|Telfes Hiking||Vienna Visiting||Prague Visiting|
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The HF Holiday leaders were all quite good and made the days enjoyable. I stayed in the grade 3 or 4 hikes; Mom was in the middle; Greg, Jane, and Dad did a little of everything. The leaders were all capable people and you could feel comfortable in letting them blaze the trail and handle those types of hiking details. Depending on the hike you might stop more often to examine the local scenery which was very lush or look at a station of the cross or have a rest break. The weather was wonderful especially when I consider what I had left behind with heat and humidity. We had sunny, drizzly, foggy (made you feel like you were alone on the mountain and that the valley didn't exist), and mixed weather. It was very fine (and my new gortex rain jacket works splendidly).
One thing you find in the Alps that isn't present in the States are hutte. These are places that will serve food, drinks, and in many cases provide some type of sleeping area. People can hike from hutte to hutte and just bed down for the night in each one. The sleeping might be in rooms like a dorm or more communal, but it can be done. Apparently one thing to do is go to all the hutte and get something singed that says you were at that one. Get them all and I think the Austrian government does something, but I'm not really sure. In the hikes we took advantage of the hutte for coffee or lunch breaks. Some of them are quite elaborate.
The scenery is quite lavish. Hiking in this part of the Alps has a somewhat similar feel to the Rockies in the nature of the terrain and some of the altitude. But, the scenery is far greener and rich than I've seen in the Rockies (Maroon Belles near Apsen, CO. are a big exception). Also, in a sense, even though the views are spectacular and lovely the Rockies tend to have a bit more of an open feel. I think that is because down in the valleys below our hiking you see the numerous hamlets and towns or at least signs of man. The spaces aren't quite as wide open as they are in the Rockies. Of course, that is to be expected I suppose after all Europe just doesn't have wide open spaces like the West.
HF and the hotel Tyrol takes very good care of you. The hotel provides a continental style breakfast and dinner. Both were quite good though the dinners did feature an abundance of what I think were deep fried pork dishes. I'm not complaining though. After the day long hikes you could relax and do what you wanted until having a leisurely dinner and then take part in that evening's activities if you wanted.
The hikes themselves were all fun and even the one Òkiller descentÓ hike was nice for most of the day. That one hike was particularly difficult for me since it was wet and full of perspective confusing rocks and roots. I managed to get down though and did so much quicker than I might have otherwise done with the help of that hike's leader Eric. I think we all liked Eric the most. He had plenty of interesting things to talk about including pointing out flora that you wouldn't otherwise see and also drawing our attention to geographical features of the Alps that we might see but not really understand (he is a geography teacher by training). Kudos to the leaders and if the other HF leaders are like Eric, Luise, and Hywell (pronounced ÒHowellÓ) then they really have a great thing going (and I don't see why they wouldn't be). I enjoyed the hikes and would do them again though I think the week was enough (I had briefly considered doing two weeks).
Here are some pictures that were taken during the hikes.
As I said Telfes is a small village and here is a view of it.
Cows are important to the livelihood of this area. If you don't believe me then here is some proof. I'm sure they were friendly and all had bells.
The weather on some of the hikes was quite misty and you could not always see far ahead. Here Mom comes acros a cow in the mist. She was surprised.
A fine view is some of the Austrian Alps.
Another view of misty weather. I'm fairly sure this was one of the gentler hikes. As you can see this picture was taken on a gravel road which I believe was several miles of gentle descending curves down a mountainside.
This view of a waterfall was on one of the last hikes. As I recall things it was near the hike's end and I think just before we saw a couple rather rambunctious cows.
I mentioned hutte earlier. While you cannot see it in this picture they do exist.
I should mention our off day visit to Insbruck. Unfortunately, I don't have much to say about that small city. Seeing the place where glockenshpiel bells have been crafted for the past four hundred years. But, the city itself isn't that pretty and for my money lacks the old world charm that you hope for in such a place. Maybe it is better in winter.
Our time in Vienna was a bit mixed. We were there Saturday through Monday and perhaps some of this feeling is due to the fact that many things close up on the weekend in European cities in general. Saturday was, as Mom said, spent in rather aimless walking about. One thing that you notice early on is that the city squares or platz (think that's spelled right)--are large and feel a bit austere. The buildings can be impressive and the spaces are used for all sorts of things, but they are empty feeling in some respects. You won't find trees or pocket parks (also true of Prague) like you would see in D.C.. It is a different style of architecture and it feels a bit daunting and somewhat stark to my eye.
However, Vienna is full of sights to see including many grand churches. These can be Gothic, highly embroidered with ornamentation, or more plain. The Jesuit church we visited certainly was highly ornamented and had columns that I can best describe as sensual in both feel and form. I wasn't expecting that with a Jesuit church. I think I like my churches to give a feel of vast vaulting space with impressive windows. I don't need the filigree and heavy gold ornamentation. In fact, I find that intrusive and gaudy at times.
We visited the Hapsburg summer palace and that was an impressive place to see. You have to remember what was considered luxury when it was built to really appreciate it. For example, I like large windows that let light in and give the rooms an open feel. They don't have the windows, but they do have high ceilings. The rooms themselves may not be huge, but they are all well appointed with the things that were considered marks of great wealth. For example, porcelain a couple centuries ago was a precious thing to use in objects. That makes sense. Rooms with it were therefore splendid when considered in that light. The room full of Chinese lacquer work is grand in any light, but when you consider it was built when the Hapsburg were opening trade with China it becomes even more so. Seeing the Shombraun (spelling?) via a tour and in this light makes the place come more alive. You learn interesting tidbits of how people lived and comported themselves (for example, Maria Theresa had a second day bedroom where she would hold audiences. After all, you can't see the empress in her normal bedroom that just wouldn't be proper).
Our next city was Prague (or Praha as the T-shirts said which we figured must be the spelling in Czech). Prague is an old world European city where the streets and much of the architecture are concerned (unlike many cities it was largely spared from the ravages of World War 2). But, it is also turning into a bustling modern city with construction happening all over. Of course, I imagine more of that is happening outside of the first district which is where the most interesting places are, but we still saw a lot of signs of progress towards modernization.
Their is an energy in Prague that I didn't feel in Vienna.
Prague is an inexpensive city to roam around in. Everything is exceedingly cheap. I recently paid $3.00 to go to the top of Coit Tower in San Francisco while in Prague I imagine that would cost about $0.50 which was about what Dad and I paid to get to the top of the Powder Tower. Food was also cheap though unremarkable (with the exception of the beer which Czech, like Germans and Austrians, take seriously--and I picked up additional beer coasters for a friend who collects them). A side effect of this is that you start spending less. You see something costs a dollar instead of 50¢ and think, Òdamn, that's expensive forget it,Ó even though you are a loaded American tourist. This phenomenon is not restricted to us; friends of mine have experienced it on their travels too.
Roaming around in Prague is what you want to do. You get lost plenty of times on the twisting streets and the language causes trouble since Czech is most definitely not even a close relative of English so you can't put a English spin really to street names and help yourself remember what is where. But, that is all right. We found many things that way and got off the beaten track. We found places like the Jewish Quarter this way (sure tourists will want to visit this, we did, but we found our way to it initially by accident). And were able to get a more complete feel for the city both in terms of its old styles and the new atmosphere it seems to be trying to encourage as a place where people can grow in new directions. Maybe a bit like Paris was supposed to be for ex-patriot Americans in the 20s. This is a recent thing with Prague developing somewhat after the Berlin Wall came down according to friends I know that have visited the city around that time. More on that later.
Our apartment was in the heart of the city right behind the Mevelska or Havelske Trziste, shown here , open food market. This market sold a variety of foods mostly centered around produce. I must say I still wonder where some of those things came from, but what we got for breakfasts in the apartment was all tasty and fine. Our location gave us superb access to the city as a whole (the places we'd stayed everywhere had this trait in common). A short walk would take you to the Old Town Square where you could see the Tyn church, or the clock tower which did interesting things that I really could not make out at certain times in the day (I believe it was this clock that for several decades did not work after its builder threw himself into it to prevent it from doing so. Something about a hex on it, but I could be thinking of the one in Vienna, too). Go in a different direction and you would find the Jewish Quarter, or take another route to cross the Charles bridge and see the castle on the other side of the Moldau which served as a provincial capitol for the Hapsburg empire. One thing that struck us about Prague was that you could easily wander the same area, get lost in different ways, and not really mind since you could always find a building to admire, a shop to explore, or just a winding street with its classic central European feel to stroll down.
We did visit the castle on the far side of the Moldau, but sadly I don't recall much about it after so much time has elapsed (see note above.) Was it this castle where we saw the great hall where dozens of knights and their horses could be paraded before the local aristocracy? I do not remember though I think it might have been. However, I do recall watching a changing of the guard ceremony. While there was precision in it, it lacked the pomp and circumstance you see when watching a Buckingham (sp?) Palace guard do the same thing. It certainly did not have the solemnity I felt when I visited Arlington Cemetery and saw the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The Jewish Quarter was perhaps the most emotive of the places we visited. There is something like 600 years of history in this rather small area and you get a good feel for it especially when you visit the very small cemetery and see grave stones, small and large, nudging up against each other on top of several layers of graves. Jews were buried in that graveyard for several hundred years (not the entire time) since the laws of the times wouldn't allow them to be buried elsewhere (and I imagine many would probably not have wanted to be buried elsewhere even if the option were there, but who can really say). This small, nicely shaded graveyard is one of the foci of the Jewish Quarter and in it you get a sense of the people that made up part of Prague's history. Jews at times could hold substantial roles outside of Jewish life itself (the Hapsburgs tended to be more liberal in this regard, though that did change with the times) and the museums in the quarter gave some information on the history which I really can't relate here since I don't recall enough of it to be fair to it. You can see the graves of people like Rabbi Levin who, so it is told, created Joseph Golem, the archetypal robot. Since he could only be activated by placing a piece of paper with God's name written upon it in his mouth. That paper had to be removed during Shabbat to prevent him from going berserk. Like many classic stories of robots or other man-made creatures (Shelly's Frankenstien) Joseph Golem does much good and is more than just an automaton, but eventually Rabbi Levin forgets to remove that slip of paper and Joseph goes mad and must be destroyed.
The Old New Synagogue is also a fascinating building. I finally found out why synagogues aren't necessarily the architectural wonders that many churchs can be. They don't have to be, in fact it is fine to have them follow the architectural styles of the day and the area in which they reside. Within a synagogue their are rules that must be followed and that is where the emphasis on design is placed. One things that we found interesting was the vaulting in the ceiling of the Old New Synagogue used five rib sets instead of the usual four ribs meeting in a "X" like shape or cross. The fifth rib in a set does nothing for improving load bearing, but it does change the shape from a cross to something five pointed. The cross after all is hardly a Jewish symbol and that was important to be builders. This synagogue remains in use today. It is about 700 years old. Remarkable.
We also visited, Dad and I climbed to the top, the Powder Tower. This tower, near the Moldau was a lookout post and powder magazine. The climb up the spiral staircase (for a small fee) to the top while tiring is worth it. Unlike some viewpoints where your view is obstructed with wire mesh that is meant to ensure no one falls out in Prague you do not have any such obstructions. We found splendid views of the city from the top of the Powder Tower.
After visiting the Powder Tower we went to a museum (name escapes me) that featured a great deal of cubist art. The place itself was interesting architecturally, but the art inside (along with the temperature they were keeping it at) was not too my taste. I know what I like and that art wasn't it.
These pictures were taken in various cities. Sadly, I am no longer sure which pictures go with which cities. I have a feeling or two though and if you know please let me know.
I have no idea where this city block is located. It could be Prague near the National Theatre area.
This unknown fountain reminds me of a place we paused at in Munich, but it could have also been somewhere in Prague.
This unknown square is more likely in Vienna (perhaps the Shombraun) than Prauge or Munich (we were there for a short day too).
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