Today we decided to get away from history and seriousness and just enjoy looking at creepy objects, so we visited – get ready for a mouthful! – the Zmuidzinavicius Museum. It is much better known as the Devil’s Museum. We had heard that Kaunas has a lot of quirky museums, and this one was close to our hotel, as well as something fun for us, as we so enjoy horror movies. Antanas Zmuidzinavicius lived from 1876 to 1966. He had been collecting devil statues and images during his lifetime, and upon his death in 1966 left 260 devil objects. A museum was opened in his home to display them, but people began to donate to the museum, and today it has more than 3,000 items. Worldwide, more than 5,000 legends and folk tales mention the devil. In Lithuania, there are about 400 places named for the devil, such as Devil’s Hole, Devil’s Bog, and Devil’s Swamp.
The devil with two legs crushing him in the third photo is especially noteworthy, as it is from Holy Trinity Church in Laizuva, a Lithuanian city near the Latvian border. Sculpted in the late 18th century, it is taken from the Altar of Michael the Archangel, ordered by God to trample the rebellious devil into hell. It was given to Mr. Zmuidzinavicius by the parson of the church in 1914, who sawed off the legs and the trampled devil from the rest of the large sculpture, as it couldn’t be taken to Kaunas by train in its entirety.
We will let you just look at many depictions in the photos that follow, although in the museum they were arranged broadly by subject matter, country, or folklore stories, which were most amusing. You will see sculptures and masks; the devil caught in the act of killing, as well as, once again, being killed by Michael the Archangel; devils made of wood, glass, ceramic, and fibers; devils made to be cups; part of a 1958 devil dinnerware set; devils playing the accordion…hmmmm, what does that tell us?….but no offense to polka bands or Cousin Joe; devils on the restroom doors; and finally, we end with a cute devil sign on the front lawn….we are not sure what the prohibition is, do you know?
We had been told by several Lithuanians that the Old Town in Kaunas was quite different than that in Vilnius – older, more intact, more medieval, just “different” – and it is! The stone streets are extremely bumpy and uneven, with some areas sinking in, feeling like they have been there for centuries. Buildings have both Dutch and German ornamentation. There are lots of flowers everywhere, and naturally, lots of churches. The city was founded at the confluence of the Neris and Neman Rivers. Jan’s maternal grandfather was born here in 1889, and left with his father for the US in 1900, so we wondered if he had walked on the same streets and would recognize the older buildings if he were still alive. It is a good feeling to think of sharing those memories of the past in the present day.
The churches! First up is the Kaunas Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, first mentioned in the year 1413. It doesn’t look like there is room for one more statue or one more speck of gold….quite a feast for the eyes! The second photo is of the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or Church of Vytautus the Great, consecrated in the year 1400, and an important example of classic Gothic architecture in Lithuania. The third photo is St. Francis Xavier Church, dating to 1722, and a stone’s throw away across Town Hall Square from the cathedral! Its spires are the ones you see in subsequent photos of the Old Town.
The fourth church is St. Michael the Archangel, dating to 1895. Built as an Orthodox Church, during the Soviet years it was used as an art gallery, and today it is a Roman Catholic Church. It is at the beginning – or end – of a very long pedestrian walkway, some of which is presently under construction. The walkway (and church) can be seen below in the photos from around town. The fifth photo is not a church, but is Kaunas City Hall, known as “the white swan,” set in between two of the Old Town churches!
Following Town Hall is a gorgeous Gothic brick building, Perkunas House. Read the description in the following photo as to the house’s importance. After that is a courtyard at the College of St. Ignatius of Loyola with beautiful, unusual planters backed up by Angels’ Trumpet flowers, followed by several photos from around the city, including some of the flowers along our route. The weather alternated between very dark and cloudy and sunshine! It finally rained as we walked back to our hotel, but alternated all day long.
There is a photo of the Neman River with the sentiment, “Together, We Love Kaunas.” That is followed by…???…we don’t know! It is a large stone with a wheel on one side, sitting on a corner in Old Town. Several people had gathered around, asking what it was. There was no sign and no information we could find on the internet, so we are not sure. Following that is a photo that looks mighty strange. Can you guess what it is? Black coconut ice cream with raspberry sauce and berries! It tasted great…lots of coconut, but made our lips and tongues black for a few hours. We end with – ahem – a famous Shakespeare quotation. You surely will recognize it.
The Motherland….Lithuania…..at least for Jan, whose grandparents were born in Lithuania and immigrated to the United States around 1900. So many things are making more sense about the foods she ate growing up, about talking with her grandparents and learning various Lithuanian words, and about other family traditions. When you are a child, you accept everything as normal until you find out that what is normal for you is not necessarily so for everybody!
So our first stop is Vilnius, the capital city, which was founded near the confluence of the Neris and Vilnia Rivers. The city’s history is long and complicated. At one time, Lithuania was the largest country in Europe. But you know all about attacks, occupations by other countries, and takeovers….they happen. The country has had historical affiliations with Russia, Poland, the German Empire, the Soviet Union, and Nazi Germany, among others. Lithuania celebrates two dates of independence: February 16, 1918 was Restoration of the State Day, and March 11, 1990 is the Restoration of Independence Day. Lithuania was the first former Soviet country to break away in 1990, and all the others followed as the Soviet Union disintegrated.
There are a LOT of photos today, and we won’t get to describe all of them or tell all the stories, or this will be a book! But we are starting with buildings, and the first three are noteworthy. First up is the National Library, which looks so proud and regal, and the Lithuanian flag and EU flag are flying alongside it. Next up is Gothic St. Anne’s Church, with a great story. When Napoleon visited Vilnius in 1812, legend says that he was so taken with the church that he said he wanted to carry it in his palm back to Paris, as it was so beautiful. There is no historical documentation of that, however, but he did actually write to his wife that Vilnius was very beautiful. The third photo is the former Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Consolation, an Augustinian Catholic Church. Of the many churches in Old Town, only four escaped closure during the Soviet occupation. Not only did Masses cease, but the remaining churches were ransacked, desecrated, and put to other uses such as warehouses, sports halls, and museums. So now the city is still figuring out how to either restore these former churches or re-purpose them. So, this church in the third photo has a chapel on the top floor, used for Mass; a meeting hall for AA and other meetings; and the plans are for a coffee shop/music venue in the basement staffed by disabled people. They don’t need as many churches as previously, and the only other option is the wrecking ball, so they are trying to preserve their heritage by keeping the churches in operation somehow.
After the many photos of churches, we come to the Republic (Res Publika) of Uzupis, a bohemian artists’ area smack in the middle of Old Town Vilnius that means the other side of the river, meaning the Vilnia River. It is quite the place, huh? They couldn’t really call themselves a government entity such as republic, so they broke the word in half, and it means “a public thing.” The symbols on the sign mean you must always smile in Uzupis; the speed limit is 20 kph; it is for artists; and, be careful not to drive into the river! After that are photos of some of the artwork and Backpacker Jesus, or, as others claim, Parachuter Jesus. Do you love the swing over the Vilnia River? We wondered if anyone had ever used it, and how they got on it!
The yellow sign means No Parking, and do you see the car being run over with a tank on the bottom? That came from a viral video in 2011, where it looked like the mayor of Vilnius at the time ran over illegally parked cars with a tank. It was reported as serious news until it was found that it was a doctored video made for a TV show. But, 8 years later, the symbol is still being used as a tongue-in-cheek reminder of no parking. The set of teeth you see was mounted on a wall with many other objects, and is meant to remind us not to be “bitten” by criticism from others.
The photo after the metal pig is of Ieva, our fabulous Old Town guide on a Free Walking Tour, which we have joined in several cities. She was probably the most interesting, and best, that we have ever had. The photo is of restaurant tables purposely set out on the street so that cars can’t drive through, making the street a pedestrian walkway. She told us that Lithuanians are mad about their cars and will drive them down any small, winding alley, no matter how impossible. It was nice walking there without worrying about cars coming up behind us.
After that are squares, statues, shops, and street scenes so that we could just give you a sense of the city. Then you see a storefront with a model wearing a shirt with…Los Angeles, California??? They are wild for US items here. We put it in because we have noticed in every single country we have been to…all 101 of them!…we have yet to see a t-shirt or hoodie in any language except English! Especially popular are sports teams…in English, even if the team is in Japan or South Korea! Amazing. Most of the music in restaurants and malls is also in English.
The third photo from the end is Lithuania’s most famous soup, cold red beet soup with hot potatoes on the side, or what many travelers call “that good pink soup.” It is sweet/vinegary, with sour cream in it, and so far we have had it every day…it is that good!…AND Jan’s Mom always made it, but Jan thought it was something her mom invented, not knowing it was practically the national soup of Lithuania. Second to last photo: in Snekutis Pub, where we had the soup and four other ethnic delights, there is a breathalyzer machine at the exit. Yes, for one euro, you can discover how drunk you are! If you were very drunk, however, it probably wouldn’t occur to you to test your breath. Just sayin’. The last photo is also a machine, seen in the Vilnius Bus Station. You can buy soft contact lenses from a vending machine! One pair for 5 euros, or 6 pairs for 20 euros. It seems that here, you don’t need a prescription for contact lenses. We were astonished. At a bus station. Bausch and Lomb. Yikes. We ♥️ Lithuania!
That famous city, Bialystok, you have heard of it? Not so much? It is the tenth-largest city in Poland and is second in terms of population density. Located on the Biala River, it is close to Poland’s border with Belarus and Lithuania. In fact, we had to be sure to schedule a bus from here to Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, that did NOT go to Grodno in Belarus, even though the route is more direct by cutting through the northwest corner of Belarus. Americans may only enter the country through its international airport, as we read in several different places, so we don’t know what would happen if we were mindlessly on a bus or train that traveled through Belarus. Anyway, we are only here overnight to break up the long journey between Warsaw and Vilnius. But we have been surprised, as the city has an old town area and some very charming sights.
First up in the photos is Branicki Palace, completed in the early 18th century by a wealthy nobleman. Like so many places in Poland, the original building was burned to the ground by the retreating Germans in 1944, but the exterior was faithfully restored to its former glory. The second picture is of the entryway, the Griffin Gate, followed by a statue of Hercules fighting a dragon at the entrance. Next up is a glimpse of the (get ready, it’s a mouthful) Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, seen from Branicki Palace, followed by a full frontal shot of its facade in all its magnificence. And of course, after that is a shot of its beautiful interior and one of the stained glass windows.
Afar the church photos is one of a pretty yellow and white building that we thought was probably Town Hall, as it was on the square and looked very historic. We don’t know what it was originally (the text was all in Polish), but it is now a kindergarten. The photo following that one, at the end of the square, is the actual Town Hall, with its pretty orange roof and spire. Next up is a frame in the middle of the square to take a fun photo of the old town. We are seeing these in more and more cities, and they make for a good photo. That is followed by some buildings we liked around the town as we walked, and we end with flowers, as they were everywhere. The white-flowered shrub was about 5 feet tall and looked really nice in front of the cathedral. The last two were across the street from one another. We don’t know who inspired who, but it made for a nice surprise when we looked up to see all that color!
There used to be a Polish restaurant in Santa Monica/LA, California called Warsawa. It is how we discovered that Warsawa is the Polish word for their capital city, Warsaw. Jan’s favorite food on earth is pierogi, a pillow of soft dough filled with potatoes and cheese, boiled, and topped with onions. Last night’s version here in the “original place” are shown in the first photo, and it cost $4 US for nine pierogi. At the CA restaurant, today called Solidarity, it costs $6 for two. We also had stuffed cabbage for $5 and a bowl of borscht for $2. Do you see where we are going with this? Poland is a very inexpensive place to live. We also want to a movie at the Kinoteka, shown in the second photo. It is inside the Palace of Culture and Science, not necessarily because movies can be cultural, but rather, we guess that there was money to be made by renting out portions of the “Palace.” Anyway, we spent $8 US at the theater, and do you know what we got for that amount? Two movie tickets, a large popcorn, and a Diet Coke. In the US, those items would amount to almost $40! By the way, if you are traveling extensively and speak English, it is really nice to relax with a current American movie every once in a while. In most countries, the movie will play in its original English with subtitles in a country’s native language. The box office folks always know a movie’s primary language.
The third photo is the front of the building as seen from across the street. Great looking building. After that are two views of the Royal Castle, which fronts Castle Square. It is now a museum. Having been looted and burned to the ground by the Nazis in 1944 after the failed Warsaw Uprising, it was rebuilt during the 1970s and early 1980s. After those photos are a few of Old Town Market Square, which was pretty lively both during the day and at night. Up and down the streets of Old Town were groups of musicians, sometimes with singers, but always with at least one accordion, competing for attention and some zloty. We heard several polkas!
The church shown after the Lighted Balloon Man is St. John’s Archcathedral, the mother church of the Archdiocese of Warsaw, and is immediately adjacent to Warsaw’s Jesuit Church. In the Warsaw Uprising, the Germans rammed a tank filled with explosives into the cathedral and blew it up, destroying most of it. In the parts that were still standing, they drilled holes in the walls and placed explosives to essentially finish off the cathedral. Rebuilt after WWII, the unusual design of the top is based on how the original 14th century church looked. The inside has soaring brick ribs along with numerous chapels that are quite modern, as shown. We were there for a noon organ recital today, which was excellent. The pipe organ dates to 1987 and has 4,301 pipes.
As usual, following the church are buildings whose design, artwork, or statues we liked. The citadel is Fort Legionow, near one end of Old Town. The last two photos were fun to see….dressing up in period dress so that their friends could take photos, and another guy hanging out at the Castle Inn!
Here we go again! We are a little obsessed with Prague, mostly because we wish we had scheduled more time here. But we will return for a longer period of time in the future and indulge our Czech obsession.
There are two famous towers in Prague, and they are shown in the first two photos. The Powder Tower at night is most dramatic and imposing, as shown in the first photo. Henry’s Tower, with the clock, shown in the second photo during the day, is equally dramatic. Both have those famous Prague spires! The third photo is a repeat of yesterday’s first photo, but shown at night…realize that there are no lights on the spires; the gold “helmets” gleaming are just reflecting the light. Pretty nice, huh?
The next two photos are of St. Giles Church, where we attended a concert last night of famous organ toccatas (by Bach, Boellmann, and Widor) along with a string quartet playing some audience favorites such as Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and Ravel’s Bolero. If you love movies, and have a really sharp eye, you will recognize St. Giles as the setting for Mozart’s wedding in Amadeus! After the church is a shot of the National Museum, which sits at the end of Wenceslas Square, which really is just a grand avenue of shops, parks with benches, and restaurants, as seen in context in the photo that follows it.
And, of course, what else could follow all of that except some gorgeous buildings from around the city that caught our eyes? And the last photo, which is usually our favorite due to subject matter or playfulness, is one of this guy hanging around as we approached the church for last night’s concert.
Praha. Prague. “City of Spires.” And it certainly is, as you can see in many of the photos! Prague has been settled since the Paleolithic Age. Its extensive historic center has been on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites since 1992. Incredibly, it is the fourth most-visited European city after London, Paris, and Rome! That means it receives more visitors than…Madrid, Barcelona, Dublin, Berlin, Florence, Vienna… places that are historic and also very memorable. But, we must say, we are not surprised, as there were hordes of tourists wherever we went over the past few days. We did a long tour through Europe in 2015, and Prague was near or at the top of our favorites, precisely because it is so beautiful, grand, and historic. The Old Town has cobblestone streets and sidewalks, and as we walked, we talked about the workers who placed the cobblestones so very many years ago. It must have been backbreaking work, as there are many miles of stonework. There are shops, restaurants, and cafes along all the streets, main routes and alleyways alike. We came across many puppet shops, a Czech specialty, as well as lots of Bohemia glasswork and amber jewelry. Popular Czech foods are local goulash, grilled meats with vegetables, and of course, hamburgers and pizza. We had some fairly good Mexican food last night with some spicy salsa, which reminded us of California. And everywhere, as you will see below, there are “chimney cakes” for dessert. Dough is wrapped around a cone-shaped piece of metal and deep fried, then rolled in cinnamon sugar. It used to be eaten just like that, as a donut, which you could peel off in strips. But they have upped their game today. It is now used as a better-than-a-waffle ice cream cone, filled with soft-serve or hard-packed ice cream. Or, you can get it filled with strawberries, vanilla pudding, and whipped cream; apples and whipped cream; with chocolate sauce over ice cream or berries, or both….you get the picture! The more you pile on, the more you pay, but everybody was walking around eating one of the versions, and taking a photo with the poster, as you can see in one of our photos.
The magnificent first photo looks like a Gothic castle out of Grimm’s fairy tales, but it is a church that looms over the Old Town Square: Church of Our Lady before Tyn, sporting soaring 260-foot medieval towers. The church dates from the 14th century, and not only has amazing towers; architecturally speaking, the exterior also has octagonal helmets, galleries, four corner turrets, gables, and rows of phial tops. Its name comes from its location just before the Tyn courtyard. It, along with St. Nicholas Church and Old Town Hall, now dominates the Old Town Square. The second and third photos are of St. Nicholas Church, followed by four of the square’s activity. The eighth is of the Prague Orloj, the oldest astronomical clock still operating in the world, dating from 1410. The photo after that is of the clock’s home, Old Town Hall, still a magnificent tower building. After that are a few buildings that we just really liked. The giant panda and gorilla (wearing a sash that naughtily says Miss Prague 2019) are staples in the square, and their faces are actually in the mesh on the costumes’ chests, which means they are top-heavy; as they stand there, they gently sway back and forth. Yes, it was hot and they must have been roasting inside, but yes, also, there was a donation box in front of each of them. We must note that the activity, hustle, bustle, and variety of things happening in Old Town Square are just amazing. First, there are hundreds of people. Then there are many more people sitting in cafes drinking, eating, and observing. And, in addition to the costumed animals, there are several people with giant wands blowing soap bubbles all over; street buskers playing accordions, a violin trio, a Big Band singer; people sitting wherever they can and just enjoying the scene; everyone is taking photos; and some people are taking videos of it all. It is busy, and wild, and wonderful!
After the giant animals is a closeup of one of the towers flanking the end of the Charles Bridge, arguably Prague’s most famous and most beloved landmark, followed by one of 30 statues that line the route along the bridge from Old Town to the Lesser Quarter (which, by the way, looks just like more of the old town). You can see by the size of the statue that these are immense, not dainty small sculptures. Crossing the bridge is like walking on a wide street. Completed at the beginning of the 15th century, Charles Bridge’s construction began under King Charles IV. It spans the Vltava River, but has only been called Charles Bridge since 1870. After the statue is the bridge from upriver, and a view of Prague Castle, which survived WWII along with the bridge. The two following photos are approaching the Lesser Quarter through a wonderful arch, opening into more shops.
The next photo is called the Narrowest Street in Prague, as noted on tourist sites and even Google Maps. But as we photographed it and waited to enter, a tour guide told his group that it was actually just an entryway into a restaurant, cleverly promoted by the owner to get people to come! And…it worked! We had to wait for two huge tour groups to move along before we could get close. The last five photos are the fun ones….a puppet shop, a beautiful toy store, a whipped cream chimney cake (as described above), and….what is that next to last photo? Looks weird, huh? Actually, it is from a candy store and is of silver candy-covered almonds. The last photo was too good not to post. It is a Mexican restaurant menu….look at what they call an “Outstanding exotic meal!” and “Recommended to eat by hands!” You might think the year was 1919, not 2019!
Where to start? Vienna is magical, beautiful, fun, classic, classy, sophisticated, cozy….anything you want it to be, you will find here! The buildings are astounding, the taxis, Ubers, and subways easy to find and use, the food is absolutely delicious (think Wiener schnitzel and apple strudel!), the people warm and charming. It is everything you hope for when you travel. Known as the City of Music, there are posters for concerts everywhere you look, and even many people in Mozart costumes hawking tickets as you pass by them!
Evidence indicates that Vienna has been inhabited since 500 BC, when Celts settled on the Danube River. The city was heavily bombed in early 1945 by the Allies, destroying most of the Opera House and St. Stephen’s Cathedral, both proud symbols of the city and both seen in our photos. A total of 80,000 tons of bombs were dropped on Vienna in February and March, 1945, destroying more than 12,000 buildings and leaving 270,000 people homeless. But it has been rebuilt, of course, and most buildings look as if they have been nestled in for centuries.
The first seven photos are of the Opera House. We have been in Vienna several times over the last few years and always seek out sights we missed on previous visits. So, this time we were going to tour the Opera House. To our chagrin, the only days it was closed for tours this month were the five days we are here! When we mentioned that to our friends Filip and Milada, Filip said he would take us in and give us a tour, as he is a musician in the Vienna Philharmonic and had rehearsal there this morning. And so, we were the only ones in the concert hall! It was amazing, as we got to stand in the orchestra pit and walk to all the levels to take photos. So, you can see the beauty and grandeur of the building in the first three photos, and then the small plywood room with a chair and monitor, where someone sits to provide help for singers if they forget the words of a song! This is just behind the orchestra, under the stage. The room with the five chandeliers is where potential members of the orchestra audition. The jury is behind the wall at the very end, so they are only listening for technique, precision, etc., and not judging by who the person is. We asked Filip, “Were you very nervous when you auditioned?” He answered, “Of course, yes!”
After the Opera photos are several of the Votivkirche…the Votive Church, which is also known as a Thank You Church, constructed around the world as thanks to God for some terrible event being thwarted. In this instance, it was thanks for the life of the Emperor Franz Joseph I following an unsuccessful assassination attempt. It is quite startling, approaching the church from down the street, to think you see a gigantic beer advertisement over the front facade of the church, and then to get closer and realize that you are not crazy…it is a beer ad! But then, walking around the side, you notice the gargoyles and the gorgeous Baroque gingerbread decoration on the top of the church. The inside is magnificent, too…a high vaulted ceiling with paintings, statues, and older stained glass windows, with new richly colored windows below.
After the church, off to the amusement park, Prater Park. It is one of the remaining parks that are free to enter (as Disneyland was, at one time), and you buy tickets for the rides that you wish to enjoy. It has two Ferris wheels, so we all went on the higher, bigger one on a cloudy day so that from the top we could get that iconic shot of the Riesenrad, the 1897-ish Ferris wheel featured in several movies, most notably, Orson Welles’ The Third Man. We say 1897-ish because the original was bombed and destroyed in WW II, but was such a beloved sight in the city that it was rebuilt and reopened in 1947, albeit with fewer cars. The cars can be rented for parties or romantic dinners! Always a new way to make a buck…. The photo following it is one of the weird sculptures around the park. Every building seemed to be decorated with statues that were freaky, scary, or unusual. But it didn’t seem to faze the children too much, as even though it was cloudy and rainy with creepy sculptures, there were many children around! We had dinner at the Rollercoaster Restaurant, a giant room with (small) roller coaster tracks overhead. You order your food on an iPad (no servers present), and it is made and packed in the kitchen and sent to your table on tiny roller coaster cars that careen down from the ceiling, right to your table! The children delighted in that aspect, as well as the frequent light/music shows, but we old folks also found it to be fun.
After the Prater Park photos is the another Vienna icon, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, in the heart of the city. Known around the world as Stephandom, it was first built in the 10th century, burned down in a fire, and was rebuilt with various towers and additions over the centuries. As you can see, it is impressive both inside and outside. As we mentioned previously, it was bombed and caught fire in WWII, destroying the roof and much of the building. By 1952, it had been restored and reopened. It is known for its tiled roof, and inside, look at those columns! They are also carved and decorated, making them both functional and beautiful.
Following the photos of St. Stephen’s are just an array of gorgeous buildings we noticed as we walked around Vienna. As we said in a previous post, we are always looking UP, and we see buildings topped with statues, paintings, mosaics, gold detail….stunning stuff that we would otherwise miss. We don’t know what all the buildings are, we just like them. Let them wash over you as you just enjoy the sights. The last photo is of Karlskirche, the church of St. Charles Borromeo, completed in 1737. Considered the most outstanding baroque church in Vienna, it also is a Votive Church, built by Charles VI after a plague epidemic, as St. Charles was considered the patron saint and healer of plague sufferers. It is most impressive, set on a large square with a fountain, and benches ringing the fountain. It was really nice to be able to sit and enjoy the people and sights for a while. In traveling full time, we often have the need for somewhere to sit, but more often than not, public seating is not provided by cities. We assume it is because they want us to patronize a business and buy a drink and a seat, so it is a very welcome treat when benches invite us in!
Czech Republic, you say? Where is that? There is a Czechia on the map, but no Czech Republic! Well….there are disagreements over the country’s official name dating to 1992, when in the so-called velvet divorce, Czechoslovakia divided into two independent states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Czechia was put forth as a name, but rejected as sounding too much like Chechnya. But in April 2016, the country’s president pushed through a bill officially changing the name to…Czechia. The only problem is, citizens still call it the Czech Republic, or, like our Czech friends Filip and Milada, just call it Czech. The president’s own website, more than three years later, still refers to the Czech Republic! So, we felt entitled to use it in our title, too!
Our friend Filip picked us up on Saturday morning and drove us to his family’s summer/weekend home, just over the Austrian border in….well, Czech! They bought a former pension, a small hotel with a few apartments, but only for their own use. It is in the town of Slup, and has several apartment buildings and barn in addition to their home, a huge courtyard, and lots of acreage, with peach and apricot trees (they just made a batch of apricot schnapps that was quite powerful!), and two resident wild boars who are very friendly and calm. In fact, the boars tend to run when they see the two older children, as they like to jump on, and ride their backs!
So, first up in the photos is the idyllic back of the family’s property, with a small pond, bench, and part of the fence whose posts are topped with hundreds of upside-down mugs! It is also the area where the boars reside, and they forage food for themselves when the family is back in Vienna, where their main residence is. After these first two photos is an ancient water mill in the town of Slup, built in 1512 in the Renaissance style. Also shown are three of its four undershot water wheels. It is built on the Dyje River, also shown in the pretty scene following the shots of the mill.
The beautiful church, up next, is St. Nicholas in the city of Znojmo, built high up on the bluff a short distance across from Znojmo Castle. It contains what is said to be the remains of St. Boniface, excavated from the Roman catacombs, and they have dressed the skeleton in bejeweled period clothing. The photo following the full glass casket is a closeup of his skull. After that is a unique painting, that of a pregnant Blessed Virgin Mary, which is seldom depicted in art. The photo after that is of the adjacent St. Wenceslas Chapel (St. Wenceslas is the patron saint of the Czech Republic). On the ceiling are actual statues, not paintings – you can see that they cast a shadow! And the highly stylized date is there, 1602. From a walkway along the right side of the chapel are breathtaking views of the mountainside covered with houses and vineyards, looking down to the Dyje River.
The last nine photos are just typical scenes of the city that we enjoyed…buildings, streets, flower-filled homes and windows, walkways, a male angel looking over his kingdom, a fountain honoring St. Wenceslas with the clearest water we have ever seen, and a checkered eagle that is part of the Czech Republic’s coat of arms, depicting the Moravian eagle. After 10 months away from the US, it was a very special day with a great family showing us around and allowing us a day of play and laughter with their three children, who never once cried, whined, or complained. It was one of our most delightful days of travel so far, sheer delight.