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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)

A Moment of Time

Rostock


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Before transferring to Hotel Sportforum I went for another, longer walk round town.

My first destination was the Kröpeliner Tor, the tallest city gate, but to get there I walked through a park with a stream which followed the path of the old city fortifications.

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I also passed an old Franciscan monastery, now a museum - I didn't have time to go in, unfortunately, but was able to have a quick look at the courtyard.

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After looking at the Kröpeliner Tor I walked down the main pedestrianised street, passing part of Rostock University (the oldest university in continental northern Europe and the Baltic Sea area) on my way.

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My next destination was the Marienkirche, which contains Rostock's pride and joy; a 12-metre high astrological clock, which is the only one in the world still with its original mechanisms. It was built in 1472 by Hans Düringer and is a sight to behold! Carved wooden signs of the zodiac lie around the centre, and at the top, when the clock strikes midnight and midday wooden figures of six of the apostles come out of a row of doors and parade round Jesus. I got to see this as I timed my visit specially on Sunday morning to coincide.

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Underneath the main part of the clock was a fantastically detailed disc which tells people the exact date on which Easter falls in any given year. Each disc has space for 130 years and the last disc expired and was replaced in 2017. I tried to find out when Easter will be next year, but it was so incredibly complicated I couldn't!

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It lies behind the main altar and had handily-placed seats in front. As I took a seat and gazed at it, enveloped in silence save for the low, slow but audible tick-tock of the clock, I was overcome with the sense of history. I could almost see the woodcarver who had carved the signs of the zodiac. Time hung around me, suspending me in the moment. I felt a great sense of calm and peace.

The rest of the church was interesting too. There were more model ships hanging from the ceiling (like at the Petrikirche), an impressively massive (almost) floor-to-ceiling Baroque organ, an embroidery dating from the 16th century and a large gilded triptych of which I unfortunately forgot to note the date and artist.

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The only downside to the who place was that it was freezing cold!

After getting some lunch from a bakery I admired the Town Hall in the Neuer Markt before returning to the hostel to pick up my bags.

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My walk to Hotel Sportforum took a lot longer than it should have done, firstly because another wheel on my big case broke so it became slower and more difficult to get it about, and secondly because I took a wrong turn. Still, although I was knackered by the time I arrived, there was some lovely scenery on the way. These crocuses were the first sign of spring that I noticed on this Central European trip.

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View from my window, Hotel Sportforum.

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Posted by 3Traveller 13:42 Archived in Germany Tagged churches art buildings hotel germany museum monastery rostock fortifications Comments (0)

In the middle of Austrian wine country

Deutschlandsberg


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When I arrived in Deutschlandsberg last Sunday after a smooth 55-minute train journey from Graz, I was picked up from the station by the guesthouse owner and taken on a brief driven surprise tour of the town, including the little castle which lies on a hill overlooking the town. Deutschlandsberg lies in wine country, as I could see from the fields of vines on each side. There was an amazing view from the castle; apparently you can get married there - a stunning setting, to be sure. I'd heard that it contains an interesting museum; this turned out to be true, but apparently it's closed for the winter. The restaurant there - a very good one, apparently - is also closed until April.

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The town itself is small but very pleasant to walk round, with colourful buildings, market stalls, a peaceful atmosphere and some Konditorei for coffee, hot chocolate, beers and cake.

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This evening we climbed one of the hills surrounding the town.

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The course I was teaching this week went well. It was general English, which I have lots of experience in, but for the first time ever I had to prepare one of the groups for a show. It felt quite strange to be acting more like a drama teacher than as an English one. The show was good considering how little time they had to create a script and rehearse (it was a 4-day course rather than the normal 5), though there were definitely areas that could have been more polished. The story that the class and I came up with was a modern retelling of Cinderella with some role reversal and the appearance of one or two characters from other fairy tales.

It was an informal show, only performed to another class rather than to the whole school and/ or to parents; I was quite grateful for that because it was my first Show and because of the said lack of enough rehearsal time! Next week there isn't a Show because it's an exam prep booster course, but in my final week of this contract there is one, so I've already had a couple of ideas for how to streamline the deciding-on-the-type-of-show and the scriptwriting stages.

Posted by 3Traveller 10:06 Archived in Austria Tagged landscapes market austria english_teaching fortifications deutschlandsberg Comments (1)

UNESCO World Heritage Site: City of Graz - Historic Centre

Graz


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After a smooth and uneventful journey from Maribor I got to Graz Hauptbahnhof (the main train station) at about 11:30 and easily found my way to my hostel round the corner. The hostel is huge - my dorm is on the 4th floor - and feels more like a hotel; it feels a bit sterile, but serves my needs. They did annoy me a bit at check-in though by charging me 3.5 euros extra for bed linen - making this an extra cost, and a mandatory one at that (for people who haven't brought a sleeping bag), seems rather cheeky!

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Anyway, I had all afternoon to explore, so explore I did! The historic centre of Graz is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it's easy to see why! I found it absolutely enchanting.

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After wandering the streets for a while (and buying a fridge magnet) I headed to the Schlossberg, a bastion on a limestone crag which overlooks the rest of the city. For the sake of exercise, and the general experience, I chose to take the path instead of the lift or the funicular. The views from the top were well worth it!

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The buildings on the Schlossberg were closed for the winter, but it was still lovely to walk round. Aside from the bastion itself, built in the 1540s, there are terraces, a small 19th century pagoda, and two clock towers.

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One of these clock towers is a symbol of the city, and the townspeople are incredibly proud of it. In fact, when Napoleon invaded in 1809, they successfully bribed him not to destroy it.

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Before returning to ground level I had a delicious apple strudel at a cafe perched dramatically on the side if the crag and bastion. I had it with a 'kleiner mokka' coffee, which itself came with a small wrapped chocolate sweet and (like all the hot drinks I've had so far this trip) a glass of cold water. I was just thinking to myself earlier that I needed to have apple strudel at least once before I left Austria, so this was a great place to have it!

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Once I'd walked back down the path again I wandered the streets again for a bit before returning to the hostel via Billa, where I stocked up on sandwiches, grapes and drinks for tomorrow, and the Hauptbahnhof, where I bought my ticket in advance. I'd probably be fine to leave getting it until tomorrow, but better safe than sorry when it's important I get to Deutschlandsberg - my next teaching destination - sooner rather than later tomorrow!

Posted by 3Traveller 03:07 Archived in Austria Tagged trains austria hostel clock_tower graz explorations fortifications unesco_world_heritage_site austrian_cuisine Comments (1)

The Oberstadt

Bregenz


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Update from October 2019: I later found out that the curious object is a mummified shark!

Last day of teaching this week, as it was a short course.

By the time we got back to the guesthouse after school it was 14:30; after only a brief stop we headed out again, into the city centre. I wanted to go to the Oberstadt, the oldest part of town, and H wanted to do some shopping, so after hot chocolates at a bakery we split up and agreed to meet up again at 18:00.

The Oberstadt (as you may have guessed from the name) looks out over the rest of the city from a hill. After following a cobbled path up the hill I reached the old fortified city gate, which had hanging from it the most curious object - it looked like a stuffed or model hybrid animal, like a cross between a dried-up shark and a bird.

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As I stood there two women and a toddler came up with sledges and rode down the path I'd just come up. Their dog ran along beside them but didn't try to catch a lift!

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Out of interest, I've seen surprisingly few people playing in the snow here in Austria. No snowmen or snowball fights. Maybe because they're so used to snow here, they go skiing as a matter of course at weekends, but don't go crazy about snow in more casual ways like people do in the UK.

Anyway, back to the Oberstadt. It was small but picturesque and I was almost the only non-local person there the whole time. I imagine it gets a lot busier in the tourist season!

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I walked down the other side via a smaller cobbled path, then up again and came out by the Church of St Gallus, the church I had come across on Monday. It was closed, so I walked round the outside instead. The snow was deep in places. I came across a small plot of WWII graves on one side; in place of headstones they had thin metal decorated crosses.

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Nearby the church I saw this Christmas-decorated tree in someone's garden;

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On my way back to where we'd agreed to meet up I got a bit lost, but found my way in the end!

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On our way back to the guesthouse we stopped at a big Interspar supermarket to stock up for our journeys tomorrow, before having some pizza at a small Turkish café. The people working there were incredibly friendly.

Posted by 3Traveller 02:53 Archived in Austria Tagged churches art snow austria bregenz explorations fortifications Comments (0)

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