother to update the website. We visited the San Sebastiano Basilica, at least that was open. The remains of Saint Sebastian were at one time buried in the catacombs below the church.

The basilica has a beautiful carved and painted wooden ceiling.We shelter in the entrance of the church and have our lunch then head down the Appian Way to the Villa di Massenzio. We ran out of time to visit here on our last visit to the Appian Way.  This structure was the triumphal entrance gate to the Circus that was on this site. A circus is a Roman chariot racing stadium. In the background is the Tomb of Cecilia Metella that we visited when we walked the Appian Way on Bob’s birthday .
A view of the Circus. There is a tomb here built by Emperor Maxentius. I make like a statue in one of the niches.

Walking back to the San Callisto Catacombs ,which were closed until 2:00, we see this tree being carved outside the San Sebastiano Basilica, which is in the background.Our tour of the San Callisto catacombs is fascinating. Twelve Christians were killed by Roman soldiers in this small chapel known as the Crypt of the Popes as five early popes were buried here.In the 20 km of tunnels spread over 20 acres, archaeologists have found the tombs of 16 early popes, dozens of martyrs and the remains of half a million Christians. No photos were allowed so these are photos of postcards I purchased in the gift shop.

The Crypt of St. Cecilia is the tomb a young woman who was martyred in the 3rd c. because she would not renounce Christianity. When her body was exhumed in 1599, more than a thousand years after her death, it was apparently perfectly preserved, as depicted in this statue.We decide to walk to the Domitilla Catacomb nearby. The catacombs of Domitilla are about 17 kilometers long and extending to a depth of around 30 meters. Our one hour tour only visits the little area highlighted in green at the top of the map.The tombs were carved into the tufa rock which was fairly soft. The oldest tombs are the ones higher up. When there was no more space left, the grave diggers lowered the floor level and put in more tombs.  The different levels are connected with staiways.

No photos are allowed but our guide, who happens to be the Director of the Catacombs, says it is OK if we take a few photos so I take advantage of his offer. Bodies were wrapped in shrouds, placed in the carved niches and then a cover was plastered over the opening of the niche. There are many very small niches as the infant mortality rate was very high. We see some bones in a few of the niches, but most of the bones where tourists visit have been moved because some of the tourists were talking home ‘souvenirs’.Our tour began and ended in this Basilica that was built at the end of the 4th century AD above the tomb of two martyrs, Nereus and Achilleus. Most of this Basilica is underground.  The top of a ventilation shaft is just visible in one of the fields above the catacombs.

We continue along the Appian Way, and end up walking all the way home which took almost an hour. I loved the light on these trees.

The Borghese Gallery, Rome

Day 95, Friday December 8, 2017

On our way to the Borghese Gallery today we see a truck double parked on a busy street. This is not unusual in Rome, but what caught my attention is that he was selling flowers from the back of his truck, and had no intention of moving any time soon.The Borghese Gallery was built in the early 1600’s.This informative five-minute video gives a bit of the history of the Villa and the artists as well as a tour through the gallery. We are very lucky there is a special Gian Lorenzo Bernini exhibit here in addition to all the other artwork usually on display. This 25th century silverpoint portrait was exquisite.The gallery is as interesting as the artwork it contains. All the doors are decorated.A familiar sculpture. We have seen copies of ‘the Boy with the Thorn’ in Paris and Florence. The Rape of Persephone (also known as The Rape of Proserpina) is amazing. I know this is carved from marble but Hades hand gripping Persephone’s leg looks like human flesh, it is so life-like. Oh, and in this context rape meant kidnapping. Oh and Bernini was 23 years old when he completed this masterpiece!The Villa is a piece of art in itself. Here are some of the rooms where the artwork is displayed. Now just imagine living in such a place!

Wood, slate, terracotta and plaster were used for this model of Bernini’s Four Rivers Fountain that we took pictures of in Piazza Navona.

Bernini was only 20 when he carved this sculpture of Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius, which shows Aeneas carrying his elderly father and son from a burning Troy.

This Caravaggio painting, the Madonna of Palafrenieri was thought to be indecent when it was revealed and was removed from St. Peter’s Cathedral after only two days and was purchased by Cardinal Borghese.A famous Bernini sculpture, the Damned Soul.

This sculpture of Paolina Bonaparte, as the Venus Victorious, by Antonio Canova was completed in 1808 after she married into the Borghese family. The drapery is all carved in stone but it looks like real cloth. 
Bernini’s very determined David is magnificent.A quick peek at the gardens from one of the gallery windows.This fellow made me think of the winter weather we will be returning home to in a few days.

Apollo and Daphne is a Bernini sculpture that tells the story of Daphne being turned into a laurel tree to escape from Apollo. The details of her legs turning to bark and her fingers growing branches and leaves is remarkable.This Bernini painting was intriguing as there are visible traces of where Bernini painted a different hand. This is known as pentimento. On the ride home we see one more obelisk and another column. I think we might have managed to see most of the obelisks and columns in Rome. We also saw another stretch of the old Roman Aurelian Wall that protected Rome. These walls were 52 feet tall, 11 feet thick and had a square tower every 97 feet, which was 100 Roman feet. They are remarkably well preserved.