Friday, 29 June 2007

Other Czech Attractions

I have spent a few days in the last week visiting some other places outside Prague, and got to see some of the Czech countryside - lots of farm areas with crops, few signs of animals, attractive country villages and small towns and some nice mountain areas. Nice to travel through but would also be nice for hiking.

First stop was Karlovy Vary, the Czech version of a "glam, resort town". It is based around natural springs which are believed to have medicinal uses so people walk around with special cups from which they continually sip the spring water. It actually tasted just like bore water to me but fortunately didn't have the strong sulfur smell. The setting was lovely though with a stream running through the centre of town, forested mountains on either side and pretty houses (and hotels) in the valley floor and starting to climb up the sides of the mountains. Had a nice walk through the forest. There was also lots of shops to cater for the wealthy Russians, Austrians, Germans and Czech who visit - jewellery, clothes, cafes and restaurants, often with menus in Russian, and crystal shops. The jewellery shops were full of gold, silver, pearls, diamonds and one even had some Moroccan fossils. To cater for the well-heeled it also has lots of hotels, not just ordinary hotels, but "wellness and spa" hotels. It was a pleasant relaxing place though.

Karlovy Vary buildings (above and below)

In the forest walking down from the lookout tower

Next stop was to the south, near the Austrian border (KV was to the west close to the German border) . Cesky Krumlov is a very old town situated on an almost 360 degree river bend, which surrounds the old town with 600-700 year old buildings, cobbled streets with a castle perched on the other side. The castle is the second largest in the Czech Republic and has some stunning decoration - frescoes, carvings, paintings . . . I also happened to run into the tail end of the five-petalled rose festival when I arrived. This flower symbolises both the town and the castle and is found everywhere. The festival celebrates to town's medieval heritage and includes traditional activities such as musket firing and jousting. I also got to see a procession of people in traditional dress. So that was an added bonus. The days after this were much quieter. Again it is a nice quiet relaxing place that is fun to wander around, sit and eat or have a drink in a riverside cafe.
Cesky Krumlov and the river that encircles it

A Cesky Krumlov window

Dressed up for the Five-Petaled Rose Festival

Thursday, 28 June 2007

WOW - Black Light Theatre

Last night I went to a Czech speciality - Black Light Theatre. This type of theatre involves the use of dance, mime, music and lots of special lighting effects to tell a story. WOW was the name of the production and was recommended to me as one of the best in Prague. It was the story of finding the child in your inner self and was great although quite short for the price, only one hour. They use lots of black costumes and a black backdrop plus UV light and normal light so only certain parts can be seen. It looks really bizarre when a person is half in black and half in white, either right side - left side, or back - front. Then to top it all off there is some audience involvement like hitting around giant beach balls and big (human) spiders coming crawling through the audience and making all the teenage girls scream (just can't escape the school groups!). Anyway it was great entertainment and well worth seeing. I'm glad I went as I debated about the cost. Last day in Prague today, tomorrow off to Wroclaw, Poland.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Kutna Hora

Well yesterday went to Kutna Hora, 73 kilometres east of Prague. Although it was the bone church that attracted me to visit, there was much, much more. When I first walked into the Ossuary Chapel (Bone Church), I was blown away. It was not what I expected as it was so different to the one I had seen previously in Evora, Portugal. In Kutna Hora, the bones were used solely for decoration, not as part of the structure such as in the walls. There was a huge chandelier containing every bone of the human body. It was an amazing sight at about 2 metres across and1.5 metres high. In the traditional alcove at the entracnce where normally a vase of flowers is kept, instead there was the bone version of that. Mind you the pyramid piles of bones in the four corners did nothing for me! It is actually a chapel in the cemetery which still surrounds it today with the church, with which it is associated, being across the road. Well worth a visit I must say.

Inside the chapel at Kutna Hora

As for what else is there -Kutna Hora is avery pretty town with a central square surrounded by colourful, old buildings. Further into the old town is a cathedral with very attractive stained glass windows, painted not mosaics of glass though, huge wooden altars with religious paintings and some slowly decaying frescoes. It is presently under renovation with a new roof already having been put on.

What I didn't realise was that for 400 years, Kutna Hora was a major source of European silver, obtained from vertical shafts up to 600 metres deep. Today there is a silver museum plus you can go on a mine tour to learn all about it and go along some of the underground passages. Of course, I had to tag along with a schoolgroup and the guide was in Czech but at least I got some written pages to read which covered most of the details. It was interesting all the same. The only problem is that I would have enjoyed longet there but had to catch the bus back toPrague and the rain had started, later to become like a tropical downpour, except it is not the tropics.!

Kutna Hora street

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Prague Post

Well it is hot here in Prague, much hotter than it was in Morocco when I left. Anyway that hasn't stopped me getting out and about (and taking lots of photos). Prague really is a very pretty city with narrow alleys bordered by houses by all pastel colours of the rainbow. As well lots have painted murals on the outside or small stone statues on the corners or over the doorways. Underneath are lots of shops catering to tourists - lots of crystal shops, but a lot of it seems very tacky to me. The other things that have struck me is the ready availability of alcohol - it is everywhere and people can drink it sitting on the benches on the streets (maybe that is the Morocco effect), also lots of stalls that sell grilled sausages as hot dogs, and lots of tourists although I believe there will be many more in July and August. Hostel is good except the room is on a busy main street and the cars use it like a drag strip, speeding up as they go past, so that has made it hard to sleep.

Under the St, Charles Bridge

Prague Castle and Old Town

Yesterday went to Prague Castle - up on top of a hill overlooking Prague. It has the stunning St. Vitus Cathedral with beautiful glass windows, a cherub-attended silver tomb where one saint is buried, and a tower that you can climb to the top of - all 287 steps which made me dizzy by the end as I'd gone round and round so many times. Was interesting to see though. Today saw the contrasting Jewish synagogues which stood out because of their being so plain.
Today also went and looked at a photography competition exhibition on nature, mountains and man. All photographers were Czech but the locations included NZ, Iceland, USA and lots of places in Europe. Included some absolutely stunning photos but also some very ordinary ones (I've got better). Hopefully will go either to Karlstein or Kutna Hora tomorrow.

Spires from castle cathedral

Friday, 15 June 2007

Meandering Off to Europe

Well tomorrow my blog and I meander (well actually fly) off to Europe for 2 months. Besides a little time in London, I will spend most of it travelling around Eastern Europe - Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania to be be precise. After flying into Prague, I will travel on trains and buses, stopping to explore the history, culture, food and nature of different areas, until I end up in Bucharest.

Many people are aghast when I tell them I am travelling on my own. Of course, like most activities there are advantages and disadvantages. Number 1 is that if I waited for someone to travel with, I might end up not going anywhere. Number 2 could be considered a selfish advantage, while travelling I am free to do what I want, when I want. Number 3 - I'm sure I will get to meet many people and in many cases that is easier for a single traveller than a couple or group as one person is considered more approachable. Disadvantages - nobody to look after your bags if you want to go to the toilet, there isn't always someone there to talk to and I'm sure there is more . . . . . . . but I don't think I will think too hard about it now.

I hope to continue this blog as I travel around Europe, time and internet connections permitting, so check in regularly to see where I am and what I am doing. Until August, au revoir Maroc!

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Rabat's medina

Yesterday went to Rabat's medina so took my camera along. Only wanted to buy a couple of small purses to take away with me, got them but also a couple of other things. The medina in Rabat is a very relaxed affair, not the hustle and bustle or pressure of Marrakesh or Fez. In fact, often you almost have to chase the shopkeeper to get a price or wait and wait and wait . . . . It can actually be a gentle introduction for a first time visitor to Morocco, especially someone who is not used to bargaining. You can try bargaining there, sometimes I do, sometimes I don't; sometimes I have success, sometimes not. Treat it as fun or a game.
All the typical Moroccan products are available - lots of carpets, leather bags, wallets, shoes . . ., lamps of various descriptions, fabrics, wooden items, artwork, lots of jewellery (especially silver), rocks and fossils, antiques (they maybe old) and lots more. I can usually find something to buy even if I am not looking. Still have to find "the lampshade" though.

Here are some photos of Rabat's medina.

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Morocco Snapshots

Since I have had some positive responses about the photographs on this blog, I thought I would include a few others that give a snapshot of Morocco.

Moulay Ismail's Granary Ruins in Meknes

Volubulis Mosaic

Saadian Tombs, Marrakesh

Djemaa el Fna, Marrakesh

Dades Gorge

Telouet from Glaoui Kasbah

New Friends, Foum Zguid