1-14 to 1-19-2014 Coastal Corpus Christi

the beach on north Padre IslandWe discovered almost as soon as we parked in the NAS at Corpus Christi, that our short time here would only be enough to barely get a taste of all this area has to offer.  Especially in winter, the south Texas coast draws many snowbirds from all over the country ready to experience the delights of a warm seacoast location for an extended stay. 

For years, Mo had read about the draw to the South Texas Coast for retirees and wanted to see the area.  Port Isabel, South Padre Island, and Brownsville destinations were originally on the list of places for us to go on this trip.  Initially we actually planned to drive south for a long day trip to explore from our NAS location, but discovered that the trip to South Padre Island required a 400 mile round trip inland and back out to the southern end of the island which is no longer connected in any way to the northern end.

Visiting the National Seashore was much higher on our list than checking out giant high rise condos on South Padre Island, and it didn’t take many internet searches for us to make that decision.  Instead, we stayed fairly close to our campground, taking each day to explore a different part of greater Corpus Christi.

The NAS is at point A on the google map, and other sites often required a bit of backtracking.  We actually got pretty good at figuring out how to get in and out of the base and onto the network of one way roads that parallel the main freeway that crosses from Corpus Christi Bay to Padre Island.

On our first full day here, we decided to just try to get our bearings, do some driving, and attempt to understand a part of the world that was completely new to us.  Driving….west? east??  (this place is still a directional challenge for me) oh yes…It was east and then north….we crossed the Laguna Madre, a large brackish water lagoon that extends the full length of Padre Island, the longest natural barrier island in the world, and lies between the island Captureand the mainland.

driving on the beach on north Padre IslandThese barrier islands are incredibly important on coastlines that are susceptible to hurricanes, stopping the major surge of water before it inundates the mainland with its full force.  Mustang Island is north of Padre Island, an additional island in the chain of many such barrier islands.  Mustang Island is home to a state park, some official paddling trails on the bay side, and a long, level open beach for strolling.  The beach is also for driving, a new concept to me except for a moment in Daytona Beach.

Here the beach drive makes sense.  The Gulf water is the mother of all, and tire tracks along the beach are obliterated with each movement of the water.  There are access roads from the main island highway that enter the beach between the dunes at several intervals.  4 wheel drive isn’t required, but there are warnings about getting stuck in the sand, and we did see a few stuck cars.

Padre Island and_074What was surprising, though, was how open and empty the beach seemed, even with the option of driving.  Cars and people were few and far between, punctuated rarely by a motorhome, and pickups with huge fishing poles mounted on their bumpers.  I think fishing is the big draw in this part of this area.  I had no idea what a sheepshead was but daughter Deborah caught one on this very beach. That is one scary looking ugly fish!  those teeth!!

Padre Island and_067We drove the beach slowly, enjoying the gentle surf and birds, and then continued into Port Aransas to find the free ferry that crosses the bay in just a few minutes to Aransas Pass.  It is amazing how efficiently the workers manage the load, and when we left town on Monday morning, they managed our motorhome and toad with as much ease as they had managed our previous trips with just the baby car.

I had heard from Erin that there were “whoopers” just outside Goose Island State Park, and armed with well written directions, we drove north through Fulton Beach, across the bridge and out beyond the state park to try to find the birds.  At the time, I kept getting comments saying, “don’t miss the whoopers!”, so I figured I had better make the effort.  After we found the pair, resting in a small draw on a large field of private land, I did some searching and discovered that I had a very fuzzy image of 2 of only 457 birds that are known to exist.  Well.  Alright then!.  Being on private land, we were not able to walk close, and my lens just couldn’t quite get there.  But with the rarity of these birds, I feel pretty lucky to have any photo at all.Padre Island and_150

We were just a short distance from the famous “Big Tree”, a live oak that is more than 1,000 years old.  Folks have spent a huge amount of time and energy taking care of this tree.  I can imagine Sherry trying to hug it, but she couldn’t get close enough with the protective fences.  The stories of the hurricanes and development that this beautiful old tree has survived are uncountable.Padre Island and_127

Ambling back through Fulton Beach, we found a moderately recommended restaurant on the water for lunch.  Alice Faye’s had not a sign of “fish and chips” on the menu, the main reason Mo and I were searching for a restaurant.  Padre Island and_122Coastal locations set the mouth to watering for some real fish and chips.  Instead, once again, we found lots of shrimp and oysters, and the catch of the day, fried or naked, was pollack, and was a bit pricey for a spontaneous lunch. Instead, I had some shrimp which was OK and Mo had a French dip which was actually pretty fantastic.

We were home early enough in the afternoon on that day that I could take full advantage of the free washers and dryers at the campground to once again freshen up all the rugs and blankets and anything else that might have a trace of kitty hair on it.  Loved that most of all about that campground, I can tell you!Corpus Christi_014

On another day we opted to go downtown to check out the city of Corpus Christi.  There are some quirkie things about this city that are a bit hard to figure out.  Some areas are truly gorgeous, and the seawall and beautiful kiosks provide wonderful photo ops with all the reflections.  Corpus Christi_012

The Art Museum and Science Museum are at the end of the Ocean Drive, and the area seems a bit deserted, especially on a Saturday. Corpus Christi_025

It is worth seeking out the beautiful Watergarden falls on the grounds of the museum. The approach to the waterfall is a rippling stream with stone square blocks that create a small rapid.  The sound is gentle and lovely.  There is nothing quite like the roar of the falls down the steps within the circle of the cascading water.  It is as wild and loud as many waterfalls I have experienced. The artist understood sound as a work of art as well as vision.

In that same area were large expanses that appeared to be devastated by a hurricane and nothing had been rebuilt.  Felt a bit strange. The large bridge in the photo above is the Harbor Bridge that crosses Corpus Christi Bay northeast to Portland, Texas.01-18-2014 Corpus Christi

Looking up the history, the only really big hurricane was in 1919 and the areas we were seeing were all warehouse districts at that time.  In the same vicinity is Heritage Park, a delightful project of 9 beautiful huge homes, relocated from various parts of the city to this little neighborhood.  The craziest thing we saw was the old Nueces County Courthouse, built in 1914, with some pretty amazing historical moments in its past.  Abandoned in 1977, the huge and beautiful building sits empty and rotting behind a chain link fence right near the downtown part of the city.

the Nueces coutrhouse was abandoned in 1977 built in 1914Best part of the day for us was a visit to the Railroad Seafood Station and Brewery downtown on Chaparral. The atmosphere was typical brewery, once an old warehouse, with lots of open industrial stuff on the ceiling, dark colors and wooden tables and booths.  I tried one of their current brews, a blond something that was pretty hoppy, but just as our wonderful waiter told me, after three sips it was perfect.  The menu was fabulous, but of course, no fish and chips.  Mo opted instead for some kind of specialty onion rings, with a bit of sweetness and homemade tartar sauce with very finely chopped veggies.

something extra tasty about these onion rings and spicy tartar sauceI opted for the the specialty coconut shrimp and the two sides of veggies and potatoes I chose with a homemade sweet chili sauce were what Sean, our waiter, called the Holy Trinity of food in that restaurant.  He wasn’t exaggerating.  Those little red potatoes were buttery smooth, with edges crisped and roasted with perfectly caramelized onions.  The fresh veggies were tender crisp and only lightly seasoned with herbs and lemon.  The home made chili sauce was the perfect hotness for the best coconut shrimp ever to pass my lips. Remember, I ate coconut shrimp a few years ago in Key West!.  I ended the meal with Sean’s own homemade key lime pie.  Sean and I exchanged email addresses and he wants me to write to him when I get to Key West to let him know if their pie is any better than his.

tender roasted potatoes with caramelized onions, sweet chili sauce for the coconut shrimp and delicate tender crisp veggies in a lemony light sauceYes, it was perfect.  Soft yellow as key lime should be, with a crust thin enough that it didn’t overpower the pie, and without that fake cheesecake taste and texture you now get in some key lime pie recipes from various locations.  Yes, it was a meal to remember, and it was a good thing I didn’t completely wear out my swooning abilities because our meal with Erin and Mui was the very next day!

If you click on my google photos link on the left side of the blog, there are a ton of photos there if you are interested.

Next up: Padre Island National Seashore and a morning kayak at Shamrock Cove

Ships Passing in the Night…errr….Evening

walks_002DSC_0002If some of these photos look a bit familiar to you, it might be because Mo and I decided to end our Desert Hot Springs trip with a visit to the Palm Springs Thursday Night Street Fair.  Today while catching up on blogs as we drove north on I-5, I saw Rick’s post about attending the same street fair.  In fact, he even took a photo of the restaurant where we were having dinner!  Unlike Rick, I was too overwhelmed with the crowds and the shops and the booths and the smells to remember to take many photos. I can’t believe we didn’t run into each other there, but then again, there were a LOT of people, and lots of doggies as well.

walks_022DSC_0022Our trip was a whirlwind, spent mostly driving back desert roads, and we didn’t decide until yesterday that it might be a good idea to eat Mexican one more time before packing up the rig for our early morning departure today.  I also wanted to see the Marilyn Monroe statue that has been highlighted on more than a few blogs lately.  We parked and walked and finally found it, right downtown in the very middle of the street fair.

In the past, we have had great meals at two Mexican Restaurants on this main drag, so decided to try Macarena’s for something new. Even though we were told it would be a half hour wait, within minutes my phone rang and our outside table was ready.  It was great having good food, a happy hour marguerita, and a good people watching spot in the middle of all the action.

walks_024DSC_0024In addition to all our desert drives, we managed a bit of relaxation while in the desert, and I swam and soaked in the pools every single day but one.  Love those pools.  We also walked the park, walked the surrounding desert a bit, and drove to La Quinta so that I could spend some time in a great quilt store, Monica’s Quilt.  Of course, I came out with a bag of gorgeous fabric and some new patterns.  I also got directions to the Quilter’s Faire in Palm Desert, hidden in an industrial area behind Wal-Mart and came away with another bag of fabric and a couple of good looking patterns.  Ah, Stash!  gotta love it.

Thursday_sun (9)[11]We decided to just make a beeline for home with only a one night stay in Lodi at the Flag City RV Resort.  This meant leaving this morning at 6:30 so that we could travel the lovely sunrise route north on Highway 247 to Barstow before turning east to cross the Tehachapis on Highway 58 to Bakersfield.

I was a bit bummed about not having time to stay one more night at the Orange Grove RV Park because I finished the last of my tree ripened oranges a few days ago.  I decided to take a chance and call the park, and sure enough the owners were friendly and wonderful and said, “Sure, just come on in and get a picker and pick yourself a bag.  No Charge”.  How is that for good advertising!  We pulled into the park and spent just half an hour picking another big bag of the incredibly sweet juicy oranges to take home with us.  Ahhhh.

Capture trip homeDriving into Bakersfield was dramatic as usual.  Looking down on the smog line from the elevation of the pass was intense, and once down in the valley the smog didn’t let up, ever.  We drove a good 250 miles through dingy smoggy air, all the way from Bakersfield to Lodi.  I had to go digging for eye drops.  I drove the first half of the trip through gorgeous, empty, clear desert, and Mo got the second half up the Five.  I think I got the better end of that deal!  We covered 496 miles today and settled into our spot here in Lodi just after five pm, in plenty of time to warm up the leftovers from last night’s great dinner at Macarena’s.

Tomorrow just under 400 miles and we will spend the night back in the Grants Pass Cottage.  Both of us are excited to see the new roof that was completed while we were gone, but neither of us is particularly excited about returning to cold weather.  It has been a great reprieve, and a wonderful two weeks of mostly warmth and sunshine.  Lucky Us!


Desert Love

Catalina Spa and RV Resort Desert Hot Springs, CA Clear and Sunny, Breezy, High 61F Lo 41F

the desert 1_025DSC_0025Sometimes for no reason at all, I miss the desert.  Most often, it is during the winter, when much of the desert near us is also in the throes of winter; high desert sage covered with snow and hunkering down under biting winds.  When we arrived at Desert Hot Springs on Friday afternoon, the skies were cloudy and it was raining lightly.  It wasn’t the desert that I envisioned, except perhaps for the pungent scent of creosote bush in the rain dampened air.  All desert dwellers and visitors know this smell, and most of us love it.

the desert 1_006DSC_0006We left San Diego in the rain that morning, choosing to drive through Julian and down highway 78 into Borrego Springs.  The drive is steep and winding, but nothing too difficult to handle.  Jeremy wasn’t  too happy about it, though, and kept trying to figure out how to get comfortable on his dash perch while Mo negotiated the curves.

the desert 1_011DSC_0011We had an especially good reason for taking this route through Anza Borrego to DHS.  Laurie and Odel were camped in the state park and on this soft rainy day were hanging around at home so we could visit.  What a treat it was to share some of Laurie’s great carnitas tacos and a glass of wine while we caught up a bit.  It was wonderful to see old friends on the road before we continued north to our destination.

the desert 1_016DSC_0016On Saturday we relaxed a bit and drove west on the freeway to check out the Premium Outlets, something I haven’t had a chance to do in the past.  I am glad I didn’t think I was going to do any great shopping there.  It seems that the only thing around are clothes, clothes, and more clothes, interspersed with shoes and more shoes.  It was spectacularly boring.  Even Chico’s was sad.  It seems that the Chico’s outlet stores don’t sell overstocks of their regular stuff and have made a bunch of cheap ugly stuff for the outlet (cheaper) stores.  Ugh.  I got away from the mall without buying anything but a nice red silicone scraper for the kitchen.  I won’t need to do that again.

the desert 1_022DSC_0022Even though we come to Desert Hot Springs to stay, it isn’t particularly this part of the desert that I miss.  There is traffic, there are lots of people, and there is desert garbage. There are telephone poles and windmills, cell towers camouflaged poorly as palm trees, and of course actual palm trees.  There are all kinds of desert dwellers, with chain link fences around properties filled with old furniture and cars, and estates that look like something from another planet surrounded by iron fences and huge gates. 

Pinto Valley on Old Dale RoadStill, this isn’t the desert I miss.  But yesterday, once again, I found the desert that calls to me when I am far away in the high precipitation zone of the Cascades.  With the promise of a mostly clear day ahead, we drove east to the south entrance of Joshua Tree National Park.  From the southern entrance of the park, not far from Interstate 10, there are many miles of narrow road winding through the warmer, drier Colorado Desert before you reach the more well known areas with weathered granite boulders and the huge yucca plants that are Joshua Trees on the higher, moister Mojave Desert zone.

the desert 1_040DSC_0040We were in the baby car, a nice change from our previous visits to the park in the MoHo, giving us the chance to meander, and to explore the roads designated for 4-wheelers.  A stop at the Cottonwood Spring visitor center was rewarded with a printout of things to do in the park if you have a dog.  That was so refreshing, since we are used to the usual restrictions against taking dogs just about anywhere in a national park except the parking lot. 

Old Dale Road over the Pinto MountainsWe could walk our dog on any road, including the dirt roads that are in many areas of the park that are rarely frequented by everyday visitors.  We decided on the Old Dale Road, exiting from the main park road about a third of the way in, and leading off into an endless vista of desert.  Not a car in sight, not a telephone pole or a fence that I could see for at least 50 miles distant toward the Coxcomb and Sheep Hole Mountains.  We crossed the Pinto Basin, speeding up for deeper sand, negotiating the washboards and just soaking up the open skies.  This is it.  This is the desert that I miss.  Open space, silence, a road ahead with no cars in sight.

the desert 1_062DSC_0062Mo and I both have memories of the deserts around Lancaster and Victorville, east toward Antelope Valley, and up toward Barstow when they looked as wild and empty and fresh as this desert before us. Memories of a single pair  of car lights at twilight, visible at least 20 miles away as you drive down a long grade to nowhere.  No More.  That part of the Mojave now is filled with traffic and cars and smog and trash everywhere you look.  It takes the foresight of a government  willing to set aside National Parks and wilderness to keep landscapes looking like this one.  Always.  My children’s children can come here and see the desert as it once was.  If they are lucky, it will be a clear day like this one where the smog from the south hasn’t permeated even into the wild lands of Joshua Tree.

the desert 1_071DSC_0071We made it about twelve miles in before we were stopped by some serious rocks and ruts that required a bit more 4 wheel drive than we wanted to do in the tracker.  Parking at the base of the Pinto Mountains, we hiked up to the park boundary.  The Old Dale Road continued over these mountains and down the other side to 29 Palms, but we wouldn’t be making the round trip as originally planned.

cholla, with lots of little babies taking root on the groundBack to the main road to continue north toward the campgrounds, we passed Ocotillo Flats, with ocotillos looking like dead empty sticks of nothing in this time before spring bloom.  A few more miles led us past the brilliantly backlit Cholla Gardens.  Do you know a single photographer in the desert who can resist photographing these “teddy bear cactus” when they are backlit by the sun??  Not me!

the desert 1_077DSC_0077We drove through the campgrounds, deciding that there would be plenty of room for a dry camp stay in Jumbo Rocks.  We saw many more little nooks and crannies and places that we could hike and play in the rocks on a cool winter day.  Even in what should be high winter season, the campgrounds were less than half full.  Next time we will plan for a few nights here when we come south. 

the desert 1_078DSC_0078The afternoon was waning, and we decided to save our other chosen 4 wheel drive route for a later day.  Instead we drove the short 20 minutes out to Keys View for a breathtaking vista of the Coachella Valley and the magnificently rugged mountain ranges all around us.  The San Andreas Fault stretched below us to the west, one of the more dramatic views of this great creator of the California landscape.  The sign at the the viewpoint had a photograph of the usual smog that covers the area, and a photo of what it might look like on a clear day.  We had the smogless day, and even with the clouds that hid Mt San Jacinto from view, the wild ranges that we could see stretching in all directions were stunning.

the desert 1_102DSC_0102Traveling the northwestern route out of the park toward Yucca Valley, we realized that it would be dark when we got home.  Mo said, “How about a pizza?”  I liked that idea and as we reached Joshua Tree I fired up the iPad to search for pizza.  The town of Joshua Tree yielded up only one place, Sams Pizza, and Yucca Valley had only a Domino’s.  We haven’t had any luck with Domino’s so Sam’s it was to be. 

the desert 1_106DSC_0106We drove back and forth a couple of times along the 29 Palms Highway and could only find Sam’s Market and Indian Food.  Finally in the fine print, in a sign in front of a tiny strip mall we saw it, Sam’s Indian Food with pizza and subs in the fine print.  Hmmmm.  Indian food is great but be wanted pizza.  The tiny restaurant turned out to be delightful, and the pizza was great, with a crust that was a bit more like naan than pizza crust  but completely delicious. 

The drive back home was short and sweet, and coming down that long grade into Desert Hot Springs was much less daunting than the first time we drove in the big rig.  The twinkling lights of Palm Springs welcomed us home after a truly perfect day in the desert.the desert 1_092DSC_0092

Free Day in Prague October 13, the very last and final post about this trip!

Prague Free Day 10-13-2012 11-09-52 AMcoffee.  the best part It was our last day in Prague and we woke to the beautiful blessing of gorgeous clear skies.  Melody and I had some important things we wanted from our day and first on that list was breakfast at the Municipal House in Prague.  Designed by Alphons Mucha, the building is one of the finest examples of the Art Nouveau style for which he was famous. 

our breakfast table was at the far end of the dining room in the alcoveThe walk to Republic Square was becoming quite familiar to us, and within fifteen minutes after leaving the hotel we were seated in the glorious sunlit restaurant.  Breakfast was a simple Czech omelet, served with a variety of peppers, but the coffee and the sunlight is what made the morning magical.

After breakfast, we toured the magnificent complex with the touch of Mucha everywhere we looked.  I wished so much for more time to spend in Prague, more time to eat, since the beautiful Francouzska Restaurant on the main floor was breathtaking, (as were the prices on the magnificent menu) and the Plzenska Restaurant in the basement had a more traditional Czech lively beer hall atmosphere.  Next to the restaurant was the dramatically beautiful American Bar, claiming to be the oldest continuously operating bar in Prague.  Oh oh, for more time in this amazing city. 

gorgeous interior of the Municipal Building in PragueThe marble staircase that leads up to the Smetana Concert Hall was embellished with carved white stone and gold trim, with hundreds of lights and Mucha art everywhere.  Municipal House opened in 1912, and became famous as the site of the historic proclamation of the independent state of Czechoslovakia in 1918. The rooms and halls were filled with beautiful frescoes, intricate stonework, richly colored tiles, and stained glass windows.  Municipal House is home to the Czech National Symphony Orchestra and concerts are held here. What a treasure!

Prague Free Day 10-13-2012 1-12-34 PMAfter breakfast we once again walked beyond Republic Square, and under the Powder Gate, one of the original entrances to Prague’s Old Town. We wanted to spend some time just hanging out in Old Town Square and it was just a short walk away.  We meandered along the streets taking time to window shop and decided to try to find the jewelry shop we had seen on our first day. The Czech Republic is famous for its garnets, and I knew I wanted to bring something special home to my other daughters.  Of course, since the area between Republic Square, Old Town Square, and the Charles Bridges is so incredibly popular with tourists, it is also lined with incredibly touristy shops.  The ones that really caught our eyes most were the shops filled with those Russian nesting painted dolls, and beautiful lacquered little boxes, costing upwards in the hundreds of dollars.  I still couldn’t quite figure out why Russian nesting dolls would be such a big deal in the Czech Republic, but they were certainly gorgeous.

Prague Free Day 10-13-2012 1-42-09 PMI did manage to hold on to my credit card until we finally found the sweet little shop selling garnets with two sweet little Czech guys inside just waiting for an easy mark like me to walk in.  Nice part of this was that I had my jeweler daughter with me with her jeweler’s loup between me and the sales!  She knew good gold when she saw it, and she knew the pieces that were set properly.  It was great fun, and by the time I walked out I was the proud owner of a couple of great presents for the daughters who didn’t make it to Prague.

clockI think an entire hour had passed since morning coffee, so we found a lovely open air restaurant with a great view of the square and settled in with another coffee.  It was fairly chilly, and we snuggled in with the cozy fleece blankets provided on the back of each chair.  People watching and coffee drinking in Old Town Square is entertainment bar none!  Before long we heard throngs of people screaming and saw someone carrying signs and thought maybe we were in for one of the demonstrations that are so famous in this part of the city.  Instead, it was just hordes of teenaged girls screaming over some singing idol that was in the square that morning. 

After warming a bit, it was time to explore the old city hall building that houses the Astronomical Clock .  People gather here day and night at the base of the clock to watch the apostles do their thing, and hear the chimes.  From the outside, it is a lovely clock face on a very old building, but the true secret to seeing the clock is to go inside the old city hall and climb the stairs to the top of the clock tower. The clock itself was first installed in 1410 and is the third oldest astronomical clock in the world, and is the oldest one still working.

2012-10-13 14.26.23Something I didn’t even think about until later is that the clock has the earth as the center of the universe. The clock was created to show the then presumed rotation of the sun and the moon around the earth. The clock also shows the movement of the sun and the moon in relation to the signs of zodiac.

2012-10-13 14.43.50Climbing the old stairs and reading the interpretive panels on the walls made the clock come alive in a way that it never would simply viewed from the base of the tower.  The panels told of the amazing history of the clock maker, how the clock came to be, how it has languished for as much as a century in disrepair, been repaired and restored, even bombed for fun by the Nazis, and how it survives. 

Then when you finally reach the top of the tower, the view of the square and the city of Prague unfolds before you in a breathtaking vista, all the more magnificent because you are trying to squeeze your way around the balcony with literally hundreds of people.  Yes, it was still fun.  Melody even got all excited about donning some Renaissance garb and getting her photo professionally done at the top of the clock tower, and it is beautiful. 

lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe  After exploring the tower, we wandered off through the streets on our way to the Bridge and when Melody saw the Hard Rock Cafe, she of course wanted to check it out.  Somehow after nearly two weeks of eating wonderful, fabulous, interesting food a big fat hamburger sounded pretty incredible and I found a table for us in the outdoor pavilion while Melody went off to buy Hard Rock stuff for her kids.  The hamburger might have been the best I ever tasted, with fat french fries and a side of macaroni and cheese washed down with pints of really good beer.  We shared the burger between us and it was still huge. 

Check out the warm fuzzy blanket on my chair.  Yup, more chair blankets in the outdoor restaurants.  You can see a guy behind me with a fuzzy blanket on as well. We watched a rather snotty guy get his comeuppance when his chair collapsed underneath him and he fell in a heap.  His companions were laughing so hard they couldn’t breathe, but of course Melody had to go over to help him up and make sure he was OK.  I figured it was what he got for trying to take my blanket when I first sat down! That little episode provided endless moments of silly laughter for us. 

We spent what was left of the afternoon wandering the narrow streets of the city, checking out the shops, going once more to the Bridge to watch the people and listen to the street music.  It was the time of day as light was waning and we wanted to do more and more, and yet we knew that the trip was ending, and that it was time to let it go. 

IMG_3069Instead we found one more magical moment behind the huge cathedral in the square.  It was twilight, after 6pm and the cathedral was closed, but we found a street vendor selling hot red wine in paper cups with fresh placinkas and decided it was time for more sustenance.  You haven’t had wine till you have had it hot, in a paper cup on a narrow street in Prague. A toast to an amazing city, and to the daughter to shared it with me.

IMG_3051 Our morning wake up call was coming at 2:30 AM, in time to dress and be downstairs for the bus to the airport.  Lorena was no longer around to run interference for us, and there was a bit of confusion as we tried to decipher the signs and figure out just where we were supposed to stand in line to check in for our flight.  We waited in the wrong line, with a few others, and by the time we got to the right one it was incredibly long.  It was stressful at the time, but now looking back I feel a bit like I look in this photo.  “It’s all good”

Every city that we visited on this trip is a place that begs for more time to explore the hidden and not so hidden wonders that we never managed to see.  We only barely tapped Melody’s original list of things to do in Prague, but in spite of the short time in each place, it was perfect. 

It has been just over a month now since we returned and writing the story has been so much fun for me.  I know I would never remember it otherwise, everything would be a huge blur, with crystalline moments thrown in, but all out of context. 

Tomorrow morning Mo and I are driving south to San Francisco to board our ship leaving for Hawaii, and I do have great plans to keep up with writing every day.  The cruise has a lot of sea days, so I might actually manage to do that.

Tour Day in Prague Part 2 October 12

Mala Strana neighborhoods Someone mentioned in a comment on the last post that I had been dealing with a cold and the damp weather probably wasn’t very good for me.  I am happy to say, that by the time we hit the cold weather in Prague, I was feeling pretty darn good.  In addition, my knee was actually responding to all the walking and seemed to be getting stronger.  As we left the high walls of the Castle to walk down into the Mala Strana neighborhood on the west side of the Charles Bridge, I found that I needed to go a lot faster than the rest of the group down all those stairs.  The knee was working just fine going uphill, but going downhill my brakes were pretty rusty! 

walking down from the castle to the Mala Strada in Prague It was finally getting a bit warmer as we meandered through the beautiful old streets of this part of Prague.  The group tour was planning to continue through the streets, cross the Charles Bridge, and then pick up the bus at the Old Town Square to go back to the hotel.  Melody and I were walking along with everyone else when the smell of vanilla started wafting our way and we found a lovely young woman in a Czech costume cooking up some lovely fried thing in front of an authentic Czech restaurant.  Of course, we didn’t know until after we finished our meal that the restaurant had nothing to do at all with the girl on the street.

Czech Restaurant Prague-001 Either way, we looked at each other and once again let Lorena know that we would be ambling off on our own and said goodbye to the group.  We were hungry, and that food smelled soo good!  Besides, we had other plans for the afternoon anyway.  Originally there had been a planned excursion to the Jewish Quarter and we wanted to do that one, but Lorena needed a minimum of 10 people for the trip and only 6 had signed up.  Ah well, we figured the rest of the afternoon was enough time for us to do it on our own.

Czech Restaurant Prague-009 In the mean time, though, we slipped down the heavy timbered stairs to the entrance to the U Tri Pstrosu Authentic Czech Restaurant, established in 1597.  Time to try out some real Czech food!  It was still just before noon, a bit early to eat, and the restaurant was completely empty except for the lovely waiter who seated us under the old leaded glass windows.  The tablecloths were white, the silverware was heavy, and the art work was old and interesting on plastered white walls accented with heavy old dark timbers.  Perfect.

Czech Restaurant Prague-008 We asked for a sample of “real” Czech food, but didn’t much feel like eating duck or liver so settled on some amazing chicken spaghetti.  I don’t suppose it was truly Czech, but it was really good.  Especially with the good Czech beer in the Budweiser glasses to wash it down.  We laughed and ate and had just so much fun.  Besides.  We were WARM!  For dessert I asked for a traditional dessert that Mo had asked I find.  She had no idea what it was called, but just remembered that her Czech aunts would make it when they came to visit.  I think these Czech dumplings with fruit inside floating in a lovely sweet warm vanilla sauce must have been the right one.

Czech Restaurant Prague As we finished our very leisurely meal and asked for the check, I handed my credit card to the waiter only to discover another one of the very huge lessons to be learned when traveling.  Always ask if they take a credit card!  Of course, we hadn’t had any time to get some Czeck Kron and had spent all our Euros in Vienna.  UhOh.  The waiter was very nice and said, “There is an ATM just outside the door”.  The only problem with that was that I had left my debit card in the safe back at the hotel thinking we would get cash later in the day.  Melody saved the day, with her check card she managed to get out the hefty sum for the fancy lunch hoping that she had enough money in the bank at home to cover it!  Whew!  I don’t think I have ever felt quite so stupid in a long time.  Duh!  So much for travel smart mom treating daughter to a nice lunch! 

Cloudy day on the Charles Bridge After that momentary scare, we laughed a lot, and warmed by good food and beer, we climbed the steps to once again cross the Charles Bridge and marvel at the river, the views, and the amazing sculptures.  The Charles Bridge is one of Prague’s most famous symbols.  It joins Old Town and the Mala Strana area near Prague Castle and was completed in the early part of the 15th century.  The Vltava River has been subject to flooding over the centuries, and two of the arches had to be rebuilt in the late 19th century.  The bridge itself is 10 meters wide and is supported by 16 arches and decorated by more than 30 magnificent statues and groups of sculptures, and entered on both ends through two mighty towers.

Cloudy day on the Charles BridgeOn the Mala Strana side of the bridge, the shorter tower was built in the late 12th century and the higher tower in the 15th century. The statues and sculptures have been placed there throughout the ages, with many of them added between 1706 and 1714.  We took our time watching people selling their art, making music, touching the statue of St John, the Five Star Guy, and just enjoying the ambiance of this most famous piece of Prague. On the Old Town side of the bridge, the Tower of Stare Mesto stands over the entrance on the right bank of the river. As we passed under the tower into the main part of the old city, we had to make a decision.  Which way to go and how do we get to the Jewish Quarter?

first view of teh ghetto walls It was another one of those times when I broke out the iPhone and turned on the map to try to get a feel for where we were and where we were going.  Heading along the bank of the river, we passed some beautiful performance buildings, saw a lot of people and cars, and then even more traffic until I looked across the street at what appeared to be a very old, very sturdy wall with a small door and a gate.  Funny how you know what it is when you see the walls of the Jewish Ghetto. 

walking in the Jewish Quarter in Prague Sure enough, we crossed the street and discovered we were on the back side of the ghetto walls and the Jewish Cemetery was just visible through the barred window in the wall.  Finding our way around the crooked streets into the Jewish Quarter took a bit of doing.  Once in the area, found that we needed to get tickets from the Jewish Museum. 

DSC_0213  The Jewish Museum in Prague has one of the most extensive collections of Jewish art, textiles and silver in the world; there are 40,000 exhibits and 100,000 books. The collection is unique, everything in the museum was gathered from Bohemia and Moravia and evokes the Jewish history and a valuable heritage for the present Czech Republic. The ticket you get from the museum covers a guided visit of the Ceremonial Hall, Old Jewish Cemetery, The Old-New Synagogue, the Pinkas Synagogue, the Klausen Synagogue, the Spanish Synagogue and Meisel Synagogue. 

The only problem with this was that it was a bit difficult to understand where everything was located on the map, walking in the Jewish Quarter in Pragueand the Ceremonial Hall was closed for some kind of renovations.  We were really interested in the cemetery of course, so headed to the entrance.  There we found someone in a kiosk renting audio machines for the two hour tour.  Once again, cash only.  Oh for pete’s sake!  Why in the world did I think I could get around Prague with no cash in my hand.  We did manage to buy our tickets with a credit card, but this was a glitch I hadn’t counted on.  The saleswoman made sure that we knew that we were extremely stupid to think we could figure out where to go and what to see without her audio tour.  She was probably right!

Jewish Cemetery in PragueIn spite of the glitches, we found our way into the Jewish Cemetery, and even managed a couple of forbidden photos with the iPhone.  I am really wondering just how curators are going to continue to prevent people from taking pictures of things when it is so easy to do so with tiny little phones that are nearly invisible.   The cemetery is haunting.  The gravestones are piled upon each other helter-skelter  due to the lack of room and the practice of burying people one on top of the other up to 12 deep. I did wish for some kind of guide or interpretation of the site but we decided that we could go back to our hotel and read all about it on the internet after the fact.  What a world we live in!

Jewish Cemetery in Prague The Hebrew characters told hidden stories, and the small stones placed on the gravestones represented prayers for the deceased by people who visited their graves.  The cemetery, founded in the first half of the 15th century, was used until the last 18th century, so these stones are very old.

We visited only one of the Synagogues in the quarter, and were reprimanded by an old women sitting on a bench to “show respect”.  I am not quite sure what we were doing that wasn’t respectful, but we were very careful after that to be silent and to sit quietly.  She seemed to think that because we didn’t take the offered brochures at the entrance to the building we weren’t being respectful. 

Prague doorways are amazing I could have spent hours in the museum and book store.  There were books on the history and the legends of Golem and stories of what it was like to live in the ghettos in the middle ages.  Jewish history has always been fascinating to me, monumental and sad, a human story that must be part of our genetic memory whether we are Jewish or not.  If I were to go back to Prague, I would read more first and spend more time in the Jewish Quarter.  I would take the time to peruse the museum, would go to all the Synagogues, and would be sure to do the audio tour so that I might have a better understanding of what I was seeing.  Still, just walking through the cemetery was worth the price of the ticket for both of us.

walking back toward Old town Square The afternoon was wearing on, and we left the Jewish Quarter and found our way through the side streets back to Old Town Square.  As we got closer to the square, the shops began to change and before long we were once again on some fancy shopping row with Dior and Versace and in between we found the Image Theater, home of one of the Black Light Theater performances that have been made famous in Prague.  We went inside, to discover that tomorrow night was too late and that tonight would be our only chance to see the show.  I paid with a credit card and we decided it was time to get back to the hotel so we could catch a bit of rest before walking the mile and a half back to the city for the show.

IMG_3655 On the way home we wandered through Old Town Square, and then enjoyed all the shops along the roads leading from the Square back toward the city gate.  There was just so much to see, but by this time we were both pretty burned out and ready to just sit and be still for a bit.  As we walked back to the hotel it started to rain and we realized that our night out on the town was probably going to be in the cold rain.  UhOh.  So much for dressing up! 

street music We were only back at the hotel for 90 minutes or so before it was again time for us to walk back to Old Town Square and the theater.  We went a bit early, thinking we could find something to eat in the square before the show.  Melody dressed up in her beautiful long black dress and did her hair up in a wild mohawky looking thing.  She looked gorgeous, and of course I didn’t get a single photo!  Walking through the square assaulted our senses with lots of good food smells and as the rain came down we sought a bit of shelter at a small table next to a food cart.  They were selling huge hunks of ham and Kielbasa sausages with mustard on simple brown bread.  It was fabulous.

Again, looking back on the trip, this moment with Melody was one of the more special ones that sticks in my mind.  The smells of the smoky sausages, the sounds of unintelligible conversations all around us, the square lights glowing in the dusk, the gentle rainfall.  I have no idea what makes one moment stick among all the others, but we both knew at the time that this was going to be one that did.

After the show, here is how Melody described the Black Light Theater:

”It was like Blue Man Group in neon meets Cirque de Soleil. With grand dancers doing contemporary and ballet and Argentinean tango, wearing black light reactive costumes. They started with butterflies and bugs and went on to monkeys and then lions. I cannot describe the amount of awesome involved”. image

The principles behind Black Light Theater are fairly simple. The human eye can’t distinguish between a black background and black on stage. Plus, UV light is just as bright as regular light, but we can’t see it, except when fluorescent items reflect it back to the human eye very brightly! So black light theater concepts have been in use in Asia for millennia. And the style was perfected by a man in the 1950’s and 1960’s. But Prague is THE place to see a Black Light Theater, and the one we went to is known all over the world.

The show had no words, so it’s very universal. It was called Afrikania. It started with a 3-person skit on stage about a mailman who is trying to find the recipient of a lovely red letter, when he finds a hotel front desk unattended. He trades hats with the hotel concierge, who left his on the desk, and becomes the concierge long enough to help a couple check in and have adventures. This action is obviously there to allow the dancers to change costumes.
The first dance is three creatures that look like caterpillars with long arms that are made of flowing fabric. These creatures turn into butterflies with flowing, diaphanous wings and the creatures float on flying harnesses. The dancers are fabulous and with the black light costumes and ballet style tights incorporated into the dance, it felt like a ballet with wondrous contemporary elements. I loved that.

And the music was incredible. It was kind of African meets Pink Floyd. And there were animal noises that were obviously made by humans, but they were intense and very well done; it took a moment to realize they were human. The whole affair was breathtaking, and knowing the Image theater is world-renowned made it feel truly unique and wondrous. Like seeing a play on Broadway in the US. But better. As a theater geek, I was humbled to realize later that what mom and I saw is one of three production houses known around the world for their Black Light shows. Google the subject, then multiply it by a hundred. 

Needless to say, by the time we walked the mile and a half back to the hotel in the rain we were exhausted but very happy at the adventures of the day.  I am sure I fell asleep immediately.

Next: Our free day in Prague, The Metropolitan Building and Mucha, Old Town Square, and the Astronomical Clock