Category: Travel

Harz Mountains

By Ross in Travel on Sun 20 July 2014. Tags: Germany

The only upshot of being snored out of my hostel room was getting to see sunrise in Leipzig.

Untitled photo

When I got to the train station, it was completely abandoned.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

Here you can see the sunrise behind the train platform.

Untitled photo

From Leipzig, I took the S-Bahn to Halle, where I transferred to a regional train to Wegeleben followed by another one to Quedlinburg, which arrived at 0720. Luckily the bakery in the train station was open, and I ate my fill of yummy baked goods before setting out to explore the town.

Quedlinburg is one of the most picturesque towns of the Harz mountain region. Its old town is known for its diverse collection of half-timbered houses, some of which are centuries old.

Untitled photo Untitled photo
Untitled photo Untitled photo
Untitled photo Untitled photo

Quedlinburg Castle is a small fortification which sits on a hill overlooking the old town. The room I had rented was in a house right below the castle.

Untitled photo

The next morning it rained heavily, but it cleared up by early afternoon in time to take a bus to the nearby town of Wernigerode. This is the rathaus of Wernigerode and the fountain which is adjacent to the building

Untitled photo Untitled photo

Here is one of the old half-timbered houses in Wernigerode.

Untitled photo

Many of the towns of the Harz mountain region are connected by a narrow gauge railway. I did not have time to take it, but I got a few photos of one of the historic steam trains entering Wernigerode station.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

Wernigerode also has a castle overlooking the town. The main castle building was the residential palace of the Earl of Stolberg until 1945. It has now been converted into a museum, and most of the rooms have been beautifully restored to their nineteenth century state.

Untitled photo

This is the castle chapel.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

These are some of the reception rooms.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

Finally, this is the lavish dining room of the castle.

Untitled photo


Leipzig

By Ross in Travel on Sat 19 July 2014. Tags: Germany

After Prague, my plan was to head north to Berlin and then to Hamburg. Since it is hard to find a last-minute bed at a good hostel in Berlin, I decided to make a few stops on the way. My first destination was Leipzig, the old stomping grounds of Johann Sebastian Bach.

On my way out of Prague, I took a few pictures of the historic part of the train station.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

When I changed trains in Dresden, I came across a huge Ritter Sport display. (Also, Ritter Sport squares cost less than one euro in Germany.)

Untitled photo

It turns out that Leipzig is a bustling university town. I arrived a little before noon on Saturday, just in time for the Christopher Street Day (gay pride) march.

Untitled photo

After dropping by bag off at the hostel, I headed for the Church of St. Thomas, where Bach was cantor for the last 27 years of his life.

Untitled photo

Here is the interior of the church.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

The "Bach organ" was built in 2000, and was designed to be similar to the one Bach played.

Untitled photo

There is a stained glass window dedicated to Bach, and a statue of him outside the church.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

Bach's final resting place is in the nave of the church.

Untitled photo

Other famous composers lived in Leipzig as well. Schumann and Mendelssohn lived in these houses.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

The hostel I had booked turned out not to be especially nice, despite it having a very good review on several websites. The bed was not comfortable, and there was no common space at all (there may be in the future, since there was construction going on.) I finally fell asleep at midnight, only to be woken at 0300 by the other two people in my room returning from a night out. They turned out to be such epic snorers that I was unable to fall back asleep. By 0400 I was so restless that I quietly packed my bags, slipped out of the room, and headed to the train station to take the 0520 train to Quedlinburg, my next destination.


Sedlec Ossuary

By Ross in Travel on Fri 18 July 2014. Tags: Prague

On my last day in Prague, I took a day trip to Kutna Hora to visit the Sedlec Ossuary. The story goes that the church found itself with the skeletal remains of some 40,000 people on its hands. In 1870, a woodworker was hired to handle the situation. The result is nothing short of spectacular.

Untitled photo

Some of the bones are neatly stacked.

Untitled photo

There is a skeletal coat of arms.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

Everything is decorated with bones. Here is some of the ceiling decoration.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

Perhaps most impressive is the bone chandelier, which allegedly contains every bone in the body (I did not attempt to verify this.)

Untitled photo Untitled photo
Untitled photo Untitled photo

Prague

By Ross in Travel on Tue 15 July 2014. Tags: Prague

The train to Prague took eight hours, and I made it to my hostel, Wandering Praha, at around 1900. Another traveler from America was checking in at the same time as I was, and as we were both starving, we went out for Czech food and beer at an inexpensive, local restaurant. 

The next morning I took a free walking tour of Prague. (The tour really is free, but you are encouraged to tip the tour guide what you thought the tour was worth.) There are lots of groups which arrange these; my hostel recommended the Royal Walk Free Tour by Discover Prague. (Follow the yellow umbrellas.) Our tour guide, Callum, was a one-man comedy show, who interspersed four hours of history and information about Prague with witty banter. I could not have had a better introduction to the city.

I spent the next several days wandering around the city. I also had a great time at the hostel; one of the highlights was chatting with a student from Durham University about Galois theory.

The tour started in front of the astronomical clock in the old town square. Every hour, the clock puts on a little show which is cute but not nearly as impressive as the clock itself which not only keeps impeccable time but also tracks the movement of the sun and the moon through the signs of the zodiac.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

These are the uneven towers of the Tyn Church in the old town square. The church may have been Walt Disney's inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Untitled photo

Musicians were everwhere in the square, including one with very large bagpipes playing traditional Bohemian tunes.

Untitled photo

The tour went through the Jewish quarter, where we stopped at the Pinkas Synagogue and the Spanish Synagogue.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

Despite having been born there, Franz Kafka was unknown in Prague until relatively recently.

Untitled photo

This is the Rudolfinum, where the Czech Philharmonic performs, along with a nearby statue of Antonin Dvorak. There are statues of famous composers on the roof. Legend has it that when the Nazis ordered the statue of Mendelssohn removed (because he was Jewish), the people carrying out the orders deposed Wagner instead since they had no idea what Mendelssohn looked like.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

Here are some of the colorful buildings which line the Vltava river.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

The Dancing House was built in 1996.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

The Cathedral of St. Vitus sits on top of Prague Castle.

Untitled photo

Here are a few pictures of its interior.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

These are some of its many gorgeous stained glass windows.

Untitled photo Untitled photo
Untitled photo Untitled photo

This is Vladislav Hall in the Old Royal Palace. It was used for banquets and has elaborate ribbed vaulting.

Untitled photo

The ceiling of the Land Rolls Room in the Old Royal Palace is decorated with the coats of arms of the clerks who worked there.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

After visiting Prague Castle, I headed to the Strahov Monastery.

Untitled photo

It is famous for its old, lavishly decorated library.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

The monastery has their own brewery, and I had this tasty dark beer after visiting the library.

Untitled photo

This is the Petrin Tower, Prague's smaller scale version of the Eiffel Tower.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

After climbing 300 steps, I was rewarded with impressive views of Prague.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

Here are the bridges of Prague, first in early evening and then at night.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

Finally, here is Prague Castle lit up at night. (According to our tour guide, the lights were funded by the Rolling Stones; the internet agrees.)

Untitled photo


Spis Castle

By Ross in Travel on Mon 14 July 2014. Tags: Slovakia

Levoča is another small Slovakian town with a well-preserved, historic town center. I arrived in early evening and took this picture of the old town hall and the church of St. James.

Untitled photo

Here is the old town hall in daylight. 

Untitled photo

St. James Church is famous for its Gothic painted wooden altarpiece, which is the largest of its kind in Europe. The alterpiece is undergoing extensive restoration at present, so I was not able to see much through the plastic rwap

From Levoca, I set out to visit the ruins of Spis Castle, one of the largest catles in Europe. It still looks impressive, perched high upon a hill.

Untitled photo

This is the main gate to the upper bailey of the castle.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

The upper bailey affords great views of the surrounding countryside.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

Here is the lower bailey of the castle, viewed from on high.

Untitled photo

The square Romanesque tower is reasonably well preserved.

Untitled photo

Much of the rest of the castle is in a greater state of disrepair.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

Finally, here are some of the fortifications in the lower bailey.

Untitled photo Untitled photo

In the early afternoon, the sky started to darken, and there was a brief period of rain, during which I took shelter in one of the castle buildings. After that subsided, I headed back downhill. When I was partway down, the skies opened up, together with thunder and lightning, and I got completely soaked. It took over an hour for the bus back to Levoca to show up, but thankfully the bus stop provided shelter from the rain. 

My plan for the next few days was to do some hiking, both in the lowlands and in the mountains of the High Tartas. Looking at the weather forecast, however, I saw rain and thunderstorms every day for the forseeable future. I grudgingly decided to change my plans and bought a train ticket for Prague.

Although I only spent three nights in Slovakia, and much of what I saw was out the window of a train or a bus, I absolutely fell in love with the country. It is a really beautiful place, and I cannot wait to go back. Hopefully the weather will be better next time.