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A week in Swabia

Tuttlingen, Singen, Zurich Airport and London Luton Airport

I've had a great week in Tuttlingen, which is in the far south-west of Germany, only around 20km from the Swiss border and from the Bodensee (Lake Constance).

I was there because I was teaching 17-19-year-olds a preparation course for the speaking part of the English Abitur exam. The situation for my colleague 'M' and I this week was a little peculiar, because since the actual term doesn't start until midway next week, most of the school was empty - apart from our two classes, we had only a couple of secretarial staff, the caretaker and the occasional teacher for company, plus the contact teacher at the beginning of the week. We weren't given access to a staff room, so our movements were restricted to the classrooms, the secretaries' office, a tiny secretaries' kitchen, the copying room and the toilets.

The students were all quite high level. They were all really nice - a pleasure to teach all round. Since it was an exam preparation course, the end-of-week presentations yesterday were based on two types of Abitur English speaking exam tasks (monologues describing and analysing political or social newspaper/magazine cartoons, and paired discussions based on different topics.)

Yesterday and Thursday were overcast, but during the first half of the week the weather was beautiful. I took advantage on Tuesday and Wednesday by going on lovely walks round town and up a nearby forested hill to look round 'Ruine Honberg', remains of a small medieval fortress. Rebuilding work was going on on one tower, but aside from that I was almost the only person there the whole time, so it was very peaceful. Great views through the trees, too.

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In town it was lovely just strolling around the centre, taking in the pleasant architecture, parks and atmosphere.

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The entire town was burnt to the ground by a devastating fire in 1803 and some buildings from the original reconstruction survive, including the Tuttlinger Haus, now an interesting house museum with displays on local history as well as of one of the main families who lived here - all in German, but I managed to decipher some of it!

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It turns out that although the population of Tuttlingen is only about 35,000, the town currently produces nearly half of the world's supply of surgical instruments. Tuttlingen was formerly a shoe manufacturing centre, because there were several tanneries along the banks of the Danube.

Yesterday afternoon I didn't do much except follow the cricket and go out for a bit of shopping and a walk to the train station to buy my ticket to Zurich Airport for the next day. I also went to an 'Eiscafé' for a coffee with 'M' to celebrate the end of the working week - I asked for an iced coffee and it came with a scoop of ice cream and a mountain of real whipped cream on top! Delicious!

The first leg of my journey today - a rail replacement bus to Singen - didn't leave until 11:15, so after five days of very early starts I very much enjoyed a bit of a lie in and a nice leisurely breakfast! I also managed a last quick walk around town, in order to take a few pictures of sculptures I had noticed on previous days.

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In one of the parks I came across a group of people playing a type of bowls;

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The train journey from Singen to Zurich Airport was very smooth. There was some wonderful scenery, including a view of what I think were the spectacular Rhine Falls. I didn't manage to get any pictures of them though.

My experience at Zurich Airport was seamless and the flight to Luton Airport was uneventful.

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Posted by 3Traveller 16:58 Archived in Germany Tagged waterfalls art buildings airport germany museum switzerland explorations english_teaching fortifications natural_wonder house_museum river_danube tuttlingen Comments (0)

First time in Switzerland!

London Luton Airport, EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg, Basel and Tuttlingen

Saturday 31st August

I'm teaching in southern Germany for the coming week, but decided to arrive a day early in order to spend a night in Switzerland first. I hadn't been to Switzerland before, so I was keen to make the most of my situation! A full afternoon, evening and night in Basel awaited me.

I arrived at EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg after a flight which went smoothly, though I had a middle seat so I didn't get the best view. The airport is in France, right next to the border; in arrivals you turn left for France and right for Switzerland. I turned right and took the bus to the city centre - free for me with my hostel reservation, though nobody checked tickets anyway.

My hostel, Hyve Basel, was a quick and easy walk from the main station. It was a nice and sunny 25 °C outside and I enjoyed the short walk down leafy residential streets.

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I was too early to check in, so I left my bag in the luggage room and headed back out again straight away. I started off with a walk to the main branch of the Basel Historical Museum, via a park where I had a late lunch of coronation chicken rolls and Chinese sesame flour sweet things I had brought with me from the UK.

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I also passed the Neo-Gothic Open Church of Elizabeth and stopped at an intriguing fountain which after a few minutes I realised must have been designed by one of Basel's most famous artists, Jean Tinguely - a kinetic artist, famous for his moving mechanical sculptures. They reminded me a bit of pictures by Heath Robinson.

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The museum is in a converted church and although a bit on the pricey side (15 Swiss francs), it was definitely worth it.

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One of the highlights was a very interesting 'History of Basel in 50 Objects' exhibition. The highlights of this highlight took me from the Celtic settlement which was the first incarnation of Basel (represented here by a painted jar) all the way up to the Carnival procession of 1995 (a mask of a drum major).

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In medieval times Basel was a city of knights, and was famous for its jousting tournaments, which were usually held during the periods of Carnival and Whitsun and were accompanied by processions, dancing and heavy drinking; pictured are a 'pot helmet' and a 'little tournament crown' (put onto the spear tip to blunt it).

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There were several huge fires in Basel during the medieval period, and after an especially bad one in 1417, which destroyed around 250 houses, the town council decreed that all shingle roofs had to be replaced by tiled roofs. The cost of the tiles for the house owners were subsidised by the council. Pictured is a roof tile from around 1510, with the image of a woman engraved on it.

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Up until the late 19th century, Basel was enclosed by city walls. Prior to that century (when the rules were relaxed), the entry of people and goods was tightly controlled at the city gates. The gates were closed at nightfall and if you wanted to get in after that, you had to pay a fee. In addition to that, fines were issued if you weren't back in time for the evening sermon on Sundays and public holidays! Fees and fines were collected using a tall gate collection tin (one dating from 1615 is pictured).

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Fire was not the only thing which ravaged the city of Basel; the plague also made a regular appearance - every 14 years on average. During one particularly terrible outbreak, in 1610-11, 30% of the population of Basel died. The last known outbreak was between 1667-68. The plague remained (understandably) so feared that in the period after this last outbreak, the town's physician had himself painted as a plague doctor, complete with black protective clothing and beaked mask.

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Next up were the cabinet of Basel's executioner (with the tools he kept in it), which was in use between the 15th and 18th centuries, and a wooden Janus face mask from the River Abo in Cameroon - an object collected by missionaries from the Basel Mission (set up in 1815).

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Then I arrived at 1817, where I was met by a two-penny bread roll from that year. Like much of Europe, Basel suffered from a catastrophic harvest that year, caused by the massive eruption of Mount Tambora in what is now Indonesia; there was widespread hunger, and the price of corn quadrupled.

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In the time before supermarkets, bread used to be delivered to middle-class households every day. Throughout most of the year these deliveries were made from the bakeries via small wagons, handcarts or bicycles, but in snowy winters, 'bread sleds' were used. The one pictured here dates from 1890.

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Aside from the Carnival mask mentioned before, amongst the 20th century items were a Jewish star (representing the fact that Basel was a safe haven for some Jewish refugees during the 2nd World War) and a ballot box from the Basel-Stadt canton (in 1966, Basel-Stadt became the first German-speaking canton in Switzerland to introduce voting rights for women).

Elsewhere in the museum there was an interesting Enlightenment Cabinet of Curiosities and collection of globes, a fine collection of medieval tapestries, a stunning medieval or Renaissance carved wooden altarpiece, a 13th-century wooden relief of the Virgin & Child from South Tyrol or Graubünden, which was based on a famous Byzantine icon type called the 'Hodegetria' ('She who points the way'), and the remaining fragments of the medieval Danse Macabre murals which Basel was famous for until 1805, when the townspeople decided to knock down the wall it was painted onto and then nearly straight away regretted it. This regret resulted in a number of reproductions of what these murals had looked like - one dating from 1806 was on display. It arranges the Danse Macabre in five rows instead of one long one.

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The tapestry collection is a result of the flowering of this art form within the Late Gothic era in the cities of the Upper Rhine - Basel, Strasbourg and Freiburg. Some have religious themes, but in Basel more tapestries with secular themes remain than do religious ones; they display courtly ideals such as noble knights and elegant lovers, the latter shown in 'Gardens of Love' settings - depictions of earthly paradise. Others show wild men, monsters and other fantastical creatures.

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Included within the tapestry section were displays of two sets of 16th-century playing cards and a set of wonderful medieval stove tiles with reliefs of mythical creatures, a knight on horseback, fighting men, and groups of men and women playing dice.

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I had just headed out of the museum when I realised that I had accidentally missed out the basement, which contains an excellent archaeology section with prehistoric, Celtic, Roman and Alemannic finds. Luckily they let me go back inside and look round it without having to pay again!

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Before leaving I also caught an interesting yet sobering temporary display about the Penan people of Sarawak in Borneo, who have faced massive deforestation of their land since the 1960s.

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I was greeted by bright sunshine when I stepped outside the second time and wandered along picturesque streets to the Spalentor, the main surviving city gate, and then the wonderful Town Hall with its magnificent clock.

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From there I carried on to one of the main bridges across the Rhine. To my surprise, I saw lots of people floating/swimming down the river, carried quite strongly by the current. Most of them had an inflatable tied to them. I thought maybe it was a special event - it's as wide if not a bit wider than the Thames in central London, and surely normally as busy...? Anyway, I was very hot and sweaty by now so I was jealous - the water looked so tempting! It looked a lot cleaner than the Thames.

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After crossing the bridge I walked along the riverside, which was lovely. Lots of leafy trees, bicycles leaning against railings, picturesque buildings and people relaxing in the sunshine.

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After nabbing a cold drink and a 25% off slice of quiche from a small supermarket, I crossed back over via a different bridge.

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I was on a special mission I'd decided on as soon as I'd noticed it on Google Maps a few days before; a walk down the road to the St Alban Tor, another of the old city gates. It didn't look like visitors could go inside it, let alone up it, but I got a picture or two of it anyway. My hometown is St Albans, England, so it was a novelty to see references to St Alban - the protomartyr of Britain - abroad.

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It was past 7pm by now and my feet and back were protesting, so after buying my ticket to Tuttlingen for the next day from the train station, I headed back to the hostel. I had my quiche for dinner (I would have liked a proper meal, but Switzerland does seem as expensive as people say!) in the courtyard, retrieved my rucksack from the luggage room, picked up my key and retired to bed early in my dorm.

Sunday 1st September

I arrived at the hotel in Tuttlingen OK today after a 6-minute train ride from the Swiss Basel station to the German one, another train for an hour and a quarter to a small German city called Singen, and lastly an hour on a rail replacement bus from there to Tuttlingen. Lots of lovely scenery; we ran alongside the Rhine for a decent proportion of the longer train journey, and when not next to the Rhine I saw rolling farmland with heavily forested hills behind.

The hotel is in the middle of the town centre, which is nice - easy to explore the place once my teaching partner 'M' and I finish school each day. We'll have the earliest finish yet to a school day, at 12:30, so there'll be plenty of time to explore!

Update from 28/05/2022: It turns out that swimming/ wearing inflatables and letting the current take you between certain bridges on the Rhine is a very popular pastime in Basel in summer months - so it wasn't a special occasion at all, but rather an everyday one...

Posted by 3Traveller 14:14 Archived in Switzerland Tagged bridges churches buildings trains airport germany museum buses switzerland basel explorations river_rhine Comments (2)

An American encounter in Belgrade

Belgrade


View Teaching and Travelling Abroad on 3Traveller's travel map.

I arrived safely at my hostel in Belgrade after a seamless three-hour bus journey from Užice. After settling my stuff in and saying hello to the friendly owner and his wonderful massive Italian mastiff (cane corso), I headed out into the sunshine, keen to explore.

My first wanderings took me down some lovely leafy streets, some pedestrianised and some not, and through the even leafier Student Park, which lies next to buildings belonging to the University of Belgrade.

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Then I looked round the Ethnographic Museum next door. They had a wide range of traditional costumes on display - there was some incredible workmanship on show, especially in the embroidery and silver jewellery.

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There were some traditional musical instruments which I found especially interesting; special mention to the bagpipes and what looked like a kind of mandolin with a carved neck.

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The museum seemed smallish at first, but once I'd been round the first big room I went upstairs and found that there were several other rooms leading off it. There were displays about wedding customs, the feast of St George, rural occupations such as rakija (fruit brandy) distilling, tobacco-growing, cattle-herding and river fishing, and urban and rural house interior dioramas set up to look how they would have done in the 19th century.

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Special mention also to a display about slava, which is a family ritual and feast celebrating the day of the patron saint of the family. So important was, and is, slava that in 2014 it was inscribed on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. One of the house interior dioramas was set up to look like a rural home of the early 20th century set up for their celebration of the slava.

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From the Ethnographic Museum it was a short walk to Republic Square, where I hoped to visit the National Museum. A lot of building work was going on, so much of the square was blocked off, but the museum was still open. It was great all round, with a particularly fine Prehistoric and Celtic collection. Highlights for me were some sculptures found at Lepenski Vir, a major archaeological site of the Mesolithic Iron Gates culture of this part of the Balkans. They are carved from large red sandstone cobbles and are a combination of the realistic and the figurative, very expressionistic in style, representing humans with fishlike features.

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Other highlights in this section were the Celtic Horseman (3rd-4th c. BC; one of the few Celtic statues ever found), the votive Dupljaja Chariot (a Bronze Age masterpiece sculpted from amber), and some other amber objects, this time found at the site of a prehistoric princely tomb in Novi Pazar. The latter included some unique triangular plates, engraved with mythological scenes, which were worn as elaborate head or chest ornaments.

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The sun was still shining as I left the National Museum, rested a little and discovered a group of people gathering for a free walking tour. I don't normally go on walking tours, because I prefer looking round places independently, but on this occasion I though "Why not..." and joined them. How glad I am that I did! I would never have met Barbara otherwise...

Barbara was a lovely American lady from South Carolina who got talking with me as we waited for the guide to arrive. "Are you from New Zealand, or just been there?" was her first question, as she spotted my 'Sweet As' t-shirt... Only been there, I answered. Back in 2009. The t-shirt was a gift though! We hit it off straight away, talking about our various travels around the world (amongst other things). Our conversation continued as the tour began and we walked around Stari Grad (the Old Town), including Belgrade Fortress and the park surrounding it.

The tour was a good one. Unfortunately I've forgotten the name of our guide now, but she was very nice, enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and had a couple of surprises up her sleeve for us! Within the Old Town we stopped at the statue of Đura Jakšić, a Serbian poet, dramatist and painter, for a shot of rakija, and a few streets away from there she gave us a micro-introduction to the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet.

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Within the lush green park surrounding the fortress she handed round some colour print-outs of some Yugoslavian 5 billion dinar notes for us to keep if we wanted to.

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Belgrade Fortress was very impressive, as were the views from it! We didn't have as long to look round as if we'd gone independently, of course, and we didn't actually go inside any of the buildings, but the grounds were still very pleasant to walk round.

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We walked a loop round the fortress boundary, so we had some wonderful views of the city, the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, and some terraces below where we stood.

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The colourful spire of Holy Archangel Michael Orthodox Church stood out as we made our way round.

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The tour finished once we had finished our loop. Barbara and I were both pretty knackered by then, plus it was late afternoon by now, so we agreed to make our way back to the centre and have dinner together, stopping at Barbara's hotel first so she could get something. We passed by a statue of Gavrilo Princip on our way.

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At dinner I noticed again the similarity of Serbian cuisine to Bulgarian (the Ottoman influence across the Balkans). I had some cheesy stuffed peppers, kebabs (long grilled mince fingers on sticks) and chips, with sour cream as a side and some rakija to go with it - the glass of the latter arrived on ice.

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Barbara and I parted ways after dinner. I'm absolutely kicking myself for not getting her details! Barbara, if you happen to see this and remember our afternoon/evening, and would like to get back in touch, send me a message! I had a fantastic time in your company and it would be great to meet up again at some point!

Back at my hostel, I tried and failed to check in to my flight online using Dave's iPhone - frustrating, as I knew that if I had to check in and get my boarding pass at the airport instead, I'd have to pay a fee. Unfortunately, this is what I was forced to do in the end, as there weren't any computers or printer at the hostel, and it was too late in the day for any internet café to be open. My flight was at 10:15 the following morning, so I was going to be up too early in the morning for that too.

The flight itself was fine, though I didn't get a window seat!

Posted by 3Traveller 18:36 Archived in Serbia Tagged museum hostel serbia belgrade explorations fortifications orthodox_church river_danube traditional_customs serbian_cuisine Comments (3)

A very special day in Užice

Užice


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There were one or two more normal classes first thing and then the next couple of hours were taken up with final rehearsals and getting ready for the Show. The Show went really well - both classes put on a great performance. My class did a tweaked version of Modern Cinderella and the other class did a reverse-gender version of Romeo and Juliet.

The school day finished early so that people (including us) could go to view a special event in one of the town squares - the school leavers' dance performance! I hadn't heard of it before, but it turns out that this traditional event is synchronised in several countries across the Balkans; the school leavers from every secondary school in every town come together to dance the same dance at the same time in one massive group in a public square. There was a commentator and introducer speaking over the loudspeaker and I think it was being televised too. We went along with some students and teachers from 'our' school to watch. It started in decorous and well co-ordinated fashion, with white umbrellas and basic ballroom steps; as time went on it became gradually less and less decorous and co-ordinated... The umbrellas were dispensed with, the music changed, the group broke up into smaller ones and the celebrations became more raucous, though not in a negative manner. It was a very joyful event and I felt very lucky and privileged to have been at the school on just the right day to have had the chance to see it.

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Eventually M and I moved on in order to get started on the rest of our programme for the afternoon... We bought some lunch from a mini-market first, and then split up, each of us with a group of eager now-ex-students keen to show us around. M wanted to get his hair cut, so his group took him to a barber; mine took me to a tiny but interesting house museum first. It was built by a rich merchant in the second half of the 19th century and reminded me quite a lot of the National Revival house museums in Bulgaria. The Ottoman influence was clear.

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Next up for me was the Church of St George, a small and pretty Orthodox church with an incredibly beautiful interior. My guides said that they had never been inside before, which I found interesting.

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My last stop before both groups met up again was at a cultural centre, where we had Turkish coffee and one of my guides told my fortune from the coffee grounds, reminding herself of the meanings from her phone.

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Once we had met up again, some of each group had to go home but others remained. They took us to the Old Town, which is the name of the archaeological remains of a 14th century fortress dramatically set on a steep, rocky hill a little outside of the city centre. We walked alongside the River Đetinja to get there. It was interesting to wander round the ruins, and from the top there were absolutely fantastic views of the winding valley and river, the town and the hills beyond. The sun had properly come out now so it was a very hot day.

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More people had to go after that, so only a couple remained. We were taken further along the river and through at least one tunnel to a bridge where we could see a waterfall. We had passed through outskirts of the city and it felt properly in the countryside; very green and lovely. The river ran clear and I was tempted to paddle and/or swim.

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That was our last stop of the day, so after walking back into town and saying our goodbyes we took a taxi to our hotel. I was knackered and in need of a rest - my fitbit said that I had taken 26,000 steps so far today, so I'm not surprised!

Tomorrow we both take the bus to Belgrade. M will go straight to the airport, but I've arranged a night in Belgrade so I can have a good look round some of the city before I fly back on Sunday.

Posted by 3Traveller 09:06 Archived in Serbia Tagged landscapes waterfalls mountains bridges serbia traditions explorations english_teaching fortifications orthodox_church house_museum užice serbian_cuisine Comments (4)

Highlights of my last two days in Prague

Prague, Prague Airport and London Luton Airport


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I didn't do all that much these last two days - maybe the last six weeks of teaching and travelling had caught up with me rather, and I was in need of a rest. I was happy to relax in the hostel and wander around the Old and Lesser Towns and drop into one or two places I came across, rather than try to fit loads of stuff in.

The Astronomical Clock

Totally stunning, as I expected! Absolutely worth seeing, despite the thronging crowd.

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Bethlehem Chapel

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This medieval religious building, a national cultural monument, is well worth a look inside - though be aware that the main room is one big square hall, not the typical church or chapel interior, so it could seem a bit different to what you might expect. The famous Czech religious reformer, Jan Hus, lived and preached here from 1402 until his excommunication in 1412. He was burned at the stake in 1415, and every year a memorial service is held in this chapel on 5th July, the eve of the anniversary of his death.

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Founded in 1391, it was demolished in the 18th century but then very painstakingly restored in the 1950s using the remnants of the original outer walls. My favourite parts were the wooden features and the wall paintings, especially the musical notation (maybe of plainchant?) Sources seem to conflict about whether the wall paintings are original or not, but either way, they were interesting.

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Adjoining the main hall were some rooms which were originally where the preachers lived, including Jan Hus. They are empty now, save for some displays about the life and times of Jan Hus and one or two cases of artefacts. These artefacts included a 'liber decanorum' annotated by Hus himself, the Prague University foundation charter (1348), and five intriguing 'tiles with Hussite topics'; the ones I took photos of show 'A Hussite commander with a banner-carrier', 'A devil with a woman', 'Adam and Eve in the Paradise' (sic) and 'Three Hussite fighters'.

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Chimney Cake (Trdelník)

I saw a lot of places selling these and they seemed pretty pricey (the equivalent of at least £3.50-£4 for the cheapest version, and I wanted an ice cream-filled one, which cost more) so I um'd and ah'd a bit about getting one, but on actually trying one I realised it was absolutely worth it - bigger and therefore more filling and substantial than I expected, and absolutely delicious! To me it was less like a cake and more like a bun, similar to a Chelsea bun though roughly cone-shaped and with an outer layer of glazed sugar.

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Church of St Nicholas

There are two St Nicholas churches in the centre of Prague and unfortunately I've forgotten which one I went into. In fact, I could actually be wrong about it being one of the St Nicholas churches as the interior decoration doesn't seem to fit either. Maybe if there's someone reading this who is from the area and/or otherwise recognises the church from my pictures below, they could possibly comment to let me know?

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Wandering the streets, Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square

This I enjoyed a lot, just taking in the sunshine, the architecture and the ringing of the trams. The giant gorilla and panda were out again in the Old Town Square, this time accompanied by a polar bear and a couple of human statues.

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My Air Bagan flight on the 9th wasn't until 22:35, so I didn't arrive at Luton Airport until 23:40 GMT. A very smooth-running flight with no issues at all. To avoid the steep pick-up charge, I walked out of the airport and Dave picked me up from outside a nearby hotel instead.

Posted by 3Traveller 19:36 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged churches prague airport museum czech_republic explorations astronomical_clock unesco_world_heritage_site czech_cuisine Comments (2)

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