Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Czeching out Kutna Hora

Okay Okay I know that's such a cringe worthy title but I couldn't resist. 

I visited my friend Claudia in northern Bavaria for a couple of days before we took a bus to Prague for five nights.  It was decided we should go to Kutna Hora as our day trip as it is one of the more popular places to visit.  I would have loved to have seen Cesky Krumlov but it was just too far of a journey and Claudia had been there already. Someday!

So on Monday April 20th we set off for the railway station.....Before we went down to the train platforms we checked out the old part of the Prague Railway station that was on the second floor..absolutely beautiful!


Then we got on a fairly old train...and found a compartment that wasn't too full.   We changed trains but I really don't know what the name of the place was - I was too busy scrambling down the steps from one and onto the other before the train took off.  There was a fellow on crutches and I really don't know how he managed but he did it. 

We arrived into Kutna Hora and proceeded to walk into the town.  It was not the most attractive area around the station and turns out we both were thinking "oh oh".....However once we reached the centre of town my mind was put at ease and it turned out to be quite a pretty little place.  After a light lunch (both Claudia and I love to eat so there is always lots of food involved when we are together) we headed off to see the sights.

Kutna Hora was at its peak in the Middle Ages when it was even bigger than London (really hard to believe but that's what the Berlitz guide says!).  The silver extracted from its mines funded the prosperity of Prague and the Bohemian Royal Court.  When the silver ran out Kutna Hora shrank to a third of its size and became a backwater. 

We walked by the huge Jesuit college which is now an art gallery (pass!)...the terrace along the front has 13 saints along it and was created to model the Charles Bridge in Prague.  Here are a few photos...as you can see it was a glorious day and the surrounding country side was beautiful.








From there it was a few steps to St Barbara's Cathedral which was beautiful on the outside...we never saw the inside as it is closed on Mondays. 



We then set off back down into the town stopping to admire some of the gorgeous buildings such as the Italian Court. 


View of St Barbaras Cathedral and the Jesuits college from afar


Italian court

As you can see the buildings were stunning. 

We then walked over to the Plague Column which was constructed between 1713 and 1715 in memory of victims of the Plague which killed thousands of local citizens in 1713.



We then visited the Stone fountain which was constructed in 1495.



Slowly we made our way back to the centre of town once again...

I have tried to find out what this building is but no luck...

Church of St John of Nepomuk

Detail on the top of Church of St John of Nepomuk
All too soon it was time to make our way back to the train station - stopping off first to grab a very delicious ice cream cone...

Nice modern train back to wherever...still don't know! 

Goodbye Kutna Hora...you were pretty and interesting but don't think I'll be back

The train back to Prague...the stairs up to the carriage were a killer....
In the end I enjoyed our day in Kutna Hora...I was ambivalent about going but  I did enjoy the day.  We missed out on the bone church (yes a church full of human bones) - the train does stop close by and most of the people on the journey from Prague got off there.   If I had been on my own I likely would have visited it but oh well...Kutna Hora is not super easy to get to with the change in trains but there are enough tourists going that you can probably just follow the "herd".   There are also guided tours that take you there but going on your own is cheaper of course. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Getting back to my roots in Gloucestershire, England

Once upon a time at the turn of the 20th century, there was a boy named Christopher and a girl named Gussie who lived a few houses apart on Pearcroft Road in the village of Stonehouse, Gloucestershire, England. They literally grew up together and fell in love.....when Christopher (Gussie called him "Jack") moved to Canada for a new adventure Gussie followed him a couple of years later in 1913 and they got married.  Christopher and Gussie were my grandparents.  Sadly my grandpa died when I was just four years old and I don't remember him at all.  My grandmother however was in my life until I was 34 years old and we were very very close.  I could talk about everything with her.  We would have a meal together every week - through her I tried new food that wasn't served in our home such as lamb, veal, broccoli (how exotic!), cauliflower and her peach pies have not been equaled to this day..she was an excellent cook.  As the years went on I still fit in an evening meal with my grandma every week but more and more I helped and finally did most of the cooking even though we pretended that she did it.  I worked shifts for many years and sometimes I would drop in unannounced  late in the evening after my shift as she would still be up reading her beloved detective magazines (we both loved a good crime story!) and she would put on the kettle. Needless to say I grew up hearing about her life in England and loved the stories..of course as a teenager I patiently listening but would mentally roll my eyes and think to myself "here goes story number 29" as all teenagers do (lovely creatures that they are...)  Oh how I would love to hear her tell me some of those stories now....From the time I was a tot I wanted to go to England but didn't make it there until I was 22 (and my babysitting money as a teenager paid for the airfare) and fell in love with the place.  Sadly my grandma never got a chance to return to her beloved Cotswolds.  By the time I was working and earning a salary a trip there would have been too physically difficult for her (she was 85 then)...how I would have loved to have taken her back.  Although the Stonehouse she remembers and the way it was when I visited it in the 70's (let alone now) was so different it's probably better she remembered it as it was....

I've visited my grandparents' home village (now a town) a few times - one time in particular was very special as it was with my mother who was thrilled to see where her parents grew up.  The last time I was there was in 2002 and I was a blubbering mess - it was my grandma's birthday (October 3rd) and earlier that year I had lost my mother.  My aunt (her other daughter) had died two years previously so I thought about all three of them and was very emotional.  This time I was much calmer....so let's go off to the village of Stonehouse...now pretty well a suburb of the city of Stroud.  When my grandparents lived there it was a quiet village of course - now the high street (main street) has vehicles rushing through constantly on their way to Stroud which is three miles away or Gloucester which is seven miles up the road. 

I headed out on Tuesday May 19th for the day from Paddington station.  Very handy that the train stops at such a small place as Stonehouse...and every time I step on or off that platform I am always the only passenger who does! 



This nice new shelter hasn't been here in other years...as it turned out I didn't need it as I took the train back from Stroud...but more on why later...

I wandered down to the high street and things started to look familiar - I double checked I was heading in the right direction and I was...before long I was at Pearcroft Road...

House where grandpa grew up

The house where my grandma grew up made with the beautiful Cotswold stone

The front garden of what was known as "Egremont" now known as "Graystones".
As you can see the houses were beautiful - especially my grandma's home.....I walked around the town and had tea and cake in a little tea room.  While there are a couple of cute shops and cafes Stonehouse is not a tourist haven and bears no resemblance to the more famous towns in the Cotswolds.

Local church - did my grandparents attend that as children?  I will never know. (neither one was born there so no baptism records)

One of the three local pubs

War memorial

Local elementary school

Another pub

Never did quite figure out what this is

The high street
I then caught the bus from the point above into Stroud (a rather dismal city) and changed onto the bus to Nailsworth.  (there is only so much time one can spend in Stonehouse - not the most exciting place in the world!) This is a town my grandma used to talk about and I had never been there..on the bus to Nailsworth I chatted wit a woman who was meeting up with a walking group.  A year ago I'd have asked if I could join them but I knew I could not keep up now sad to say and I had very worn out trainers on my feet (that happens when you wear them pretty well daily for over five months) that would not be suitable for climbing hills or walking paths.   I wandered around there for a couple of hours...



The Quaker Meeting House in Nailsworth



There were many mills in Nailsworth - this one is now a fancy hotel
Nailsworth had a few more shops than Stonehouse so was worth a look around...I had planned to go to Painswick as well but ran out of time.   The heavens opened on the bus between Nailsworth and Stroud and I found myself wandering in the rain trying to find a place to eat.  I made do with a meal at a Nicholson pub chain - so unmemorable that I can't honestly say what I had! 

Then I caught the train back to London full of lovely memories of the wonderful woman who was my grandma. 


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A second rotation of the Golden Circle

When I visited Iceland in October 2013 I did the Golden Circle tour and of all the luck it happened to be their first snowfall of the season that day...so this time around I decided to do an "express" verson of the tour to view it during what I hoped was better summery weather.  While the sun did come out at odd times it was mostly a rainy day...sigh...oh well, Iceland is not known for its great weather.

We visited three main attractions:  Thiingveller (Parliament Plains) National Park, the Geysir area and Gullfoss waterfall - in the opposite direction from the last time with less time in each place.

Thiingveller looked different this time...not white but wet....this is the national park where the first General Assembly of Iceland took place in 930 and was held here until 1798.  The area is a protected shrine and held in high esteem by Icelanders.  It is also situated on the mid Atlantic tectonic plate boundaries - meaning it is basically in the middle of Europe and North America and both plates can be seen within its boundaries.





On the full day Golden circle tour you walk this path....once was enough, especially when I did it in the snow!


The bathroom has a nice view but you have to pay for the privilge....NOT good when you don't have any Icelandic coins...several on our bus were left crossing their legs...luckily I had just enough change...last time I was here I had to use a credit card!  


Next stop...the Geyser area...the Stokker geyser is the only one that errupts regularly. Geyser is an Icelandic word that means "to gush".  Last time I was there I watched it over and over again - this time just twice....then I went hunting for the delicious lamb soup they sell in the cafeteria!  I do have my priorities you know!  And we all know how I love my food....







As this will likely be my last trip to Iceland (unless the craving for their delicious licorice/chocolate bars is just too hard to resist..) I got myself an Icelandic wool ear warmer in the wonderful shop there.

Last but certainly not least was the beautiful Gullfoss ("Golden Falls")Waterfall.  Absolutely beautiful and this time I was lucky enough to see the rainbow....




I enjoyed the day but was glad I hadn't opted for the full day tour as this trip was mainly to see it without snow and to try and get decent pictures.  As I mentioned it did rain on and off but given Iceland's weather it could have been much worse!