Sunday, June 26, 2016

Europe Trip 2016 ~ Czech Republic

I was curious to see how Prague would be after not having been for a decade, but it still has the same effect on me. I love this city. The tourists are annoying lol but the city is incredible and beautiful on every street.

The first night I arrived I met a friend of a friend :) and we went to a seafood festival right on the Vltava River. I seriously had some of the best salmon in my life. And coming from someone who's eaten a lot of good salmon in Alaska, that's a high compliment. It was still delicious two days later!! We had a wonderful time chatting and just getting introduced!

After the seafood festival it was time for bed. I had previously booked a cheap hostel in a good location sight unseen of course. Boy, the adage, "You get what you pay for" certainly applied here. It was filthy, the staff had little interest in working, the wifi didn't work well or everywhere as advertised, there was no hot water to shower, for three dorms rooms there were only two toilets and two showers and one of those toilets was in such a small space I can personally verify it was impossible to sit down and shut the door. But the location was good so I stayed an extra night until I could find another place on the western banks of the river that wasn't much higher priced. So glad I did because I went from the worst hostel in Prague to the best! I stayed there for a week!

While I was still on the eastern bank of the river, I had a lovely day starting with a delicious breakfast and then lots and lots of walking back and forth across the river, around the castle grounds a couple of times and the entirety of Prague old town. Prague isn't a giant city but it's not super compact either. I sure wish my pedometer hadn't broken before this adventure. Would have been fun to see how many steps I've taken in some of these cities!

Just one of the many beautiful city streets in Prague. Each street is charming and each building is uniquely beautiful!

Super tasty eggs with chives, in house made bread and jam!! Yummy!
One of the things I love about Prague is it's plethora of classical music concerts every night of the week. While wandering around I passed the symphony concert hall. Advertised outside was an upcoming concert with Beethoven Eroica Symphony and the Lyric Symphony by Zemlinsky. I had never heard the symphony by Zemlinsky before so I was really excited to have a night out at the symphony! It was amazing :)  And it was on a WEDNESDAY night.

The stage at intermission. Sure wish I could have heard that organ!!

Panorama with more of the ceiling. The whole place was spectacular inside!

People sat stock still in hard wooden subway chairs for the entire concert. During intermission I managed to snag a photo of an empty row, but the seats were all filled during the concert :)
One of the places I remember taking a photo of ten years ago was an instrument shop just off the Charles Bridge. This time I decided to go inside since I wasn't tagging along with my touring group. Turns out the building still has their name on it, but they've moved so I trekked to the other side of the river to their new location. Neat little shop and they have a wine cellar to sell good quality wine to restaurants or parties and I bought a lovely bottle of rose for my host and I and it was fabulous! I also got to play on a couple of Czech violins. One of them will be really nice I think, but it's so new it's still opening up.

Czech violin made this year.

Once I moved into the nice hostel on the western side of the river, I met a girl from Chile. It was fun because I got to practice speaking to her in Spanish and she got to practice speaking to me in English. It worked out well for both of us :)  So I invited her on a tour to Kutna Hora the next day that I had already booked. Probably the most famous place in Kutna Hora is the Bone Chapel. As explained by the tour guide, a monk had traveled to the holy lands and brought back a vial of soil that he spread upon his return. The belief was that this ground was now holy too so everyone wanted to be buried there. After so many years there was no more room to bury anyone so they built a small chapel to move the bones into so they could keep burying people outside. A priest was chosen to stack the bones in 4 pyramids which still stand today, although one is leaning!  Then along came a man with a vision to take the bones and create the decorations of wreathes and towers and chandeliers inside. Him, his wife and his son worked for ten years on this project and thus was created the famous Bone Chapel.

Outside the chapel in the graveyard.

Looking back from the inside toward the main entrance.

The leaning tower of bones.....

A bone crest with a symbolic raven pecking out the eye of a skull in the lower right hand corner.

Bones everywhere! Strung from all corners of the ceiling.

A close up of a bone wreathe.

Skull towers were in the middle of the chapel where you could purchase and light a candle and place it in front of a skull.

More bone sculptures. Must find something to do with all those bones I guess...dem bones dem bones.
On the tour of Kutna Hora, we also saw the largest Gothic church in Czech and supposedly one of the most famous in Europe, the church of St. Barbara. It was pretty. It was Another Bloody Church as they say.

View of the Cathedral and the no longer attached Jesuit monastery.

After the tour returned from Kutna Hora, there was the most beautiful complete double rainbow over the Charles Bridge! What a treat :)


Had to get my picture :-)
The next day I had more plans to see Prague with my new friend, but I got an email from the other new friend I'd met my first night in Prague with an invitation to go for a weekend to Lake Nechranice. I didn't know what I was going to be doing or where I'd be staying or who I'd be going with. I didn't really know anything, but I packed my bags, said good bye to my Chilean friend and dragged my luggage through town, stopping at the Smetana Museum, on my way to the Yacht Club.

Smetana's piano

Once I got the the Yacht club, I hopped in a van with 5 other people and rode to the lake. Turns out my new friend was working as a helper for a disabled sailor and the weekend was for them partly. So I got to help out in an entirely new way for me and meet a wonderful girl about my age who loves to sail, but can't by herself. I helped rig the sail boats, put them in the water, helped her get to the boat and then reversed it all. I got to meet other awesome disabled sailors as well as able bodied ones. Most didn't speak much English, but we managed and had a terrific weekend I'll never forget!  Unfortunately I don't have many pictures because I didn't want to take my good camera near the water and my phone is no longer water proof so my devices were left safely on land.

I was playing music on my laptop and visiting with Katka :)
After the weekend on the lake it was back to Prague and now I was couch surfing. Before going to the house my host and I went grocery shopping and you'll never guess what I saw?!?!?  None other than, yes, my all time favorite shoes ever!!!!  I'm not alone :-D

Lime green Vibrams! <3 <3 <3
The next few days were followed by museums and concerts and busking!

First I had intended to go to the Dvorak Museum, but it was closed that day so instead I went to the Mucha Museum. I had gone last time I was in Prague but it was nice to revisit again and buy another magnet :)

I like the music is the night time one :)

A photo of Mucha's chair and writing desk.
Then it was time to go busking in Old Town Square. Luckily my friend joined for the short half hour concert (you can only play in certain hours of the day and I started late) and took a picture!

It was a bit windy so I had to weigh down the legs of my music stand so it wouldn't blow over! But I had an appreciative audience located where the picture was taken that listened to the whole performance and then kindly donated :)
I also gave an in house concert where I was couch surfing. It was a phenomenal time playing for a small audience. They brought me fresh flowers from their garden, a little man I now have pinned to my violin case, and the gent even dress up in a suit and bow tie! It was so much fun :)

The next big thing was to go up the Petrin Tower because I like heights and seeing cities from the very top! So off I took up a big hill. First I stopped at the communist memorial.

The monument shows how destructive communism is. What you can't see is by the very last step at the top, only a foot is left.
Climbing up to the tower was quite the feat. The hill is quite steep and although you can take the curvy, longer and less steep route, I just went for it. And I got a work out! Also, stumbled upon some squatters in a cave near the top when I ventured off trail a bit :)  It's a lovely park/wooded complex beneath the tower with wide trails, narrow trails, paved trails, dirt trails, cobblestone trails, shaded trails, open trails, stairs, steep inclines, and lots of green grass to just rest with an awesome view of the city or of nature. After I finally made it up to the top of the hill (most people would take the funicular), I walked around the beautiful and blooming rose garden. It smelled divine!

After a short rest in the rose gardens it was time for the climb up the tower. It was totally worth it though. Amazing view from the top! Wished it was a little bigger to just sit and look.

Best view in town! Yes, I get an even better workout carrying my violin, music and stand with me everywhere!

Close up of the Charles Bridge where I played!

Panorama of the city.

I also went to the Dvorak Museum and a concert of Dvorak tunes in the evening. It was a lovely concert of 3 singers, a violinist and accompanist. They were all dressed in proper regalia for the time period and the concert was held at the museum in the upper level in an extravagant room with painted walls and ceiling.

Room with Dvorak's piano, bust and furniture.

Part of the ceiling and room where the concert took place.
Another fabulous concert I got to attend was a free one on the old castle grounds. Imagine a live symphony performing in a giant castle courtyard. It was splendid. It was so packed that an hour before the concert all the seats were full and you couldn't even stand and see the symphony. That was ok, because they had a large screen to watch the concert on (if you weren't watching the live tv broadcast) so I plopped down on the castle courtyard stones along with hundreds of others sitting and standing to watch the two hour concert of the Czech Philharmonic. Boy, what an amazing event!

This is a picture of the screen and the orchestra with every seat filled and people standing packed along the sides, just on the other side of the screen.
After the concert, on the way back to the couch, I happened upon a man carrying a viola and violin case. Asked if he had just played a concert, he replied yes, but in a nearby church, not in the philharmonic. After some chatting it was agreed I could join him for a little while on the Charles Bridge the next day where you must have a permit to perform.

Before meeting him the next day, I enjoyed a farmers market, some errands and a lovely walk through the old town before crossing the bridge to find him. He played with backing tracks the famous songs everyone knows like Canon in D, Ave Maria, Largo from Xerxes and so on. He cued up one of the tracks and said to play the melody and he would play harmony so I did. Then the next track we switched. We did this for half an hour and had a little crowd gathered listening, recording, and even buying his cd for sale. It was one of those moments in life where you wish you could capture the feeling in a bottle and take it with you. My heart was out of my body and soaring in the clouds. I hope to keep in touch with him and play again someday!

Joy is written all over both of us!

Even though he didn't really speak English, we communicated through our music together in the most amazing way.
He even took my picture while I played solo!

The best memory of Prague and of Europe so far; right there on the bridge over the Vltava, with just the joy of music. 
The day wasn't over after playing on the Charles Bridge. I walked to the National Museum of Music where there was an exhibition of Joseph Suk on tour. This museum was much larger than the others so I ended up only getting through the Suk exhibition and not through any of the permanent exhibit before having to leave for my next "appointment". But the very kind lady at the desk, vouched my ticket stub so I could return the next day and finish the museum.

A Stradivarius and Guarneri violin on display played by Suk.

The inside atrium of the museum. They hold live concerts there and the museum is in the surrounding rooms on the ground and first floor.
My next "appointment" was sailing on the Vltava. This day was pretty remarkable I must say.

My couch host is a sailor so she took me and another friend out sailing in the sunshine. It was quite a gift!

Sailing on the Vltava

Sun is shining bright today!
It was an exhausting day, but a beautiful and satisfying one. I returned to the Museum of Music the following afternoon and to my delight was able to purchase 4 works for only $8!!!

My steal of a deal! Now I have more music to play. Happy girl indeed :)
I had so many wonderful times in Prague. Some of them just from wandering the streets and marveling at all the buildings and some of them from enjoying new friends company and some of them from just sitting and people watching in parks. Prague let me practice my new art of busking of which I'll continue to learn and perfect. Prague opened its arms and welcomed me with its music, its people, its nature. Not every moment was great, but from the eyes and ears of a musician, Prague has once again captured my attention and I can't wait to go the summer time lol!!!

With love, from Prague <3

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Europe Trip 2016 ~ Netherlands and Germany

The Netherlands was quite the adventure to say the least. But it challenged me and helped me grow.

The first day after I got off the boat, I went on a bus tour and canal tour. I was so tired I slept through half the bus tour, but enjoyed the canal tour, despite my best efforts to stay awake.

After I got off the canal tour I jumped the tour bus to stay at the Central Station instead of continuing on to the airport. It was only 11 a.m. My friend wasn't free until 6. I was so tired and had so much work to do I decided to just sit in the terminal and try to use the wifi to get some work done. But everywhere I sat, I fell asleep and had to move. I thought about getting a locker for my luggage and wandering around the city, but didn't think the price was worth the effort since I was so tired anyway. I'd rather have rented the locker to sleep inside.

After what seemed like countless hours, my friend I hadn't met yet arrived and we journeyed to her home in Utrecht. When I arrived there was a wonderful home cooked meal and wine and just a lot of happy and positive love in the home. It was very welcoming. The next day I borrowed a bicycle and went off to tour the city of Utrecht. It was a beautiful day and I had a wonderful time. People mistook me for a local left and right until I couldn't respond back in Dutch. Now I officially have a Dutch phone number with international data for the next couple of months. I walked and biked and chilled on park benches soaking in the sunshine and the good vibes before heading back to do some more emails and practice. Then it was time eat dinner and go to sleep.

Letting the bike rest in the park while I walked around taking pictures :)

Just had to stop for a cup of coffee, free restroom, and some free but failing wifi!

All I can say is that this dinner set the bar so high the rest of Europe hasn't touched it yet!

The next day was Saturday so I was able to hang out with my host and we went grocery shopping and walked around the Turkish neighborhood with all the amazing stores for food and goods. We ate Turkish pizza for lunch which was far better tasting than I had expected. It was a big piece of dough with a sauce and I had all the toppings of cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce and I'm not sure what else lol! They rolled it up like a burrito and I could only eat half of it. After a lovely afternoon walking around the stores we headed back and while she cooked, I worked on my laptop. Terrible guest I know, but I did do all the dishes :)  She invited a bunch of friends over that night and we had a wonderful house party where I performed a half dozen songs for everyone. It was a lot of fun and they were a great group of friends.

Performing in the kitchen for a captive audience!!

The next day I had to leave but we were able to go walking along the canal late morning together and it was already so sunny, we both got sun tan lines!!! On the way to the train station, one of my suitcase wheels shredded. Then after I got to Amsterdam and was wheeling my suitcase to my next stop, another wheel shredded. Now I was pulling/pushing my suitcase half on plastic wheel casings. My wonderful host helped me out and I now have a new (to me) suitcase that functions properly!! I'm so grateful to the kind and generous people I meet.

Glorified golf carts??  I don't see how two people would get in or out of them. Amazed every time!

They are not all kind and generous though. I had confirmed (or so I thought) a host for the remaining three days in Amsterdam central. When we met, after I arrived from Utrecht, he declined to host me based on some "reasons" not proper to write, but I'm sure everyone can guess. Then he left me stranded and homeless for the night. I had booked an appointment late in the evening and I arrive in Amsterdam mid afternoon so I had several hours to kill. Once again I found myself sitting once in the Central Station. This time, though, since I'd done a lot of my catch up work for emails (I still have plenty to do...) I decided to practice violin for an hour. I figure the best place was at the piano in the main entrance hall. I could put my music there and sit and play without getting out my stand and also would be preventing a pianist from competing while I was playing. I wasn't actually playing for a crowd, but a small one gathered. Turned out to be my first busking experience ever.

Afterwards, I wheeled my luggage across town to the appointment. I was her last for the day and as we talked she learned of my situation. She asked what I was going to do and helped me find a relatively inexpensive place to stay. Her mother was staying in her guest room or she said I could have come home with her. She was very bubbly and played music from her home country for me through the procedure and we talked and laughed and then she asked me to let her know if I was ok that night so I texted her when I checked in. What another kind and generous person.

My first day in Amsterdam I walked all morning around the western half with a young French student staying in the same dorm room, before coming back to take a break. It was nice to have company for the morning. Then around 2p.m. I left for a very large (bigger than I expected) park nearby. When I walked down the stairs into the park there was already a violinist playing under the bridge. He was playing Por Una Cabeza no less. So I continued on in a quest to find a shaded venue that wasn't too loud or too windy and had some place for people to sit or stand. I finally found a small dock area with some benches where people fed the ducks and it was right across from a large children's park and pool that was very crowded. I set up shop and though I didn't make very much for the two hours of constant playing, I did get some practicing in so that was good. The problem playing out there is you have to play loud all the time and that's quite taxing on your body. I hope to find a better place next time and make more money.

My second busking location in the park.

The weather here has been wonderful. Sunny and in the 70's everyday so that all the locals and tourists are outside covering all the grassy spots with blankets and the roads with bikes and skateboards. It's quite the city to people watch.

I made a new friend the last full day I was in Amsterdam. She was also traveling alone and was looking for company so we toured the rest of the city and hung out together the rest of the last day I was in Amsterdam as well. She was so kind and generous to also help translate with a Chinese doctor who didn't really speak English. We almost made a connection in Berlin a few days later but just missed each other.

Somehow I also managed to find a jazz bar named Bourbon Street in Amsterdam. They had a reference to NOLA inside. It was pretty weird but fun none the less.

And I found one of my favorite places (a playground)!!!

We had a fabulous couple of days in Amsterdam!

My favorite photo I took in Amsterdam.

After Amsterdam it was a train ride on to Berlin. I'd never been to Berlin so I was looking forward to the new city ~ until I got there. Berlin is just not my city. Nothing bad per se happened there, but the energy was all wrong. I was enjoying the ride through Germany, but upon entering Berlin that energy changed. It never reversed back to enjoyable although I had some fun times walking around the city and eating on the river and tasting a really good (southern) German beer listening to some jazz piano. One good thing to having fluid plans is that if you're not happy someplace you don't lose a lot of money canceling your plans and making new ones.

I booked a bus ticket the day of and took off for Prague just four days after I'd arrived in Berlin.

Perhaps my favorite photo from Berlin. It's part of a fountain in the plaza across the tracks from Alex.
Another favorite from the same fountain. The kid was just camped out on the statue and it looked so natural and precious.
And my third favorite photo (I've really been enjoying my new camera!!)  These little birds were relentless in their pursuit of my lunch. After I finished I set the plate on the other side of the table for them to eat and they did. Caught this one in mid flight.
My camera died so this picture isn't as nice, but it still captures the really tasty beer and the tents behind are just on the water front of the Spree!

Now for Prague and Vienna! Can't wait :)