Çesky Krumlov

The meandering Vltava River

 

Çesky Krumlov was mentioned almost every time we mentioned we were going to Prague. I would hear “it’s delightful” and I would say “interesting, what is so delightful about Çesky Krumlov?” Almost no one answered, but now when I recommend it, I can tell you why it is the second most visited village in Czechoslovakia. This medieval village is seriously photogenic, historic, arty and the food was wonderful. It is the village you have to plan to visit and it takes more than just jumping on a train to get here. We left Prague on one bus, then another, travelled for over two hours and just managed to get the bus driver to let us off at the correct spot.

View from the Castle

After a wander around the town, it was wonderful to go through the castle. Not all three hundred rooms but enough to see what splendour the former royalty lived in. The water coloured tower is the beginning of the castle.

There is a splendid archway to link the Castle and the Theatre.

Archway between Castle and Theatre in Çesky Krumlov

This UNESCO World Heritage site is so picturesque and so green. The medieval towers, buildings and bridges are quite lovely. We also love the idea of local ales and wines. Our favourite sign was Fairy Tale House Puppets and Wine.

There were art galleries on every corner and several types of art. So if you find yourself in Prague, add a brief interlude in Çesky Krumlov, enjoy the meandering River Vltava and trust that you will have a delightful time.

 

 

Old Town, New Town Prague

 

Charles Bridge from the water

The Charles Bridge is beautiful with numerous grand religious statues on its edges. I have used this photo of the bridge because so many of the people on the bridge are taking selfies and others have photographers doing glamour shoots. These are mainly young women with boyfriends looking on. It is quite remarkable. In fact, for some, it isn’t a photo of the Charles Bridge or the Stare Mesto or a cathedral unless you are posed in front of it. Prague is such a fairy tale setting, they have come to a wonderful spot. The bridge was built in 1357 for Charles IV, the first bridge to cross the River Vltava.

James, Pavla and Pari in Old Town Prague

One of the best ways to see Prague is to do a tour and we were so lucky to have Pavla from Premiant tours to take three of us up hills and on the river giving us history, sharing information and answering questions. Prague is a University town and if Pavla’s passion and knowledge about Prague, history and art were generated with free university, than I think that affordable education is very worthwhile.

We started in the Old Town and wandered through the Jewish Quarter and had a cruise on the river, then we went up to Prague Castle and further up to gardens and the Strahov Monastery. The monks are back and they seem to have brought back a sense of humour with them. If you didn’t know Czech people are very fond of an ale or beer. In fact, Budweiser beer was first brewed here. But the monks of St Norbert have their own take on drinking. Does anyone else see a zombie theme with the Autumn Dark Lager?

Delivery van in front of the monastery.

Once you pass through a narrow lane, you walk down the to the walls of the monastery and there is a wonderful outlook back over Old Town, red tile roofs fill the foreground and the dome and belfry of Church of St Nicholas are easy to spot. Further on I can see the spires of the Tyn Church and to its right, Stare Mesto. There are other spires and churches but I can’t name them all. The architecture in Prague is easy to see and ranges from Gothic to Renaissance and Romanesque to Baroque and Modern.

Red tiles roofs with the Church of St Nicholas with its dome and belfry

St Vitus’s Cathedral and the Tyn Church are  probably the easiest Gothic architecture to discover. You possibly couldn’t miss them. The Royal Garden takes more investigation to find and has a building with Renaissance sgraffito which is magnificent.

Isn’t this sublime, like a fine piece of lace. Tulips came here before they came to Holland. I think that would be another story all together.

 

 

 

New York – a visit home

A visit to New York is a visit to my childhood. The food and sounds are almost the same at the market and on the streets where I spent my first seven years. The great thing about living in NY was access to the Bronx Zoo, The Botanical Gardens and museums. There are an amazing amount of museums in New York City and this trip we visited two.

 

The American Gallery The Metropolitan Museum
The American Gallery
The Metropolitan Museum

We met cousins Marian and Jessica at the Metropolitan Museum and chose three exhibits to view. The first exhibit was an ethereal series of Whaling pictures by the English romantic James.M.W. Turner. Where a realist’s images might have been gruesome, Turner’s froth and cloud hide the gore. Out of the waves’ foam, there struggles a ship or a whale. Our imagination takes us to sounds of sailors yelling orders and encouragement. Original manuscripts of Melville’s Moby Dick are displayed, which opens the discussion did Melville see these paintings before writing Moby Dick?

From Turner, we went to the Temple of Dendur, a temple moved from Egypt to the Metropolitan, when it was going to be flooded under the Aswan High Dam. Isis and Osiris now have a home in the middle of NYC. The emperor Augustus of Rome commissioned the temple which gives you a clear point in time of its age (15BC). It is remarkable that it was able to be re-situated from one metropolis to another. Egypt was very generous in deeding this gift to the United States, at that time represented by Jacqueline Kennedy.

Temple of Dendur
Temple of Dendur

 

The last stop for the day was the Manus x Machina, Fashion in an Age of Technology exhibit. It is more about the techniques and processes the 20th and 21rst centuries have brought to couture fashion. Exquisite, revealing in that the humble sewing machine began journey, made this possible and wrought incredible changes to how Couture was fashioned over the years.

The highlight of this visit was a young girl, visibly worshiping the dress that was designed by Karl Lagerfield for Chanel with a 20 foot train. She ran from perspective to perspective and had her phone camera going non stop and she peered into the detail of the embroidery, which had been crafted using such artful processes, so closely that the guard had to intervene. Such passion at such an early age. For me, it was this passion that was the highlight of the exhibit, you understand this passion is where the design comes from no matter the machines or materials.  These dresses come from someones mind and passion.

Passion
Passion

Another morning was in the Upper Eastside, spent at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Housed in the stately mansion of steel magnate of Andrew Carnegie, the building is a work of art itself. Building was begun in 1899, but this house featured a Otis Elevator, the first private elevator. Carnegie is one of my patron saints, because he gave huge amounts of his wealth to the creation of public libraries.

Two of the many exhibits that we loved were Beauty/Triennial with its emergent technologies, 3 D printings of ceramic and glass and the PolyThread knitted textile pavillion.

Pavillion by Shima Seiki
Pavillion by Shima Seiki

The other favorites is the story of the Haas Brothers and Haas Sisters and their whimsical figures brought together with technology, algorithms and hand sewing. Look this MonkeyBiz up, it is a wonderful partnership story.

 

Haas Monkey Biz
Haas Monkey Biz

Cooper Hewitt has a wonderful online presence. Check it out.

 

 

 

 

A Washington DC Soujourn

We arrived in DC and Marian took us to Cherrydale, a suburb of Arlington, VA so that Kay could host us in their condo.  We walked up the hill to see Clarendon where we had lunch and explored the two neighborhoods. Trendy inner city neighborhoods that make it so easy to bike to work.

Cherrydale Hardware
Cherrydale Hardware

 

We met Charlene and Carolyn over the next couple of days, including a visit in the venerable building Constitution Hall, which houses the Daughters of the American Revolution and acted as a set for Alan Sorkin’s The West Wing.

James and I had a day of sight-seeing in Washington, which is quite a movable feast. We took the Metro to a stop very close to the White House and watched as two policemen questioned a very suspicious character. Seriously, he spent several minutes talking to the two policeman and was still there when we left ten minutes later. DC is not the best place to wear a costume.

P1030338 (640x480)

We meandered around the White House and noticed increased security in the area since our last visit, which was pre-September 11th.

The White House is still beautiful and serene, even with the barricades in front.

The White House
The White House

The day was blue skies with fluffy clouds and none of the humidity that DC is famous for. We walked all around the Washington Monument, really a monument to General George Washington, as it was being considered before he became president. It is a monument you can see for quite a distance and it often peeks out at you as you travel in Arlington and nearby areas.

Washington Monument
Washington Monument

We walked past several other monuments on the Mall and then went to the new Indian Museum at the Smithsonian. We had a great Native American luncheon and looked at the interesting displays. We covered lots of territory around the Washington on the Circulator Red Line bus, which does a loop around the National Mall at a very reasonable price. Other Circulator buses are also available and a bargain with a Metro card.  DC is not a place for cars, so my tip is to purchase or borrow a Metro card, load it up and then use public transport.

Cherry trees and magnolias are so evocative and reminiscent of the South generally. Indigenous to the Southeastern United States, they can grow as tall as 90 feet high and the blooms are magnificent. Their fragrance brings to mind evenings spent on porch swings.  Now we head North to the land of Yankees.

Magnolia Grandiflora
Magnolia Grandiflora

 

Montepulciano and Pienza

Wine country, Etruscans, hilltop villages, green Italy and a perfectly transformed Renaissance village are all covered in today’s blog.

As you travel through the vines, sunflower farms and rolling hills lush with vegetation and crops, you see green Italy, not one of stone and concrete but another Italy altogether. Many of the vines are of the Montepulciano Vino Nobile grape and are some of Italy’s best wines.  They even had Montepulciano plums at our agriturismo. Montepulciano is a hilltop town and its roots go back to the ancient Etruscans.

The well in the Piazza Grande, Montepulciano
The well in the Piazza Grande, Montepulciano

On our second day in the area, we drove into the countryside to visit Pienza, a town created by Pope Pius ll. Beginning in 1458, Pius ll worked with the Florentine architect, Bernardo Rossellino to create a city model that was laid out in an orderly, pleasing and rational manner.It was a town where urban décor would benefit the citizens. He included new areas for the needy, so they could share in the bounty. He was a truly humanist Pope, standing up against slavery and the persecution of Jews.

Pizena
Pizena
Tuscan hillsides
Tuscan hillsides

Most of us have passed bakeries, where the aromas are pushed out into the noses of passersby to entice them into the shop.  In Pienza, the cheese shop had a fan sending out aromatic scents to pull you into their shop. Pienza is noted for its Pecorino cheese. Also known as cacio, it is made from sheep’s milk.  The sheep feed on the verdant hillsides eating aromatic herbs like it thyme, penny royal and absinthe.

The smell of cheese was everywhere
The smell of cheese was everywhere

There was also large amounts of art, including giant bracelets and rings.

giant ring sculpture near reclining nude on swing
giant ring sculpture near reclining nude on swing

When in Italy, you read about the Etruscans and if you Google them, the story will begin “Their language didn’t survive, so we know nothing about them, but they were an elegant people.” Now with DNA samples, we may see that the Etruscans (Eighth century BC- First century AD) came from the western Anatolia, near Izmir in Turkey. The Etruscans are fascinating because ‘elegant and mysterious’ suggests a people of Bond men. But in the Etruscans’ case, women had a significant role to play in daily life. The Etruscans were also great artists and seem to be the ‘creators’ of the famous hilltop towns in Tuscany and Umbria. Italy’s history goes back beyond the Romans.

The geneticists did not stop with testing ancient Etruscan DNA, but they also tested cow DNA in the region and found a match with Tuscan bovine DNA in the same area of Western Anatolia. Beef is a food of choice in Tuscany and Umbria.

An angel cow
An angel cow

As we left this area, we saw sunflower farms, some almost fully ripe and others that had just been planted. They are joyous to see and enjoy.

Tuscan sunflowers
Tuscan sunflowers

Next trip we will stay in some of the hilltop towns, but staying in the country also has it’s benefits.

Paestum of Magna Graecia

Mosquitoes drive us all crazy, waking us in the middle of the night by buzzing and biting us.  They were a scourge in antiquity too, closing down Caunus and Roman cities like Ostia Antica and Paestum. The mosquitoes carried the malaria that made living in these ancient cities impossible.

Temple of Hera
Greek Temple of Hera

The ancient ruins are Paestum were never covered or collapsed, the area silted up and the malaria kept everyone away for millennium. These ruins from the Magna Graecia were rediscovered in the mid-19th Century and became a destination on the Grand Tour, so popular with the educated young men of that time.

The Comitium
The Comitium
Selfies are the order of the day in Paestum
Selfies are the order of the day in Paestum

The temples are so beautiful, that it comes as a surprise that they were likely painted in white, red and black. There is a discussion of painting part of the temples to provide an insight as to how Paestum would have actually looked at the time. I think the Sydney Vivid team would do an excellent job.

Temple of Neptune or Poseidon
Temple of Neptune or Poseidon
There aren't large crowds at Paestum. It is a bucolic  place.
There aren’t large crowds at Paestum, Doric columns abound though.

The Pasteum museum is a small but perfectly formed museum.  It is full of artifacts like tombs, including Diving Boy tomb found nearby, amphorae and votive offerings. One of the areas important economic activities are water buffalo dairy farms. There is an old sepia photo of the water buffaloes grazing underneath the temples c 1910. You can smell their presence.

They love Schubert and Brahms and they make great cheese.
They love Schubert and Brahms and they make great cheese.

 

Campania and the Amalfi Coast

Fifteen years ago, James and I stayed in Positano; we thought it was magical. However, trying to find rooms for eleven of us, the best value seemed to be in Minori or Maiori. We all found Minori to be less touristy and very friendly. Minori was more like the Amalfi and Positano we visited fifteen years ago. If I was going five-star, I would prefer Ravello but given our budget Minori was perfect.

Amalfi Coast
Amalfi Coast

Ravello is just an hour’s walk up the hill, but quite a steep lung buster according to Miriam, Ed and Frank. It is incredibly scenic as James, Barbara and I can attest to, as we walked down to Minori after a scrumptious lunch at Enotavola Wine Bar at Palazzo Della Marra in Ravello. Matt and Joseph ran up and ran down; steepness was no barrier for the incredibly fit twins.

View from the Villa Rudolfo
View from the Villa Rudolfo

Ravello was the site of several weddings and we saw bridal fashion from demure to haute couture. The heels were six inches high but the outfits were amazing.

Natalie Chapman, is this wedding wear?
Natalie Chapman, is this wedding wear?

The music festival had not quite started but the stage was set up at the Villa Rudolfo and there were several members of the Ravello Vista Social Club playing wonderful songs and singing. There was an amazing Sonica  gallery of photos of musicians by a musician, Guido Harari at Villa Rudolfo too. Villa Cimbrone was the site of lush gardens and pleasant walks.

Ravello muscian and singers
Ravello muscian and singers

There is plenty to do in Campania, a guided tour of Pompeii was educational and fast paced.  We could see Vesuvius in the background and we were happy to note there was no smoke or activity.

Side trip to Pompeii
Side trip to Pompeii
Walking down to Minori
View from Ravello

Everyday we fall a bit more in love with Campania.

Kalamata, Mystra and the Mani

We sailed from Porto Kayio to Kalamata on Friday to Kalamata Marina, the first marina we had seen since Agio Nikolas in Crete.  It is wonderful, with a wonderful taverna and the best AB supermarket we have seen.

Kalamata is in the Mani, a ‘state or province’ in the Peloponnesse. The Mani is abundantly beautiful, with Mountains creating a ridge down the spine. Mount Taygetos is about 7800 feet, so comparable with Aspen and the drive from Kalamata to Mystra brings to my imagination what the Leadville Road out of Aspen circa 1950, would be like. Hairpin turns, sheer cliffs, boulders fallen onto the road the size of bowling balls.

Road to Mystra
Road to Mystra

So yes, I am turning into my Mother, James’ Mother and mothers everywhere, when I tell you there was a dent in the floor where my brakes would be. Sheer fright! No photos because I was too busy holding on and there was no where to pull over.

I am not familiar with this area of Greece, but I am enchanted with it. So you can learn along with me.  Visit http://www.maniguide.info/  and read about this incredible hidden peninsula. Google: Mani.

Mystra
Mystra

We drove to Mystra to visit its Byzantine fortress and monasteries. This is the Sparta you may not have heard about. Medieval intrigue and the Crusades meant a fortress was needed but in this case, it wasn’t the Venetians but the Franks. There still seems to be some nuns here in one of the Monasteries and the buildings were beautiful.

Mystra
Mystra

We left after hours of walking. Even with tour buses full of people, the site is so vast that you are virtually walking by yourself only occasionally passing another person.

Fresco
Fresco

We decided to drive back to Kalamata by way of Gythion, a lovely harbour, where they are building a much larger breakwater and then to Diros.  This followed the same route we had sailed up so we could visit Aghia Nikolas, Stoupa and many other small villages.  The views from the escarpments were superb.

View of Mani Coastline
View of Mani Coastline

 

 

Chilling in Chania

Sometimes it takes a combination of elements to bring out the best in a place, a person or a task.

Cania seems to bring the three elements of Greek: Xania, Ottoman Turkish: Hanya and Venetian: Canea to create the superb town of Chania.

We ate in wonderful restaurants, walked Venetian fortresses, visited the mosques and the churches.  One Venetian palazzo was roofless but housed a quirky restaurant with trees growing in the midst of the tables.  The streets are narrow and winding, reminding us that a narrow windy path is easier to defend against pirates.  Pirates like the dreaded Barbarossa had a cave full of followers and ships not far away.

narrow lanes, Old Town Chania
Narrow lanes, Old Town Chania

We walked the Venetian Breakwater, that was full of fisherman, families taking walks out to the lighthouse and a film crew filming a soap opera or ad.

Barbara watching the fishermen on Venetian breakwater.
Barbara watching the fishermen on Venetian breakwater.

The town was so beautiful that we weren’t without cameras in our hands.

photogenic Chania
photogenic Chania

Barbara, wisely, decided to return home from Chania rather than sail to Kythera with us. So far we haven’t seen a ferry.  We had a wonderful dinner one street back from the waterfront.

Restaurants and bars are great in Chania,
Restaurants and bars are great in Chania, Barbara’s farewell dinner

The sunset was wonderful and James left the boat to go and take this photo of the Venetian Lighthouse.

Chania Twilight
Chania Twilight

Chania gave us a warm welcome and I can forsee a visit to Crete without a yacht to walks its gorges and canyons and see the middle and southern part of the island.

Knossos – home of the Minotaur

Do you remember the myth of Theseus slaying the Minotaur? The Minotaur was half bull – half man and liked to feast on the children of Greece. The children who were good gymnasts could stay alive by leaping over the bulls back, but in the end Theseus slayed the Minotaur and escaped the Labyrinth. There is conjecture that the Palace of Knossos was the labyrinth because it was so large and had so many rooms and corridors.

The frescoes are painted in rich, vibrant colours.  They are so large and bright, their effect is visceral. The buildings are almost modern in construction. Here are some photos.

The Throne Room at Knossos
The Throne Room at Knossos

 

Charging bull fresco shows the building shape
Charging bull fresco shows the building’s modern shape
Olive groves flourish in the volcanic soil
Olive groves flourish in the volcanic soil
Minoan Crete fresco, circa 1700 bc
Minoan Crete fresco, circa 1700 bc
The Charging Bull fresco
The Charging Bull fresco

One’s eyes are drawn to the green in the distance and then to the bright, intense colour of the frescoes surrounded by cream stone buildings.