A Cuppa Cosy Winter Holiday 2019 – Vatican City

It’s the smallest country in the world. It’s among one of the holiest spots (save for Mecca/Jerusalem/and the like) in the world. It has quite the history in both good terms and bad terms. And we spent the better part of the day walking its paths, looking at its artwork, learning its history. Vatican City.

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Where to even start? Our route was simple, we started in the Vatican Museum, then the Sistine Chapel, and finally to St. Peter’s Basilica. Before we even go much further I want to talk about how we saw Vatican City. We booked our tour through Through Eternity Tours (website HERE). They have a couple different options when it comes to Vatican Tours, but we decided to go with the Early Morning Vatican Tour with Sistine Chapel. It’s slighter more expensive (though still incredibly reasonable) and the timeline is specifically set up to get you the best time in the Sistine Chapel. I cannot recommend them enough. We had Federica as our tour guide, and she was great. She had not only great art knowledge and Vatican knowledge, but she also has a personal connection in that her husband works there, her son was baptized there (by the Pope himself!) and she shared not only the important stuff, but also little anecdotes. It may have been a very early morning, but it was very early. Honestly- if you are planning a trip and looking at different tour groups, this is the one that I would go with. They have their meeting place, their headset and ticket gathering down so that when you line up with the rest of the tour groups, you are already ready to go and one of the first groups in. (You’ll hear about them again in the next Rome post as well as we did a separate tour with them elsewhere)

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Our tour started off with meeting Federica and picking up our headsets at 7AM. From there we headed to the entrance spot (one entrance!) and waited in line. We were up towards the front with only a couple groups in front of us. While we were waiting, Federica made use of the time giving us a quick rundown on the history of Vatican City and specifically the artwork and artists displayed within the walls.

The history of the Vatican dates back to the 4th century when the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica began over the grave of St. Peter (issued by Emperor Constantine I). As the chapel and location grew in popularity, so did the development of the city. The walls were originally commissioned in the 9th century (after an attack) and were expanded through to the 17th century. The Pope’s have not always lived in the Vatican; however, a residence was built in the 6th century with a tunnel connecting the Vatican to Castel Sant’Angelo ( from our first days in Rome HERE) added in the 13th century. The Catholic Church briefly left Vatican City to relocate to France, but returned relatively quickly and worked to restore and rebuild most of the country.

Much of the Vatican City that you see today was due to Pope Julius II (with a bit of Sixtus IV and his commissioning bits of the Sistine Chapel). Julius II not only commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel, he also commissioned a new church (St. Peter’s Basilica), and a new courtyard.

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Now, a quick foray into the Politics of Vatican City being its own country, separate from Italy and some information about the country itself. The Pope originally held power over its regional territories, but in 1870 a unified Italian government decided to take back the land located outside the walls of the Vatican which caused some…issues. In the 1930’s Mussolini signed an agreement that allowed Vatican City to become a separate, sovereign entity and had them receive compensation for the loss of territories. The Pope now only had power over his country, which is 109 acres and has a 2-mile border. The smallest country in existence. As many of you have probably heard, the Vatican does have its own post office, banking system, and you can potentially (depending on who is working) get a Vatican City passport stamp.

Our tour started in The Vatican Museum. The Vatican Museum actually takes you through the residence rooms of various Pope’s that contain artwork or statues that were either commissioned or used during their time as Pope. However, before you can get through to the artwork and rooms you go through the courtyard, statue, tapestry, and maps rooms. Each of these rooms featuring exactly what they are named for and each being almost more incredible than the last. Each room (or museum) has its own unique story and informational background. I’m going to link the official site of the museum and its history HERE as this blog post would get even longer than the last (and potentially more boring) if I went into elaborate detail about each spot. Instead of doing that, I’ll take a little bit to talk about each of my favorite one’s.

The map room in particular was incredible as the walls are lined with maps of Italy (and the islands) as it was seen at that time. It’s a much much different look at the world as this Gallery was opened in 1581. So much was still relatively “undiscovered” by Romans and their view of the world was much different. The walls of this room are lined with these maps and you can really see how they saw their “world” in a sense.

I also absolutely loved Raphael’s Rooms which, similar to the Sistine Chapel, were commissioned by Julius II and feature some absolutely incredible artwork. Raphael was given free reign over the design and depictions in the fresco’s and they are just an incredible sight to see.

A final cool spot (mostly because of the Pope) was Pope Alexander VI (Borgia)’s rooms. This particular pope is a very well known (some might say infamous) Pope and his rooms are exactly as you would expect. They are located in one of the most exclusive wings of the Apostolic Palace and were not inhabited by any other Pope’s. The ceiling of one of the rooms was decorated with pinecones, a symbol of fertility (yep you read that one right) and remained vacant after his death.

Something to note about the entire indoor areas of Vatican City is the floors. The floors are these absolutely incredible mosaic tiles, each individually laid and placed with care. These are the same floors that have been in existence since it’s origin. So, while you are walking through these various rooms, walking through the paths of artwork and statues, you are walking the same floors that many, many, great’s have walked before you. You are walking the same path that Michelangelo would have walked while he was working, the same path Raphael walked to get to this commissioned rooms. Just incredible to think about.

Once we finished with the museum portion (the Borgia apartment is the last to see), we headed straight into the Sistine Chapel. IMG_4474.jpgI have no pictures of the Sistine Chapel. First off, you are not allowed to take pictures in the chapel. Second, I don’t know that I would have wanted to take pictures even if you could. The Sistine Chapel is something that simply needs to be experienced, something that should just be taken in, without prior knowledge or warning. It is a spot to sit in silence and just revel at the beauty that is around you. It is truly incredible the amount of work, the paintings, the level of detail. Our tour guide, Federica, did a great job at pointing out a couple of spots for us to pay attention to when we did walk through. A couple of spots of note were the spots where Michelangelo inserted his…”opinion” on the commission. It is well known that Michelangelo had no interest in painting the fresco’s, he worked with marble, created statues- he hadn’t painted fresco’s in many many years. This “petty attitude” towards the Pope that he developed came through in some areas of the large painting (specifically where a little child is “flipping the pope off”). He also managed to apply this attitude to those who had…less than desirable opinions on the artwork (there is a Cardinal that is in a…precarious position in The Last Judgement).

We were able to spend 20 minutes in the Sistine Chapel before moving on to St. Peter’s Basilica.

I’ve already briefly touched on St. Peter’s, but I’ll continue it here (very briefly to spare you). It took a little over 100 years to complete (after being commissioned in 1506) and the alter sits directly atop the shrine of St. Peter. It is truly a masterpiece just in terms of a church not even considering the incredible art inside the church. One of the major pieces that you can see within the church is the Pieta by Michelangelo. You are also able to see two pope’s that are “on display” within the church.

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When they were ready to be entombed in the Grottoes, they actually were found to be in perfectly preserved condition. Instead of being placed down in the Grottoes, they were placed at two different spots within the church for all to see. That’s not to say you can’t see the other Pope’s, simply head down the stairs to the Grottoes and you can learn about the histories of each of the Pope’s. It’s a pretty incredible site to see.

Our final stop within Vatican City was not as part of the tour, but something we decided to do ourselves, and that was to climb to the top of the dome on St. Peter’s Basilica. We’ve always been “those travelers” who like to get above a city and get a sort of “eagle eye view” of the city. This was the perfect chance to get as high as we could and take a look.

I will say this, despite my incredible fear of heights/falling from said heights, this view did not disappoint. It wasn’t my favorite of our entire trip (Alter of the Fatherland was as a side note), but this one was so special both for views and location. It is quite the climb up (500 something steps to the top), but you are able to take an elevator for about 200 of those steps. The elevator stops you at a higher point within the church, so you are able to see the interior of the dome a bit better and see down into the church from a higher viewpoint. Also, the steps aren’t really that bad as you are going up, you are able to tell each part of the dome that you are in.

IMG_4323 2.JPGThe Vatican was one of the most incredible parts of our visit and something that I am going to remember for the rest of my life. To stand in this most sacred spot for so many is something that words cannot describe and then you bring it’s long (and rich) history…it’s a lot. A lot of feelings. It is definitely a spot that you HAVE to go to if you are in Rome and a spot that I think is best done as part of a tour group (the line to get in without a pre-planned tour ticket was INSANE…heck the line to simply get into St. Peter’s Basilica without the tour was INSANE too). Through Eternity exceeded all of our expectations and we will definitely use them in the future if we are ever in need.

And that wraps up Day 4/Vatican City. I hope that you enjoyed!

Recommendations and Tips for: A Weekend in Prague

Untitled Design 19We recently spent a couple days wandering the streets in Prague and I fully fell in love with the city. It has the perfect balance of history, culture, art, and music. It is a city that is full of life and love (seriously- my husband got all sorts of romantic during our short time there). It also happens to be a city that we fully plan on re visiting as there is so much to do and see. Today I am going to share some of the things that I think you should definitely see along with some tips about navigating the city. If you’d like a catch up on what we did you can see my post HERE. If you’d like tips specific to Christmas Markets in Prague, click HERE.

Recommendations

Prague Castle- It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I am recommending a trip to the castle. I love visiting castles as they usually are not only the focal point of a city/town, but also have such a rich, often turbulent history. Prague Castle is no different, plus it has the added bonus of being currently in use and it’s cathedral having been recently finished. I would head up towards the afternoon/evening so you can watch the sun set on the city. Then, for an added bonus, walk across Charles Bridge and see how the castle lights up across the water.

Old Town Square- I would recommend a morning wandering around Old Town Square. At the heart of Prague, this square offers churches, history, and shopping nearby (if that’s your thing). Make sure you pay attention to the ground as there are a couple special tiles on the ground in the square marking spots. There are two churches right around this square to go in as well and they both should be visited.

Charles Bridge – This is the pedestrian Bridge that connects Old Town Square to Lesser Town and Prague Castle and is a fun walking path to go between. There are quite a few monuments and statues on the bridge, as well as a couple to touch for good luck. If they are open, you are able to climb up into the towers and see a “birds eye” view. As I stated earlier, I would recommend walking the bridge in the evening so you can see the city light up and the castle across the river.

Jewish Quarter—This is a must see and is quite easy to navigate through. The important thing to know is that the entire Quarter is closed on Saturday and you will not be able to visit anything during that time. Otherwise, the synagogues typically open around 9AM for visitors and you need tickets to get into both the synagogue, the museum, and the old cemetery. You can stop at any of the souvenir or gift shops that are labeled to purchase tickets for the entire quarter. There are a couple different ticket options and I believe Audio Guides are included in most of them. I would definitely recommend stopping into as many of the synagogues as you can during your visit, as well as the Old Cemetery.

Prague Astronomical Clock – This one, quite honestly, is a miss. I wouldn’t go out of your way to watch the glockenspiel as it really isn’t worth fighting the crowds. If you happen to already be there, then go ahead and watch, but don’t make a special trip.

Honorable mention to Lesser Quarter if you have the time as well as Wenceslas Square. There are a couple of spots that I wish we would have gone and look forward to going back to see those spots (up in the all the towers and churches and some other food spots). When we go back, I’ll do another couple of posts giving more details.

Tips

Tip #1: Crowds. Prague is a very popular tourist destination and that leads to crowds. Honestly, I knew there would be crowds, but I didn’t feel like it was overwhelming (like Amsterdam was). To me, the crowds were just…the crowds. I would recommend to just keep moving with the crowd.

Tip #2: Use public transportation! I’m a huge proponent of using the local methods of transportation and Prague has a really great system. It is really easy to navigate, relatively inexpensive, with great options for ticket timelines (i.e 90 minute, 24 hr, 72 hr, etc.). I was very impressed with it while we were there.

Tip #3: Parking. Since you’ll be walking or using public transport during your time in Prague, you’ll need to find parking for your car. Parking in Prague is definitely a struggle. So many spots are reserved or not able to have parking, or are just too compact to comfortably park in. There are a couple spots to park in that you can pay for, The Palladium (which has convenience for Old Town Square), the main Train Station, OR you can use an app called Mr. Parkit which has spots that you can reserve all over town. They have both indoor and outdoor options and they all come with reviews and information. The benefit to using Mr. Parkit is that you reserve a spot, so you can come and go as needed (if you are staying to night or a couple nights this is helpful). The app itself is easy to use and once you’ve reserved a spot it’s easy to get in and out.

And that wraps up my recommendations and tips for Prague! I know I’ve said it a million times, but I loved Prague and I cannot wait to go back! Have you been to Prague? Any additional tips or spots to go?

Prague – A Long Weekend Away

IMG_1891Our final stop on our Thanksgiving Weekend Away was in Prague for ~2 days. This post is going to only focus on what we did in Prague and the history of those spots. I will be doing separate posts on the Christmas Markets and my Recommendations and Tips. I’m going to break this post down day by day as I think that is probably the best way to handle the information in a concise way. And, one final thing before we get into the post, we fully plan on going back to Prague to do a little bit more exploring. I fell in love with the city and I feel like there is so much more to see. It’s only a couple hour drive (or train ride) so it’s totally feasible for us to go back.

Prague itself dates back to around the 2nd century, but it wasn’t until Charles IV came into power that it really started to find a place on the map. Prague has been through its fair share of ups and downs, crusaders, religious upheaval, and foreign occupations. It’s seen war, nonviolent revolutions, and a modern turn towards capitalism (and a big shift in consumerism). The city itself shows all the different stages of its history and I think that makes it so interesting and easy to explore. Every corner holds a different era.

Now, onto what we did in our short amount of time in Prague…

Afternoon Day 1

We arrived about midday in Prague and decided to start our time off at Prague Castle. This was the highest and furthest point that we wanted to go on this particular trip, so it seemed like a good place to start and work our way back from. We used the public transportation system (buses, street cars, and an underground metro) to get as close as we could and then walked the final hill to the castle entrance.

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Prague Castle dates it’s foundation laying to the 9th Century, with the Cathedral not being completed until the 20th Century. The castle itself is the largest castle complex in the world. The castle itself is made up of three large courtyards with the cathedral being the most prominent. It dominates any view of Prague and for quite a while was the seat of various rulers. In modern day, it happens to be the seat of the President of the Czech Republic.

Before you even head into the castle, the views overlooking Prague are incredible. Within the castle walls, you walk up the street and see St. George’s Basilica. This is the oldest preserved church. Originally built in the 10thcentury, it was rebuilt in the 12th and then “updated” in the 17th century. It is very impressive and certainly dominates the main first courtyard.

Going around the lane a bit further and you come to the incredible Cathedral of St. Vitus, St. Wenceslas and St. Adalbert.  This is the spiritual symbol of the state, building began in the 14th century, but took almost 600 years to complete (with the final touches being completed in 1929). The interior of the cathedral is equally impressive and contains the crypt where the kings were buried, and the crown jewels are housed. It was absolutely gorgeous on the inside (although we didn’t make our way through the entire cathedral). You are able to walk through the rest of the complex and the buildings throughout the complex. We headed out right around sunset and got to watch the sun set on the city, and then see the city start to come to life in the evening.

We checked into our Airbnb (which was a fun exercise) and then headed out to dinner at Restaurace U Houdků. This was a lovely local pub type restaurant and we had a lovely meal of various Czech delicacies. We made it an early night in preparation for the long day ahead.

Day 2:

Saturday was our walking day. I love to walk a city (especially one that is so easily walkable to see so much) and Prague was perfect for that. We woke early, stopped for a quick coffee, and then headed out to be tourists for the day. We started our stroll at the IMG_1969.jpgPrašná brána (Powder Tower). Dating back to the 15th century, this was the entrance that all the kings would use to enter The Old Town. It was a gunpowder store in the 18th century, today it serves as not only a viewing gallery to see over the city, but still is the entrance for a royal route to Prague Castle. It certainly was an impressive sight to see and is a good start to your morning/day out in Prague Old Town.

 

 

 

From there it is a quick stroll down the streets to reach Old Town Square. This main square holds not only the markets, but has been restored throughout the years. The Old Town square is circled by several prominent buildings, the first of which being the Church of Our Lady before Týn. This is easily one of the most impressive buildings you will see during your visit to Prague, aside from the Cathedral at the Castle. This particular church also contains the oldest organ in Prague, dating to the 17th century. The church itself dates back to the 14thcentury.

In the square itself there are several things to see before moving on in another direction. There are various steps on the ground itself marking where executions would take place and other little tidbits of what life was like. There is the Jan Hus Memorial in the central. You can walk off to the side a little bit and go to the St. Nicholas Church. This church was completed in the early 18th century and is absolutely incredible. When we went in they had the organ music playing and the grand chandelier was a sight to see. It not only serves as a church, but is also a classical music concert hall. Before leaving the square, do a quick look see at The Prague Astronomical Clock. It isn’t necessary to stick around for the performance (it’s really not anything to write home about0, but it’s definitely something to peak at before leaving the square.

From the square we walked the side streets up to Wenceslas square. It’s not a far walk and by walking we not only got to see a couple more markets, we also got to see a wide variety of the architecture of the city.

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Wenceslas square is at the heart of “New Town” and is full of shopping and commercial life. New Town was commissioned by Charles IV in the 14th century. New Town was intended to be the center of Prague and with this new square under construction Prague became the third largest city in Europe (at that time). While New Town may not be very new by age standards, it certainly is the heart of the modern shopping era. Wenceslas Square is set up as a boulevard or (as its original layout and time period would entail) a horse market. Wenceslas Square has served as a parade ground of sorts, seeing everything from celebrations to uprisings. The square backs up into the National Museum and the Opera House, as well as a statue of St. Wenceslas riding his horse.

From Wenceslas Square we decided to hop on the metro and head over to the Charles Bridge Area.

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Charles Bridge is the main pedestrian bridge used to cross from one side of the Vitava River to the other. Charles IV commissioned the bridge and even laid the first foundation stone of the bridge in 1357 (there is a marking for it). This was originally intended for tournaments, but has since evolved into the bridge it is now. It is adorned with a total of 75 statues throughout the bridge and is a great option to walk from Old Town to Lesser Town.

On the Old Town side of Charles Bridge, you enter under the Old Town Bridge Tower. This is an incredible tower that continued the path of royalty through the Old Town and up to The Castle. You can climb inside the tower and see opposite the tower and bridge. On the Lesser Town side there is the Lesser Town Bridge Tower. This was built in the 15th century and was modeled off of the Old Town Bridge Tower. The smaller tower that is connected is Judith’s Tower; the only remaining part of the original bridge crossing. You are also able to climb up inside the Lesser Town Bridge Tower and see opposite.

Once in Lesser Town we did a couple of stops, the first of which being a bookstore. Massive thanks to my friend Hannah (who happened to be in Prague at the same time we were), who enlightened me to the existence of Shakespeare and Sons. IMG_2288Shakespeare and Sons is a {big} little almost hole in the wall bookstore in a corner of Lesser Town. Situated near Kafka’s house and museum it is the perfect little stop. It has the used and new book atmosphere that I love, with book stacked high along the walls, piled on the floor and behind the cash register. I didn’t have nearly all the time I wanted to browse (thanks to two very active toddlers and one husband who couldn’t believe we were at a bookstore in a foreign country…again), but I did manage to snag a couple books. I got each book stamped with the bookseller’s mark, a reusable book bag, and a bookmark. Such a perfect little stop!

 

After our stop, we knew we needed a little breather from walking and exploring and a little chance to just relax and take it easy. We were right near the sight-seeing boat docks, so we decided to take a little boat tour of the river. Stay tuned for my full thoughts on this in my tips/recommendations, BUT it did what it intended- gave our boys a chance to rest and eat and us a chance to sit for a bit.

IMG_2407.jpgWe headed back to Old Town Square for the Christmas Tree Lighting and the official opening of the Prague Christmas Markets. More on this in the Prague Christmas Market post.

 

 

 

 

Morning Day 3

On our last morning in Prague we spent a little time in the Jewish Quarter (Josefov). The Jewish Quarter (originally the Jewish Ghetto) originates from around the 10th century, however it’s history really begins around the 13th century when the Jews were ordered to leave their homes behind wherever they were, and were banished to this Quarter. The first pogrom occurred Easter of 1389 and it has had a turbulent history since then. The quarter has gone through radical changes, with its people living at the whim of whomever was in charge at the time and at one point was overcrowded. There is a total of six synagogues in the Jewish Quarter, a Ceremonial Hall, and the Old Jewish Cemetery. Ironically enough, the Jewish Quarter was one of the few Jewish spots that survived World War 2 in the area as Hitler decided it could be a “Museum of an Extinct Race”. There is so much history to the Jewish Quarter, that I know I’ll be learning about everything for a long time to come.

We started with breakfast at this cute little café called Mansson The Danish Bakery. We munched on coffee’s, pastries, and meats before heading into the proper quarter.

We didn’t have a long time in the morning to see all of the synagogues and sights, but we tried to make the most of our time to see the absolute must see. We wandered the streets and admired the architecture of the Jewish Quarter before stopping into our first synagogue, Maisel Synagogue.

The Maisel Synagogue was originally built in the late 16th century and founded by its namesake, Mordechai Maisel. After a fire destroyed the original synagogue, the current synagogue dates back to the 19/20th century. This is an incredible synagogue to stop in and details out what life was like in the Jewish Quarter and a bit of the history around the early years of the Quarter. My personal favorite was hearing details about the book and scholarly life.

The second synagogue that we stopped in was the Pinkas Synagogue.

This was built, again, in the 16thcentury. It originally served as a private family oratory by the wealthy family that commissioned it, but later was adapted to add a women’s gallery and new décor for the Torah Ark. This synagogue was reconstructed and turned into a Memorial. The names of the victims of the Shoah are painted on the walls, arranged alphabetically by residence. It’s the oldest monument of its kind and bares 80,000 names on its walls. This was an incredibly moving memorial and absolutely heartbreaking to see. To have all these names laid out in front of you, all around you on the walls, it’s breathtaking.

Our final stop was the Old Jewish Cemetery, which can be accessed through either the Pinkas Synagogue or next to the Klausen Synagogue. The Old Jewish Cemetery is one of the oldest in the world, having been founded early in the 15th century. The Cemetery contains burials from before 1440 until 1787, when a decree came down prohibiting active burial grounds within inhabited areas of the city. There are around 12,000 tombstones, but even more graves as some of collapsed into the ground and others have been destroyed by the elements. Now, if you’re wondering how the dead are actually buried in this manner (with the tombstones being the way they are), don’t worry, we were too. The community actually would add new soil to the ground when they needed more room, so there are several layers of graves in the cemetery, one above the other. The gravestones became crowded as each site holds multiple graves. Both Rabbi Low and Mordecai Meisel, two big names who helped build the Quarter up, are buried here.

Words can’t even begin to describe this sight. It was incredible not only with the overcrowding of the tombstones and the idea of how old the graves were and how many people were actually there, but just the sheer size. At some points it seemed never ending. The amount of history in this relatively small area of Prague is incredible to think of.

We wanted to see both the Old-New Synagogue (the oldest preserved synagogue in Central Europe) and the Spanish Synagogue (the most beautiful in Europe), but both were not open when we were there.

And that ended our short little weekend in Prague! We are definitely making plans to go back and see more of the city, and have already added a couple of spots to our must-see list. Have you been to Prague? What was your favorite spot? If you haven’t, what would you like to go see the most?

Lidice – An Important {1/2} Day Trip

On our way from the beautiful, quaint, relaxing Karlovy Vary to the full of life, architecture, and history Prague, we made a very important stop. We stopped at a little town called Lidice. Never heard of it? You probably haven’t as it was completely wiped out, silently, during World War 2. The survivors of the town and their families, along with others, have worked hard to create a memorial and share the story of this unjust act. There isn’t much to see, as everything was wiped out, BUT it is an important stop, the memorials are incredible, and the history is so important.

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To know the town of Lidice, you need to know a little bit about Operation Anthropoid as everything stems from this operation. I am going to make the information about the Operation as brief as possible, but just know that I am summarizing A LOT. As with any war, battle, or really any major history, there is A LOT more that is going on. If there is anything I have learned about this particular spot is just how interconnected everything can really be.

So, Operation Anthropoid was the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. Reinhard Heydrich was an incredibly high-ranking Nazi Official, instrumental in Hitler’s rise, was in charge of the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”, and was given the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. At the time of his assassination he was living just outside of central Prague. The Czechoslovakians took charge of the operation with the approval of their own government. This assassination is the only government approved high ranking Nazi assassination in World War 2. The assassination occurred on May 27, 1942 in Prague, with Reinhard Heydrich dying from his injuries in early June.

So, how does the above lead to an entire village being wiped away? Well, after Reinhard Heydrich died there were reprisals. False Intelligence linked the two assassins to hiding out in Lidice as well as the town hiding resistance officers in general. Hitler and Heimler met and determined the way forward to make those who may have helped Reinhard Heydrich’s killers pay: The men would be executed immediately, the women would be sent away immediately to a concentration camp, the children would be divided up into those who could pass as German and those who could not (with those who could not being sent away- the words used are “bring the rest of the children up in other ways”), and the village would be burned to the ground, completely leveled.

The Nazi’s surrounded the village so no one could escape, and the massacre began. As in the proclamation, the men were rounded up and shot early in the morning at one of the barns. The Nazi’s had collected mattresses from the houses near the barn to place against the barn to prevent ricochets.

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The barn where the men were executed

173 men dead. The 11 men who were not in the village at that time were sought out, arrested and executed. Only 3 men survived and of the 3, only 1 was actually in Czechoslovakia at the time of the massacre. He was in prison at the time of the massacre for something completely unrelated and didn’t hear about it until after he had been released (after hearing about it, he tried to turn himself in out of sheer heartbreak, but the SS did nothing and he survived the rest of the war).

The women, 203, and children, 105, were held in the village school and then to another nearby school for 3 days. The pregnant women were taken to hospital and forced to have abortions and then went on to concentration camps. 184 women were loaded on to trucks to go to Ravensbruck. Some of the women survived the war (I am not sure the exact number). 88 children were sent to a former textile factory where they received minimal care and were looked over to determine which would pass for German. 7 children were chosen to be fostered into German SS families. The rest were sent to Chelmno extermination camp. Out of the 105 children, 17 returned home.

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Any animals in the village were killed prior to the destruction of the village itself. Before setting the village on fire and using explosives to further destroy any buildings, the Germans looted everything. They went through the houses and dug up the dead to search for anything of value. After the village was destroyed, the Germans sent in workers to do a final removal of any signs that the village was in fact there, which included re-routing the stream and roads and planting crops.

This was not the only village, another nearby village, Ležáky, was given the same treatment after a radio transmitter was found there.

While the Nazi’s extolled the great destruction, the rest of the world started raising funds to rebuild the village and some cities renamed to include Lidice in their names. Movies, books, poems, and artwork were all created out of the response to the massacre and a new village was created overlooking the destroyed one. The two villages are connected by a street lined with trees. There have been various memorials added throughout the years, including the incredible children’s sculpture.

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Up until this point I have tried to give just the facts and the photo’s (similar to my post on Dachau Concentration Camp) as I believe those two items speak for themselves. But, the more I’ve been visiting these spots, the more I’ve been doing research into these spots, the more I’ve been learning, the more I’ve realized just HOW MUCH there was to World War 2 that we just don’t know or talk about, the more I don’t think I can keep my opinions out of these posts. My mind just goes racing with all these random thoughts, my heart breaks for the heaviness, the loss of life, and that’s not even mentioning what it feels like to walk through these spaces. Dachau Concentration Camp was incredibly difficult, Nuremberg Courthouse was incredibly difficult, Lidice was incredibly difficult. These are important, heartbreaking, impactful spots and I can’t even begin to articulate what visiting them feels like. Those are big feelings that don’t really have words.

What I will share are some of the things that just stick in my mind. That flabbergast me. That break my heart. That make me just stop. That make me go “WTF”. If you want to stick with the facts and such, I completely understand. If I ever insert these bits into a post, they will always be at the end, with some sort of warning ahead of time. Feel free to stop reading at that point, BUT please read up until that point. These are important places and important moments for all of us to learn about.

So…

The first bit I want to touch on is the wording that was used in the proclamation about making all those who were guilty pay in regard to the children. Here’s the specific wording:

Gather the children suitable for Germanisation, then place them in SS families in the Reich and bring the rest of the children up in other ways

“Bring the rest of the children up in other ways” is a very coded way of saying- execute them. This wording that is used just sticks in my mind. What a pretty way of conveying something so beyond horrific. I cannot get passed it. And that’s not even getting into the whole concept of them picking and choosing children who would live and die. I cannot even fathom, let alone discuss.

The second bit that I want to touch on is the lengths that they want to to ensure that everything and everyone was dead or gone. No survivors. To seek out those who weren’t even in the village at the time, who were away for whatever reason and kill them too…again, my mind can’t process that. All, except the one survivor who was in prison on something unrelated. They went to such lengths to prove some point? Again, not even getting into the fact that this was unverified intelligence. It’s just…

There is so much more I could touch on, the abortions, the separating moms and children, the murdering of the children, the digging up of bodies to loot, the killing of the animals, THE IDEA THAT AFTER EVERYTHING, THEY NEEDED TO JUST TRIPLE MAKE SURE IT WAS GONE SO THEY PLANTED CROPS OVER EVERYTHING AND RE ROUTED ROADS AND STREAMS. I mean, I keep saying my mind cannot process this, but it’s true…I cannot wrap my mind around this.

That was our stop in Lidice. Lidice was a place that I didn’t know much about going into World War 2 and it has definitely taught me a couple lessons.

Karlovy Vary – A Day Trip

IMG_1651This year we decided to go away for our Thanksgiving Weekend and do a trip to the Czech Republic. We stopped at a total of three locations and I’ll be doing a blog post on each location and a Recommendations/Tips post for Prague. With that little tidbit of business out of the way, let’s get into our first stop!

We spent Thanksgiving Day in a small little town called Karlovy Vary. Karlovy Vary is the most visited spa town in the Czech Republic containing 13 main springs and 300 smaller springs coming from the Teplá River. Charles IV founded the city in the late 1300’s and quickly shared high praises to the “healing powers” of the hot springs. This led to Karlovy Vary becoming incredibly popular and growing in size.

There isn’t a lot to the history of Karlovy Vary as it seems to have stayed out of all the major conflicts and just been a little escape area, so I’ll share some fun facts that I’ve learned…

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Karlovy Vary is home to two funiculars; the Imperial Funicular which is the oldest in Europe and one of the steepest in the Czech Republic and the funicular to Diana’s Tower.

Karlovy Vary is also quite popular in the film industry with several movies having been filmed there OR being the inspiration for backdrops/sets. They also host the Karlovy Vary Film Festival which is one of the oldest film festivals in the world and one of the more popular ones in Europe.

Karlovy Vary also boasts of some famous residents and visitors over the years. Apparently both Beethoven and Goethe visited frequently and would take walks along the colonnades and rivers. Fryderyk Chopin vacationed with his parents in Karlovy Vary (then Karlsbad). Princess Michael of Kent lived there for a time, as well as various sports and fashion persons.

Finally, Karlovy Vary was actually a mostly German Speaking, German populated city UNTIL 1945 when they expelled all the German Residents.

So, with the history bits out of the way, let’s talk about our visit and any tips that I have for YOUR visit.

To start with, we spent about 24 hours or so in Karlovy Vary and I think that that is probably about the perfect amount of time. You can “add it on” to a trip that you are already planning to the Czech Republic (granted it isn’t too far out of your way) and just spend a day or so wandering the streets and seeing the sights. We stayed the night at the Krasna Kralovna Hotel (Hotel Renaissance Krasna Kralovna), which is a very nice hotel right on Stará Louka. I would definitely recommend checking the hotels out on this street as you are right in the main town area and within walking distance to most of the sites.

After checking in, we started off just walking down the streets. The sites that you’ll want to see, including the various bath buildings, the river, and then the churches and statues, will be found just by walking around. We didn’t really have a plan of anything that we HAD TO see (save for one church and a memorial), but more just decided to walk around and see whatever came across our path. I honestly think this is the best approach to a town like Karlovy Vary. In Karlovy Vary specifically there are hiking/walking trails and the funicular, but again, you’ll find those by walking around the town.

The first “site we saw” was the famous Hot Spring. IMG_1674The Hot Spring was the first hot spring to be discovered around the 16th Century. The geyser of the Hot Spring is a natural phenomenon gushing to ~12 meters high and giving ~2,000 liters of mineral water in a minute. It was absolutely incredible to see, and it is almost completely continuous day and night.

We also got to see two churches while we were in Karlovy Vary, the first being the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. This is a catholic church originally dating back to the 14th Century. The current church on sight dates back to the 1730’s. The second church we got to see was the Orthodox Church of Saint Peter and Paul. This is an incredible Russian Orthodox church (modeled after a church near Moscow- very obviously) that dates back to the very {very} late 1800’s. This particular church was paid for by money contributed from the wealthy and aristocratic Serbian and Russian patrons.

We were able to stop at both the Mill and Market Colonnade’s. The Market Colonnade was originally a wooden colonnade and is in the location of the oldest baths in Karlovy Vary. The present-day Colonnade dates back to the late 1800’s and is the largest colonnade in the city. It seeps five of the mineral springs and is where we decided to test out the waters healing powers.

IMG_1728We purchased a little souvenir cup and decided to go for a cup from the Libuse Spring. This spring was discovered while they were rebuilding the colonnade in the 1800’s. I will say, I don’t know that the water is healing, but it pretty much just tastes like mineral water. It was a fun little bit and the souvenir cup leads to a good memory.

We took a little mid-day break for tea/coffee and cakes at Café Franz Joseph and enjoyed a little rest with some delicious treats.

We walked along the main streets a little more before heading up the hill a little way. We made an end of the day stop at the Jean De Carro Park. This spot gave a beautiful overlook of the city (although there are several spots to do this!). IMG_1773This park was founded in the late 1850’s and contains a little fun legend. There is a sculpture of a cat sitting atop a column in the lower portion of the park. Baron Lutzow used this cat sculpture to protest the location of another statue in a neighboring park. The cat is facing away from the town hall as a way of highlighting the “good for nothing” nature of the councilors work.

We stopped for dinner at a charming little restaurant called Restaurace U KŘÍŽOVNÍKŮ near the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. The food was delicious, and they had a good variety of Czech options to choose from.

And that was our day in Karlovy Vary! I think if I had to do ONE more thing, I would have done the funicular up to Diana’s Tower. This was one of the things that was on my maybe list, but I kind of figured we wouldn’t be able to get to it due to other circumstances. So, if I had to share something that I wanted to do and think you should do, it would be that. I would also recommend doing the hike on the far side of town as there are quite a bit of rotunda look out points to see the sheer beauty of the area.

We had a lot of fun on our little day trip to Karlovy Vary and I would say that if it fits into your itinerary, you should totally go! It’s a great little town to just wander through and take in the sights (and waters ha-ha)!

Rothenburg ob der Tauber – An Overnight Trip

It is probably one of the most frequently recommended stops in our area of Germany (and really Germany as a whole) and we finally got to experience the charm of Rothenburg ob der Tauber in the middle of November.

Let’s start with a little history of the town. Rothenburg ob der Tauber (I’ll be shortening this down to Rothenburg o.d.T, but you want to be sure you are indicating the full city name in order to find it on a map as there are several different Rothenburg’s and Rothenberg’s in the country) dates it’s history back to the Celts around the 1st century. However, most of what you will find in Rothenburg o.d.T today dates back to around the 18th century (more on that in a minute- it’s a fun legend!). Around the 13th century Rothenburg o.d.T was granted Free Imperial City status, which allowed the city to charge a toll on all those who passed through the city itself. This allowed the city to become quite prosperous and grow rapidly as Rothenburg o.d.T. is pretty well located for pilgrims and travelers. At one-point Rothenburg o.d.T. was one of the larger cities in the country.

The downfall of Rothenburg o.d.T. came during the Thirty Years War (to narrow that down, we are looking at 1631). The walled city was taken under siege by the Protestant County of Tilly. They quickly fell and the Count of Tilly’s troops quickly gained access to the city. Town legend says that when the Count demanded the councilmen’s deaths and the city burned to the ground, the councilmen made a bargain- if one of the councilmen could drink 3 ¼ liters of wine in one go, Tilly would spare them all. The mayor succeeded in doing this and the Count’s men withdrew from the city that winter. At this point, the city was left nearly empty and when the bubonic plague came in 1634 it wiped out most of the remaining townsfolk. That is why Rothenburg o.d.T. remains in the state it is.

Rothenburg o.d.T. played quite a role during the Nazi era both being given the title “ The epitome of the German Hometown” and being listed as a regular day retreat for members of the Kraft durch Freude (a Nazi organization). Rothenburg expelled all of its Jews in the late 1930’s and became a “poster town” for what Hitler and the Nazi party wanted Germany to look like. Rothenburg survived untouched for the majority of World War Two, until the last couple of weeks when Allied Bombers dropped bombs on the town destroying a total of 321 buildings and killing 37 people. Hitler had ordered all of his troops to continue to fight to the end, but the troops at Rothenburg decided to defy the order, meeting with American Soldiers in an attempt to save what was not already destroyed in the town.

Rothenburg o.d.T. has played a lot of roles in the film and book industry, being the inspiration for the town of Pinocchio, was in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, small bits in Harry Potter, as well as many more. Rothenburg o.d.T. is also widely known for its Christmas spirit and Christmas Markets. This past trip was a little too early to attend the market, BUT we will be heading back for the market, so stay tuned for that upcoming post. They were getting everything prepped, putting up the shop decorations and stalls, as well as Christmas Tree’s all around.

And that concludes today’s history lesson ha-ha. (Information sourced from rothenburg.de and the town itself) I didn’t mean to include so much, but it is just incredibly fascinating to look at all of the history of the places that we are visiting. It’s not only so vast, but full of so much turmoil. I hope that you enjoy getting to hear not only about our trips, but also about the history that we are learning during our trips.

Now on to what we actually did during our 24 hours there. We started off by walking the wall.

You are able to walk the entire wall of Rothenburg and I highly recommend that you do. It gives you not only a unique view into the city, but also a unique view into history and what it would have been like to live/man the walls during the days. It’s narrow stairs and walkways are great too, although a struggle if you have any disabilities or young children. It is still entirely possible to walk them with young children, but tread carefully. We did not walk the full length of the wall, just about a quarter of it and then we descended into the city streets.

We spent most of our time strolling along the different streets, stopping and shopping at times, taking pictures, and just reviling in the ambiance that is a quaint German town.We wandered through the Western Gate to stroll the gardens and the lower part of the outer wall outside the city walls.

The kids loved being able to just run around the walls and little side streets as well as see all of the older buildings.

We did stop at the famous Old Forge (Gerlachschmiede) and see the famous half-timbered half between the Rödertor and Galgentortowers. This is actually a restored version as the original was on the buildings destroyed in World War 2.

We stopped for a quick cup of tea and cappuccino at the café right off the Marktplatz. No matter where you sit in this small little café, you will have a great view of the town square and it’s the perfect little mid-afternoon stop. If you do stop here, try out the truffles as they were delicious!

We ended our day with the Night Watchmen Tour.

This tour is given twice a night (times vary due to time of year), one in English and one in German. In the olden days, at night the town was guarded by a Night Watchmen. This watchman was intended to keep the peace and watch for trouble. Without any real training or experience, they walked the streets with a horn in hand to blow should trouble arise. These days the Night Watchmen leads a tour of the city at dark with his lantern, telling stories and the history of the town. We learned quite a bit about the town as well as about Germany. A definite highlight of our time there!

We stayed the night in a hotel right off the marketplatz called Gasthof Griefen which was nice and quaint. We had both dinner and breakfast in their restaurant and the house itself is beautifully done.

What I would recommend for a trip to Rothenburg o.d.T. (as well as a couple tips). Start by parking right outside the city walls. If you are just planning a day trip, then you can park outside the wall with a day parking ticket (Tages Ticket), that costs about €5.50. There are several different parking lots outside the city of varying sizes and various entrances to the city. Each entrance has stairs to climb to get up the wall as well, so you really cannot go wrong with parking outside the city. There is parking inside the city as well, though depending on the day that you go there may or may not be any spaces available. It’s also not very easy, realistically speaking, to driving within the city walls, so parking right outside is your best option.

Once you’ve got the parking settled, I would start by walking the upper length of the wall. You can walk most of the wall this way, then descend and walk the lower ramparts. If you’ve had enough after walking the upper level, then head towards the cobblestone lined streets of the main town. Again, you can’t really go wrong as to where you start as you will see everything by the time you have finished. I personally would start at the central marktplatz with the Rathaus and Astronomical Clock. From there, wander the various streets, see the two churches, and head out the Western Town Gate to see the gardens and various overlooks. I believe you can walk all the way down to the Tauber river from this spot, which is a pretty nice hike down. There are also several museums to visit that detail the history of the justice system, a Christmas museum, a puppet museum, and a craft house that shows the everyday life of the craftsmen and the families that lived there. There are also two towers that you can climb to get the scenic views of the city (the Roedertor Tower does charge for the overlook).

Here comes the make or break part. I would highly recommend sticking around for the Night Watchmen Tour. For us, that meant staying overnight, but it doesn’t necessarily have to mean that. The English tour starts at 8PM and goes for about an hour. The watchman is not only very well informed, he also throws in some funny jokes and tells history in a very captivating way. I waffled on whether or not we really needed to do this tour and in the end, I am very glad that we stayed to do it. By staying till 8, we also got to see the Meistertrunk scene from the astronomical clock that depicts the famous town legend of drinking the wine to save the town (even if you don’t do the Night Watchmen Tour I would still recommend at least staying to see the clock). It’s the perfect way to end the day in Rothenburg o.d.T..

And there you have it! Our 24 hours in Rothenburg o.d.T. Have you been? Do you want to visit? Stay tuned for our Christmas Market visit 🙂

Thankful – 2019

Ah, Thanksgiving. A day to celebrate family and friends, parades with massive floats and balloons, food, and various sports (read American Football- that’s the only sport on that exists on Thanksgiving). While I’m thankful all year long, one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving is celebrating all that we are thankful for and doing that with family and friends.

This year Thanksgiving looks a little bit different for us. Not only are we in Germany, who doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving like we do (or when we do), but we are actually in the car on our way to visit our ninth country since moving here. We are taking a long weekend away to Czechia, specifically Karlovy Vary and Prague. We are going to be experiencing their history as well as visiting a couple of Christmas Markets (trying to contain that excitement). While Thanksgiving looks different for us, I still wanted to take a minute and just jot down (rather type up) a couple of the things that I am thankful for.

I mean to start with the obvious I am thankful for my little family, for my husband and children, and for the joy that they bring me. I’m thankful for our continued good health and that we’ve weathered all the challenges of this past year so far.

I am thankful for our friends, old and new, who we try to keep up with at all hours. We’ve made some really good friends in our move here, friends who I know will continue to be friends long after we leave here. With an international move to a foreign country, friends become your surrogate family. They become the people that you bond with and rely on when you are in need and we’ve been very blessed in that respect.

I am thankful for the home and life we’ve created over the past 5 months in our home. We had quite the journey to get to this house, and we’ve really made a home in it and in our neighborhood. We are finally in the country and it’s been the biggest blessing.

Finally, another obvious one, I’m thankful for the opportunity to be here in Germany. Some of it is just us being blessed with the opportunity, but a lot of hard work went into this as well. My husband worked incredibly hard to get to this point in his career where he could choose the job that he has here. So, I am thankful for this opportunity that was given to us and again thankful to my husband for the incredible work that he has done to allow this opportunity.

How are you spending your Thanksgiving? What are you thankful for this year?