Friday, August 2, 2013

Well...we have both made it safely home. We had a bit of a delay yesterday at JFK airport due to weather, so we had been up almost 24 hours by the time we landed, but we were safe. After all the sad things we had heard happening and waking up to a travel advisory we are glad to be back on US soil.

So, here are my final thoughts about this trip. Some of them are funny, some serious, some just were things on my mind. However, all of them hold true for me.

1. I was able to add 7 more places to my 1,000 places to see list. I am in the process of getting a total tally and hope to get a area on the blog where I will place that.

2. I will stop taking ice for granted. This includes the fact that when I sit down at a restaurant they will give me a FREE glass of water.

3. It sometimes embarrasses me the unimportance the education system in America puts on learning a second language from an early age. I don't know that I came across one person on my entire trip that wasn't able to communicate some English and this is because they teach it from an early age in schools.

4. I will NOT take for granted the fact that I live in the USA and have had the freedoms I do my entire life. In three of the countries I visited from WW II until 1989 they lived in fear or complete restriction on their lives. To be told what to do, where to go, and when to do it would be beyond horrendous.

5. The USA needs to look to Europe and develop more outdoor eating/drinking/gathering areas. Even on a very warm day a garden eating area with a fresh air breeze is so relaxing.

6. Although to us our gas prices are high we need not complain....theirs are the equivalent of 8.00 a gallon.

7. Next time I head over to Europe I need to change up my exercise routine. The 2 miles I walk daily helps, but I need to find some hills to climb. It seems like every old town sat on a hill.

8. America needs to get its train system back to the way it was. Oh the places I could/would go if we had Europe's train system.

9. God is good. God's beautiful creations of this world both natural and man made are a site to behold. I feel privileged that I am able to see so much of what is out in the world.

10. It is important to know history, understand history, learn from history, and refuse to repeat all the horrible things people have allowed to happen to other people and to the land.

11. Travel is wonderful, but home is where the heart is. So, I will continue to travel, love it, and learn all I can. However, when the trip is over home is where I want to be.

Until the next trip....

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Well, this is it. My final entry from Europe. The next entry will hopefully be to let everyone know we made it home safely.

We toured the Cesky Krumlov Castle this morning and somehow, once again ended up on a private tour when the other couple had to leave to check out of their hotel. The castle was pretty outstanding. It was furnished with replicas of furniture from the time periods of the castle. Interestingly enough the castle pretty much shows all architectural types from those in the 1400 medieval periods clear to those in the late 1800s. Each new "owner" simply kept redoing and adding on to it until the last people lived in it at the end of the 1800s. Pretty amazing how people lived back then. The castle had 130+ rooms, which I can't understand because I can barely keep my 7 rooms clean!

We then made our last walk down from the castle hill and had our last lunch along the river. We watched a few rafters head down the river on the beginning of their adventures.

Packing up from our pension we were picked up by our shuttle driver Michael whose other job is as an EMS. Just as a side note...Michael told us that in the Czech Republic whenever you call the ambulance it is free and if they take you to the hospital they must take you home as well. So, many people call them for insignificant reasons, or for a free taxi. He said he had a woman call for a broken nail...she needed a ride....and one that was hot at the train station and needed a ride! Seriously?

So, we are here at the airport hotel getting ready to repack our bags down to 50lbs. This is always a not fun part. I always come home with way more than I came with. Talk to you all from back in the States.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Since I am posting today's blog I obviously survived today's canoeing adventure. However, that story will have to wait.

We started the day with a tour of the Cesky Krumlov Castle's theater. It was pretty breathtaking. It is one of only two remaining baroque theaters still in existence in the world. This theater still holds performances five times a year. When they do hold performances they are done completely as they would have been done in the 1600 and 1700s. The musicians must light their music stands with candles and use the sheet music from the original performances. The actors must use the costumes and lighting from then as well. The most amazing thing  is the set work and how it was changed with a set of pulleys and ropes from under the stage in a matter of seconds. They use these same sets today. I wish we could have taken pictures, but it was not allowed.

We then headed off to the Eggenberg Brewery for a tour. Once again we somehow ended up on a private tour. One thing that amazes me over here is that they do not seem to be quite as concerned about safety standards on tours and in the workplace as we are in the US. The guide pretty much took us everywhere and right up next to the machines. He would simply say "be careful" or "don't touch" or "watch your step." However, we were everywhere even next to working machines and forklifts.

We even met a couple of the workers who were lifting empty kegs onto the conveyer belt and then lifting the filled ones off and onto a pallet. The best part is they were able to drink beer on the job. The guide said whatever kept them going.

Then we headed home to get ready for our great canoeing adventure. When we got to the rental shops the man informed us that one of the two rapids we would encounter was "closed" due to the repairs from flooding in June. We would however, be able to do the rapids at the end of our trip if we wanted or we could end the trip at the shore just before the rapids. Oh rapids...I think he thought I was disappointed as he tried to convince me I could do the ones at the end. Was he crazy. If I made it to the end of this trip dry there was no way I was going to chance it with rapids.

Our trip would be 15 km which I figured out was about 9.5 miles for us Americans. The shuttle would pick us up in 4 hours which he assured us was plenty of time even if we went really slow. Now, I don't know why he would look at us and think we would possibly go slow but whatever.

So, off we were. One canoe, two paddles, two life jackets (that there was no way I was wearing), a water proof tub to store our stuff and two babes ready to hit the water.  It was beautiful. We started in old town where we were surrounded by lots of people. Lots of turns, but the sun was out and the water was clear. Obviously these pictures weren't taken from the boat, but to give you a view.


 We passed lots of little river side pivo (beer) and refreshment spots, but all we kept thinking about was pushing through and that 4 hour time limit we were given. We certainly didn't want some search party to come after us. We saw lots of interesting "people" sites on the river. Dogs in rafts and canoes, people wearing leis, people with funny hats, and LOTS of people with blue and white horizontal striped shirts. We couldn't figure out what this was about. A family reunion of hundreds? A convention for some company? Some political statement? A new fashion trend I needed to learn about?  ( This one I wasn't too keen on because horizontal stripes aren't the best for those of us who are not "petite"). Nope....come to find out that the Navy of the Czech Republic wears blue and white striped shirts and it is a tradition to do so on the river. Hmmm....maybe someone should have told some of those topless women that?

So to summarize. We made it...and we were so worried about time that we ended up an hour and 10 minutes early. We are overachievers. No slips, trips, falls, tips, or accidents. We did get stuck in shallow water once and Stevie had to unstick us...but not bad. Now...will we be able to move tomorrow?


Monday, July 29, 2013

It was a travel day between Vienna and the beautiful medieval town of Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. We chose to do this by private car because to do it on public transportation would have taken four times longer. We are sure glad we did. The nice young man who picked us up was wonderful and we were given door to door service in an air conditioned car.

We arrived in Cesky Krumlov and checked in to our pension (bed and breakfast). We are staying in a beautiful little place right in old town on a pedestrian only street. We have the upstairs apartment with a sitting room, bedroom, and bathroom each of which are bigger than any of our hotel rooms thus far. We are lucky enough to have this beautiful view from our sitting room window. Wow. We certainly are some lucky ladies.

Once we had settled in we decided to go visit the marionette museum. These are a huge deal over here and many shops sell beautifully made ones. In Prague several shows were given with marionettes. I can't imagine the talent it would take to work one of them. These were some of my favorites.
Witch doctor maybe?
A seagull?
An elf in the Santa Claus story?

A jack-in-the-box after one too many?

Me on the first day of school after a relaxing summer?

Me on the last day of school before a relaxing summer?

After the museum we decided to walk around the village  a little and discovered such a nice, quiet, historical place.

And see the people coming down the Vltava River? Tomorrow that is supposed to be Stevie and myself. So, let's just hope nothing gets broken, no boat tips occur, no tears are shed, and I'm not to sore or wet by the end.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Leave it to us to be in Vienna in the middle of a heat wave. Today the city made a record with temps over 100 degrees, but we were not going to let that stop us. We figured it would be awhile before we get back here so we needed to see as much as we could and just keep drinking water. Thankfully Vienna's water supply comes from the Alps, so all water even that coming out of the taps is drinkable.

First, we visited the Treasury. Stevie was afraid it was going to be like the US Treasury, but it wasn't as it was where all the Imperial treasures are stored. We saw many relics.

This one is believed to be the holy grail...
This one is believed to contain one of the nails that pierced Christ...
This is believed to contain one of the thorns from Christ's crown...
This cross is said to be built out of wood from the cross Christ was crucified on, even containing the nail hole.
And this is believed to be a piece of the tablecloth from the last supper... we asked Herbert how did these relics come to be here and how were they proven authentic. Back then these items were used for trade and were accompanied by paperwork that proved authenticity. In modern times, some are tested with modern scientific means, some stories simply are handed down and legend remains.
We also saw some beautiful jewels and miscellaneous pieces.
This is the largest cut emerald in the world...
These are the Imperial crowns...

These are the christening blanket and gowns of the royal infants...
Then we hopped on Vienna's wonderful metro system which must either be new or is one of the best maintained systems I have ever seen. We headed off to the Schonbrunn Palace. This palace was the summer home of the Austrian royals. We were able to tour and see many of the rooms, but we were not allowed to take pictures. However when we got outside we got to see the amazing gardens and we got pictures then. The gardens have always been and are still open to the public and in the summer they have music concerts there. What a beautiful place to look out upon as they sat in the palace or to wander about on sunny days.


And the funny site for today was at the Opera House metro stop. They had an Opera Toilet that had Mozart blaring out of the door.


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Today we did a walking tour of Vienna with our guide Herbert. Thank goodness we had him because he showed us a lot of places we would have otherwise passed by, a lot of side street short cuts, and he gave us some good stories and the history of Austria.

We visited St. Michael's Church. It was amazingly beautiful inside. From the outside it was very plain, but inside it is ornate yet historic. It dates from the 1200s and within the last 10 years during restoration they discovered frescos that date back to the 1600s they have decided to save and not restore them. Mozart's Requiem was first performed here as his memorial in 1791. As it was unfinished when he died that is how it was performed.

We also visited St. Stephen's Cathedral. It was much more impressive from the outside, however it doesn't quite have the history as only 30% of the stone is original. Much of it was destroyed during WW II and had to be rebuilt. My favorite part of this cathedral was the ceramic tile roof.

Herbert showed us where Mozart often stayed and wrote while in Vienna and a small concert hall in the guest house.

We also saw where Mozart died of unknown causes (some type of illness) at the age of 35. Unfortunately, the building was destroyed during WW II and today it is a modern department store.

This was a touching monument that was dedicated to the Jews who had to scrub the streets of Austrian election propaganda after the NAZI invasion.

Into the Hapsburg Crypt we went where we learned that interestingly enough they only had their bodies entombed here. Because they were strict Roman Catholics they felt that part of your body had to exist to go to heaven. Since they were afraid of their tomb being destroyed somehow they "spread their body out." Their heart was one place, entrails another, and body in the tomb. Real nice. Not sure why then they needed tombs the size of my car! Here is Sisi's tomb who was the Princess Diana like Empress I wrote about yesterday.

We then went off in search of some lemon soda and sacher (chocolate cake). Stevie wanted to go to the cat café. This is an interesting café where the doors are all replaced with a chicken wire type window and cats of all types were running around inside. However, I talked her into something more traditional and we went to the famous Oberlaa instead.

We also had two opportunities to see the Lipizzaner stallions even though the show troupe is on tour in July. First, we saw some of the young ones training in the square. Then we were able to see the mamas and colts grazing in the park. They were too cute, and we found out that they are born dark and turn white as they get older.

We finished our evening with a visit to our hotel sauna and rain shower with a cool aquarium in the wall. I need one of these in my house...changes from a mist to a waterfall to a rainfall to wall jets.