Thursday, October 4, 2018

A Grand Old Tour

On September 11, Dave and I did something we've never done before - we took a three week vacation to Eastern Europe!

What follows: A few of the sights from our journey.

Our tour actually started in Warsaw, Poland. I'll share more about beautiful Warsaw in a future post, for now we're starting in Krakow.

The Church of Our Lady is the centerpiece of the Old Town Square in Krakow, Poland. Krakow dates to the 13th century. Unlike so many of the other European capitals on our itinerary, Krakow wasn't destroyed during World War II. From the taller of the two steeples a bugler plays at the top of every hour of every day.

The square is a hive of activity. It's clean (yes, even with the horse-drawn carriages), it's young, and it's vibrant. We fell in love instantly, and even though we visited several other mind-blowing European cities. Krakow ended up being our favorite stop!

Nearby, we visited the Wieliczka Salt Mine. The miners carved statues into the walls of the mine. Many of the carvings reflect Poland's rich history, it's heroes, and figures from Catholicism. Everything from the floor tiles, to the walls and the statuary is carved from salt - salt!

Then it was on to Budapest, Hungary. A city divided by the Danube River. Buda to the west of the river, Pest to the east.

Ornate Matthias Church was only steps away from our hotel. As you can see, it's beautifully lit at night, as are many of the city's architectural highlights.

The Parliament Building. Built around the turn of the 20th century; the design was the result of a design competition. Inside under the center dome, the Coronation Crown, also known as the Holy Crown of St. Stephen (no photos were allowed), presumed to have been made in the 11th century.

The golden staircase. These stairs provide access to the main parts of the building.

In Vienna, our next stop, the presence of the Hapsburg empire is everywhere! The Schoenbrunn Palace (from the gardens in the back), the Hapsburg's Summer residence is just minutes outside Vienna.

The main entryway to the Military Museum. The museum walked us chronologically through centuries of Austrian artifacts. The quantity and quality of the exhibits here were truly amazing. Artifacts included Captain Von Trapp's Naval uniform (the Austrians, aren't terribly impressed with the popular, but heavily 'hollywood-ized' version of the Von Trapp story), and the actual car in which Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated - the event that lit the spark to start the first World War.

On to Bratislava, Slovakia - only about a 40 minute drive from Vienna to this much smaller capital city. The castle is largely under construction, over looks the city. Slovakia is known for and very proud of its auto manufacturing industry.

The town is filled with lots of shops, cafes, and restaurants along several cobbled side streets off the main town square. See the red figure on the exterior wall in the picture below, right? Not surprisingly, that's the executioner's residence. Beware!

Prague, Czech Republic is also split by a river, the Vltava. Fortunately, the language barrier was never an issue in any of the tourists areas throughout our travels, even though vowels sometimes seemed to be missing in action in the local language!

The early morning view of the Castle complex (below) and a view from the Charles Bridge (further below). 

Perhaps one of the best-known images from Prague is the intricate Astronomical Clock just off the main town square. The clock was hidden from view under a blue tarp due to restoration. The big reveal was last Friday - a day after our departure. (Sad face here!)

For some reason, swans really like Prague. You can see them on the river from this vantage point from the bridge. There were about 100 of them bobbing around in the water!

We traveled from city to city on our tour via motor coach.

However, our last trip from Prague to Berlin, Germany was via train.

Oh, how many sights we passed by as we traveled from country to country (six in all).

I have to add, that we traveled with a tour group with 22 fellow travelers. The tour is a Smithsonian Journey. I couldn't recommend this experience more!

Our last stop was Berlin. Since some of the more popular places to visit were blocked from tourist traffic due to a state visit from Turkey's President Erdogan. He is somewhat controversial on the world stage, so security was increased.

To avoid all the hubbub, we opted for a visit to the Berlin Zoo, close to our hotel. It's a beautiful place - a huge natural space inside a large city, much like Central Park in New York.

And on our last day in Berlin, we found an Oktoberfest celebration and drank some delicious German beer. As you can see, Dave's pretty happy about how this trip as turned out! (Or maybe that silly face is because of the delicious German beer!)

I can't believe how quickly our time passed, and how much we actually got to see during our three-week tour! This was truly a fantastic voyage!

In the next couple weeks, I'll share a few additional insights and observations from the trip. Hope you stick around and follow along!

Happy Stitching!


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