Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Last Stop: Vienna

It is so nice to have someone else cook for you for ten days. We've been eating like kings. This is what our breakfast spread looked like. One of the hotel workers walks to the bakery up the street to get the fresh rolls each day.

Our fifth (and last) hotel is Hotel Stefanie in Vienna. Coming from all the quaint little towns we biked through, Vienna is a shock to the system. It was crowded and not as pretty as Prague.

We visited St. Stephen's Cathedral. Don and Dave toured the underground catacombs. Pam and I opted to rest in a church pew and listen to the noon Mass in German.

I have more pictures to share, but it is getting late, and the internet service here is very slow, so uploading pictures isn't working very well. I need to get my beauty rest. We fly home tomorrow!!

Monday, June 27, 2011

I Smell Like My Suitcase

We are in our fourth hotel. It is exciting to have a new place to stay every couple of days, but it is not conducive to unpacking. My suitcase has taken on a smell from unidentified origins. Judging from the smell of others around here, we all have the same problem.

Today was our last day of biking. We rode 37 miles. Yes 37 miles. In the morning, we cycled through the Wachau Valley, in and out of vineyards and orchards.

In the afternoon, we stopped in Melk to visit a spectacular Benedictine Abbey. We were given a tour.

My favorite part of the Abbey tour was the library, of course.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped by a town called Durnstein for ice cream. This was the town where Richard the Lionhearted was kept prisoner in 1193.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Danube is not Blue

Just after breakfast, we took a two-hour boat ride on the Danube River into Austria. We began cycling at Schlogen on a bike path along the Danube. We traveled 29 miles today. My legs are feeling much stronger. Since we were on a bike path close to the river, the trail was very flat today. Hooray!

Adding excitement to the day's trip, a big tree fell across our path just as Bill and Marilyn from Colorado were about to cross the spot. We were biking right behind them, and we heard a snapping noise, then the tree came down. Bill was inches away from being hit over the head. Good thing he was wearing his helmet.

Lunch was on our own in a little town called Aschach along the path. All of us were craving pizza, so we opted for the Italian cafe.  Yummy!

We arrived at our new hotel in Weissenkirchen, Austria around 5:30, so we didn't have much time to look around. I hope to get some nice photos tomorrow. Dinner tonight was at a local winery. We walked from our hotel. Our group was served more food than we could possibly eat, but it was all very tasty, right down to the chocolate cake with apricots. It is a good thing we are burning 8,000 calories a day.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Scavenger Hunt

Following a VBT route guide is like going on a scavenger hunt. Here is a sample of the instructions:

CS on gravel path. At Y, BL on paved path. CS on gravel and soon get back on pavement. At the end of the path, facing a Y, BL toward a round red/white sign.

It is jibberish to me, so I just follow the person in front of me and hope they know where they are going. Of course, the person in front of me is usually Don. Today, we completed 22 miles riding along the River Inn (it is not a hotel, it is a river). At 16 miles, we stopped for a picnic lunch that our guide, Jan, prepared. He grilled German sausages and served potato salad and other goodies. Don had a large sausage and said he would have eaten three more if he didn't have to get back on his bike and ride.

Our fearless leaders Andreas and Jan

One of the fun things about this trip is meeting other people from the U.S. who are in the group. There are 18 of us. By far the most interesting person we have met is Don Pohlman from St. Louis. Don is almost 80 years old. He can cycle like the best of them. But he has trouble with things like buckling his helmet, getting Euros out of the ATM, and following route maps. He got lost yesterday, so we all agreed that someone has to keep an eye on him at all times.

My inspiration, Don Pohlman
The River Inn separates Germany and Austria.  After biking 12 miles, we crossed a bridge, left Germany, and entered Austria. We stopped in the town of Scharding, Austria for a drink before lunch. The town was filled with colorful  Baroque-style buildings.

Scharding, Austria
Along the River Inn

Friday, June 24, 2011

Now We're Talking (Almost)

First thing this morning (Friday), we boarded a train in Cesky Krumlov and rode over an hour through the Sumava National Park to Nova Pec, not far from the German Border. Out guides assured us that today would be a much easier day. They had already lost credibility on their definition of easy, so I was a bit skeptical. The two riding options for the day were 18 or 29 miles, but Jan told us only a wimp would ride the van back after lunch. He said it was "easy" and all downhill. He promised. The morning was challenging for me, but not nearly as bad as yesterday. And to Jan's credit, the afternoon was mainly a slow descend. My longest ride ever (29 miles).

Along the way, we saw rolling farmland, smelled manure, and got to cross the Czech/German border at Nove Udoli. The border was closed in 1945 and reopened not long ago for pedestrians and bicycles only.

Don on the German playground

Once in Germany, we stopped at a Bavarian tavern and ate delicious soup and bread for lunch. At the end of the 29 miles, we were all allowed to jump in the van and go to our hotel in Passau, a historic Baroque city where three rivers join: Danube, Inn and Ilz. After dinner we were too tired to stroll along the romantic Danube River. Instead, we strolled to bed.

The two culprits who got us into this (particularly the one on the left)

I Wanna Go Home

Internet service was down at the Hotel Ruze last night, so I am behind a day. By the way, Hotel Ruze was a very interesting place to stay. It was constructed in the 16th century as a Jesuit University Monastery. The rooms are furnished in the Renaissance style. Not very practical, (low light, hard chairs, creaky floors) but quaint.

Why do I want to go home? Because easy doesn't mean easy around here. We started out on our first day of real biking, and even though the morning was only 15 miles, it seemed like 30. There was hill after hill. Not just some steep uphills, but some downhills as well. And guess what? We were supposed to retrace our path in the afternoon. I counted, and there were many more downhills than uphills in the morning. My legs were mush after lunch, so I opted to return to the hotel via van transport while my travel companions decided to do the extra 15 miles. Don was pretty spent when he got back. I was relaxing on the bed.

One of the highlights of the day was stopping for lunch at a little Bohemian village. One of the local families hosted us, providing a buffet of homemade food. We also stopped at a Gothic monastery called Zlata Koruna.

In the evening, we walked around the town a bit in the rain before touring part of the Rosemberg family chateau, which was really a castle. Inside the castle, we were treated to a tour of the best preserved Baroque theater in the world. It is restored to the way it originally worked. We even got to go below the theater and see how the pulley system worked to change sets on stage.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Here We Go!

We left Prague this morning after breakfast. The VBT van transported us three hours south to the town of Cesky Krumlov. We met our two biking guides (Andy and Jan). Before we even checked in to the Hotel Ruze, we were escorted off on a one hour tour of the town by a local guide named Standa. We were again amazed at the architecture and the scenery. What's more amazing is that before 1989, when the country was under communist rule, all the buildings were gray and worn down. Only in the past 23 years has it come to life with color.

In the afternoon, we met with Andy and Jan to go over bike safety rules, get fitted for our bikes, learn VBT map symbols (TR= turn right, CS = continue straight, TSR = turn sharp right), etc. The warm-up ride was 8 miles, starting from our hotel down through a tourist-covered cobblestone road, onto a traffic filled road, and finally a bike path. The ride was a little hilly for my taste, and it was only the warm up. They've already warned us that tomorrow will be the hardest day. We will ride 22 miles on more hills. I thought this trip was rated "easy". Easy means flat, doesn't it?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

So Many Towns

Yesterday, I mentioned the different sections of Prague: Old Town, New Town, Lesser Town and Castle Town. Our hotel (Barcelo Old Town Praha Hotel) is located in Old Town (dating back to 1091). You would think that New Town would be pretty modern. It is relatively new, compared to Old Town, but New Town was founded in the 14th century! Lesser Town was considered the New Town until the current New Town came along. Because the Old New Town was smaller than the New New Town, it was renamed Lesser Town. Got that?

Located just around the corner from our hotel is Powder Tower. This structure is 213 feet high and was built in 1475. The building got its name in the 17th century when it was used to store gunpowder. With my horrible sense of direction, this landmark gave me something to focus on while trying to find my way back home. I would never, never walk around Prague by myself. I would be lost within five minutes.

Also near our hotel is the St. James Basilica. I'm not sure when it was built, but the organ in the back was completed in 1705. The Prague International Organ Festival is held here each year, and Mozart once played the organ as well.

St. James Organ

We spent half the day touring Prague's Jewish Quarter. In the old Jewish Cemetary, 100,000 people are buried in 1,200 graves. Because of space, the graves are twelve people deep. Inside the museum, there were many walls listing the names of 77, 297 local Jews who died during World War II at the hands of the Nazis. One room contained artwork which was created by children while they were being held at the Terezin Concentration Camp.

Museum at Jewish Quarter

After dinner, we attended a concert at The Municipal House. The string chamber ensemble had three violins, a cello and a bass. The lead violinist was outstanding. All the songs were classics by such composers as Dvorak, Pachelbel, Vivaldi, Handel and others.

Tomorrow we leave Prague early in the morning. VBT is transporting us to the town of Cesky Krumlov, which is three hours south of Prague. That is where we will begin the biking portion of our trip.

I was sorely tempted to get one of these little numbers to take along on the next phase. I don't think anyone would notice, would they?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Staroceske Trdlo

On our first day in Prague, we came across a little pastry shop by Charles Bridge. A woman was standing outside making the pastries, and the smell was enough to make you want to eat ten of them. Don was particularly interested in them, but we were on our way to dinner, so he decided he could wait until the next day.

We went back today after walking seven hours. It was the perfect time to sit down and try them. We found out they are a traditional Czech pastry called Staroceske Trdlo. They were wonderful right off the grill.


My Feet Hurt

After breakfast this morning, we headed out on a four hour walking tour with our Czech guide (Hannah). She was very knowlegable about Czech history and architecture. My head was spinning with names and dates, but it was all very interesting. After a brief lunch, we walked another three hours on our own exploring the Prague Castle area. I'm glad I followed Don's first rule of fashion (comfort) and wore my tennis shoes! We saw it all today: Old Town, New Town, Lesser Town and Castle Town. It was difficult to narrow down the pictures I took today.

This is the site where Joseph Stalin's statue was located. It was a huge granite monument that had to be taken down by explosives.

Here is where newlyweds come to "lock" their marriage. After the ceremony, they bring a lock and add it to this wall.

This is a section of the Lennon Wall which has been filled with John Lennon-inspired grafitti and lyrics of Beatles songs since the 1980's.

Interior of St. Vitus Cathedral, which is located inside Prague Castle. This Gothic cathedral dates back to 1344.

Pam and I are sitting on a wall with the city of Prague behind us.

Don and I are standing in front of one of the original Prague Castle walls.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Arrived in Prague

It was a loooong day/night of travel. I had to stay awake all day when I wanted to sleep, sleep, sleep. We made the best of it by taking a first walk around Prague. Besides almost becoming a hood ornament on a little red sports car, I survived the day. Here are some sights from from Old Town.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Four Things

Four jobs I have had in my life:
Salad Girl, Youngs Restaurant; Secretary, Firestone Tire & Rubber Co.; Systems Analyst, Arthur Andersen & Co.; Librarian, Valley Christian Academy

Four places I have lived:
Akron, North Royalton, Kirtland, Chagrin Falls

Four places I have been on vacation:
London, Hawaii, Las Vegas, Cape Cod

Four of my favorite foods:
Blueberries, chocolate, Diet Coke, Chipotle

Four things I'd like to learn to do:
Speed read, quilt, take a great photograph, get over my fear of bees

Four favorite Bible verses:
Matthew 6:33, Psalm 37:4, Philippians 4:6, John 14:2

Four places I love to hang out:
Libraries, bookstores, friends' houses, the pool

Four things I find boring: 
Home Depot, TV, running, touring ruins

Four places I'd like to visit:
Estes Park, Colorado; Juno, Alaska; Venice, Italy; Jerusalem, Israel

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dominican Republic Trip

Peter returned Monday from a week in the Dominican Republic. He and most of his now senior classmates spent time at a compound called "Meeting God in Missions". He had the opportunity to experience Dominican culture through food, church services and interaction with local children. The students performed Bible story skits for Dominican children, played a game of baseball in which they were crushed by local teens and carried children around on their shoulders in sugar cane fields. Peter also helped out digging a trench for a future construction project.

I asked him to take lots of pictures while he was there, and he did a great job. Here are a few of them:

One of the smaller spiders he encountered
The cafeteria

Boy's bunk room

Playing with the kids
Cattle car transportation

Dominican version of Wal-Mart