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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)

Medical history, UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Berlin Wall

Berlin


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First up for me today was the fascinating Berlin Museum of Medical History at the Charité.

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This is not one of the most well-known museums in Berlin but is extremely interesting for anyone with an interest in the history of medicine; not just due to the artifacts and specimens in the display rooms, but also to the human stories brought to life in the historical patient's ward and to the history of the Charité itself. It was founded as a plague hospital in 1710 and is now one of the largest university hospitals in Europe.

The first thing I saw was a Cabinet of Curiosities from the Enlightenment, which contained such intriguing objects as a puffed-up porcupine fish, a cow bezoar (used as an antidote for various ailments in the past), polished turquoise abalone, a chicken head with chickenpox, the upper jaw bone of a walrus with tusks, a juvenile land tortoise, a mummy of a juvenile turtle and the mouth of a quillfish.

Other fascinating objects in the room included a human skeleton with scoliosis, another with severe syphilitic bone malformations, and a special moulage collection from 1900 - wax casts of diseased faces, with an emphasis on diseased eyes - very gruesome.

There was also a very interesting yet sobering display on the terrible aberrations of German medicine under National Socialism, such as human experimentation in concentration camps.

The specimen room next door was also fascinating. The specimens included deformed human foetuses, a human skeleton damaged by plasmacytoma, and skulls showing microcephaly (underdevelopment of the brain, causing a shorter-than-usual head) and anencephaly (absence of the brain). It was good to see the great lengths the museum have gone to acknowledge with respect the people behind the specimens over the last 200 years.

In addition to the historical patients' ward, which in an informative and touching manner told the case histories and the hospital treatment of several patients at the Charité over the last 300 years, I looked round the preserved ruin of a historic lecture hall which was bombed during the war.

From the medical museum I took the U-Bahn to a UNESCO World Heritage Site - one of the Berlin Modernism Housing Estates. Although I don't know much about Modernism I enjoyed wandering round.

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From there it was another U-Bahn trip to the East Side Gallery, a stretch of the Berlin Wall covered in a graffiti project from street artists.

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The sun was starting to get low as I left the East Side Gallery and made my way back to my hostel via the U-Bahn and a supermarket.

Posted by 3Traveller 09:36 Archived in Germany Tagged art buildings germany museum berlin berlin_wall unesco_world_heritage_site Comments (0)

Arrival in Berlin

Rostock and Berlin


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I arrived in Berlin yesterday afternoon after a fantastic hotel breakfast and a completely uneventful 3.5-hour Flixbus journey from Rostock. I relaxed for the rest of the day, intending to begin some sightseeing the next morning.

Potsdamer Platz and the Holocaust Memorial were my first stops. Potsdamer Platz was bisected by the Berlin Wall during the Cold War and during this time became an area of utter desolation. It looks completely different now, but as I walked round and looked at part of the Wall which remains, I got quite emotional.

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This feeling continued as I wandered round the concrete stelae within the site of the Holocaust Memorial. According to the architect, the stelae were designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, though the number of stelae and the monument's overall design has no symbolic significance other than it represents a a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.

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From there it was just a little bit further to the Brandenburg Gate.

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The Tiergarten, Berlin's most popular inner city park, lies across the road from the Brandenburg Gate. It started to rain just as I got there, so I didn't linger too long. I was on my way to a really interesting destination anyway, so I didn't really mind...

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...the Musical Instruments Museum!

Amazing - I definitely recommend it. It included a fascinating collection of crumhorns, shawms, dulcians (the predecessor of the bassoon), recorders, cornets, trombones and trumpets which were left to the Church in 1657 in the will of the choirmaster of St Wenzel's Church in Naumberg.

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Amongst a good range of other instruments going up until the first electronic guitars and keyboards, it also had such interesting things as Early Modern Flemish and Italian virginals and spinets, a Stradivarius violin, a serpent, a collection of pochettes (pocket fiddles, used by dancing masters and street musicians until the 18th century) and a 'giraffenklavier' (guess which one of my photos is if that...).

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My last stop before heading back to my hostel was Checkpoint Charlie (the best-known Berlin Wall border crossing, and now a tourist trap with no original buildings left; worth only a brief look).

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On my way back I passed through the Museuminsel, an area with lots of museums in it (a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its importance), and beyond. I found a small art market next to one side of the river and bought a lovely colourful little picture of an 'Indies Peafowl'. Also got some good views of the Fernsehturm and St Mary's Church, though I didn't go in.

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Posted by 3Traveller 03:36 Archived in Germany Tagged germany museum berlin hostel buses berlin_wall rostock brandenburg_gate unesco_world_heritage_site potsdamer_platz Comments (0)

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Hanseatic City of Lübeck

Klagenfurt, Hamburg and Lübeck


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On Sunday I arrived in Lübeck knackered after half a day of travel; a walk to Klagenfurt Hauptbahnhof early this morning, a short train ride from there to the airport station, walking from there down the road to the tiny airport itself, a long wait there, an hour and a half's flight over some spectacular mountainous scenery to Hamburg, the S-bahn train to Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, a 40-minute train to Lübeck and then another 40 minutes' walk to the budget hotel.

Klagenfurt Airport (or, to be precise, Kärnten Airport) was one of the smallest airports I've ever been to, beating only Baltra and Catamayo airports in Ecuador for size.

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I had a window seat on the flight so I managed to get some pictures of the mountains.

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I haven't got many photos from Lübeck itself, mainly because the weather wasn't particularly nice for most of it, and secondly because both the school and our hotel were outside of the centre so I was often too knackered to go out again once we'd returned from school. There were a couple of exceptions though which I will describe below.

One of the few sunny times during the week was on Monday afternoon when some of us went for a little walk down the side of the river Trave.

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On Tuesday we were given a short tour of the historic centre by some of the lovely English department. It was done at quite a pace, because we had a booking at a restaurant we couldn't be late for, so I didn't have time to get many photos. For such a historic place, the centre of Lübeck does have a couple of streets which look more like a typical anonymous post-war British high street; this is because those streets were bombed by the Allies during the war. Amongst other places we passed there was the historic Rathaus, the Marienkirche with its Devil statue outside and a couple of historic alleyways leading to courtyard cottages, built three to four hundred years ago for poorer people when the city expanded (the passageways are narrow but had to be wide enough to carry coffins through).

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Dinner at the restaurant we were booked into consisted (for me and most of the others) of their speciality, flammkuchen. Flammkuchen is common in Germany and Eastern France (and I've had it once before in Luxembourg); a lot like pizza, with an extremely thin base, and creme fraiche instead of tomato sauce. Delicious!

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On Thursday afternoon we went into the town centre to have coffee and cake. We went to Café Niederegger, which is within the most historic and famous marzipan shop in Lübeck. I didn't end up feeling like cake, so I had Swiss Rösti, which came with a fried egg, bacon and cucumber slices. The café was very atmospheric; displays of fancy silver spoons and other cutlery on the walls, classical music playing in the background, elegant decoration. Marzipan featured heavily in the menu, and was piled up in various forms in the shop downstairs. If only I liked it! Marzipan lovers would be in heaven in Lübeck. I did end up trying a piece at school, and it was a lot nicer than any I've had before (not sickly sweet), but still not something I'd really bother buying for myself.

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I am leaving Lübeck with the feeling that I didn't fully make the most of being there. I wish I'd explored more, despite being tired and having prep to do for work each day. There's a great museum here which I never managed to get to - the European Hansemuseum, about the Hanseatic League and the part Lübeck played as the leading city within it. I would also have liked to have gone inside the Holstentor, one of the two remaining city gates and the symbol of the city. I will just have to come back to Lübeck another time!

Posted by 3Traveller 04:25 Archived in Germany Tagged mountains airport austria germany lübeck unesco_world_heritage_site german_cuisine Comments (0)

Back in Graz

Deutschlandsberg and Graz


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It was another beautiful sunny day as I said goodbye to Deutschlandsberg and took the train back to Graz.

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I'm at A&O Hostel Graz Hauptbahnhof, where I stayed last Saturday. Since I got back here I've had another lovely walk around the historic centre, taking in the sunshine, beautiful architecture and the view from the Murinsel, a tiny manmade island on the river Mur.

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I also went to the Dom, admired the Gothic and Baroque interior and lit a candle.

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I also admired a fresco on one of the exterior walls which is kept behind glass because of its historical importance; although religious in theme, it contains the earliest depiction of the city of Graz. Unfortunately my photos of it didn't turn out well due to the reflections on the glass.

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Tomorrow I spend the night in Klagenfurt before I fly to Hamburg and take the train from there to Lübeck on Sunday.

Posted by 3Traveller 02:28 Archived in Austria Tagged bridges art trains austria cathedral hostel graz unesco_world_heritage_site deutschlandsberg Comments (2)

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