30 November

We made our first Christmas Market visit this past weekend to Prague, Czechia ( or to utilize my German Tschechein). Prague was an amazing city. Julie and I both were amazed by the architecture of the Old Town. Prague is also known as “The City of 100 Spires” but I think that is an understatement. We were shocked not only by the number of churches, but by the number of churches that have multiple steeples!

Those of us that went to school decades ago know the country as Czechoslovakia. My daughter informed me in an earlier post even calling it The Czech Republic is not correct. I did not know that the government of the country has adopted the simple English name of Czechia until I did a little research. It is hard to change old habits, but I am really trying to refer to the country by the name they desire.

From the picture above, you kind of get an idea why it is called the City of 100 Spires. I counted 15 steeples in just this one image!

Czechia has a rich history. It was originally known as Bohemia. It is bordered by Austria, Germany Poland and Slovakia. The area was founded in the 9th century and around the year 1000 was recognized as a state by the Holy Roman Empire. The county was slowly integrated into the German monarchy, and then in the early 1800’s was part of the Austrian Empire. After World War I the country became part of the “First Czechoslovak Republic”, but then in 1938 became part of the German Empire again. After World War II, the country became part of the Soviet Union and in 1989 the Velvet Revolution led to Czechia becoming its own country again. In 1993 Czechoslovakia was dissolved and two countries Czechia and Slovakia emerge. Czechia has been a strong allay of the US since the Revolution and even joined NATO in 1999.

One thing that did take us by surprise was the currency. Czechia joined the EU in 2004, but due to economic reasons they did not adopt the Euro. Because we planned on visiting Christmas Markets we knew we had to get local currency. Our experience has been that the Christmas Market Vendors prefer cash to credit, so we needed to get cash. Normally, this is a bit of a pain, but there are ATMs everywhere make this process easy. The exchange rate is roughly 23 Crowns to 1 Euro. On the surface it seemed like everything was SO expensive, and they we remembered “divide by 23.” We did learn about a brand new HIGH you get from traveling. That high comes from leaving the country with absolutely zero currency. It meant we guessed exactly right, and did not have to deal with trying to exchange back to Swiss Francs when we were all done.

Our visit even started out wonderfully. Our choices for flights were either 7 AM or 4 PM; so we chose 7 so that we could have a full day exploring the city. The hotel was going to hold our bags for us until we could check in, but when we arrived they had a room ready to go. It was so nice to be able to check in, get up to the room, and THEN go explore.

We were even lucky enough to get the room with the balcony!

Even though it was a little chilly we took advantage of the balcony and had some wine overlooking the plaza! If we had a west facing room we would not have even needed the jackets, but in the shade it was just a little cool!

We spent Friday walking from our Hotel across the Charles Bridge and up to the Palace. We were lucky enough to time it exactly right for the changing of the guard (see the video) and then we walked through the Jewish Quarter before going back to the Hotel to rest for a bit.

The Jewish Quarter is very interesting. The Jewish Quarter was started in the 1400’s when all the Jewish people were ordered out of their homes and forced to reside in one area. The area became even larger because Jews were expelled from Germany, Austria and Spain as well. All of these people came to Prague and settled in this one area. We were surprised to learn that the only reason the area was not destroyed by the Nazis was because of Adolf Hitler. His goal was to preserve this area as a museum to an “extinct race.” In some ways knowing the history of the area made me wonder how religion was able to play such a large part in the town knowing how they treated a good portion of their population.

Prague really got religion around the year 1000 BC. The Catholic Church was far and away leading influence on the country for the next 4 or 500 years. Now Czechia is considered to be the least religious of any country in the EU. Of course that explains why many of the churches have charges for admission. There just are not enough people to support that many churches. Of course I do not even really comprehend how they were able to build so many back in those days. Of course a lot of the building did take place over a period of time. In fact, the large cathedral in town took almost 600 years before it was finished. You will see a lot of pictures of churches at the end of my post. I have not been in that many places of worship since we visited Rome a few years ago. The churches in Prague may not be as large as some in Rome, but they are every bit as beautiful.

One of the famous churches is The Church of Our Lady Victorious. The outside of this church is not that remarkable, but step inside and WOW!!! The church was built in 1613 and is probably best known for the Infant Jesus of Prague. This is a wooden and wax statue of the baby Jesus. The statue is clothed by the nuns in the church. The statue has been venerated by three different Popes.

I put these pictures side by side, so that you could see the entire shrine, and then the closeup of the statue. I realize the pictures do not do it justice. We actually went to Mass in the church and it was hard to keep my eyes off the statue. It is fascinatingly beautiful.

Julie and I did determine the Christmas Markets in Prague do not live up to the hype we found online. There are many of them, but there was almost nothing unique. Out of the 6 markets we visited we bought three items. We did find an awesome art store near the Lennon wall, though. I was actually ready to spend hundreds of dollars on some of the things we found in that store, but Julie had to talk me down. We did wind up buying a beautiful hand blown vase to replace one that I broke this fall. Speaking of the Lennon Wall.

This is a throwback to the communist rule over the country. The wall is just across the street from the French Embassy. In the 60’s the wall was used as a form of protest and declarations of love, but following the murder of John Lennon the wall has been a symbol of love and peace. The original picture of Lennon is buried under layers and layers of paint, but it seems every time the wall gets painted within a few days there is another image of the artist.

We also ate very well, and even tried one of the local delicacies!

Trdelnik reminded me of camping with Boy Scouts. We would make something similar with Pillsbury rolls and a stick over the fire. These were delicious!! We also decided there must be one recipe that is followed for Glühwein. This amazing sustenance tasted identical to the wine we have had in Germany, France, and Switzerland! All of these countries are pretty close together, but we thought there would be some difference.

Below is another video I made of our visit to Czechia. Next weekend we are visiting a market in Colmar, France.

I hope your advent season is starting off well. Our has started GREAT! Enjoy the pictures.

3 August 2022

Our latest excursion was to visit the city of Strasbourg. Strasbourg is located in the north east part of France. The city sits right on the border with Germany. The city has about 250,000 residents making it the eighth largest area in France. Strasbourg is one of the capitals of the European Union. The city is full of German as well as French culture.

Strasbourg was originally settled by the Celts. (Bonus points for someone that can tell me the country the Celtic tribes originally came from.) The current city was settled permanently about 12 BC. For about 1000 years Strasbourg was ruled by the Catholic Church. Around 1260 the citizens threw out the Bishop and became a free city/state. It remained free until 1681 when Louis XIV took control. Louis only maintained control for about 10 years when the Germans took over 1871. It remained a German city until the end of World War I. The city again changed hands after it was annexed by the German Government before WWII. The French took over again in 1944.

Another quirk that I found interesting, is that Strasbourg has a very good mix of protestant as well as catholic churches. This is fairly uncommon for larger cities. Usually there is a dominance by either catholic or protestant churches. I think part of the reason is that once the city threw out the catholic bishops in order to maintain commerce the city learned to welcome all different religions. One thing that Louis XIV did to try and keep order after his takeover was to build a church that housed both catholic and protestant congregations. The church stayed that way for many years until the congregations grew to large to share the building. However, they did something very interesting. The catholic and protestant groups went in together and built a new wing to the church. Once that was completed there was a protestant wing and a catholic wing. I find that story refreshing because that peace did not exist often.

If you look closely you can see the different building techniques in this picture. The original catholic church is the light brick in the center. The protestant section is the pink on the right. The red sandstone is a different story. During one of the German occupations they wanted to modernize the city; so they tore down the front 1/3 of the church and rebuilt it in the local red sandstone. If you look in the lower left hand corner of the picture, you will see a different style paving stone. When the French took control again, they wanted to give the finger to the Germans (because the modernization did not take place); so they used a different paving stone to commemorate the part of the church the Germans tore down. 🙂 It seems this one church is able to demonstrate centuries of conflict!

The city is also home to a magnificent cathedral. The Cathedral Notre-Dame de Strasbourg was started in 1015. Building stopped sometime around 1100, but began again in 1190. Building was not completed until 1439! Think about that over 400 years to build ONE BUILDING! It is a masterpiece, however. It stands 466 feet tall. It held the record as the Tallest Building in the WORLD for 227 years!!! It is still the 6th tallest church in the world, and is the highest standing structure that was built in the middle ages. Another tidbit I learned is that there are many Notre-Dame Cathedrals in France. Notre Dame translates roughly as “Our Lady.” So the english name of the the cathedral would be The Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg. Like many structures in France and Germany, the church was severely damaged in WW II and the restoration of the tower was not completed until 2006. The spire on the church is very unique. It is in the shape of an octagon, and it is open so that you can actually see the bells. I think my favorite view of the church is the picture below.

This picture really does a good job of showing how much open space there is in the tower.

I learned one other tidbit about construction that I will share here. The style below is very common in this part of Europe. I learned that this style of home (especially the smaller ones) were actually mobile homes. Each of the wood beams was numbered and they would be transported when the owner moved to a new city. The open parts between the beams would be filled in with whatever was available locally. It might have been stone, grass, dung, clay, or even simply mud.

In the original homes the area underneath the house was left open. It was not until much later that the ground floor actually had walls.

So that was our visit to Strasbourg. We had a wonderful time walking around the city. The only downfall was that Julie wanted to stay until Monday so that she could take advantage of cheaper prices in France and do some shopping. Monday was a holiday in Switzerland so Julie did not have to work. Since almost every store is closed on Sunday it made perfect sense to stay a little longer Monday. Julie’s plans were thwarted however. I estimate that somewhere around 40% of the stores were also closed on Monday. Not so much the chain or big stores, but a lot of the small shops were closed. Unfortunately, these were also the stores we did our window shopping on Sunday. Oh well, I guess that means we have to go back sometime soon. I am fine with that, there is a lot more to discover.

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22 Juni 2022

It is kind of hard for me to describe how anxious I have been for our visit to Greece. Greece was always in the top of places we wanted to visit. We started to make plans for two years ago, but Covid got in the way. This has worked out really well, because June is one of Julie’s “slow” months. This means she still works a lot, but not as many hours as she will next month because it is one of the months she has a major filing for the company. This holiday is really two parts. We spent a few days in Athens (for me), and as I write this we are on the island of Santorini (for Julie). Don’t get me wrong. Julie enjoyed the history in Athens every bit as much as I, and I am enjoying the black sands on the Aegean Sea as much as her!

We got to Athens Saturday afternoon, and arrived at our hotel about 4:00 PM.

The view from our hotel balcony

I knew I picked a good hotel because the Acropolis was only a couple of hundred yards off our balcony! We were right in the old part of the city. A block away from the hotel was Hadrian’s Gate, the Temple of Zeus, and other ancient ruins. I was in ancient history heaven! After unpacking a little, we went for a stroll just to get our bearings and to try and find a good place for dinner. One thing we learned is that we both really like Greek food. I am more partial to lamb, and Julie, chicken, but we both really like gyros and souvlaki.

We started our Sunday morning with a visit to the National Archeology Musuem, and even caught the changing of the guard at the Greek Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was a great start to a fantastic day! I have a video of the changing of the guard, that I will share next week after I am home and have a computer with me to do the video processing!

Changing of the guard parade

About a year ago, we were in Pompeii with Kaylee. We learned at the time that finding a good guide is essential to really get the most out of touring ancient sights. We found a great one in Athens as well. Calliope (Kelly) was fantastic. If you ever find yourself wanting a guide for Greece drop me a line, and I will get you her number. (Side note: Becoming a licensed guide in Greece is really hard. Kelly has an undergraduate degree in Greek History, and then she had to study for an other three years including an internship before she could be licensed.). I will never be able to do the tour justice, but Kelly took us on a “circle of life” tour of ancient Greece. We were fascinated to learn the myths of creation. (It is eerily similar to a story christians and jews learned from Genesis.). Next we learned about how Athens came to be called Athens.

The story is that Athena and Poseidon were both vying for the citizen’s hearts. They both gave gifts to the citizens. Athena gave the olive tree. Poseidon gave the sea. The myth is they gave their gifts on the same hilltop (eventually the Acropolis). Athena gave an undying Olive Tree, and about 15 yards away from that. Poseidon threw his trident at the ground, and opened up a passage from the hilltop all the way to the sea a few kilometers away. According to Kelly this is one of the way that Greek Myths grew. There is a hint of truth to the myth. There was an Olive Tree that was all by itself on the top of the hill, and a few yards away there actually is a natural well from the very top of the hill that really does lead to the sea. The olive tree was destroyed during one of the final battles at the Acropolis, but the tree was planted in the same spot is still hundreds of years old.

Of course the citizens enjoyed Athena’s gift more than Poseidon’s so she won the battle, and the hearts of Athen’s citizens forever. The Acropolis was built as a holy site to honor many Gods, but the shining achievement was the Parthenon that was built to honor Athena. Another side note to Christianity. Athena is also a Triune God. Just like in Christianity there is God, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Athena is the God of Wisdom and Knowledge (she created the ship, chariot, and plow). She is also the God of VIctory in Athena Nike. Finally she is the God of the Arts; she created weaving and ceramics.

We ended our history tour in the Agora. This is the pretty much the birthplace of Democracy. The Agora was the central hub for all political activity in Athens. This was the area for public discourse as well as where the leaders met and made decisions. One interesting tidbit, is that the Ancient Greeks did not believe in elections for their leaders. They thought that type of election was actually anti-democratic, because the same popular people would win over and over again. Instead the city’s leaders served (I thought Kelly said two year) terms that were decided by random chance. Every citizen able to vote (Landowners or wealthy men of legal age) had their names put in a machine. This machine used colored balls and if the ball landed in your name you served in that position. They thought this was more democratic, because it gave every citizen the same opportunity to lead. See