Saturday, July 21, 2007
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
In St Vitus Cathedral alone, there are about 20 different chapels. Each one is dedicated to a Czech saint with an unpronounceable name. We found it interesting that the main part of the cathedral was only finished in the early 1900s (according to our guidebook, just in time for the 1000-year anniversary of the death of St. Wenceslas), although it was started in the 1400's. We assumed the entire cathedral was much older. Natasha found the stained glass windows very beautiful and we took many pictures of them. There was also a chapel with one of the 770 cannonballs the church was bombarded with in the 1700s (?), which was kind of strange.
The most interesting saint was St John of Nepomuk, who was thrown off the Charles Bridge and drowned. The only part of him they found was his tongue, which is now perserved in effigy on his really big silver tomb.
Another interesting feature of the Cathedral was when we climbed 287 stairs up one of the towers. We had good views of Prague, and we were also able to see the church's flying buttresses from above. It was a long, hot climb, but well worth it.
We also learned a lot about Czech's eternal ruler, Wenceslas. Officially he will rule the Czech Republic forever and the current ruler is just standing in for him. His chapel has 1300 semi-precious stones embedded in the walls and the door to his crown has seven locks. The keys to these locks are held by seven different government and church officials.
Then we went to the Old Palace. The Vladimir Hall is the largest unsupported gothic hall in Central Europe. We tried to waltz there, since it is huge and there was tons of space, but some guy kept yelling at us in Czech. We weren't sure if he was trying to tell us that a) there should be music or b) we were being disrespectful so we decided to play it safe and stop waltzing.
The main highlight of the Old Palace was that we kept being in the wrong room so the audio guide wasn't making a lot of sense. Finally, with the help of some staircases, we did eventually discover the right rooms but, after this happened two or three times, we decided that the palace really was a bit of a maze and needed clearer marking.
The Golden Lane was actually kind of cool with little houses that have now been turned into shops. It was fun to poke our heads in and out of them, especially the oldest house on the street (which dates back to the 16th century) which now sells antique instruments. Dave also appreciated the "smallest house in Prague", which was about the size of a large closet.
Then it was off to the Charles Bridge which, because of the throngs of tourists, we basically just walked across. Although some picture taking did occur!
After Charles Bridge we made our way to the Chocolate Museum. Although it was interesting to see different works of art, all painted with chocolate, the highlight was painting our own chocolate pictures. Dave did a realistic portrait of the Charles Bridge with an abstract Prague Castle in the background and Natasha painted a six-year-old's interpretation of a grand piano! (Note to readers: Natasha is the main author of this post, so she is allowed to write that!)
Then, after doing some shopping, we headed off to the north side of the river to the giant metronome. The base on which the metronome is built used to support a statue of Lenin but after that was pulled down, the metronome was built in its place. It has been going continuously since 1991 and is supposed to symbolize that all political reigns must eventually end. Being into music, and especially having played piano, we both found this sculpture highly intriguing.
On our walk through the park to get to our supper destination, we happened upon a group of Czech Ultimate Frisbee players. Seeing our envying looks, and outright stares as we stopped to watch, they asked if we wanted to join them. Of course, we said yes. They were just learning the basics of the game and it was fun to play with them, despite the hazards of Natasha wearing sandals and guarding men in cleats. Ow! But she was more than willing to sacrifice a few toes for the chance to play Ulti in Prague :) And Dave even hammered successfully so he was thrilled. (Note to readers: Although Natasha is the prime author of this post, the above sentence came straight from Dave, so she is not maligning his Ultimate ability!)
For supper we headed off to Fraktal, at Dave's mathematically-insipred request. Natasha had an excellent Greek Salad and it was an atmospheric place to be.
Then we walked along the north side of the river to the nearest metro stop. It was interesting to see Prague as a modern city, rather than as a tourist site. Plus we even got a Czech grocery shopping experience.
We rode the metro about twenty extra stops so we could visit the Chodov station. Dave had his reasons for wanting to go there, and enjoyed the chance to get some fun photos.
Tomorrow we are looking forward to seeing a few last places in Prague before we catch our flight to London in the evening. Fortunately the weather was less hot and humid today, so sightseeing was more enjoyable and we are looking forward to a good night's sleep, despite the train roaring past every few minutes.
Natasha and Dave
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
The Jewish Quarter contains five synagogues, a graveyard and a Holocaust exhibit which, collectively, are referred to as the "Jewish Museum". Indeed, the syngagogues have been converted into museums, each with a different focus. One had displays about Jewish holidays and rituals; another focused on lifecycle events (birth, marriage, etc.) in Judaism, while a third focused on the Holocaust. In this one, the walls of the sanctuary were completely covered with the names of Jews from Prague (and surrounding towns) who had died in the Holocaust, while the upper level contained an exhibit of art by children at Terezin, a concentration camp near Prague.
One thing that Dave found interesting about the Holocaust exhibit was that it focused on the history of Prague and surrounding towns during the Holocaust, and the stories of Jews who lived there. Finally, the graveyard was *very* old (dating back to the mid-15th century) and, due to the number of people buried there, many of the gravestones were slanted sharply and others were hardly visible at all.
Another interesting aspect of the Jewish Quarter was its "tourist-y" feel. The Jewish museum occupies perhaps five square blocks, and the streets in this area were packed with souvenir shops and booths selling menorahs, mezuzot, kippot and various other items of Judaica. This was particularly strange for Dave, who had not thought of these items as "souvenirs". It was, more generally, strange to see Jewish religion, history and culture "on display", but since the Jewish community in the Czech Republic is dwindling rapidly (a few thousand people with an average age of 75) it seems that this is the form in which a Jewish presence in Prague will survive.
During our exploration of the Jewish Quarter, we had lunch (appropriately enough) at the Franz Kafka Cafe. After finishing the Jewish Quarter, we set off once more to find the chocolate museum. We eventually found the right twisty side-street, and even found the right place, but they were closed for some reason. Temporarily stuck, but undefeated, we resolved to try again tomorrow.
We then swung by the clock tower (which we visited yesterday) for a second look, and thanks to a fellow tourist, we looked at the right part of the tower, and saw twelve apostles parade past, each one turning as he passed to face the town square. Our difficulty yesterday was that we assumed they paraded around *outside* the clock, but they actually stay inside the clock and windows open so you can see them. From our vantage point yesterday, we couldn't see the windows.
Our curiosity about the clock satisfied, we headed over to the Charles Bridge for a view of the Vltava River (which runs through Prague) before catching a classical music concert at the St. Nicholas Church. The concert was made up of a smattering of Baroque and Classical music (Purcell, Handel, Bach, Mozart, etc.) for organ, french horn and an alto singer. The music was quite enjoyable, but the combination of the audience (made up of seemingly non-musically-inclined tourists) and the venue (we were seated facing away from the musicians, who played in the organ loft) created a less-than-ideal atmosphere.
We finished our day out in Prague with dinner at a restaurant that served both traditional Czech food (goulash for Dave) and not-so-traditional fare (pizza for Natasha). We got another chance to practice our Czech, and both enjoyed our meals.
Tomorrow we are looking forward to seeing the castle, the chocolate museum, and a giant metronome. Stay tuned for further details!
Dave and Natasha
Monday, July 16, 2007
After that, we wandered into the Old Town Square, saw the clock tower ring 6 o'clock (which was surprisingly unimpressive -- maybe we didn't have the right view), and saw several other impressive buildings. We both appreciated the fact that one restaurant on the Town Square had a person with a hose, spraying water so people could cool off. Prague is *really* hot (in the 30's), and there are headlines in the news about the heat (from what we can figure out -- it is in Czech after all.)
We had a delicious supper at a pub which was in the oldest cellar in Prague, dating back to the mid-13th century. Natasha really enjoyed her mushroom ragout on potato pancakes, and Dave had sausages in a black beer sauce, with a mug of Czech beer to wash it all down. We think our waiter was amused by our attempts to speak Czech, although Dave seems to have a fairly good handle on some basics -- please, thank you, excuse me -- it's all very useful!
After supper, we headed back to the hostel, and will be heading off to bed shortly in order to be rested and ready for a full day of sightseeing tomorrow. The combination of heat and lack of sleep have left us pretty wiped.
The hostel we are staying at has free internet access via a handful of computer terminals, so we will likely be able to keep you all up-to-date on our travels. However, we won't be able to post pictures, which is too bad since Dave has been camera-happy :)
Dave and Natasha
We had a long day of travel getting from the Canary Islands to London. We got bumped from our original flight which meant that we went from Tenerife to Manchester and, after a four-hour layover, finally flew to London. On the plus side, we got reimbursed handsomely, which made the time hanging around in the Manchester airport quite bearable.
Yesterday was a down day, and we spent much of the day sleeping.
Last night we had the privilige of sleeping on Firefly, Chris Allen's boat. Natasha had been there before but Dave hadn't. This meant that we got to sleep for about four hours before catching a bus to Heathrow at 3:30am. We are looking forward to spending another two nights on the boat when we return from Prague.
We enjoyed some Indian take-away last night, our first proper meal since a lovely Italian meal on Friday night in Buzanada.
A random ST:tNG coincidence:
On our flight from Tenerife to Manchester, we were shown a Simpsons episode (the one with the Stonecutters), which Dave discovered had Patrick Stewart as a guest voice. The next thing that was shown was a movie called "The Librarian", directed by none other than Jonathan Frakes... eerie!
That's all for now; we'll try to find an Internet cafe somewhere in Prague, but otherwise we'll try and update on Friday.
Dave and Natasha
Thursday, July 12, 2007
These past few days have been filled with more watching movies, reading books, playing computer games, lying by the pool and playing in the ocean waves. It has been a very relaxing few days, to be sure!
We are looking forward to going to The British Museum on Sunday and heading off to Prague after that. It looks like Prague is going to be HOT HOT HOT so we are glad for shorts and t-shirts.
We aren't sure if we will have much access to internet between now and when we get back to Canada so we may not be updating regularly until we return.
But stayed tuned, just in case...
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Monday, July 09, 2007
Today was a day of doing what almost everyone else here does. In other words, we spent some time at the pool swimming, reading, and lying in the sun, then we watched some episodes of Friends which were showing on the timeshare DVD channel. We spent some more time lying in the sun later on in the afternoon and I (Natasha) cooked supper. I even made garlic bread to go with the pasta!
After supper we ventured outside the timeshare to walk to the ocean. It was quite beautiful and exciting and we'll probably head there to do some swimming this afternoon. The beach is nice with sand but quite littered with garbage so I don't think we'll hang out there much, other than to go swimming. We also ran away from the waves which was quite fun!
Then we came back to our apartment and watched The Empire Strikes Back, again on the DVD channel. After such an energetic day (!) it was time to sleep so we did. Another beautiful, and lazy, day in the Canary Islands.
Sunday, July 08, 2007
Pictures, with captions, have now been added throughout. Go back to July 1 to see pictures of our time in London, along with a few pictures from here. More will be posted as we take them :)
Saturday, July 07, 2007
I, Natasha, am writing this from our timeshare which is a one bedroom apartment with a terrace and a view of the ocean from our front door. We just finished a wonderful supper of pizza and Dave is filling out some U of A form (see, we're not really on vacation!) so I'm writing about today.
Friday, July 06, 2007
As you probably gathered from our previous post, Wednesday involved a lot of walking. We figured we'd even this out by taking other available modes of transportation on Thursday. We started the day by meeting Natasha's friend, Chris Allen, for a “proper” (i.e., fried) English breakfast in Crouch End, which is just down the hill from LMC.
We then took the Tube west to Notting Hill, which is the setting of a Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts movie of the same name, and is also home to the Portobello Road Market. Thursday was not market day, unfortunately, so we wandered around some less-than-bustling, but still quite charming, streets until we arrived at “The Travel Bookshop” which was where Hugh's character worked in the movie. We found a few good books, and then made our way back to Dora's place. We had a bite to eat, spent some time re-arranging our worldly belongings for the next part of our trip, and then headed off for our flight. We took the Tube to London Bridge, where we got on a commuter train to Gatwick Airport. We then hopped on a shuttle to get to the right terminal, and finally, at around 5:30, we got on our flight to Tenerife.
The flight itself was fairly uneventful – we watched an entertaining, mindless Will Ferrell movie (is there any other kind?), and dinner was actually pretty tasty – and we arrived in Tenerife shortly after 10:00. Yay for another stamp in our passports! We then caught a taxi and, after some wandering and halting conversation with our Spanish-speaking cabbie, arrived at Pensione Cassandra in the town of Buzanada, where we were staying for the night (our week at the time share in Costa Adeje didn't begin until the next day).
We were very relieved to finally be at our destination, until we realized that there was nobody at the pensione, and it was getting fairly late, past 11:00pm. So, we wandered around the streets of Buzanada, trying to find (ideally) the proprietor of the pensione or (more realistically) a payphone to call her from. Eventually, after more conversations with some friendly locals in our very basic Spanish, we found a phone at a bar a little ways up a hill, managed to reach someone (Cassandra herself, perhaps?), and were told that she'd be there in half an hour. So, we headed back down the hill and, after some more waiting outside the pensione, eventually got in and to our room shortly before midnight. Then it was time for some much anticipated, and needed, sleep.
Today we walked. Everywhere. We started out at The British Library where we walked through their gallery of famous pieces of paper. We saw letters written by Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll's diary where he wrote about finishing writing down Alice in Wonderland, the libretto used at the first ever performance of Handel's “Messiah”, which was inscribed with the soloists' names, music written by Beethoeven and Bach, lyrics to Beatles songs written down on Lufthansa napkins and other random pieces of paper. We also saw the log book from the HMS Victory, opened to the report of Admiral Nelson's death. And that wasn't all... There was also an exhibit on the Magna Carta, which included four surviving copies of the document, one highly burned but with the original seal (Did you know they were written down on different sizes of parchment by different people with different wording???). Other highlights included Leonardo Da Vinci's notebook, letters from Newton and Darwin, and many ancient Bibles, Torahs, haggadot, and other religious texts.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
One thing that was a bit surreal about the whole event was the mix of bobbies with guns, guards with guns, and the beefeaters playing live music. We left before the actual changeover was complete because it was really far away, it was long and boring, and mostly seemed to consist of a complicated series of various people walking back and forth.
We went from there to Westminster Abbey, and happened to get there just in time for the Communion service for the Feast of St. Thomas. Thus, we went for the service a) because it seemed more respectful to go to the church for a service instead of just as tourists and b) you can enter the abbey for free if you go for a service. The bulk of the service was various readings, with congregational responses. And then came communion.
Dave decided to receive a blessing, which was an option for people who did not want to receive communion. He took his booklet up as recommended in the order of service as a sign he was just there for a blessing. However, when the priest came to him, he ignored the booklet, Dave's closed hands -- not to mention closed mouth -- and fed him the wafer anyways! The next priest, coming by with the wine, asked Dave if he had received the blessing, and when Dave said no, held the cup of wine up to Dave's mouth so that he was forced to take a sip, or dribble wine down his front. Dave was pretty surprised by the whole experience, and was not mollified by a subsequent explanation that the priest must not have been paying attention.
In comparison, the rest of our time at Westminster Abbey was not all that exciting. At first, Dave was psyched about seeing the graves of the various famous people buried there (Darwin, Newton, Handel, many kings and queens, etc.), but it turns out that there are a *lot* of other people buried there, as well (over 3,000 in all), and thus finding people he had actually heard of became something of a "Where's Waldo" (Ralph Waldo Emerson, in this case) experience. To top it all off, it turned out that we had taken communion in front of Newton and not even realized it!
After Westminster Abbey, we grabbed some tasty sandwiches at Tesco (a major British grocery chain) and then returned to the National Gallery to see "the rest" of the paintings. We spent most of our time looking at artists from the last century or so -- Degas, Picasso, Renoir, Matisse, etc. We were glad to have split our time at the gallery into two trips, so that we could appreciate the newer paintings without suffering from too much art gallery fatigue. Neither of us is exactly a connosieur of fine art, so after a few hours the incredibly famous and beautiful paintings all start to run together (metaphorically, that is -- otherwise we would have been booted out of the gallery in a hurry!).
We walked along The Strand and Fleet Street for a while, and through Temple Bar, thus getting a sense of London's commercial and financial districts. It was interesting to see buildings which were many centuries old scattered among modern banking and legal offices.
One of the places we went to was the Twinings tea store which has been on that site, and run by the Twining family, since the 1670s. Natasha was quite excited about visiting one of the great homes of tea and did a good job of stocking up her tea cupboard.
The highlight of the day, for Natasha at least, was supposed to be Love's Labour's Lost seen live at the Globe Theatre. She was quite excited about this until we jumped onto the Tour Bus for a quick trip to Westminster and the guide pointed out a (very exclusive and staggeringly expensive school where Helena Bonham Carter had attended, and then mentioned, "You may be able to catch her tonight in Leicester Square where she will be attending the premiere to the new Harry Potter movie." AAAAAAHHHHH!!!! And we had tickets to Shakespeare. She was quite tempted to skive out on Shakespeare and head to Leicester Square to see if she could catch glimpses (and take bad, likely far away photos) of the movie's stars but she managed to restrain herself. Sorry Vanessa :(
However, we *did* manage to reserve copies of the new book at a store (Waterstone's) on Ludgate Circus, and even found out about a pre-release party involving dessert and wine -- much more civilized than the hours-long sidewalk camp-out experience that Dave had been imagining.
Love's Labour's Lost was the typical London experience. We had standing tickets so we managed to get good spots at the front right corner of the stage. Then we stood for the entire three hours of the play! And sometimes, it rained -- once again, the "emergency" rain ponchos from Tim and Janice saved the day, even though Dave felt like he was wearing a big blue garbage bag and, according to Natasha, looked a little like a smurf. But we were so close to the actors we could touch them, sometimes, one actress's dress got Natasha full in the face when she swirled by, and one of the actors cleared us out of his way as he jumped into the audience to escape from another actor. It was quite a different way of seeing the play, and felt very true to what we imagined the Elizabethan theatre experience to be.
Okay, it's off to bed for us, as we have another busy day ahead of us tomorrow. Good night!
Dave and Natasha
We started the day off by taking the Tube downtown to see about getting tickets for Shakespeare and Spamalot. We felt pretty confident about the underground part of the trip, having gotten from the airport to Dora's place the day before, but I was feeling a bit less sure about navigating London's streets. As we were getting off the subway, I commented to Natasha that it would really be nice if they had brightly-coloured lines above ground as well as below. Lo and behold, as we left the station we saw a sign saying that we could follow a trail of orange lampposts to get to the Tate Museum, and that signs would direct us from there to the Globe theatre. And so we went, following the "orange lamppost road" to our destination.
On our way to the theatre (don't worry -- the whole post isn't going to be this detailed) we stopped in at a tiny "greasy spoon"-type restaurant (called "Pickles", for some reason) for breakfast, where Natasha got some tea, and I had a sausage and fried egg sandwich, which was very greasy, unhealthy, and above all British. The restaurant was a weird mix of cultures, with accents that reminded me of Eliza from "My Fair Lady" (before her lessons, that is) clashing with Frank Sinatra posters on every wall.
Most of the afternoon was spent, as Natasha mentioned, with a tour through London on an open air, double-decker bus. This was a bit of an adventure, as the weather kept changing from rainy to windy to sunny and then back again, resulting in a constant flurry of umbrellas, coats and emergency ponchos (which we had, thanks to Tim and Janice). Add to this an obstinate desire on my part to get a picture of every passing landmark, a bunch of screaming kids, and a very enthusiastic tour guide, and the whole experience was pretty intense.
We wrapped up the "seeing all the landmarks in London" part of the day by taking a tour boat down the Thames, from the Tower of London to the Tate Museum. This was a fair bit more sedate, as the boat went much slower, and the tour guide was significantly less enthusiastic.
We finished our day with the National Gallery, which is right off of Trafalgar Square, houses an incredible collection of artwork, and -- best of all -- is free! There are about 60 rooms in the gallery, with everything from Michaelangelo and Raphael to more modern artists like Picasso, Degas, or Monet (and Manet, for that matter). We only ended up having time for about two-thirds of the gallery, and ended up going back to see (some of) the rest of it today (that is, Tuesday).
Monday, July 02, 2007
1) We drove by The Texas Embassy Restaurant and Grill which is where the former White Star Line offices were. The White Star Line office was where people bought tickets for the Titanic.
2) Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park has a soapbox off the ground so the speakers aren't technically on British soil. And there are three things they can't talk about: the Royal Family, treason against the state, or beg for money.
3) The only US Embassy not on US soil is in London. The area where the US Embassy in London is, is owned by the Grosvenor Family and they refused to sell land to the US to build an embassy. Supposedly when the US asked how much they would charge the family answered, "The State of Virginia."
4) The River Thames is a tidal river; it rises and falls 3 metres every day.
5) Big Ben is actually the name of the bell inside the tower. The official name of the tower is St Stephen's Clock Tower.
6) Lord Nelson, Britain's greatest admiral, had only one eye, one leg, couldn't swim, and got seasick!
7) The current mayor of London hates pigeons, so if you get caught feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, you will be fined £100. (Which is about $213CAN)
8) You are not allowed to lie down in Trafalgar Sqaure; you can't even look like you are about to lie down. (There is a lot of lawn so it wouldn't be the worst place in the world for a nap!)
9) Two years after he died, Oliver Cromwell was dug up, was beheaded and his head was placed on a pike on London Bridge. It didn't fall off for 23 years.
(Dave just discovered that one set of my earrings is in backwards. Dora noticed it first. Her comment upon Dave's discovery was, "Blindess, thy name is male." I'm not sure Dave has a leg to stand on in refuting this comment.)
As for the rest of our day, Dave will post an entry shortly about what we actually did!
Some of you have asked what I will be doing in Edmonton and my answer has been, "Working somewhere, I hope." Deanna sent me an e-mail at the end of April, mentioning that her friend Trevor, who owns his own company, was looking for someone to do bookkeeping. I told her I might be interested and Trevor called me and we talked for about half an hour. Trevor told me that he would get back to me at the end of July but things seemed positive.
Well, as I mentioned, not only does Deanna happen to be visiting LMC, but as we were going around introducing ourselves at supper, we also met Trevor. When we sat down to talk, Deanna mentioned, "Trevor, this is the Natasha you talked with in May, and Natasha, this is the Trevor who you might be working for." Oh. I definitely wasn't prepared to meet with my potential future boss at supper tonight. But we had a fairly good conversation, and Trevor was telling me how far a walk his business was from where we will be living so things seem rather positive. I also happened to mention that I was still intending to send him my resume and that since Dave's laptop was here I could potentially e-mail it to him tonight. Deanna said she had a USB key here so an hour ago I put my updated resume on her USB key and now Trevor has it.
So for those of you who think I am just gallivanting around London I just want to let you know that I have also handed out a resume, and had dinner with, my potential new boss!
Sunday, July 01, 2007
We were met by Dora who served us food and tea, and then invited us to come to her church, Wood Green Mennonite Church in London. The congregation was quite small (about twenty people, including us), with only one 12 year old for children's time. The service was nice, Natasha enjoyed singing from The Hymnal, and people were welcoming.
After the service we hung out and chatted while drinking our second cup of tea, and then it was off to the pub with a bunch of church people. To get to the pub, we walked for about an hour through a park, a wooded trail, and some of London's lesser known streets.
Due to miscommunication we didn't end up eating supper there (unless a pint of Guiness counts as supper!), but we had a hearty meal of bread and aubergine (a.k.a. eggplant) soup at Dora's later on. We've spent the evening visiting with Dora and are looking forward to sleeping under a warm duvet -- it's about 16C here right now and today was a little cold, although mostly sunny.
Tomorrow we are heading out on the town and looking forward to seeing some sights. Stay tuned for further details...
Dave and Natasha
One of the major events of this past week was that Natasha passed her road test for her licence. She can now drive alone!!! Thanks for this accomplishment go to her patient driving instructor, Dave. And special mention to Angie for her help in the past. It's thanks to Ang that Natasha can drive a standard, in rush hour traffic and carry on a conversation, all without stalling :)
On Sunday, we enjoyed a trip to the Toronto Zoo with our nieces, Lily and Kaelin, and with assorted adults. The weather was quite hot which meant that the animals were mostly napping, but the Splash park was a really big hit. We will post pictures once Dave's computer can access the internet.
We would like to take a moment to thank everyone who has invited us to dinner these past few weeks. We've greatly enjoyed both the food and the company, so thanks again.
Well, London's calling so we'll send more from across the pond.
(We tried to post this entry last night from an internet kiosk at the airport but it wouldn't let us so we're posting it from our friend Dora's room in London. We will post about our first day in London shortly.)
Dave and Natasha