Eastern Europe II

     The following is a continuation of our Eastern Europe trip (since no more photos could be added)
         Our next excursion was to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, which is only about 50 miles east of Vienna but many years away in culture and sophistication.  However, we both thought Bratislava was wonderful!! The Old Town is quaint and charming, there are no large crowds, and, most important, it’s cheap!
    We began our exploration at the Primate Palace (Photo #1), a mansion with many old tapestries, a Hall of Mirrors, and absolutely gorgeous bathrooms. We actually were looking for a bathroom, but had to pay the admission ($1.25 per person) to get to the bathrooms, so we stayed and toured the building.
    From here we walked a short distance to the Old Town Main Square (Photo #2), an adorable spot with the Town Hall and other colorful, interesting buildings. We also walked up numerous stairs to Bratislava Castle (Photo #3), a rather stark-looking edifice. For dinner, we went to a wonderful restaurant, Vinaren Velky Frantiskani, which was below street level with a cave-decor that reminded us of Botin. I loved the Cesnakova polievka (Garlic Soup), and the Bryndzove halusky (dumplings baked with sheep’s milk & bits of bacon). Lee enjoyed the spicy, stuffed pork, plus we had a bottle of the local Riesling, all for about $25.
    The next day was our longest (we had no idea!) excursion, a drive to Krakow, Poland. We left early and were using directions I downloaded from Via Michelin – they were not very good. Poland’s roads were poor, with numerous potholes, ruts, dips, and bumps, and much traffic on the single-lane roads. We finally arrived in Krakow at about 2:30 PM. We parked right near Wawel Castle (Photo #4), and walked downhill to the Old Town. I found Krakow beautiful and exciting; it was unfortunate that we were not able to spend more time there.   
   The Main Square (Rynek Glowny) is huge (the largest in Europe), beautiful, anchored by very interesting buildings, and filled with fun-loving people and performers. We truly enjoyed the Sukiennice (Cloth Hall) (Photo #5), a large yellow building which sits in the middle of the square. It is now a covered marketplace, selling all types of merchandise.  At opposite corners of the square are the Town Hall and the lovely St Mary’s Church, with its very plain, brick exterior, but gorgeous interior (Photo #6). Every hour a trumpeter begins a melody which is stopped abruptly, as it was in the 13th century when the trumpeter was killed by a Tatar arrow.
    We left the city at about 5:30 PM, got hopelessly lost for a while, then again as we neared Vienna but did not reach our hotel till about 1 AM (What a day!). I vowed not to plan any more lengthy day trips in Europe — you just don’t know what to expect.
    Our next day was designed for relaxation, and it couldn’t have come at a better time, after yesterday’s fiasco. We slept late, had our laundry done, mailed some packages home, and even worked out in the afternoon. What a relief to cool it and wind down a bit.
   The following day was our last full day in Vienna, so we decided to visit any of the leftovers – things we had missed in the city. We began at Belvedere Palace (Photo #7), another elegant and stately mansion which has been converted into a museum about the history of Austria. The palace is beautiful, with well-tended gardens and extensive grounds, and the museum was fascinating.
    Later, we drove a short distance to see perhaps the most unusual architectural piece in the entire city, the Hundertwasserhaus (Photo #8), an apartment house, painted like a checkerboard, with various bold colors, with foliage springing out of it. It also has columns, covered with unusual materials, and even turrets — what a hodgepodge! 
    We left Vienna and headed northwest for Prague, Czech Republic. On the way we stopped for several hours in the adorable Southern Bohemian village of Cesky Krumlov. The town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and lovely in its Medieval splendor. We enjoyed walking the narrow, cobblestone streets of the Old Town (Photos 9 & 10), lingering in the Main Square (Photo #11) and then walking uphill to the Castle and the Chateau. Ofr Lee & I, these small, quaint villages are the highlights of our trips — they are perfect for strolling and always seem to display interesting architecture and snippets of culture.
    In the afternoon, it was off to Prague, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. On our first full day in the city, we decided to the Castle district and the Lower Town (Mala Strana). We started at the Charles Bridge (Karlovy Most) (Photo #12), one of the major gathering places in the city. The bridge is noteworthy for its distinctive towers and the many statues which line its span.
   We climbed the steep hill to the Castle (Photo #14), which is really a complex of numerous buildings, churches, and courtyards and lanes. Notable structures were St Vitus Cathedral, with its beautiful stained glass windows, and Golden Lane (Photo #13), an alleyway with tiny houses built into the castle walls. One of the houses (#22) was where Franz Kafka lived and worked.  We also visited St George Basilica, impressive because of its age (dates to 973 AD).
   The next day we strolled the Old Town, the other side of the river from the Castle. We started at huge, oblong Wenceslas Square which is crowded with shops and which has considerable traffic traveling through. It is historically significant because it was here that the Czech people finally threw off the mantle of Communism and began to join the free world.
    On the way to Old Town Square, we stopped to admire the  Art-deco Municipal House (Photo #15), right next to the Powder Gate, one of the city’s original gates.  When we reached the Old Town Square (Photos 16 & 17) we were amazed at how beautiful and interesting it was — the architecture is varied and all the buildings are in magnificent condition. We marveled at the Astronomical Clock in the Town Hall and strolled endlessly, looking carefully at all the facades.
    We also walked through the Jewish part of the Old Town and noted the Old-New Synagogue (Photo 18) and the cemetery which are the major tourist stops here.  We spent the rest of the day shopping, browsing and wandering the narrow streets.
    Our next destination was the city of Munich, Germany, capital of the region of Bavaria. Out hotel, the Platzl is right next to the famous Hofbrauhaus and just outside the Old Town gate. We spent most of the rest of our arrival day exploring Marienplatz, the main square in the old part of the city. It is another huge square, anchored by the Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall) (Photo #19) and the Gothic-looking Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall).  The Glockenspiel on the New Town Hall performs a lengthy song and movement several times per day. We could also see the Frauenkirchen, the Church of Our Lady, with its twin brick steeples, from the square. Dinner that evening was at the Hofbrauhaus where we listened to the Oompah Band and enjoyed the tasty German beer.
   On our last day in Munich we first went to the Deutches Museum (Photo #21), probably the best technology museum in the world. We enjoyed the many hands-on exhibits, like Chemistry, Food Technology, and Toys, and were fascinated with Aeronautics and Musical Instruments.
   Next we headed for the Residenz (Photo #22), the Royal Palace of the city. Much of it was closed, but we were able to see Cuvillies Theater, a Baroque masterpiece and one of the highlights of the complex.
   Lastly, we took the tram to Nymphenburg (Photo #23), the summer palace, on the outskirts of the city. It was another in a long line of palaces with beautiful rooms, ornate furnishings, sprawling grounds, fountains, etc. Then we crashed early because we were facing a long ride to Frankfurt and our return flight home.
    We had one last stop to make in the morning on our way to the airport. We spent several hours in the Romantic Road hamlet of Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Photos 24 & 25), perhaps the cutest village we saw on the whole trip. Rothenburg is a walled, Medieval town whose residents are almost obsessive about the favorable presentation of their homes and businesses. The timbered buildings are decorated with flowers and the streets are kept clean and attractive. We absolutely loved wandering the narrow, cobblestone streets and browsing in the many shops. We also walked the walls which provided great views of the surrounding countryside. It was a fitting end to a truly wonderful trip!


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