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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Portland – Day 1 – Travel Day & Portland By Night

This weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the beautiful city of Portland, Oregon. Before we dive into what I did lets take a brief look at the history of Portland to understand how it came to be where it is today.

Portland is Oregon’s largest and most populated city with a population of roughly 650,000 people. Portland was founder in the 1830’s by pioneers who travelled via the Oregon Trail. The Oregon Trail is a 2170 mile (3490 km) East-West wagon route that was used by pioneers and fur traders in the early to mid 1800’s. Portland was originally referred to as Stumptown and The Clearing because of the many trees that had to be cut down to allow for the growth of the settlement. In 1843 William Overton saw potential in the new settlement but lacked the funds to file an official land claim, so for a mere 25 cents he agreed to share half of the site with Asa Lovejoy from Boston. In 1845 Overton sold the remaining half to Francis Pettygrove from Portland, Maine. Both Pettygrove and Lovejoy wanted to rename The Clearing after their hometowns, and the renaming was settled with a coin toss. Pettygrove won in a series of two out of three coin tosses, and The Clearing was renamed Portland after Pettygrove’s hometown of Portland, Maine. The coin used to make the decision was declared the Portland Penny and is on display in the Oregon Historical Society headquarters.

Portland was officially incorporated on February 8 1851 and had a population of 800 people. There was a major fire in 1873 which wiped out about 20 city blocks. The city rebuilt and by 1890 the city had a population of 46000 people. Portland’s access to water made it a major port city for the timber industry and helped provide a major boom to the city’s early economy. This also helped earn the city the unfortunate reputation as being a dangerous city with organized crime and racketeering. It took a while to shake this rough edge but Portland came out of the 1960’s with a new lease on life with its progressive political and environmental views. The city operates with a commission-based government guided led by a major as well as four commissioners and a directly elected metropolitan planning organization. The city is recognized internationally as one of the world’s most environmentally conscious cities due to its ease of walkability, large number of public parks, large use of bicycles, public transportation, and inner-city farming. An interesting fact is that this city is also ideal for growing roses and Portland has also been called the City of Roses. Portland also has various other nicknames such as Bridgetown, Beervana, and Brewtopia.

I started out my Portland trip by arriving at Portland International Airport (PDX) on an Air Canada Express Bombardier Q400. The flight was a direct flight from YYC to PDX and took roughly 2 hours. PDX has an iconic carpet that features geometric shapes on a teal background representing what the birds eye view of the airport as seen by the air traffic controllers from the airport tower. The original carpet was installed in 1987 and received a ton of media attention and was loved by travelers and locals. In 2013 the Port of Portland announced the replacement of the carpet and this caused quite the stir on social media. The original carpet removal began in January 2015, with the airport recycling the extremely worn out portions and the remaining pieces were sold to local retail vendors. The new carpet design places more of an emphasis on modern design and features natural and man-shape shapes found around the airport, including references to flight, nature and structures such as airplane wings, hiking trails, leaves, runways and waterways. Installation was completed in November 2015. The carpet replacement ended up costing roughly $13 million. Personally I’m a fan of the old design, compared to the new design.
The old carpet design has inspired designs in socks, tie’s, sneakers, underwear, etc. Portland Trail Blazers basketball team point guard Damian Lillard released two Adidas branded shoes with the design between 2015 and 2016.

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After arriving in Portland there are a few forms of transportation to get into the city center; the MAX Red Line LRT ($2.50 USD), Uber ($22/USD average), Taxi ($35/USD average), and Rental Car ($35/day USD average). In order to align with my frugal ways of travel I opted for the MAX Red Line LRT, which should have taken roughly 40 minutes to go from PDX to Pioneer Square North, which was close to the hotel I was staying at; Hotel Radisson RED. Unfortunately, after just a few stops the train stopped and the transit operator told us to take a cab, Uber, or bus since the train bridge was having trouble getting locked in the down position.

The MAX LRT system is comprised of 5 lines spanning over 60 miles (97 km) and has 97 stations. Construction of the MAX network started in 1982. The MAX system was conceived after a series of anti-freeway movements by locals in the 1970’s. The system utilizes 750 Volts DC overhead wires similar to Calgary’s very own LRT system, except ours utilize only 600 Volts DC. Rolling stock includes five different models; simply called Type 1 through Type 5. The original Type 1’s were a joint venture project with Canada’s Bombardier and La Brugeoise et Nivelles from Belgium. The Type 1’s were high floor type trains that did not allow wheelchair accessibility. After the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 the requirement for low floor type trains were a must, which lead to the Type 2 low floor trains that were developed by Siemens, dubbed SD660’s. Type 3’s were also SD660’s. Type 4’s were Siemens S70’s. Type 5’s were essentially improved S70’s. Trainsets are typically only 2 cars, and Type 1-3 are interchangeable and Type 4-5 are interchangeable.

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Anyways… back to the trip. We got an Uber ride from a guy named Dustin, who was super friendly. He was originally from Oklahoma and ended up coming here to study Business and Economics at Portland State University. He was doing some Uber driving on the side. After getting dropped off by Dustin we checked into our hotel. The Radisson RED Portland is a brand new hotel that just opened in November 2018. The hotel has 180 rooms on 8 floors, while the remaining floors in the tower are consumed by office space. The room was massive and very hip with all sorts of retro art murals. The room had a king size bed, work area, ample storage, and a luxurious bathroom with white tiles with red grout and a lobster mural in the shower! The hotel even has an arcade and games room on the second floor loft that overlooks the foyer area.

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After dropping off our bags we walked to Deschutes Brewery. On the way I took multiple photos of Portland at night. Deschutes Brewery is one of my favorite craft breweries. Deschutes Brewery was opened in 1988 with the main brewery located in Bend, Oregon. Deschutes Brewery also has a satellite pub in Portland’s Pearl District, which is the one we visited. The brewery produces a wide range of beers including Black Butte Porter, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Fresh Squeezed IPA, Inversion IPA, Chainbreaker White IPA, Deschutes River Ale, Obsidian Stout, Red Chair NWPA, Twilight Summer Ale, Jubelale, Hop Henge Experimental IPA, Hop Trip, Chasin’ Freshies, The Dissident, Mirror Mirror, and The Abyss. Deschutes uses an in-house, proprietary yeast strain resembling Wyeast Laboratories, Inc. #1187 Ringwood Ale yeast. Deschutes is the eighth largest craft brewery and fifteenth largest brewery in the US, producing over 29.3 million litres of beer annually. It was time for me to drink a few of those litres of beer!

First up was Hazy IPA. Second up was Fresh Squeezed IPA. Third up was Inversion IPA. The Hazy IPA was my favorite of the three. Catherine ended up having a Cider and tried some of my Hazy IPA. She really liked the Hazy IPA, maybe I’m converting her… just maybe… We also decided to also have some food so we shared an IPA Pretzel served with gooey cheese and mustard. It was absolutely incredible.

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After becoming moderately drunk it was time to go back to the hotel as we had a big day ahead of us. Oh, did I mention we actually had to leave because the bar closed at… 10pm? Yes, that’s right it closes at 10pm on a Thursday.

Check back tomorrow when we explore the beautiful city of Portland during the day and go to a Darci Lynne show in the evening.

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Zurich

The next stop on my three weeks of travel was the beautiful city of Zurich, Switzerland. I spent two days here, with one of the days being a side trip to Jungfraujoch, but more on that later.

Accommodation was at the ibis Airport Hotel. The cost was reasonable at $70 CDN, although the rooms were rather simple, but the beds were comfortable.

Zurich is Switzerland’s largest city at 408000 people. Switzerland has a population of 8.2 million people. Before we take a look at Zurich let’s look at a bit of history of Switzerland and how Zurich came to be.

Switzerland’s history is rather young. Switzerland was inhabited by the Gauls Raetians and was under Roman rule in the 1st century BC. The Gallo-Roman culture was combined with German influence during 235-284 AD time period. The Swiss Confederation was founded in 1291 as a defensive alliance among three cantons (similar to states or provinces). Other localities joined the original three cantons over the years. The Swiss Confederation became independent of the Holy Roman Empire in 1499. The constitution of 1848 replaced the confederations with a centralized federal government. This constitution was modified again in 1874. Switzerland’s sovereignty and neutrality have long been honoured by the major European powers and the country was not involved in either of the two world wars. Switzerland did not become a European Union member until 2002, but maintains its own currency.

Zurich has an extensive tram network that would make many other cities jealous. The trams run every 6 minutes and are very punctual. This keeps traffic extremely light in the city as most people take public transport. Other cities that I have visited that have had great success with trams are Amsterdam, and Melbourne. Two cities that I’ve visited that used to a great tram network before the 1950’s rush to build automotive highways were Auckland, New Zealand and my home town Calgary, Canada. The mayor of Auckland even ordered the removal of some of the tram lines in the middle of the night! It’s a shame because these two cities are absolutely plugged with traffic.

Zurich is an extremely wealthy city, and Switzerland is also an extremely wealthy country with a large population working white collar jobs such as Google (3000 people in Zurich alone), fine quality jewelery and watches, chocolate, and banking and finance.

Zurich straddles both sides of the Limmat river and has many bridges that offer fantastic views, and a beautiful viewpoint from Lindenhof Park. Another wonderful spot for photographs is Grossmunster church, a Romanesque-style Protestant church, which was built between 1100 and 1220 AD.

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Check back shortly for the final installment of my trip; a trip to Jungfraujoch, a notable saddle in the Bernese Alps, connection the two peaks of Junfrau and Monch.

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