New post for the Central Europe Archive! I never made any about my solo time in Prague, which is when I took heaps of photos. So I've decide to throw together a few photo-heavy posts about Prague.
I attended the Prague Summer Program as a student in a two-week writing program. Yes, I'm a little old to be a student, but this program is for all writers both inside and outside of any current academic status. In fact, I made several good friends in my advanced age group. Because I was attending only two classes, I had loads of free time to myself in which I wandered, often aimlessly, through the city with my camera. Students were given public transport passes, so I could ride the trams anywhere. I lived in a very Communist-stye dorm just off the Pohorelec tram stop. My room was just a tiny cement cell which shared a bathroom with 5 other cells. But really, it was all I needed.
Here are a few photos illustrating my typical route to class, about a 20 minute trek including tram time and walking time from my dorm. You can see how horrendously crowded Prague is in the summer (this was in July). I would like to come back some day in the off season. I had to walk right through the center of Old Town Square. The old town hall has a giant astronomical clock on the outside. On the hour, little figurines emerge in an animated routine. I have to say it's one of my favorite parts about old European towns -- the animated clocks. I just think how wondrous and magical they must have seemed back in the day when they were created. If I were a kid in Prague, I'd be making me a bowl of popcorn at noon every day to sit and the watch time pass in a clock maker's dream.
There were two routes I could walk downhill from Pohorelec into Old Town. One route took me by Prague Castle and the other took me along the edge of a park with fantastic views over the city. I loved winding my way through the streets and alleys with no rhyme or reason when I had no place to be. Even the simplest street was picturesque to me.
The Jewish Quarter was one of the first places I sought out to purposefully visit. I love old cemeteries and there was supposed to be a particularly interesting one. There are two sections of the quarter, the new and the old. First below is the new synagogue with its almost whimsical exterior and vividly painted interior. I spent a little time lying on my back in a pew gazing at the ceiling. Below that is the old synagogue and the cemetery. Stolen from the text with my cemetery photo in Friday Photos: The most unique thing about the cemetery is that when it ran out of space centuries ago, the Jewish population was unable to purchase more land for it and so they simply added layer upon layer of dirt, bodies and gravestones. Heaps and heaps of gravestones were erected millimeters away from one another, and eventually on top of one another ... it's a remarkable forest of gravestones, now many slanted or toppled, some the engraving is worn clean away, tree trunks grow around others.
Prague has definitely capitalized on one of its most famous citizens, Franz Kafka. In addition to a museum, there are busts and statues scattered around town, as below, and Kafka everything you can imagine in souvenir shops, Kafka this Kafka that. I happen to be a big fan of Kafka, so I found it amusing. I really liked the museum, and whoever designed it made a stab at representing a Kafka-esque mind in the layout of the rooms. Lots of interesting information about him I never knew. One of them being what a well-adjusted person he came off as in society ... very popular with lads and lasses alike, not some weirdo brooding in the corner. The kid playing with the anatomy of the fountain is just outside the museum. While lots of college kids thought they were hilarious posing in rather more rude positions with this fine, upstanding statue ... I'm sure I scarcely need to provoke your imagination ... this kid was completely oblivious to anything but the fact he was controlling the stream of water (the object he's holding did indeed move around, one could position it in a wide range of settings).
Here is a fun exercise for anyone to try with their travel photos. The Capture the Colour Photoblogging Contest sponsored by Travel Supermarket is back in 2013 and challenges travel blogging folks to find a photo from their travels to represent each of five colors: red, white, blue, green, yellow. I decided to select some photos for this year's challenge. You can see my entries for last year HERE. As I said before, I think this would be a fun exercise for anyone to try ... gives you purpose in sifting through your vacation photos. Maybe even something to think about next time you are traveling ... composing a mini photo album to represent a spread of different colors from each location. Here is my blog entry.
From Ixtapa, Mexico .... one of the copious birds that inhabit my favorite wildlife refuge. I like how you can see this one's red tongue in his mouth, too. I can (and have) watched the animals in this sanctuary for hours at a time. Read more about Ixtapa HERE.
From Prague, Czech Republic .... a fun tunnel through a park near (or possibly in) district 6. I was shown this park on my first day by a guide; for the next two weeks while I explored the city on my own, I could never find this spot again!
From St. Mary's Cathedral in Krakow, Poland .... the best part of this cathedral in terms of my personal travel experience is that I came across it by accident through a side door in the alley -- that is to say, I didn't realize what I was entering and when I looked up and around I was slack-jawed. The predominant color in St. Mary's is a vibrant dark blue.
From Prince Gong's Palace in Beijing, China .... this turned out to be one of my favorite places to visit in Beijing -- a little off the beaten track for Westerners, but seemed pretty popular with the Chinese, housing delightful natural rock sculptures, ponds and corridors. The first (of many) places in China in which people came up to me and asked if I would stand next to them for their friends to take a picture of us together.
From China .... another shot from the same location as last year's green entry, actually. It was such a lovely place, couldn't help highlighting it again. The Longji rice terraces outside of Yangshuo made a lasting impression on me!
Thanks for my blog nomination to:
Mosaffer Travel Blog
These are the 5 blogs I nominate as per contest rules:
Travel - Moments in Time
Give all these guys some love and see what their websites are about.
And happy photoing to all!
For a gal who listens in wide-eyed terror to the guide on every raft ride she’s taken when they describe what to do if the raft flips … if you find yourself trapped beneath it, find yourself heading into a sweeper, find yourself pulled down into a swirling hole, etc. … you may wonder why I decided to book myself into a river canoe trip. Well, maybe you first wonder why I continue taking white-water raft rides. I can’t appease your inquiring mind because I really don’t know why. In light of numerous things I’ve willingly done over the years, I can only surmise that I have a subconscious suspicion that it’s good for you to feel terrified now and then.
By and large, Erik is game for the things I decide I want to do. Not so much for the Big Canyon Swing in Glenwood (see previous post), but he was all for trying our hand at canoeing. So we signed up with an outfitter called Centennial Canoe. We ended up choosing a trip that the reservation guy said was the best for beginners, and so found ourselves launching a 2-man canoe onto the Yampa River outside of Craig, CO. I made no secret of it to Erik how nervous I was, but I tried to be cool around the rest of the crew. I never would have guessed how many people/canoes could be successfully guided down a river, but, including the guides, we had a total of 13 canoes and 24 people. Only one other couple was newbies like us.
Erik had some experience playing around in canoes on lakes/ponds and has been on more rafting trips than I have, but this was the second time in my life I’d ever stepped foot onto a canoe. I imagined it would be extremely tippy and unstable; I also imagined paddling would be tiring on my wussy little hands. Neither of these turned out to be true. I also would never have guessed how much stuff you could fit into a 2-person canoe! Us, our tent, our dry sacks with clothes and sleeping bags + pads, and toiletries, daypacks, our fold-up camping chairs, a small personal cooler, and then our share of group items … food, water, kitchenware, the toilets, etc.
Yeah, we carried toilets, which cracked me up. A five-gallon bucket with a toilet seat glued on for pee, and a latching metal box with seat for toilet paper and poo which were carted back out under the “leave no trace” policy. Growing up backpacking, I’m plenty used to BIFFing it (bathroom in forest floor) with a squat behind a bush. These thrones … which they also erected a tall tent around for full privacy … were serious bathroom luxury. I think perhaps my proudest achievement of the trip is not throwing the toilet paper into the pee bucket. It was kindly requested that if you accidentally did this, you find a stick and fish it out to place in the poo box. Every time I sat on the pee bucket, I said to myself over and over the whole time, “Don’t throw the toilet paper in, don’t throw the toilet paper in.”
Indeed this stretch of the Yampa was great for beginners, almost glassy in its calmness. The biggest rapid we encountered was maybe a Class 0.4. Perfect. The river was running fast, about the fastest the guides had ever seen it. So we had to practice eddying-out several times right away, as it was a bit more difficult in the swift current. This is the maneuver of turning the canoe upstream and drifting into shore at about a 45-degree angle to beach it. Fortunately Erik grasped the procedure, as I would have been doomed by myself. I simply called out, a bit frantically at times, “What do I do?” Comes the reply, “Paddle!” Well yes, but – after I roll my eyes – which side, and forward or back?
I can’t claim to have been enthralled with the landscape scenery, though it was certainly pleasant. But an extremely appealing aspect of this trip was the solitude. There was one other raft on the river, we passed each other a couple times. And one day we encountered a research crew counting fish. Otherwise we had the whole wide river all to ourselves, which was so peaceful and delightful. In truth, I didn’t consciously appreciate this until one of our guides mentioned that he did, and then explained that the other stretches of river in CO and UT the company canoes are chock full of other canoers, rafters, kayakers, etc. This intimidates me a little thinking about a future trip, as it was nice that here we only ever rammed into our own crew mates (not super adept at maintaining a straight line yet)! Knowing that a future trip may be much more crowded and noisy with a bunch of strangers, I made special note to appreciate the peace of this trip. Also for the first two days, we never saw a cloud in the sky. Perfect blue.
A very exciting aspect of our first day out was that we saw five bald eagles! Several in their impressive nests, and one that swooped down to the river and grabbed a fish and flew away. Super cool. The next day we encountered an amazing cloud of swallows flying out of a compound of nests in a cliffside. They were so numerous, and they kept coming like their nests were clown cars, holding an improbable number of birds in them. It was like bats flying out of a cave en masse at dusk. Never experienced anything quite like that.
Otherwise the only animal life was cows. We paddled through a lot of ranch land. And actually they could be very amusing with their range of mooing. (which of course always provokes an irresistible urge in humans to mimic) There were plenty of little calves to trigger the “awww” response.
Mostly I was too nervous to dig my little camera out of the layers of plastic baggies in my daypack, so a number of photos here were provided to me by other group members. But I finally took out the camera and decided to get some shots of us in action. The photos below are the last ones before we ran aground on a rocky island in the river. I got ourselves distracted with the camera, and by the time we realized our trajectory, we couldn’t paddle away from the island fast enough. Felt pretty silly. Had to get out and push the canoe off the rocks.
The outfitter touted the fineness of their meals, and they’re not kidding. I was singularly impressed. The guides (3) fashioned a kitchen by turning two canoes upside down on the water cans and cooked up some premium dining in the evenings. So there we were, sitting comfortably in our camp chairs, sipping the copious wine provided, munching on appetizers of fresh shrimp and fruit, subsequent dinner of fish, ribs, pesto pasta … one group member playing his guitar, a gentle evening breeze as the stars poke out of the descending blackness. Very classy. Breakfast included scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, even blueberry pancakes.
The nights were quite warm ... again, as a high-altitude backpacker throughout childhood, I usually think of camping as a cold affair, and had packed fleece pants to wear in the evening. This was so not necessary. But my favorite thing about being out in nature far from civilization held up perfectly ... the midnight sky. As I always have to get up in the night to pee, I always have the privilege of witnessing the Milky Way and the mass of stars that put me in my place as a punificent creature in a profoundly enormous universe. Some people seem to find this feeling disconcerting; I find it a splendid thing to hunker down and view the immensity.
The second night was deemed (unbeknownst to me and Erik) luau night. Several of the group had come prepared with decorations for the camp and accessories for the peeps, Hawaiian get-ups and all. Even music through an iPod with speakers. Some of us played games after dinner. Please note Erik’s glee at being handed this crazy wig … in truth, he has always wanted to have crazy-scientist hair like this. I’m not kidding about that.
I am never friends with the wind. (even though I live in a town notorious for the winter variety of this sinister force) But on our last morning, I had a particular dislike of this foe. By now our canoe was much lighter, having used up the group supplies of water we had been carrying. It was far more tippy and nerve-wracking. Battling against the wind to go downstream in a light, tippy canoe with our nascent paddling skills wasn’t nearly as fun as the previous two days’ languid pace of paddle and drift. So when our guide suddenly expressed dismay after being on the river only an hour or less at the sight of a parking lot and launch, I have to confess to being rather pleased. If it had been a day as pleasant as the preceding two, I might have been a little disappointed at having to get off the river so soon, but as it was, the news of his miscalculation of our position on the river the day before was well-received. We had made more progress the previous day than he realized.
One last “eddy-out” and we were soon on our way home after unpacking all the canoes and having lunch in the parking lot. I think normally a 3-day “trip” (in quotes b/c I can hardly bring myself to call such a period of time an actual trip) would seem absurdly short. But in this case, our hikes and amusements in the days preceding our canoeing days seemed ages away. Glenwood Springs seemed practically like last summer, not last week. I guess that’s what a new experience can do for you … stretch time in a magical way. As my life races inexorably faster with each passing year, it was pretty special to have it slow down so effortlessly even if for just a couple days.
First I took a trip inside the USA earlier this year, and now in June I narrowed my radius even further to within my own lovely state of Colorado. Erik and I took a little vacation to the northwest part of the state. Our ultimate destination was the city of Craig to begin a canoe trip, but we decided to make a few pit-stops along the way to some areas we have not spent much time in. Driving west along I-70 I was excited to spot some bighorn sheep along the roadside.
Our first stop was Glenwood Springs. A town I normally associate with the Colorado River and the beautiful canyon it carves coming into the town down I-70 from the east. Besides the hot springs, Hanging Lake is probably its most popular sight – a splendid hike to a truly sublime lake, which I’ve done in the past. This somehow affected my perception that our time there would be more nature-oriented. But in the end, the activities we chose had pretty much nothing to do with that sphere.
After we arrived, we walked the main street, had a ridiculous amount of ice cream, and indulged in happy hour (indeed happy-priced and happy tasting) at a local brewery at the Hotel Denver. Then we spent the evening at a completely random venue … the Glenwood Vaudeville Review. Yep, Vaudeville in Colorado. Who knew, right? It was just too random to pass up. A small town production at its best … and these guys are definitely all over that genre – classic Vaudeville comedy but completely original material. It’s silly and goofy, and some acts go over better than others, but quite professional, all things considered. Begins with an old-timey sing-along while you eat dinner. Probably my favorite act was the plunger dance. Yes, five guys dancing with exceptionally tall plungers, making rhythms with the suction sounds by plunging everything from the floor to the ceiling … about as slapstick as a good fart scene but far more classy to create sound by sucking air in than by blowing it out.
The review is held inside an old Masonic lodge. The toilet was located at the end of a hallway upstairs, and I got a kick out of some of the old photographs hanging on the walls.
Walking back to our hotel, we passed by the well-known hot springs. We could have taken a dip, but the price was a little steep for us to swim in what really amounts to a warm swimming pool. The waters may be nice and healthful, but the atmosphere was nothing particularly appealing to us. Especially after having just been soaking in the very interesting Blue Lagoon in Iceland.
What did lure us in, though, was the adjacent mini-golf course. My father-in-law would be proud. It was a great excuse to stay outdoors in the pleasant summer evening air. Erik got a hole-in-one on the last shot and won a free game. So we came back the following night to try to improve our scores (with success).
We spent the next day at another pretty random place … you would never even know it exists, for it lies completely on top of the plateau above the town. The gondola which transports you up to it is the only evidence of the delightful little Glenwood Caverns amusement park high above the canyon. Nice views to be had.
We’re suckers for amusement park rides. This is a super small affair but the rides are quality. And being a small town gig, the crowds (at least on a weekday) are minimal. So we could get off the roller coaster and literally walk right back on it as many times as we wanted. Finally we were too dizzy to do it again. There’s a really nice alpine coaster. But by far the best ride of all is the rather spectacular Big Canyon Swing. This thing swings you up at high speed until you are horizontal, looking straight down at the canyon and river below. Then of course you swing the other way until you’re looking straight up at the sky. Back and forth. I did the ride three times, and each time could not stop giggling the whole time, even when I had a stranger next to me. Erik wasn’t keen to do it again after one ride, so the second photo below is courtesy of him (I’m the little person on the left).
The other delightful attraction of the park is two caves open for tours of about 45 minutes each. I love caves! For being right next to each other (I believe ultimately connecting), they are surprisingly different … one has more interesting passageways, and one has more interesting formations.
And of course any amusement park worth its salt has funny mirrors! Here are headless versions of ourselves.
And so we headed on down the road to Steamboat Springs. The roadsides were full of springtime yellow, white and purple. My favorite time of year is spring when the meadows are green, flowers in bloom, and snow still lingers on the mountaintops.
Our plan here was simply to hike each day for three days. This area, in Routt National Forest, connects to the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness area, which is where I spent much of my childhood backpacking in summer. Our first day’s plan was successfully executed as we walked to the Fish Creek Falls just outside town and hiked further to Upper Fish Creek Falls for some commanding views of the valley and a restful afternoon sitting at the falls, with some darling chipmunks for company.
The next two days, our hiking plans were stymied by the spring run-off being at its peak. The trails all crossed creeks, and it would have taken significantly more desire and nerve to cross them than we had. Log bridges and stepping stones lay beneath a turbulent and terrifying rush of snowmelt. So we were turned back on three trails. (Later I read this is to be expected here in spring.) However, this didn’t detract from the overall effect of time spent pleasantly hiking in nature among copious spring wildflowers. We were hemmed in by blossoms on every trail we walked. And yet patches of snow remained ... which Erik felt compelled to drill into the middle of for a fresh bite. We'll see what sort of Rocky Mountain disease he ends up with. ha ha.
These trails also were refreshingly void of other hikers … encountered only a handful. Solitude is one of the things I most treasure in the Great Outdoors, if it can be achieved.
Headed then to the ultimate reason for our little Colorado getaway – to the Yampa River just outside of Craig to begin a canoe trip. I’ll save that for its own post, coming up soon. :-) I'll end here with a little sampler of the springtime wildflowers we encountered hiking.
Ogunquit, Maine, USA
Welcome to my first travel post from the good ol’ USA, my home country, which is beautiful and grand but often neglected in my travel tales. Recounted for you here are a handful of the sights we saw in southwest Maine, where Erik and I visited our friends for a week. Kelly was our most excellent guide who planned 7 days of fun activities for us.
As I’m writing this, I’m dipping pretzels into dark chocolate orange sauce I brought home from the Stonewall Kitchen in York, Maine, an evil little establishment that gives out loads of free samples all over the store so that before you know it, you are standing in the check-out line with an armload of jellies, sauces, dips, etc., licking your lips in anticipation of eating them in your own kitchen (or office, as the case may be).
Though it would be pretty to see Maine in the summer when it is full of leaves and blooms, we also learned the Ogunquit area will be similarly full of tourists. We saw the huge beach parking lots and heard the tales of hours of waiting for popular restaurants. But we had the pleasure of walking the beaches in near solitude, spending quiet time with the seagulls and waves … always a refreshing activity.
Also took the time to watch the snails make tracks in the sand. I found this very entertaining. In Mexico I like watching the crabs skitter around on the beach; I don’t think I’ve ever taken time to watch snails lumber along. They made an extensive network of paths, and watching one individual for awhile, I found they moved a little more quickly than I might have imagined. It’s interesting watching their little antennae things move around, their strange squishy foot glide through the wet sand. Ocean critters are really so fascinating.
A small tide pool in the rocks containing what I thought was a rather artistic array of plant life …
As well, we were mostly by ourselves walking a variety of nature trails. This one around Mackinaw Island has an area designated for fairy houses. Anyone can build one, but it has to be out of only natural materials less than three feet in length. I’m kind of inspired now to go build some in the forest next to my house where I take my kitties for walks. (If you are a Facebook friend of mine, you’ll know this is a regular activity my felines and I engage in.)
Also on this trail is a small pet cemetery where a former governor buried his beloved horse and a large number of dogs.
Another unique stop on the itinerary Kelly planned for us was a Lithuanian monastery, St. Anthony’s. The outside of the building was quite traditional, but the interior was beautifully and tastefully modern, abstract and complex. So much more contemplative than your typical cathedral rose window. I didn’t take any photos inside … there was a man praying in the pews and I felt it would be intrusive, especially since I had the DSLR which makes such a resounding shutter click. (My beloved little G9 bit the dust and I have to get a new one.) There is also a lovely nature trail on the grounds which includes several grottoes and statues, ponds, benches, and contemplative spots. In the midst of a bustling tourist mecca along the southeast coast, it really seemed a quiet spot of refuge.
If you read my blog posts with any regularity, you’re surely aware that beer and I are very good friends. Trying new beers and enjoying my favorites are two of my most beloved activities. Maine is an excellent location for a person with such an interest in beer. Many local breweries serving up a nice spread of different types, provided ample tasting opportunities. Of the ones I tried, I settled, as did Erik, on Gritty’s out of Portland as our favorite, both in the grocery store bottle and the draft in the pub.
My favorite activity in Portland was the Portland Museum of Art. For a relatively small city, it’s an impressive collection of top-notch art from the most famous masters to Maine locals. My favorite was a featured exhibition of black and white photography documenting the lives of migrant workers on blueberry farms, harvesting by the traditional method of “raking.” Though the photos were taken in the last several years, they are spookily reminiscent of Dust Bowl era photos. The Blueberries of Wrath, instead of The Grapes of Wrath. The blueberry rakers lead a life of back-breaking labor for the privilege of existing in near poverty. I’m not entirely sure I can enjoy blueberries the same way I used to.
Naturally, we visited a variety of lighthouses.
We also took a day trip by train to Boston, a city I had never visited. My friend, Cindy, was our most excellent and competent guide here, bee-lining us to her favorite features with an efficiency that allowed us to see much more of the city than we would have wandering around on our own.
These are from the Boston library, my favorite of the buildings we visited.
From an exhibit in the library composed of dioramas. A dying art, I think.
Of course, we had to swing by the “Cheers” bar of the television series fame. Cindy and I pose with a huge post of the cast.
My favorite sight overall was this small cemetery in the middle of the city containing the graves of several famous Revolutionary historical figures and many graves from the early and mid-1700s. Interesting to me was some of the spelling … as some words were still spelled in an older English style, for example, “Here lyes So-And-So” rather than “Here lies.” At first I was a bit creeped out by the tombstone iconography, which I had not realized was the traditional graveyard iconography of the day, the skull-and-crossbones and the skull with wings. Now everything is all froofy angels and lambs. Maybe I have a darker soul, but I rather like the simplicity and the acknowledgement of the stark truth of our earthly existence exemplified in the skulls.
The most amusing thing to me was the Old State House which once would have been viewed as a somewhat grand building but now is almost comically dwarfed by the modern buildings surrounding it. Outside the state house is where five people were killed in the “Boston Massacre” of 1770. Honestly, I didn’t know five people constituted a “massacre.” But the funny thing, which I cannot really explain to you, is the hand-painted sign of an 1800s feel inside the state house on the second level above a window which overlooks the area where the colonials were killed. It says, “Boston Massacre Site. View it here!” It’s like an old traveling circus sign pointing to the side show freaks. Maybe the humor is all manifest in the exclamation point, I can’t really say. But, rather tastelessly, I couldn’t stop chuckling (at the sign, not the historical event).
But back to Maine, we took some lovely walks along the beaches, both sandy and rocky, including this one along "The Marginal Way" not far from where we were staying in Ogunquit, ending at Perkins Cove. Lots and lots of seaweed, piled up at low tide in extremely thick, squishy masses. I was fascinated again with the snails, this time making their way up delicate strands of seaweed. Also lots and lots of seashells here. It happened that I'd bought myself a little birthday gift in Perkins Cove and so had a bag with me, into which I dropped a few fistfuls of shells carefully chosen from the piles among the rocks ... collecting seashells is one of my favorite activities. To some degree I don't even care if they make it back to Colorado with me, I just enjoy looking, finding and inspecting, and there is something important about the actual collection into a bag or bucket or what have you. But after that, it doesn't matter so much what happens to them.
Knowing how much I love waterfalls, Kelly was determined to show me at least one. A very short walk through the woods near Westbrook brought us to this sweet tumble of water called Jewel Falls.
Many thanks to Kelly for planning a lovely itinerary for us in coastal Maine.