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Settling into normal life after a trip abroad requires serious adjustment. Long absences skew reality and it takes time to absorb new experiences, sort them out, and write about the memories.
Since returning in September, I’ve spent hours pondering the latest trip but haven’t put pen to paper or rather fingers to keyboard. It’s clear that I most enjoyed the large cities and their energy, unique history, and distinct personalities.
Istanbul, Athens, and Prague were the cities where I spent the most time and they definitely impressed. Some other cities that linger in my mind include Ljubljana, Zagreb, Split, Budapest, Salzburg, and Vienna – all beautiful flowers.
For me it’s best to become an invisible traveler. It’s exciting blending with the local atmosphere as you forget yourself and move from a state of normalcy and routine into the unknown of a foreign country.
Connecting with locals on a one-on-one basis changes the dynamic and is an enriching experience. I often get involved in volunteer projects during my travels but didn’t this time. Although there were many encounters and interactions, I knew they would be short-lived.
Now that I’ve had some time to digest the latest travel adventure I’ll revisit each city mentally and see where the memories lead. It’s not fair playing favorites but Istanbul may have fascinated the most. Reading Turkish author Elif Shafak’s beautifully written novel, The Bastard of Istanbul, brought back the sights, sounds, and smells of that powerful, exotic city divided by the magnificent hulking Bosphorus!
After a long trip, it’s wonderful savoring the comforts and safety of home. A cozy environment makes it easy to dwell on those faraway places and the invaluable lessons learned.
I’m once again ensconced in the chosen pursuits of my retirement, including yoga, oil painting, hiking, and volunteering – to name a few – but am already planning the next exciting travel adventure – South America.
South American countries briefly visited in the past include Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile. There are many treasures in South America and the plan is to take a more leisurely approach this time allowing a deeper look at the people, culture, and terrain. Preparation includes planning an itinerary and daily bumbling with on-line Spanish tutorials….
It will be interesting to see what happens as I combine factual blog postings and more personal memories into travel vignettes!
For those who might not know Nia, it’s a fun aerobic exercise routine performed barefoot to music. Nia combines dance with martial and healing arts and is a “creative holistic alternative to the modern-day fitness routine”. Classes were offered at my yoga studio for years but until a few weeks ago I hesitated to get involved.
I was looking for an efficient indoor cardio workout for the winter months when it’s hard to get outside and gyms are not my favorite…. Taking a Nia class first thing in the morning is an energizing way to start the day – the atmosphere sizzles!
It’s heart-warming sharing the joy of movement with others – all ages, sizes, and shapes – at various levels of Niability (don’t think that’s a word). The idea of flailing around in the back of the class while learning the routines was and still is a bit intimidating – BUT no one watches you or cares if you’re out of step! The thing that matters is you’re moving and hopefully the routines get easier as you shed “beginner stiffness” and let your body flow with the rhythm of the music.
“The Nia Technique has a strong healing component. The body awareness and acceptance gained through Nia, along with the Joy of Movement, encourages healthy choices and wellness. Nia incorporates the mind, body, and soul into a creative and empowering practice. Nia is the blending of nine body movement forms including T’ai Chi, jazz dance, modern dance, Aikido, Taekwondo, Isadora Duncan Dance, Alexander Technique, Yoga, and the teachings of Moshe Feldenkrais.” Feldenkrais was an Israeli physicist who designed a method to improve human functioning by increasing self-awareness through movement.
Nia classes are great for anyone who wants to become stronger and enjoys a good cardio-vascular workout. Following a Nia class with a Restorative, Hatha, or Vinyasa Flow yoga session – while your body is warmed-up – is beneficial!
Oregon’s Central coast is spectacular at any time of the year and earlier this week I spent a day walking on beaches and re-exploring the area with a friend who volunteers for CoastWatch.
CoastWatch volunteers watch mile-long segments of the Oregon shoreline and report on natural changes and human impact. It was a lovely warm day with a somewhat high – low tide. After studying the tide table we climbed over craggy volcanic rocks to reach the beach which was snuggled back along a stretch of coast near the Spouting Horn and Cook’s Chasm.
The Spouting Horn is a “salt-water fountain driven by the power of the ocean tide and waves”. It’s dangerous at high tide and during winter storms. A nearby tidewater inlet, Cook’s Chasm, is named after British Captain James Cook who explored Oregon’s Central Coast seeking the Pacific entrance to a Northwest Passage.
Of course we both hoped to spot a migrating gray whale spouting on the horizon but sadly didn’t see any of those magnificent creatures. The headlands tower over the coast and hiking trails lead from the beach to the top where on a clear day you can see 70 miles of coastline and 37 miles out to sea!
The Siuslaw National Forest Service manages the protected area. We stopped at the visitor center where they said two whales were seen earlier in the day.
Meandering along Highway 101 we spent a carefree day stopping for coffee and visiting lighthouses and galleries in Florence, Yachats, and Newport where we enjoyed a long, chatty lunch. After a six-month trip abroad, I’ve been back in Oregon for almost a month. Spending time at the coast reminds me of one reason Oregon is so dear.
After six months of travel in Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Hungary, and Czech Republic I’ve returned to Oregon. It’s great to be back in the US in time for another spectacular autumn in the Pacific Northwest.
Reacclimating takes time but a long soak in the bathtub followed by a stupor-like sleep in my own bed (yeah) is a good start! A return to this tranquil haven is welcome and being in a familiar kitchen again is nothing less than thrilling! Long trips teach you to appreciate the safety and comfort that so many people in the world don’t have.
The price of vagabondism is the inevitable return to everyday life – a reality that can be awkward and a bit skewed. Most important is reuniting with friends and family. With that comes the “curiosity” questions - “Which country did you like best? How could you travel alone for six months? Were you lonely? Was it dangerous?” Exchanging travel stories with friends who share the dreaded wanderlust gene is the best.
For me, getting back into a normal life means being active, maybe a few classes to improve painting and drawing skills (?!?), volunteering, and attending Eugene’s wonderful variety of performing arts events.
Communicating the ways and days of extended travel isn’t easy. Long trips change you - in obvious and more subtle ways. The blog is factual but doesn’t dwell on personal experiences.
Travel is a great way to look beyond the familiar and gain a deeper understanding of yourself and the world beyond your realm of experience and influence. Some are aghast at the thought of spending six months traveling solo in foreign countries! That’s understandable, but wouldn’t the world be much less interesting if all of us thought and lived our lives the same way?
Except for the intimidating stack of unopened mail and the bulging unpacked suitcase waiting in the entryway, the interior of my little place is intact and looks the same as pre-departure.
The landscaping didn’t fare so well and needs major TLC. Between Mother Nature and the local critters, it’s a big mess. Gardening is a priority on the post-trip project list with time for a rehab before the winter rains begin.
The natural landscaping is easily maintained and the challenges are basic – keeping the woods from growing into the house. This year blackberry and poison oak are back with a vengeance. While traveling I tried not to think about skyscraper-sized Douglas firs falling into the roof - not an uncommon occurrence in the hills.
The critters seem to know when humans are absent and claim landscape squatter’s rights. A few leaf-blowing episodes will take care of that. Cartoonist Gary Larsen could say it well with a Far Side cartoon showing deer making condescending comments about obnoxious human noises.
Home is the beginning and end of the travel cycle. It’s where anticipation and plans for the next adventure (smile) happen. This trip was a glorious experience! Although I loved each place visited, the first and last cities - Istanbul and Prague – hold special memories. Can’t wait to take off again!
Before World War I Prague was one of the most important centers for Cubism outside Paris. The avant-garde movement was active there from 1912 to 1914.
I’m a novice at identifying architectural styles but during this visit have learned to appreciate Prague’s talented artists and eclectic architecture - Gothic, Medieval Romanesque, 19th century Neo-Baroque, Art Nouveau, 20th century Art Deco and Cubist.
Known as the “Golden City of 100 Spires” Prague is undeniably one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in the world. Each day brings another surprise and a new architectural treasure to admire!
The incredible variety of architectural styles here is one reason the city was so affected by Cubism. The Czech Cubist movement is visible in the design of “geometrically enhanced” building facades, furniture, and decorative objects throughout Prague. Even the bridges have Cubist flair.
“There’s a wonderful visual splendor to Prague. It’s literally a three-dimensional collage of textures, façades, ornamentation, and architectural details. One architectural style unique to Prague is Cubism. It developed in the 20th Century after French artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque developed Cubist painting and revolutionized the European art world.”
Four designers and artists were the most impressive of the Czech Cubists – Pavel Janak, Josef Gocar, Josef Cholcol, and Vlastislav Hofman.
“In the early 1900s Prague became a Cubist City with Cubist apartment blocks furnished with Cubist furniture. The inhabitants drank from Cubist cups and ate on Cubist plates. They could put flowers in Cubist vases, tell time with Cubist clocks, and read books and magazines in Cubist typeface under Cubist lamps and light fixtures. Much of this wonderful Cubist legacy still survives throughout various neighborhoods of Prague.”
Hodek Apartment in Vyšehrad is a major Cubist building in Prague. Architect Josef Cholcol designed the stunning building with distinct crystal shapes. Another Cholcol Cubist building is elegant Kovarovic Villa, also in Vyšehrad.
There are Czech Cubist buildings, gateways, fountains, and lampposts throughout Prague. The Cooperative Housing building in Old Town’s Jewish Quarter is a notable Cubist building. Otakar Novotny designed the building after World War I as part of “social planning” throughout Europe. Unlike other Cubist buildings, the Cooperative Housing project has colorful façade detailing - not typical of the monochromatic Czech Cubist style.
The Cooperative Housing building is in an upscale residential block in a posh Old Town neighborhood near Altneu Synagogue. Nearly 800 years apart in age, the geometry of the Gothic synagogue has some visual similarities with the Cooperative Housing building. They both have fanciful geometric characteristics.
One of the most striking and beautiful examples of Czech Cubist architecture in Prague is the House of the Black Madonna in Old Town. Its “sharp angle” complements surrounding historical buildings in the area. Kubista gallery is in the building. When you go inside you suddenly “find yourself in a charming environment of furniture, books, period postcards, and jewelry from the days when Cubism truly was a trend.”
The Veletržní Palace gallery has a great collection of Czech Cubist art, including paintings by Emil Filla and drawings and building models by Josef Gočár. Filla and Gočár believed that “objects carried their own inter energy which could only be released by splitting their horizontal and vertical surfaces. They thought more conservative designs restrained and ignored the needs of the human soul.”
Popular Prague National Museum in Wenceslas Square is usually engulfed by tourists. I haven’t spent much time there but visited yesterday.
The museum has two buildings. The interior of the main, original building is closed for renovation until June 2015. Construction of the museum began in 1818 and lasted 73 years. It’s a major architectural symbol of Czech National Revival. This is the website http://www.nm.cz/.
The other newer building across the street is open and presenting temporary exhibitions including:
- The Century of the Waltz and Polka
- Life of Children Under Emperor Franz Joseph I
- 19th Century People in Photos
The new building became part of the National Museum in 2009. During the communist era, it was Czechoslovakia’s parliament and later home to Radio Free Europe.
The main building is the oldest and largest museum in the Czech Republic. It’s a gorgeous monumental neo-Renaissance structure designed by Czech architect Josef Schultz. Schultz also helped design the Rudolfinum and National Theatre, two more icons of Czech national and cultural identity.
The main building is at the top of Wenceslas Square, behind an imposing statue of St. Wenceslas on his horse. It’s built on a site which was once Prague’s main horse market.
This 1119 account of King Wenceslas appears in the chronicles of Cosmas of Prague, a priest, writer, and historian born in a noble family in Bohemia:
“….. rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so the people didn’t consider him a prince, but the father of all the wretched.”
The National Museum’s entrance hall is grand. Its sweeping staircases have intricate stonework and the surrounding walls display colorful frescos. The exhibition rooms are the main beneficiary of the restoration work in process.
The National Museum initially focused on natural sciences. In the 1900s the museum began acquiring historical objects to balance the science and history exhibits.
“The National Museum helped bring about an intellectual shift in Prague. The Bohemian nobility had been dominant politically, fiscally, and in scholarly and scientific groups. The National Museum served all the inhabitants of the land, lifting the nobility’s stranglehold on knowledge.”
In 1949, the national government took control of the National Museum. In 1964, it became the home of five major components:
- Museum of Natural Science
- Historical Museum
- Náprstek Museum of Asian, African, American Cultures
- National Museum Library
- Central Office of Museology
A sixth unit, the Museum of Czech Music, was established in 1976.
During World War II bombs damaged the National Museum. Moved to an off-site storage location for protection, the collections were not harmed. After intensive repairs the museum reopened in 1947.
During the 1968 Warsaw Pact intervention the museum’s main façade was severely damaged by Soviet submachine-gun fire. “The shots made holes in the sandstone pillars and plaster, destroyed stone statues and reliefs, and caused damage in some of the depositaries.”
Despite repair work in the early 1970s the damage still can be seen because the builders used lighter sandstone to repair the bullet holes.
Construction of the Prague Metro in 1970s damaged the main building. The opening of the North-South Highway in 1978 cut the museum off from city infrastructure. This caused higher noise levels, dust, and vibrations from traffic.
Despite wars, unsettling disasters, and unsavory urban sprawl, Prague’s National Museum is still there. It seems to be flourishing and as beautiful as ever!
Yesterday morning I hopped on Historic Tram 91 to explore the Prague Castle Complex. The weather was perfect for sight-seeing – clear with moderate temperatures in the 70s.
The tram reminded me of San Francisco and I loved it, including a chat with the fun conductor dressed in uniform complete with a great hat. The slightly “rickety” sounding tram was impeccably maintained but I wondered if we had enough steam to make it up the steep hill to the Castle. We did!
In one word, the Prague Castle Complex is overwhelming! “A history of more than 1100 years speaks for itself!”
The Castle’s huge presence and magnificent buildings have mysterious legends and folktales dating back to the 9th century. The busy complex hosts concerts, exhibitions, and a constant flux of tourists from all over the world. At any time you can hear a variety of foreign languages being spoken by visitors of every size, shape, color, and age.
Two of the Castle’s current attractions include a Marilyn Monroe exhibition in the Prague Castle Riding School and an exhibit of leading Czech photographer Jaroslave Kučera, Black-and-White (Prague 1969–2010), in the Theresian Wing of the Royal Castle.
During the time in Prague, I’ve made several trips to the Castle Complex. They were all a bit daunting, can’t spend too many hours there in one day…. After six months of continuous travel my concentration level is low (duh) and I’m definitely on historical-data overload. Without this detailed travel blog, many memories would be lost forever.
It would take days of dedicated exploration to see and understand the Castle Complex and its rich history. This is a link to Prague Castle’s website – http://www.hrad.cz/en/prague-castle/photogallery/prague-castle/15.shtml. The entrance fees and pricey tours surely generate substantial revenue.
A few of many exhibits and attractions include:
- Three Courtyards, Four Wings
- Multiple Cathedrals, Chapels
- Exhibition Halls, Pavilions
- Wall Paintings, Murals
- Stained Glass
- Bell Tower and Moat
- Fine Art Galleries
- Statues, Fountains
- Royal Gardens, Birds of Prey
- Mausoleum, Royal Crypt
- Royal Oratory
- Bohemian Crown Jewels
In the late 16tth century, Emperor Rudolph II brought Renaissance style to Prague Castle. It became a major center for art and science and a gallery for “exquisite collections”. In the 18th century, Empress Maria Theresa rebuilt the Castle buildings in Baroque style – its current appearance. Since 1918 Prague Castle is the official residence of the Czech Republic’s president.
Within the complex, the stunning St. Vitus Cathedral has “overlooked the roofs of Prague and the Vltava River for eleven centuries”!
The cathedral is one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in the world and “the biggest and the most important church in the Czech Republic”. St. Vitus Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Prague. Coronations of the kings of Bohemia were held there until 1836, and saints, kings, princes, and emperors are buried in the cathedral.
The masterpiece of St. Vitus Cathedral is exquisite St. Wenceslas Chapel. Created in the 14th century by Charles IV the chapel is known for its beautiful, rich decorations. The chapel honors St. Wenceslas, the patron of Czech lands.
Royalty buried in the cathedral’s marble mausoleum include Ferdinand I of Austria, his wife Anna of Bohemia and Hungary, and Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II.
A royal crypt underneath the cathedral holds the graves of Charles IV, his four wives, Wenceslas IV, Ladislas the Posthumous, George of Podebrady, Rudolf II, and the daughter of Maria Theresa of Austria!
After three hours at the complex I retreated to a favorite café along the Vltava – content to sit quietly enjoying the river and watching people passing by.
Visiting the Kafka Museum in Prague is a unique experience. I’ve read some of his novels and short stories but discovered I only had a cursory understanding of Kafka’s life and work. Seeing the in-depth information presented in the museum makes me want to read more.
The City of K. Franz Kafka and Prague opened in Prague eight years ago. Kafka was a great early 20th century Jewish author. The “symbiosis” between Prague and Kafka’s life and work is well-known. He wasn’t Czech and wrote in German, but he was born in Prague in 1883 and lived there most of his short life. In 1924, at the age of 41 Kafka died from tuberculosis in a sanatorium near Vienna. He was buried in the New Jewish Cemetery in Prague.
In 1999, the Kafka exhibition opened in Barcelona. It transferred to the Jewish Museum in New York City from 2002–2003 and opened in Prague in 2005. The museum is on the Malá Strana bank of the Vltava River.
The interactive exhibition has two sections – Existential Space and Imaginary Topography. It takes you through several displays dedicated to Kafka’s works. Then you’re led through a series of handwritten letters, photographs, diaries, and documents detailing his life chronologically, including his career as an insurance attorney. You pass through a dimly lit labyrinth where music, spot lighting, mirrors, and eerie videos set a “Kafkaesque” mood.
Many think that “once you leave the Kafka Museum you may experience some of the tricks the city of Prague plays on the mind”. I’ve been in Prague for three weeks now and think I understand that – two weeks ago, not sure I would.
Existential Space Section
“Prague acts on Kafka with its metamorphosing power, confining him to an existential space which he can only enter by fixing his gaze on the surface of things. Prague forces Kafka into a spatial constriction, steadily dosing out its secrets. Prague contributes myth, magic, and a magnificent backdrop, but abhors clarity.”
Kafka Museum’s design allows you to see Prague from his point of view. Guided by Kafka, the exhibits condense principal conflicts in his life. Visitors descend into the depths of “his city,” adapting to his “sensorial range and cognitive register, becoming involved in a gradual distortion of space-time – in short, agreeing to an experience allowing everything, except indifference”.
“The way Kafka creates the layers of his city is one of the most enigmatic operations of modern literature. With only occasional exceptions, Kafka does not name the places described in his novels and short stories. Instead, the city steps back and is no longer recognizable by its buildings, bridges, and monuments. And even if they are recognizable, they have since become something else.”
People want to name real Prague places in Kafka’s fiction. The Gothic cathedral in The Trial is St. Vitus. The path taken by the protagonist Joseph K. as he runs all over Prague leads him from Old Town over Charles Bridge to Malá Strana. It’s said that in The Judgment the wharf, river, and opposite bank of the Vltava appear as they would be seen from Nicholas Street, where the Kafka family lived.
I recommend visiting the Kafka Museum but be prepared for a heady experience marked by Kafka’s trademarks – “surreal distortion and a sense of impending danger”. In true Kafkaesque form, touring the museum takes you into another space – Kafka’s world.
The National Theatre and Vltava River are two icons of Czech national and cultural identity. Known as “Prague’s Golden Chapel” the National Theatre is the Czech Republic’s most prestigious theatre. It features the best Czech actors appearing in plays by Czech and international authors.
“There is a striking story behind construction of the National Theatre as a stronghold of Czech culture within the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.”
The theatre opened in 1881 and shortly after its opening a fire destroyed a large part of the building. A wide public collection enabled the National Theatre’s reconstruction and re-opening two years later in 1883.
The theatre is on the right bank of the Vltava River in Old Town. It’s next to Legions Bridge which connects with Malá Strana.
National Theatre has a characteristic golden roof making it stand out even from a distance. The auditorium’s interior ceiling decorations include eight painted female figures representing the different art forms. It’s a spectacular sight!
The theatre is closed for the season and plays, opera, and ballet performances are not scheduled to begin again until after August 30.
I often take tram number 9 and get off in front of the National Theatre. Every time, I look up in awe of its beauty and imposing presence!
Yesterday I re-visited Prague’s Old Town Square and Republic Square. Both are major Czech historic attractions and popular with tourists.
It was an overcast day and along Prague’s skyline dark, ominous skies framed a dramatic background for the buildings. My main interest was spending time at Municipal House, a renowned Art Nouveau building. It’s next to Powder Tower in Republic Square and stands at the former site of the royal residence.
During the Middle Ages Powder Tower was the gate to Prague. On the way to their coronation ceremonies at Prague Castle, future kings of Bohemia entered the town through Powder Tower Gate. It’s named Powder Tower because of the gunpowder stored there in the 18th century.
Republic Square was the center of Czech cultural and social life at the turn of the 20th century. Today it’s still a busy place with a variety of public and cultural activities constantly in progress.
I made it to Municipal House café just before the rain began and sat under an umbrella during the worst of the deluge. The cobblestone streets don’t drain well and when it rains you’re literally walking in puddles of water – sometimes an inch deep.
It took 6 years – 1905 to 1911 – to build Municipal House and at the time, it was a modern and technologically advanced venue for Czech cultural events.
“Municipal House was a place for concerts, exhibitions, conferences, festivities, balls, and similar events. It played an important role in the beginnings of the Republic of Czechoslovakia. The National Board was founded there as a base for the future Czech Parliament. The Czech independent republic was declared from the balcony of the Municipal House on 28th October 1918.”
Municipal House is a mixture of several 19th century styles – neo-Renaissance, neo-Baroque, and Art Nouveau. Above the entrance there’s a mosaic called the Apotheosis of Prague. The inscription reads, ”Hail to you Prague! Brave the time and malice as you have resisted all the storms throughout the ages”. In part, these words refer to Prague miraculously escaping the World War II bombings that destroyed many other major European cities.
“Smetana Hall is an architectural masterpiece, a mix of carved white stone and gold, illuminated by hundreds of lights, and with frescos adorning the walls.”
It’s the main place of work for the Prague Symphony Orchestra and the most important place for Prague’s concerts and music festivals. I have a ticket for a concert on the 25th! It will be a performance of beloved Czech composer Bedřich Smetana’s Die Moldau. Moldau is the German name for the Vltava River.
Municipal House has many splendid halls including Rieger, Palacky, Sladkovský, and Mayor. The Conductor Apartment has a unique panoramic view of the Prague Castle complex. Municipal House is definitely a ”must see” for anyone visiting Prague.