Czech Republic – Prague

I spent the last two days exploring the beautiful city of Prague. Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, has an extremely rich history dating back to 1306 BC. I’m going to dive into the history of how the Czech Republic came to be, and then go into detail about the sights that I saw.

Prague’s History

The city was founded as Boihaem in 1306 BC by King Boyya. Around the 4th century BC a Celtic tribe appeared in the area and setup settlements, which eventually became suburbs of Prague. The region was named the Region of Bohemia, which means “home of the Hoii people”.

The Celts were eventually driven away by Germanic tribes. In the late 5th Century AD, during the great Migration Period following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Germanic tribes living in Bohemia moved west and the Slavic’s moved in. During the next three centuries the Czechs and Zlicanis built several fortified settlements in the area, and eventually the fortified settlement where Prague Castle now stands today was built towards the tail end of the 9th century. The cathedral construction began in 1344, but wasn’t completed until the 20th century, but more on that later on. The area was an important trading center, where merchants from all over Europe came together.

In 1805, Vratislav II became the first Czech king. In 1310 the Holy Roman emperor john of Luxembourg became king of Bohemia. The city blossomed in the 14th century under Luxembourg ruling during the reign of Charles IV. Prague became one of Europe’s largest and wealthiest cities. In 1355, Charles IV was elected as the Holy Emperor and Prague became the capital of the Holy Roman Empire.

During the 15th century there were religious conflicts between Hussite and the Roman Catholic Church in Bohemia. This was caused by Jan Hus’s church reform movement, which eventually led to his conviction and his death. This provoked Jan Zelivsky, a Hussite preacher, to rebel. Catholic councillor were thrown from the top of the New Town Hall, and Prague was then ruled by the Hussite’s. Unfortunately many historical monuments were destroyed and Prague Castle also became damaged.

In 1526, the Habsburg dynasty began ruling Prague. Prague Castle was reconstructed. In 1575, Rudolf II was crowed as the Holy Emperor. During the Habsburg Ruling Prague became known as the center of science and alchemy. Many famous scientists were attracted to Prague during this time.

The 17th Century was known as the Dark Age due to multiple uprisings starting in 1618. In 1620, the Battled of White Mountain took place and the Protestants were defeated leading to the loss of Prague’s independence. The Saxons began occupying Prague and the Swedes moved into Hradčany and Malá Strana in 1648. The city’s population started to decline, and roughly 50% of the population decided to leave.

In 1784, the city was divided up into four independent urban areas by Jospeh II; Staré město/Old Town, Lesser Town/Malá Strana, Hradčany and Nové město/New Town. During this time, the National Revival, a Czech nationalist movement began that brought the Czech language, culture and identity back into existence.

The Industrial Revolution was a booming time in Prague, with many industries setting up shop. In 1845 a railway was built between Vienna and Prague. There was a massive influx of people moving into Prague.

Prague became the capital of the independent Czechoslovakia after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1918. During World War II Prague was occupied by the German Nazi’s. After the war, Czechoslovakia was re-established as an independent state. In 1946 the communists became the dominant party and formed a coalition government with other socialist parties. In 1948 the communists seized power. In the 1950’s the country suffered harsh repression and decline, and many Stalin style practices were adopted by the Communist Part of Czechoslovakia (KSC). Eventually these people in charge of the KSC were executed.

On November 17th 1989, the Velvet Revolution occurred, which ended communism making Czechoslovakia a democratic country. In January 1990 the first democratic elections were conducted, with Vaclav Havel becoming the president. On January 1st 1993 Czechoslovakia was split into two independent countries; Slovakia and Czech Republic, with Prague becoming the capital of Czech Republic.

Petrin Tower

The Petrin Tower was built in 1891 and resembles the Eiffel Tower. It was built for the World’s Jubilee Exhibition and was completed in only four months. It was used as an observation tower as well as a transmission tower. The tower sits in the centre of Petrin Hill, about a half hour walk up steep paths. There are two observation platforms accessible via 299 stairs for 150 CZH ($8.50 CDN) or via an elevator for 210 CZH ($11.85 CDN). The stairs are setup in a double-helix structure allowing visitors to travel up and down concurrently. At the top you’re gifted with some beautiful views of Prague Castle and the surrounding area below.

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Prague Castle & Surrounding Area

Prague Castle is a massive castle complex that was built between 870 and 1929. It is considered the largest ancient castle in the world and occupies over 750,000 square feet of space. It is the official office of the President of the Czech Republic and was a seat of power for numerous kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia. The Bohemian Crown Jewels are kept within a hidden room somewhere inside of it. It’s history began in 870 when the Church of the Virgin Mary was built. Eventually a Romanesque palace was erected during the 12th century, and numerous expansions and fires have occurred since.

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Charles Bridge & Old Town Bridge Tower

Old Town Bridge Tower was built in the late 14th century during the ruling of Emperor Charles IV. It was designed by Petr Parléř. It is on the south end of Charles Bridge. Charles Bridge was built between 1357 and 1402. It was the replacement for the damaged Judith Bridge that was built between 1158 and 1172, which was washed out in a flood in 1342. It was the only means of crossing the river Vltava until 1841. Many people congregate on the bridge and live music often occurs here.

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Dancing House

Dancing House, also known as Fred and Ginger; a nickname given to the Nationale-Nederlanden building, was designed by Croatian-Czech architect Vlado Milunić in cooperation with Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry on a vacant riverfront plot. The building was designed in 1992 and completed in 1996. The building recieved its nickname after the famous dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, as the house resembles a pair of dancers.

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St. Wenceslas Church

St. Wenceslas Church was built in 1930 as a commemoration of the 1000th anniversary of the death of St. Wenceslas, Duke of Bohemia. This was one of three buildings built for the commemoration. The Art Deco style church stands fairly tall at 50 metres tall.

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The Church of the Most Sacred Heart

The Church of the Most Sacred Heart is a Roman Catholic church that was built between 1929 and 1932. It was designed by architect Jože Plečnik. This was one of the other buildings built to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the death of St. Wenceslas, Duke of Bohemia.

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Church of St. Ludmila

The Church of St. Ludmila is a neo-gothic Roman Catholic church at Náměstí Míru (Peace Square). The church was built between 1888 and 1892 to honor St. Ludmila of Bohemia. The church has two 60.6 metre tall towers with bells and a tall cable with a portal above the main entrance, which is adjourned with sculptures.

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Narodni Museum

The Narodni Museum (National Museum of Prague) was originally founded in 1796 by the first president of the Society of the Patriotic Museum, Count Sternberk, who served as the trustee and operator of the museum at the time. The museum’s original focus was that of natural sciences. The museum became too small and the current location was built in 1818, but it didn’t actually acquire any historical objects until the 1830’s and 1840’s, when Romanticism arose. Today the museum houses over 14 million items in its collection. This is a must see if you’re into museums!

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Žižkov Television Tower

The Žižkov Television Tower was built between 1985 and 1992. It was designed by architect Václav Aulický. The tower is constructed of steel tubes filled with concrete. The tower was built for a fairly low cost of only $19 million. The tower stands at 216 metres tall and has an observation deck at 93 metres, a hotel room at 70 metres, and a restaurant at 66 metres.

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Astronomical Clock Tower

The Prague Astronomical Clock Tower is a medieval astronomical clock that was built in 1410. It’s the third oldest astronomical clock in the work, and the oldest clock still in operational use. The clock was made by clockmakers  Mikuláš of Kadaň and Jan Šindel. The clock mechanism has three main components; 1) the astronomical dial, representing the position of the Sun and Moon in the sky and displaying various astronomical details, 2) an hourly clockwork of figures of the Apostles, 3) a calendar dial with medallions representing the months.

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Stone Bell House

The Stone Bell House is named after the stone bell embedded in the outside corner of the building. The bell is said to be a reminder of the arrival of John of Bohemia to Prague in 1310, after the city was seized and occupied by Henry of Bohemia. The house was renovated to a Baroque style during the 15th and 19th centuries and lost most of its original Gothic image. The house underwent extensive renovations from 1975 to 1987 to restore much of this image, with the original Gothic façade being uncovered and restored.

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Old Town Hall

The Old Town Hall was built in 1364. The site where the Old Town Hall tower stands today technically was used as a town hall since 1338 when the councillors of the Old Town bought a large house from the Volfin family and adopted it for purpose. This was largely disassembled and the current tower was built in its place in 1364, with only the Gothic stone portal on the western side being the only remaining original piece. The Old Town Hall had numerous expansions as well as fires over the years.

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St. Nicholas Church

St. Nicholas Church was built between 1732 and 1737 on the site of a Gothic church from the 13th century that was dedicated to Saint Nicholas. An interesting thing to note is that during the Prague uprising in 1945, the church was used by the Czech partisans as a concealed site for Radio Prague, as the main building was attacked.

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Prague Metronome

The Prague Metronome is a 23 metre tall functioning metronome in Letna Park, which overlooks the Vltava River. It was erected in 1991 on the plinth left vacant by the formerly demolished 1962 monument of former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. At the top of the Metronome you can see the absolutely amazing views of the city below!

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Expo 1958 Pavilion

In 1958, Brussels hosted the first World’s Fair after World War 2. Different countries have the opportunity to shape the Expo by contributing interesting buildings. In that year Czechoslovakia was the winner. The building was designed by architects Frantisek Cubr, Josef Hruby and Zdenek Pokorny exclusively for the world exhibition. The L-shaped complex had an extension for restaurants and consisted of three windowless areas, which were connected by two glazed aisles.

After the World’s Fair came to an end, the building was completely dismantled and taken back to Prague. Since 1961 only the former restaurant building still exists. The building is currently being used as an office building. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in a fire in 1991, but could be reconstructed again.

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Industrial Palace

Prague’s Industrial Palace, also known as Výstaviště Praha is an exhibition area that is used for exibitions, concerts and other cultural events. It was built in 1891 by Bedřich Münzberge in an Art Nouveau architectural style. The building is built of glass and steel and is divded into 3 independent parts; the left and right wings, as well as a middle hall with a 51 metre tall clock tower. In 2008 the Palace caught fire, which destoryed the left wing. The left wing is currently being rebuilt.

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Subway System

Prague’s Metro system has some particularly beautiful stations located on the “A Line”, which are worth seeing. The Metro system is comprised of 65 km of track and 61 stations. The system includes the A, B, and C lines, and started operations in 1974 with the A Line. Prague’s Metro is the fifth busiest metro system in Europe, serving over 1.6 million people daily!

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Various Photos

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Luxembourg

Today I had to wake up fairly early to catch a 5:00am train to Luxembourg via Brussels, and Arlon. In Brussels I grabbed a sandwich and a coffee at the train station before switching trains. I arrived in Luxembourg at 10:00am and dropped off my bag at the hotel I was staying at; Empire Hotel, which was conveniently located right across from the train station. I then proceeded to walk into the old city, with a quick stop for another sandwich at the supermarket.

First stop was Luxemburgo-Passerelle, a gorgeous viaduct spanning 290 metres long and is 45 metres above the valley below. The viaduct has a total of 24 arches, and is also known as the “Old Bridge”. The viaduct was finished in 1861 to connect the city center with Luxembourg’s new railways station (the one I just arrived on). The railway station was built away from the city center so it wouldn’t detract from the defensive capabilities of the city’s fortress.

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I then proceeded to walk down a narrow road to the valley floor below. In the valley you can see some incredible views of the old town above, as well as Neumünster Abbey. Neumünster Abbey was built in 1688 after the previous two abbey’s were destroyed by fire. After the French Revolution it served as a police station, prison, and as a barracks. Since 1997 it has been home to the European Institute of Cultural Routes.

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Next stop was a lot of stairs to climb back out of the valley and to explore the beautiful views of Neumünster Abbey, and the surrounding valley below, as well as walk through Casemates du Bock,  the site of a former fortified castle from 963 AD that has an intricate maze of casemates underneath of it that were used the shelter soldiers, workshops, kitchens, bakeries, etc. The original fortress was destroyed in 1875 after the declaration of neutrality in 1867. The casemates proved to be impossible to destroy, so they were left. 17 km of the original 23 km still remain.

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I then continued to walk around Old Luxembourg overlooking the valley below as well as stopping at Cathedral Notre-Dame, and the Monument of Remembrance. The Monument of Remembrance, a 21 metre tall granite obelisk with a gilded bronze statue representing Nike (Goddess of Victory) was dedicated to the thousands of Luxembourgers who volunteered their service in the armed forces of the Allied Powers during both World Wars and the Korean War.

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It was then time to head back for a nap as I was getting tired.  I ended up napping from 3:00pm to almost 5:00pm.

I ended up grabbing a salad from the supermarket for dinner and chatting on the phone for a few hours before getting ready for bed. Be sure to check back tomorrow when I visit Prague, Czech Republic!

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2018-03-12 – Mont Saint-Michel

Today I went to see Mont Saint-Michel. I woke up at 6:00am. I took the Metro to Montparnasse Station to catch the 7:40am TGV to Rennes. Upon arriving in Rennes I transferred to a coach which took me to Mont Saint-Michele. I explored around the complex, including the Abbey, which was absolutely incredible. When I arrived it was raining fairly heavily and was very windy, but by the time I left the skies were blue and the sun was shining. It was great being able to see the contrast between the morning and afternoon!
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I had a baguette with egg, chicken and cheese, as well as a beer for lunch at a small café at the base of the abbey. I took the 2:05pm bus back to the train station where I purchased a train ticket back to Paris in the 3:45pm train. I had some difficulty with my TD Aeroplan credit card yet again, so I’ll have to look into getting a different card when I return. It rarely works when I travel even though I’ve told TD I travel a lot and they should know that. It worked this morning for a coffee on the train, but apparently a train ticket is a fraudulent purchase…
When I arrived back in Paris I picked up some took the Metro back to my hotel. I had to pickup some Band-Aids on the way because I noticed my toes were rubbing together quite badly due to the fact I’ve been walking so much the past few days. When I got back I showered and tapped up my toes with Band-Aids.
I went out for dinner to Las du’ Falafel and had a lamb Shawarma, which was delicious! I head back to my hotel again and fell asleep around 9:00pm because I was so tired.
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Japan – Kyoto

The next stop on my Japan trip was Kyoto. I took a high speed train from Nagoya to Kyoto, which took only a few hours. I was overwhelmed by the amount of things I wanted to see in Kyoto, since I only had a few days there, so I started viewing immediately after leaving the train station. I went to Toji, where there was hundreds of golden buddha statues. The view was beyond spectacular, but out of respect for the culture I didn’t take any photos as it is considered to suck the soul from the statue, or something like that.

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After visiting Toji I took the local metro, and walked to the place I was staying at, called the Uraraka Guest House. I thought it would be ready by 3pm, but it wasn’t, so I dropped off most of my stuff, and walked over to Nijo Castle in the Nakagyo ward. This castle was really neat and was completely surrounded by a moat! The castle was built in 1679, and was actually used all the way until 1939! Some of the buildings have suffered from multiple fires and typhoons.

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After visiting the castle I went back to the guest house to relax for a bit before heading out for the evening, where I spent my time in Gion district, which was phenomenal. There was so many amazing beautiful sights, geisha’s, amazing ramen, beautiful gardens, and a tiny little back street called Kiya-machi Dori. Picture’s don’t even do this place justice!

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The next day I visited the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, which was actually just a 30 minute train ride from the city, but technically still part of the city. This place was breathtaking, I’ve never seen this many bamboo trees before, and certainly none this tall. I experimented with my camera a bit to get the shot I was looking for. After walking through the forest (which is actually quite small), I stumbled on this beautiful riverfront, where I saw locals doing Cormorant fishing. Cormorant fishing is a traditional fishing method where trained cormorants are used to fish in the rivers. This tradition dates back to 960 AD!!!

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Later on in the evening I met up with two friends who also happened to be visiting from Calgary, Haley and her boyfriend. We spent the evening walking the Gion district and had some delicious ramen!

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The next day was a very special one for me. I got to see so many beautiful shrines, beautiful architecture, and eat delicious food during the day, but my highlight was going to the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine to watch the sunset from the top of Mt. Inari. This site has over 10,000 Torrii gates, all painted orange. This place is beyond breathtaking. I felt very spiritual to be there.

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Stay tuned for my next post, where I travel onwards to Osaka!

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Japan – Nagano, Matsumoto, and Nagoya

The next stops on my Japan trip were Nagano (for one night), Matsumoto Castle, and Nagoya. I stayed in Nagano for the evening after visiting the Jigokudani Monkey Park. I stayed in a very swanky hotel right at the Nagano train station. I had quite a bit of work to do that evening and I wanted to be close to the train station for the next day. I did a time-lapse video of the sunset and was pretty impressed how it turned out.

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The next day I boarded a train towards Nagoya but made a stop in Matsumoto. Matsumoto is one of Japan’s top four castles to visit, and during this trip I visited all four! Masumoto is unique because it’s a black castle, also known as the “crow castle”. The amount of engineering detail that went into the castle is breathtaking. They accounted for everything that you could possibly conceive, even earthquakes. Not bad for late 1500’s engineering! The castle still stands to this day, surviving multiple earthquakes, and World War 2. Over the years the castle was ruled by the 23 lords of Matsumoto representing six different daimyō families.

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After soaking up this magnificent castle I continued on my journey to Nagoya. My two favorite things about Nagoya was the Toyota Museum, and the MAGLEV museum. I actually learned that Toyota is one of the largest manufacturer’s of the automatic loom; apparently they started out as a textile machine company. Nagoya impressed me in some aspects, but disappointed me in other aspects. I was disappointed about the dirtiness of the city, and overall grungy feel to the city. It felt like the Las Vegas of Japan in a way.

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The next stop in my trip was Kyoto, one of my favorite stops of the entire trip. Stay tuned!

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