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Entries about changing of the guard

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Historic Centre of Prague

Prague

Update from April 2021: It turns out that the statue was of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the co-founder and first President of Czechoslovakia, and 7th March was his birthday. That explains the military ceremony I saw in front of his statue...

Time for a wander through the Old and New Towns to Prague Castle!

It was cloudy to begin with but the sun started to come out as I crossed the Vltava River via the famous 14th-century Charles Bridge.

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I took my time crossing, taking in the views and admiring some of the statues along each side.

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The latter included the 17th-century statue of St John of Nepomuk, who is said to bring good luck to those who touch him. Parts of the metal plinth decoration were shiny from years of people's touches.

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On the New Town end of the bridge I crossed a small canal.

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From there I passed through the archway of the Lesser Town Bridge Tower and made my way gradually up the hill to the castle. The architecture was just as impressive as in the Old Town. It was exhilarating to wander up the cobbled streets in the cold sunshine, trams passing by, colour on all sides.

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Eventually I reached the foot of the castle complex. A violinist serenaded passers-by as I stopped for a little rest and had a look at a little war memorial set into the wall.

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Before reaching the castle entrance at the very top of the hill, there was a terrace with some stunning views over the city.

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A little further up, in the big square in front of the complex, I unexpectedly caught a small military ceremony in front of a statue. I'm not sure what the occasion was... it's not a public holiday today.

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Immediately after that I unexpectedly caught another military ceremony... the Changing of the Guard. I stood near Matthias Gate (the entrance to the courtyard) - I saw soldiers marching in, couldn't see much of what subsequently happened within the courtyard, but did get a good view of when the guards came back out to change positions within their pillboxes by the Gate. (No pictures of the ceremony, unfortunately, as I only took videos and I can't load them here without them already being on YouTube or Vimeo.)

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My first stop within the castle complex was the magnificent Gothic and Neo-Gothic St Vitus Cathedral.

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Work began on the present-day cathedral in 1344, but it wasn't finished and consecrated until 1929! The more modern blends seamlessly into the old; examples of the new include some of the many stained glass windows, such as the Creation Rose Window (Frantisek Kysela: 1925) and those within a series of chapels in the Neo-Gothic part of the cathedral. The New Archbishop Chapel contains one designed by the Art Nouveau decorative artist Alphonse Mucha in 1930, which shows Christianity being introduced to the Slavic peoples via Saints Cyril & Methodius (I remember these two from my time in Bulgaria).

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My other favourite stained glass windows, both old and new, include the following:

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I spent quite a while just wandering around, taking in the beauty and the atmospheric nature of my surroundings.

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Special mention to the stunning St Wenceslas Chapel, focal point and cult centre of the cathedral; I admired the 14th-century wall paintings of the Passion Cycle, amongst other magnificent decoration.

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On my exit from the cathedral I had a good look at the decoration of the chapel's exterior entrance.

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My ticket allowed me entrance to four attractions within Prague Castle. With St Vitus Cathedral being the first, the Old Royal Palace next door took my fancy next. Of special interest to me was the room in which the most famous Defenestration of Prague took place, in 1618 (the spark which ignited the Thirty Years' War). I was interested to find out that the victims actually survived - I'd always assumed that they'd died in the fall. We weren't allowed to take photos here or in the adjoining rooms, but we were in the nearby Vladislav Hall.

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My next stop was St George's Basilica; founded in 920, enlarged in 973 and then rebuilt after a fire in 1147, it's one of the oldest buildings in the castle complex.

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After that I moved on to the Golden Lane, which is a street of small historic houses first built for castle guards in the 16th century. Craftsmen moved into the houses after about half a century - including goldsmiths, who gave the street its name. These craftsmen in turn left, however, and in the 19th century the street became a slum, inhabited by poor workers and artists. The houses were lived in right up to 1939 - the writer Franz Kafka lived in one of them for a couple of years during the First World War. Most of them are souvenir shops now, but there were a couple of museum houses too, set up to look how they did when craftsmen or notable inhabitants were living in them over the last couple of hundred years.

Before I had a look at any of the houses, however, I looked round the medieval armoury museum and a former dungeon, both of which are contained within 14th-century fortifications accessed through Golden Lane.

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In one of the long underground corridors in the fortifications I got to try out a crossbow!

Once back up at ground level I walked down the Golden Lane, peering in at the museum houses.

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Before I left the castle grounds I managed some photos of an amazing view over the castle gardens and the city beyond.

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A cat kept tabs on me from a first floor window as I retraced my steps down the hill to the river and Old Town.

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I was knackered by now, and hungry because I hadn't had any lunch, so although it was only about 4pm I decided to have a very early dinner at a restaurant there and then, with the plan to subsequently get a sandwich or other bakery item from a supermarket to have at the hostel later. I decided on Czech goulash with dumplings and red onion - I was surprised at the dumplings, as they were more like slices of bread than the dumplings I've had elsewhere, but it was all very tasty anyway.

I passed through the Old Town Square on my way back to the hostel. Street performers were there in giant fluffy panda and gorilla suits, playing around with members of the public who wanted photos with them. They were very amusing, but I didn't hang around for long as I was so keen to get back and flop at the hostel. The famous astronomical clock is to one side of the square, but I decided to leave that until the next day.

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Posted by 3Traveller 09:25 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged bridges churches prague museum czech_republic explorations fortifications changing_of_the_guard unesco_world_heritage_site czech_cuisine Comments (0)

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Castle Hill explorations

Budapest


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Yesterday I relaxed all day, following the cricket - the first day of the 4th Ashes Test. I couldn't stop grinning at Stuard Broad's heroics! After another excellent performance by England today, we almost certain to win this match and therefore the series.

Today I went back to Castle Hill (via the metro for the first time; it was easy to use), but I didn't visit as many places as I'd intended to because I woke up later than expected. I didn't get much sleep last night because I couldn't get to sleep to begin with, and had only managed to doze off when the other two girls in my dorm got back at about 3 am, which woke me up. They were a bit inconsiderate actually, talking to each other for ages and loudly moving their stuff around. It was past 4 o'clock by the time they eventually got into bed and stopped talking and I didn't fall back asleep for a long time afterwards. Then at 8 o'clock they got up, waking me up in the process, packed their stuff and left. I dozed off again and didn't wake up properly until about 10!

Anyway, the first place I went to on the hill was the church of St Matthias. This has a very distinctively coloured and patterned roof, and is also very colourful inside. It was originally build at the end of the 14th century, restored in the 19th and renovated in the 20th after damage from WWII. It contains the tomb of the 12th century king Béla III - the only royal tomb to survive the Ottoman period in Hungary, apparently.

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After that I walked around the Fisherman's Bastion next door. This is a terrace shaped a bit like a battlement, with seven small towers representing the seven Magyar tribes that entered the Carpathian Basin in the late 9th century. Photogenically made from white stone, it was built at the beginning of the 20th century. Although my camera batteries were nearly dead by now, I managed to get out a few of the bastion itself and the wonderful panoramic views of the Budapest, the Danube and the hills beyond. I also caught a small changing of the guard ceremony.

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I was incredibly hot and sweaty by now, so the first thing I did after visiting the post office was go underground! I visited the Labyrinth, which is an extensive series of tunnels within Castle Hill. These tunnels have been used for various purposes for hundreds of years - wine storage, prison, torture chambers and as a major production centre for stonecutting and carving. Apparently Vlad Tepes, who became known as Vlad the Impaler (and whose birthplace I visited in Sighisoara), was imprisoned here for a period of 10 - 14 years. When released he set out on the monstrous acts of cruelty he is known for today.

It was already late afternoon by the time I left the Labyrinth, so I took the funicular down and then walked back to the hostel via Spar. I'm going to go out for lunch tomorrow instead of having a sandwich like I've done most days in Budapest so far - I'm going to make sure to have goulash!

It looks like I will have to go case-buying in the morning, unfortunately. The gaping split in my case is so major it cannot be fixed. I wrapped it in black tape for now, but I don't think I can trust that to remain in place over the flight. I might as well get a new case here, where it's likely to be cheaper than if I try to get the old case back and then buy a new one in the UK.

Posted by 3Traveller 04:41 Archived in Hungary Tagged budapest hostel hungary funicular fortifications changing_of_the_guard unesco_world_heritage_site Comments (0)

Stunning view of Budapest

Budapest


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Today there were two main destinations; the Ethnography Museum and St Stephen's Basilica.

On my walk across the Parliament square to the museum I admired the fountain and caught a small changing of the guard ceremony. I wished I could paddle in the fountain - it was a very hot day.

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The museum had a magnificently decorated interior which was lovely to look at and although the place wasn't quite as big as I was expecting, it had some interesting displays; my favourites were the traditional musical instruments (which included ocarinas, a double flute, bagpipes and a rough-looking folk violoncello that was beaten with a wooden stick), traditional toys and old photos of children playing with them, different costumes worn by mummers at Christmas, New Year, Epiphany and at Carnival, a collection of objects associated with the traditional fairs and a collection of more everyday items such as a bear trap, a bird-catching cage and some wicker and wooden beehives.

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After leaving the museum I had a sandwich for lunch in Parliament Square and then went to St Stephen's Basilica via the Danube. Although I didn't need to cross the river to get to the Basilica, I couldn't resist some photos from the bridge anyway... The views are so beautiful. I got an unexpected bonus on the bridge, as well - I discovered a vent in each side wall that blew out cool air from below! Given the heat and humidity, this was incredibly welcome. I couldn't believe that other people weren't already there. Due to the angle, the cool air wasn't noticeable unless you stood next to the wall and leaned forward a bit, so maybe that was why.

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The streets surrounding the Basilica are very grand and impressive.

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St Stephen's Basilica is named after the first king of Hungary and is the most important church in the country. It is stunning both on the outside and the inside and views from the top of the dome are fantastic. I enjoyed looking at all the decoration and architecture of the interior and lit a candle before moving into a another room - a chapel containing 'The Holy Right', the mummified right hand of St Stephen. It was housed in a very fancy silver and gold, cathedral-shaped container, but was very difficult to see properly.

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After that I took the lift up to the top of the dome. The 360 degree panoramic view of the city was amazing.

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I rested in my dorm for a couple of hours before going out for dinner at an Azerbaijani, Russian and Hungarian restaurant with a Russian girl from my dorm. Azerbaijani soup and stew went down a treat. Following this we went for a walk down the road to get a drink. First we went into a convenience store - I was under the impression we were buying drinks to take back to the hostel with us, but when she saw that I had a bottle of Coke Light instead of something alcoholic, she looked disappointed and said that she had wanted us to drink alcohol together and that since I was only getting a Coke, she wasn't going to get anything at all. Okayyyyy... If they'd had something I liked then I would have got alcohol, but all they had was beer, which I hate.

She was desperate to go to a club, but I didn't feel like it because I was knackered and in any case wasn't dressed up for it. We decided to go to have a drink or two together at a bar instead, so I took her to a place I'd passed on my way back from the basilica earlier. I ordered a cocktail and then asked what she was having... she said that she wasn't going to have anything! I thought she wanted to a drink together...?! Oh well - I didn't say anything about that, I just enjoyed my wonderful cocktail. It was genuinely one of the best pina coladas I've ever had!

We headed back after that as the Russian girl said she didn't fancy staying out any more and I was always going back to the hostel after my drink anyway.

Posted by 3Traveller 00:15 Archived in Hungary Tagged bridges budapest basilica museum hungary cocktails changing_of_the_guard unesco_world_heritage_site river_danube traditional_customs Comments (0)

Pageantry, history and an engagement ring hunt

Quito


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We went into the Old Town first thing after breakfast, looked round the San Francisco Monastery and then revisited Tianguez Fairtrade shop (I showed Dave round the shop a few days ago so he could see all the corridors set within the former catacombs of the monastery, along with the fabulous range of handicrafts) to do a bit of shopping. We had a drink or two at the café as well - I had guanábana juice and a Cola Light and Dave had a hot chocolate and a Coke.

Plaza San Francisco;

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San Francisco Monastery exterior;

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San Francisco Monastery interior;

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Tianguez Fairtrade shop

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Then we headed back to Plaza Grande to watch the Changing of the Presidential Guard! This takes place every Monday at 11 am. There was barely a cloud in the sky all day so I got a little bit sunburnt. We saw the President, Rafael Correa, standing on a balcony, and ceremonial guards variously marching, riding on horses or sitting beneath the balcony playing in the band.

Plaza Grande;

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The changing of the Presidential Guard;

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After that finished, we walked to a narrow street called La Ronda which is lined with beautiful restored 17th century buildings, some of which have colourful flowers in pots on balconies. Several of the buildings have a plaque commemorating an artist, musician or poet who lived there in the past.

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On the way to La Ronda we popped inside the cultural arts centre in Plaza Grande...

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...and crossed a plaza on the edge of the Old Town which had great views of the Virgen de Quito, a statue of an angel which stands of a hill overlooking Quito.

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We had an almuerzo, a set lunch, in a restaurant in La Ronda and then got the Trolebus back to the hostel from Plaza Santo Domingo.

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After a short rest we did some photo editing and then went out round the corner from the hostel to three handicraft and jewellery shops, in order to look for a silver engagement ring, but we had no luck. None of them had very many rings on offer and what rings they did have were all too wide or were colours I'm not keen on. I still had another option up my sleeve, though, in the Old Town. I made a mental note to go there either on Wednesday or Thursday.

For dinner we went to an Argentinian/American steakhouse in the Mariscal Sucre area - delicious, just as I hoped. Dave got excited when he saw that T-bone steak was on the menu - apparently this is banned in the USA because of the way the meat is on the bone.

Posted by 3Traveller 14:36 Archived in Ecuador Tagged dave quito andes ecuador procession explorations changing_of_the_guard unesco_world_heritage_site ecuadorian_cuisine plaza_grande plaza_san_francisco fair_trade_shop plaza_santo_domingo san_francisco_monastery Comments (0)

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