Tuesday, July 9, 2019

No. 61 - Five Days in Prague, Czech Republic - Rick and Susy Join Us!

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Czech Republic


We caught a late morning train from Krakow...first class this time for only $20 more per seat...and the service and comfort was worth the seven hour train ride to Prague.  We shared a section with some folks from Canada, one couple now living in Prague.  David Strazz is a mixed media artist.  He and his wife have been in Prague for five years.  They were charming and engaging and full of great stories.  Joann and her daughter are from Montreal via Santiago, Chile.  We were an international group.

We arrived Prague and it was a five minute walk from the train station to the apartment.  Rick and Susy met us on the street.  After spending a bit of time catching up we had dinner at a local Mexican restaurant.

For the next four days we toured the city on foot, walking miles and miles each day.  We did two walking tours on one day and were wiped out.  Our guides Lana and Michal were well-informed, funny, and full of local stories.

Powder Tower
 The Central Square


 The Astronomical Clock
 Jewish Synagogue

 The Famous Charles Bridge

 Royal Palace
 St. Nicholas Church

 Warhol Museum...he was born here.




 Great customized touring cars.
 River Cruise.

Our last day was spent riding Tram 22 around the city, getting some last minute supplies for our journey to Kenya, and resting up for the next, big adventure.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

No. 60 - Poland - One Week - Two Cities

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How We Got Started | How We Do It | Countries and Territories Visited | USA Adventure | Iceland The UK Adventure | Our Travel Club Arrives in Paris | Capitols of N. Europe and Scandinavia | Russia and the Trans-Siberian Railway | South Korea | Japan | Australia | Bali & Indonesia | Malaysia | Singapore | Macau-Hong Kong | Southern China |  Zhangjiaije National Park | Central China | Terracotta Warriors | Pandas | Tibet | Nepal | India | Uzbekistan | Kazakhstan | Georgia | The Balkans | Eastern Europe | Italy | Ireland Scottish Highlands-Outer Islands | England | Norway | The Baltics | Poland

Our eight-hour bus ride from Vilnius was pleasant.  We took Lux Express.  It has comfortable, reclining seats, an entertainment offering of 125+ movies, and free WiFi.  Along with all that there was a toilet and a free beverage machine on board that served coffees and teas.  We traveled through the countryside through many small towns and larger cities.  We made four stops before reaching Warsaw.  Our studio apartment was five minutes from the bus station and our host met us in person.

For our three days n Warsaw, we had a small two room studio on the seventh floor or a renovated soviet block building.  It was an older unit, but comfortable and had everything we needed.  We planned two days of activities during our visit.

On the first day we took the tram into the city center and met up with a free walking tour of the old city.  It was amazing to learn that nearly ALL of Warsaw was destroyed during WWII and rebuilt.  In the old city center, they used paintings and drawings from the late 18th and 19th century to recreate the buildings.







The Warsaw Uprising Memorial
We stopped by a Meilk Bar (cafeteria) for lunch and had beet soup and perogi.  It was fun trying to figure out the menu and order since no one spoke English.

Afterward we headed over to the Warsaw Uprising Museum.  It was busy, very involved with thousands of photos, way too many stories and descriptions to read, and a bit dark.  After wandering around for two hours, we decided we really weren't getting the whole story (for us) although the locals seemed really into it all.  We booked a walking tour the next day with an English speaking guide.

Our guide "B" because his name was too hard to pronounce...smile...really knew his stuff.  For almost three hours we wandered the area of the Warsaw Ghetto, leveled to the ground by the Germans before the end of the war, and now the site of many apartment buildings and high chimerical towers.  Among all of the new, there was still signs of the old and therein the story was told.






 We ended our tour at the National Museum to Jews in Poland.
We added the National Gallery to our itinerary and wandered the museum for couple of hours.  There was a fine exhibit of a contemporary Polish sculptor that caught our eye.  Most everything was in Polish but the art was beautiful.

Two paintings that caught our attention were these...with faces so beautifully painted, it looked as if we were viewing a photograph.  Both were painted in the later 1700s by Polish artists.

And then the surprise came with the one by an unknown FEMALE painter from Florence who studied under Michelangelo.  Her work was signed by her father and brother and only recently was identified by her actual name.  Remarkable.  Sofonisba Anquissola...painted in Lombardo, Palermo, and Madrid.  While in Spain she was commissioned by Philip II to paint his entire family.  She is now being credited as the FIRST known female classical painter of the Renaissance.
We left Warsaw by train and traveled to nearby Krakow where once again we had a really lovely apartment a few blocks from the train station.  Another fourth floor walkup...we're getting used to these by now...smile.  $32 a night and plenty of room.




Auschwitz Concentration Camp is 60 KM out of the city so we booked a day tour to take us there and also the the UNESCO Salt Mines.  We'd already visited a Nazi site in Germany, but it seemed fitting following our tour of the Warsaw Ghetto.  Our drive was prompt and polite.  We were joined for the day by Mark from Ireland, Murphy Brown (yes, that's his name) from London, and Christina and Barbara from Lisbon.  They were all lovely and great company.  We drove an hour out of the city before reaching the site.  It is of course a huge tourist attraction now with large buses and a packed parking lot.  We were placed in a group of 30 with a great guide, an American fellow by the name of David Kennedy, whose family is from the local town nearby.  He was informed, engaging, and respectful.  We toured the side for two hours, entering the barracks and viewing the exhibits.  The photos got to me, the one especially of the kids, and it was a sad day.  Entering the gas chamber and the crematorium was difficult.





We were then driven to neary Berkenau, the death camp.  This was a bit let intense, interestingly, as we were out i the open the entire time, the crematoriums were destroyed, and honestly, I think by that point we were all a bit numb.


We had an hour drive back to Krakow where we included a tour of the Salt Mines.  It was quiet drive and we stopped in at a local Polish restaurant for a late lunch.  The food was great and the company was lovely.  Then we joined a tour of the mines and for 2 1/2 hours we wandered the tunnels, took 800 downward steps and covered 3.5 kms of passageways and chambers.  The mines have become a huge tourist site, it was like visiting a Disneyland ride, yet it was interesting and complex.  We never got to see any actual mining, the active tunnels are not accessible during the tour.  It was not what we expected and we had a great time.  The scultures were made by the miners, the chambers converted to chapels and gathering areas, and it all dated back to about 1625.






For our last day in Krakow we booked a walking tour of the old city.  It was a five minute walk to the main square where we met our guide.  This by current count was our 22nd "free" walking tour since reaching Sophia, Bulgaria in December.  They have all been more than worth the "donation" at the end of each tour.  Once again our guide was young, educated, and very engaging.  For two hours we wandered the various historical sites of the old city.  Smile.  The weather changed by the minute.







After our tour we had our picnic lunch in a quite park and then headed over to the history museum located under the square.

We ended our day back at home, enjoying a tradition home-cooked dinner of kielbasa, sauerkraut, and potatoes.