Welcome to Warsaw

June 8, 2012
Cześć! That's "hello" (pronounced "chashch") in Polish. Warsaw, Poland is the starting point for our 8th Tauck tour. Our destinations will include:  Warsaw, Bialystok, Tykocin (these latter two cities are where Wayne's family is from several generations back; we have secured a private driver for Saturday), Kracow, Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, and Prague (sidetrips to Auschwitz and Terezin also will be included). 

We just arrived this morning so only have first impressions to report (and a meal, of course). Warsaw, which was decimated in the big War, has seen a renaissance--a good part of that due to the European Futbal Championships which started here today.  It's kind of how we imagine it will be when our beloved Cubs make it to the World Series.  

Our hotel is in the old section of town, right next to the presidential palace. And even the lions out front are showing their national spirit:

Everyone is wearing red and white and dancing in the streets (and this is only round one). Groups of young people, in Polska garb and face paint are everywhere.  The town is spotless; there are security guards all over; and lots of nonstop cheering (apart from the game) and random blowing of Polish-style vuvuzelas (the South African bugle equivalents).  As we write this, Greece is up one goal. As an aside, there has been a lot of coverage in the NY Times about the possibility of racist taunts toward the athletes.  Indeed one young man from Africa has made clear he will leave the field at the first sign of taunting.  It will be fascinating to see that storyline play out given that we are basically in the neighborhood of several of the worst camps from the War. 

But to something more uplifting.  Food.  Our first "meal" was at U Fukier (in the old town) a kitchy and wonderful traditional Polish restaurant (with food "like grandma used to make") in a restored 18th century home--with every inch covered--lace, flowers, portraits, and a singing bird in a cage (  Even though this restaurant caters to tourists, we found it absolutely wendy and wayne write-up worthy (wx4)--as the pictures shown below depict.  

We started with some wonderfully hearty Polish bread--brown rye and oat bread, both served with a cucumber spread.  Next, Wendy had delectable smoked Polish salmon--served with red roe, capers, and edible flowers.  It was amazing.  Wayne chose the veal pirogi with bacon dust (we decided we're on the "pirogi a day" diet).  It was mouth watering and quite delicious.  For our main course, we shared half a roast duckling with stewed fruit; Wendy added brown butter crumbed white and green asparagus.  Why can we only rarely find white asparagus in the states?  (By the way, the menu touted that everything was organic).  We ended our first Central European meal with a warm apple tart--superior to any apple pie we've had in the states for a long time.

After dinner we took a carriage ride around Old Warsaw.  Our driver was quite informative--we think--(lots of buildings are apparently 1,500 years old)--but seeing that we don't speak Polish, we missed most of it. 

That's all for now.  We'll have another post before we leave for Cracow on Monday morning. 


Poland - Past and Present

June 9

The Tauck tour did not actually start until dinner tonight, so we used our free day (Saturday) to take a tour of the past.  What we mean is this: Wayne's grandparents / great-grandparents came from Bialystok (pronounced Be-ah-we-shtok) and Tykocin (formerly Tiktin, pronounced Ti-ko-chin) respectively. These towns are in northeast Poland, 3 hours from Warsaw. Wendy's great-gandparents came from Jaroslaw, which is 6 hours southwest of Warsaw. We had hoped to be able to visit all three towns, but the constraints of time and distance made this impossible. So we were only able to do Bialystok and Tykocin.

Our guide/driver picked us up at 7am and we headed out of town. Along the way she pointed to various churches, palaces, old walls, etc.  One of the neatest things was seeing many, many stork nests, most with a mama stork feeding her babies.  Apparently, Poland has the biggest number of stork nests in the world.  Who knew?  These are huge birds that migrate to Africa and return to the same nest (and the same mate) year after year. 

Our route, for the most part, was an updated, albeit two-lane highway.  So, our guide spent most of the time passing huge Russian lorries.  Kept us entertained and energized to say the least.  Our guide also filled us in on some of the pre-conceived notions about the Holocaust (at least from a Polish point of view).  For instance, many, many Polish Catholics were murdered in the Holocaust--President Obama's malappropism about the "Polish death camps" still stings in ths part of the world. 

As we were driving we realized that we are the first people from our family to return (so closely) to the actual towns where our ancestor had lived.

When we got to Bialystok we first went to the Palace Cytron, which is now the History Museum. We learned that Bialystok was originally a private city, a not uncommon thing in those days in Poland. The local rich person (in this case one Klement Branicki) owned the town and had a large palace in the center.  The townspeople lived around the palace, often according to their class.

Our guide then told us that Bialystok was the 3rd most destroyed European city in WWII (after Warsaw and Dresden). The building we were in was one of the very few left standing. So the city of 200,000 people has been entirely rebuilt since the war ended. Oddly though, much of the architecture is in the style of the 19th and early 20th centuries, so the buildings look old. The palace Cytron did have many relics (China, shabbat candles, etc.) that had been left behind and buried by Jewish famlies; some were discovered only in the last 10 years.

Wayne's relatives left this area in the early 1900s (when Bialystock was a part of Russia) with many of  the Jews who lived here when the situation started getting out of hand.   But many remained.   We learned about the uprising in the Jewish ghetto in August, 1943. Jews were brought here from other towns and eventually all were killed. We saw several memorials to those who perished--including monuments/plaques commemorating two synagogues. Bialystok is also the home of Ludwig Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto...intended to be a universal language. It is still taught in several schools there.

Then we drove about 20 kilometers to Tykocin.

There is not much in Tykocin (population 2,000) except the old synagogue built in 1642. Indeed, as we pulled into town there was a tour group headed there. Just as we got there it to started to pour, so we went int a restaurant for lunch.  It was good Polish food, nothing memorable, except for a page on the menu: the "Jewish Cuisine" page which incuded (among other things) kugel and kreplach! Hey...a dumpling in any language is still a dumpling!!!! Today, one of the flavors was mushroom and cabbage.

The rain stopped as we finished eating, so we went to the synagogue. It had been partially destroyed by a fire in the 1700's, but was rebuilt. The ceiling over the bima is painted in Renaissance style artwork which can still be seen today. It was used as a storehouse by the Germans during the war (probably because it was the biggest building in town), and they had to leave quickly as the Russians that's why it was not destroyed. Many of the original wooden shtetl houses from 100+ years ago still stand.

It was very surreal to be walking in places so far removed in time and distance and lifestyle from the people who lived there...our relatives...over 100 years ago. What drove them to leave their homes for the unknown of the U.S.? Was it an easy decision or a hard one? Did they ever regret it? Who stayed behind?

It is sobering to think that if they hadn't left, we probably would not be here to write this today.

To learn more, check out these links:

Other things we learned/ observed:
Poland is the third largest grower of strawberries in the world, and this is the peak of the season. They are truly delicious.

Cigarette smoking still seems to be very popular in Poland. We have seen many people of all ages smoking.

Our hotel, the Bristol Meridian, was one of the few buildings in Warsaw to survive the war. It is a historic hotel for another reason: it was built (in 1905) by Jan Paderewski, the very famous pianist, who was also a president of Poland! turns out that this is also where the Russian soccer team is staying, so there are extra extra security people everywhere. You see, the Poles and Russians have not gotten along well with each other since, oh, the late 18th century. Hopefully there will be no incidents (especially while we are here), and that the match next week will go smoothly.

As you invariably have noticed there were no w&w worthy food write-ups from Saturday.  We will save those for outstanding meals. 

That aside so far, the touring has been interesting and poignant.  Today, we tour Warsaw including  the ghetto area.

All for now and love,

Warsaw and Krakow

It's been a busy couple of days!

Sunday morning we took a bus tour of Warsaw. The first stop was the Royal Kazienki Park, which is dedicated to and has a huge statue of Frederic Chopin (and a smaller one of his friend Franz Liszt). Chopin is a French name...his father was French and his mother was Polish, and he was born and lived in Warsaw (also in France). This statue, like many others in the city, was destroyed by the Germans in the War, but has been completely replaced down to the last detail.

Speaking of Polish-French, we later passed by a museum dedicated to Marie Curie - nee Skladowska - who was also born here.

And speaking of statues, they sure have a lot of them! (or perhaps it was just that our tour went by all of them!). These include Copernicus (who studied here), Kosciusko (Polish and American war hero), Pulaski, and Reagan. That's right: old Ronnie is here commemorating his help with Polish independence from the Communists. Our guide said there are also statues of George Washington and Herbert Hoover (?).  And many, many war-related memorials: Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Monument to the Fallen Heroes, Memorial for the Warsaw Uprising, etc. How about a monument to no more wars????

Next we went to a Jewish Cemetery that has been in existence for hundreds of years. Per tradition, women are buried in one area, rabbis in another, wealthy people in another, etc. It also has the tomb of Zamenhof (see previous post), and several war memorials. One is of a pediatrician, Janusz Korczak, who ran an orphanage. When the Germans came to take the children, he went with them to his death. (More at )

We then went to the area where the Jewish Ghetto was and heard about the huge number of people crammed into a small area, and the Warsaw uprising, and the eventual removal of all the people. Truly hard to fathom how this could happen.

The tour ended, so it was time to eat again. We found a great outdoor cafe (one of many) and had wonderful veal-filled pierogis, prawns in garlic butter (prawns seem to be a big thing here), and of course, beer. [An aside: 2 different guides have told us the same story: "If you go to a Polish restaurant and they don't serve pierogis, it's not a Polish restaurant!"]

After lunch we walked around some more (and walked off the pierogis), saw more memorials, and then rode the subway. Of course we stopped for "ludy" (one of the few easily pronounceable Polish means ice cream). The Poles love ice cream and there are several walk-up ice cream windows on almost every block. Apparently they also love bagels as there are hot bagel vendor carts on many corners.

Speaking of the language, our local guide told us a tongue twister...something about a bug in the grass. It goes like this: chrzaszcz brzmi w trzcinie w Tszebrzeszynie.  Go ahead...say it 5 times fast!

Later the group was treated to an amazing private performance: A Chopin recital by world famous, award-winning pianist Maria Korecka-Soszkowsk at the Palace Myslewicki (read more at ). This woman, who is in her 70s, played 7 Chopin songs (and an encore by Paderewski) on a grand piano in a small salon room. It seemed at times that she had at least 4 hands. This was how Chopin intended his music to be heard, as opposed to Liszt who was a concert hall rock star. Remember, it's only been a little over 100 years since the time when, if you wanted to hear music, a real person had to play it! How utterly foreign in today's instant download digital world.

Yesterday we drove to Krakow. Took a short walk around the medieval town square (a beautful  European town square that was not bombed by the Luftwaffe in WWII--because the town was of no strategic military significance nor was there any resistance during the Occupation).

Got to our hotel and once again there were a lot of security people around. Why? The Dutch soccer team is staying here! (The Eurocup games are in Warsaw, Krakow, two other Polish cities, and two cities in Ukraine).

Then we took a tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mine, a UNESCO World Heritage site. ( ). This mine, which operated from the 13th century until a few years ago, goes to a depth of over 300 meters (we only went down to the 130 meter level) and has tunnels and caverns covering 190 miles (about the distance from here to Warsaw!).  If you wet your finger and rub the wall and taste it you can actually taste the salt! It is a constant 52 degrees inside (quite pleasant actaully after the intial descent of 400 steps!). It also contains a sanitarium for people with asthma and other bronchial diseases. They live down there for a week, a month, or longer in the belief that breathing the salt air will help their condition.

There are many underground salt pools. The tour stops at various "rooms" (ranging anywhere from niches to a cathedral-sized one where they actually hold concerts and weddings!). Each had one or more carvings made out of the salt rock: miners, horses, the Last Supper, religious figures including Pope John Paul (who grew up here),....even miner gnomes!!!! All told we walked 2.5 kilometers and traversed 800 steps! Luckily, there is an elevator to the is a miner's cage measuring 3' x 4' by 6' high and all 9 of our group were stuffed into it!

So far, the tour has had a heavy slant on what happened during WWII. The war ended 70 years ago, which means 3 or more generations...a long time, yet a blink in history. Many people are alive who still remember the horror and suffering. But we wonder if this is the framework around which the current generation defines itself. To them, is it history or is it still an integral part of their lives?

Today we had the Jewish heritage tour plus Auschwitz--needless to say, we are drained so will save those write-ups for the next post. On to Budapest tomorrow.
Other fun facts:
Cranberry juice has apparently not made it to here yet. Instead, they drink black currant juice....tart, but not bad.

We Americans think of this area as "eastern Europe", but it really is central Europe, as there is a lot more east of here (check the map!). Once again our provincialism surfaces.

Apparently, anything can be used to fill pierogis: any kind of meat, potatoes, cabbage or other veggies, and then the sweet kind filled with fruit. And when you order them, you get 10 - 12 ravioli-sized pieces. Who do they think can eat all that?

wendy and wayne

Traces of Memory

In our last post, we implied that we needed some distance before we could post our report from Tuesday—when we spent the entire day on the Jewish heritage of Central Europe.  First, we had a Jewish heritage tour and then we visited the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum.  Indeed, we needed a full two days’ distance before we could summon up the emotional fortitude to write this post. And we are still processing.  But, in the spirit of moving forward with the rest of the trip, we’ll do the best we can here.  Please understand that the post is more about impressions and feelings than “what we saw” per se.

As context, the Jewish people comprised a significant minority population in Central Europe for over a thousand years.  Poland, in particular, was the home to many vibrant Jewish communities for centuries.  Those communities were characterized by memorable synagogues and enclaves in both major cities and small towns. Indeed by the early 1940s, Jews comprised approximately 10% of Poland’s total population (this compares to a one digit percent of Jews in the States today).  This data was staggering to us.

I would imagine that nearly every medium to large city in Central Europe offers some sort of Jewish Heritage Tour these days.  The purpose is to “showcase” where the Jewish communities and synagogues were located “in the day” and to demonstrate how they are coming back. This is aspirational because, in most cases, both the residents and evidence (buildings, synagogues) of those communities were completely decimated in the Shoah so there is very little to see in these tours—an archway here, a few bricks there, a trace of a cemetery there, and many memorial plaques everywhere.  So, the tour of Krakow was disheartening (though that was expected).  We saw a tiny 18th century Orthodox synagogue being rebuilt (the townspeople completely covered up the cemetery to protect it from Nazi destruction and it is still being renovated).  We saw a remnant of the ghetto wall.  But, most unforgettable was a remarkable exhibit “Rediscovering Traces of Memory” at the Galicia Jewish Museum - see (Galicia is the southern region of Poland that includes Krakow and the town of Jaroslaw, where my (Wendy’s) family emigrated from in the early 1900s.) The photographer tried to capture the essence and historical arc of the Jewish community of Southern Poland before, during, and after the Shoah through post-Shoah photos (only photos showing groups marking Holocaust Remembrance Days included people).  For instance, he photographed synagogues (and/or their remnants) throughout the region. He juxtaposed memorials in forests where there were mass executions with solitary signposts. Perhaps most poignant for me was a photograph of gravestones from a Jewish cemetery that had been repurposed as sidewalk blocks.  The exhibit was powerful and terribly sad. I truly had a visceral reaction to the loneliness, desecration, and sense of ruin portrayed in photo after photo.

(To learn more, refer to "Rediscovering Traces of Memory", by Jonathan Webber)

So, needless to say, I dreaded the afternoon visit to Auschwitz.  But, given my experience visiting other Holocaust museums around the world, seeing movies (like most of us), and reading more fictitious accounts (from every possible nationality) than I can count, my reaction was completely different than I expected.  Of course, it was surreal to be there.  And there were displays that were shocking.  Seeing the sheer size of Birkenau took my breath away.  And I certainly gasped at the entry way to the camps.  But, overall, I felt like I was on a terrifying horror movie set.  I knew intellectually what happened there, but—during my visit—I could not accept it emotionally. I felt like I was visiting a death factory—a fact that seemed reinforced by our (what I believed to be) melodramatic, yet clinical, guide.   The people in the photos (upon arrival at the camps) looked so normal—they could have been my great grandparents, my grandparents, my parents, family friends.  I could not and still cannot allow myself to wrap my heart around its enormity. And the sign over the gate, translated as “Work Makes You Free” is one of the most heinous lies in history.   

I know we try to make our blog posts upbeat and fun—full of amazing meals and exciting adventures. This past Tuesday was not one of those days and this has not been one of those posts.  It truly gave me solace to recite both the Kaddish and El Molei Rachamim (the prayer for the dead) in the barracks at Birkenau with new friends.  We must never forget.

We arrived in Budapest on Wednesday late afternoon and have had a truly magical time, with many fun adventures, so far.  Tomorrow brings Kabbalah Shabbat Services at the glorious Doheny Synagogue followed by a foodies’ delight dinner.  So, we promise that the subsequent posts will be more uplifting.

wendy and wayne

Goodbye pierogis, hello paprikash!

Wednesday was primarily a travel day. We left Krakow early in the morning for an 8-hour (total) bus ride to Budapest. From Poland we crossed over into the Slovak Republic. Because both countries are in the European Union, the border crossing is a non-event. We ascended to 4,000 feet as we crossed the Tatra Mountains, then stopped for lunch in the small village of Banska Bystrica. NOTE: All meals for the last few days will be described in a subsequent post. This post will just whet your appetite!  Then it was back on the road until we got to Budpest around 4pm.

For those who don't know it, Buda and Pest ("Pesht" in the Hungarian pronunciation) are two separate cities divided by the Danube River. The Buda side is hilly and primarily residential, while the Pest side is flat and has the business district and the government buildings, as this is the capital of the country.

Speaking of pronunciation, our guide told us that there are no exceptions when pronouncing letters in the Hungarian language (Wayne's ESL students must be jealous of that!)  So, he said, after a 5 minute lesson you can read any Hungarian book perfectly. Of course you wouldn't understand any of it! The language has no resemblance to any other European language! Some think it is related to Asian language groups as that is where the Magyars (the real name of the people) came from. "Hungarian" is a version of "Sons of the Huns" because people thought the Magyars were related to that Atilla fella.

Once we arrived we took a short walking / orientation tour in the area around our hotel. WOW!!!! What a beautiful city!!! It has a long history but the current city (as it stands) only dates back to the 1850s; the Danube flooded and basically destroyed everything. So it has been completely rebuilt and heavily modeled after Paris. In fact, many of the buildings were designed and built by the Eiffel Steel Company. It has that same 19th century, heavily ornamented, 4-story look. Of course, the ground floors are now all filled with 21st century shops (Fact: the first and only McDonalds to operate behind the Iron Curtain is here!).  However there are many Communist-era buildings - you know, those gray, utilitarian monoliths. Our guide described the style as Stalinesque-grotesque.

Wednesday's meal was a dinner cruise on the Danube! A violin player serenaded us with lots of favorites including, of course, the Blue Danube Waltz, and finished with the Radetsky March, which is always the last song played at the New Year's Eve concerts in Europe. It's a real crowd pleaser! Details of the meal itself to follow.

Thursday we took the real tour of the city. We first visited the Opera House, a magnificent building.

It was the first air-conditioned building in Europe, using a series of ducts that pulled cool air from the riverside underneath the floor and up through vents beneath each seat. Our visit included a "surprise" serenade on the staircase by a tenor who sang 3 of the most popular arias in the operatic canon.

Next we went to Heroes' Square which was built in 1896 to celebrate the 1,000th year of the country. Our local guide, Balant, told us that Hungary is the only country in the world that is completely surrounded by itself. What he meant was, Hungary used to be much larger, but over the centuries it has been occupied and overrun and chopped up. So now, no matter which way you leave the country, you still cross over into land that was once Hungary's.

Certainly there was some typical tour guide shtick, but Balant said the real first language of Hungary is "sarcasm". This was a mechanism the people used to survive 45 years of Communist rule ("We welcomed the Russians in 1945 because they chased out the Nazis; unfortunately they liked our country so much, they stayed for 45 years").

Then we toured St. Stephen's Basillica. St. Stephen was the first king, in the 1100s. Apparently he is still a big deal here (e.g., there was also a statue of him in Heroes Square). Inside we saw his mummified right hand! Lore says it spontaneously mummified (and a full battery of tests a few years ago in the U.S. found nothing to disprove this), so it was accepted as a genuine miracle.

Later in the day we toured the Dohany Street Synogoue.  Built in the 1850s, and seating 3,000 people, it was, for a long time, the largest synagogue in the world; now it is the third largest.
(See ). This is certainly the largest synagogue we have ever seen, and the ONLY one with an organ and pews! Our tour guide at the synagogue, Agnes, was convinced that she is Wendy's distant cousin (on the Baron / Cohen side). And we did see a slight resemblance!

Outside the synagogue was a beautiful memorial garden dedicated to the Righteous Heroes, those non-Jews from Budapest who risked their own lives to save the lives of many Jews (though 400,000 Hungarian Jews did perish in Auschwitz). Some of these heroes were also killed by the Nazis.

Next, we took the subway to the Szechenyi Bath and Spa ( ). This large public "pool" actually contains 14 different pools of varying sizes and temperatures. Some were indoors and some were outside. Wendy and two new Tauck friends checked them was amazing and super fun!

For dinner we went to the Hungarian restaurant Dio (which means "nut"), a local favorite.  Stay tuned!

Friday was another tour of Pest and then over to Buda. We started with a drive by the river where we saw the Shoe Monument. This is 50 pairs of (iron) shoes symbolizing the 50 Jews lined up and shot and thrown into the river in the ending days of the war. While Budapest was heavily bombed (by the Germans, Russians, and U.S.) it did not suffer as much damage as Warsaw or Krakow.

On the route we passed through a square which had two signs: one contained the current name of the square. The other said "Roosevelt Square" with a red line through it. Huh? What's that about? Well, the square was actually named by the Russians as a way of thanking Roosevelt for his help in dividing up Europe. So when the Reds were ousted in '89, the Hungarians x'ed out the old sign and renamed the square.

Next we went to the Hungarian Parliament building, one of the largest such buildings in the world. It is truly huge and magnificent. The square in front was the site of the 1956 Hungarian "uprising", which (per our guide) was largely instigated by the Russians as a pretext for staying longer in the country. The photo below shows only a small section of one wing of this building! And talk about ornate! This place makes the Opera house look shabby. In the middle, under the huge dome, protected 24 hours a day by two sword-carrying soldiers is, you guessed it: St. Stephen's crown.

Then we finally went over one of the city's 7 bridges to the Buda side and the Buda Castle district. We saw the beautiful Matthias Church, and we were lucky to get in as it is periodically closed due to the ongoing major renovations (reminded us of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona!). Also at this site is the Fisherman's Bastion, built only a few years ago to honor the fishermen of the area, but mostly as a platform for a beautiful tourist's view of the Pest side of the river.

Then the bus took us back over the river to a large market. As with ones we've seen in other countries, this was filled with butcher stalls, fish stalls, and many vegetable stalls. Unlike many others it was bright and clean and relatively odorless. Of course, it had local things like paprika stalls and strudel stalls (which, we were surprised to see, also sold challahs).

The mile walk back to our hotel was on a pedestrian-only street filled with beautiful buildings and lots of merchants and sidewalk cafes including this one with food to die from:

At 6pm on Friday we went back to the Dohany Street Synagogue for Kabbalat Shabbat.  What a fascinating experience!  The synagogue, a hybrid of Orthodox and Conservative, requires men and women to sit separately. Everyone was so warm and welcoming when we came in—Shabbat Shalom means the same thing in Budapest as in Highland Park.   Of course, head coverings are required for men but many (including Wayne) were wearing baseball caps (there were no kipot available for use); so Wayne felt right at home! We made sure to each pick up a siddur (prayer book) but they were written primarily in Hungarian—a fascinating way to display transliterated Hebrew.  As mentioned earlier, there was an organ and at least two chazzan (cantors).  Their chanting was magnificent and Wendy was quite sure that one of them hit a high G—no straining!  Another interesting phenomenon was that on the women’s side, there was very little attention paid to the service—just a lot of kibbitzing.  At least 100 worshippers were in attendance—representing a broad age span.  Most touching, perhaps, was that several of them seemed to be Dohany regulars.  One gentleman, in particular, must have been in his 90s.  How powerful to have survived the Shoah and be able to continue worshiping in your own shul.  For the most part, the melodies were unfamiliar but we tracked with the structure of the service and certainly recognized and participated in the Sh’ma and Kaddish prayers and understood the choreography during the l’cha dodi. They did the Kiddush mid-service and two gentlemen passed around tiny plastic cups of wine.  When it was time for the sermon (in Hungarian), Wayne and I discretely stepped out.  Hopefully, the Rabbi was not talking about kindness to strangers.  This was such a memorable and meaningful experience!

For our last night in Budapest we had an absolutely divine meal at Onyx. Tres chi chi! really to die for. But you'll have to wait!!!!

Next: on to Bratislava and Vienna!
Things we've learned:
Just because a country is in the EU does not mean it is on the Euro. In fact, only 12 of the 28 EU countries are!

So far we have ridden the subways in Warsaw and Budapest. The Budapest subway is actually the 2nd oldest in the world (after London's)!!! While it got the job done, the trains and stations do look much as they must have when it opened in the 1890s.

We had expected the beers to be dark and heavy, but to the contrary they have all been rather light-colored and mild. We shall see what Austria has in store.

Only recently, two new laws were enacted in Hungary. First: no smoking in all public buildings! This looks like it will be a big change for these folks  Second: no jaywalking! Our guide said there is a $100 fine and that the police really are citing people. Yikes!

OK, help us out here:  these people eat all this heavy food and drink a lot of beer, but we have yet to see an overweight Pole or Magyar! What gives????

love,   w&w.....

And so we ate…. In Budapest

This has been such a powerful trip so far, it just doesn’t seem right to mix food observations with broader perspectives.  So, we’re separating them.

Big tastes first… this is the height of the strawberry season and they are red and so deicious.  The food is heavy (though due to Tauck guests’ feedback, they have added vegetarian options throughout, thank goodness!).  Everyone knows about the pastries in Europe (particularly Hungarian and Viennese).  But, we certainly weren’t aware of the prominence of ice cream concoctions.  Think the biggest sundae imaginable with extra scoops and toppings and more elaborate and you will begin to understand these delicious works of art!   Only ordered it once but, more to come! Lots of pork, lots of duck, salmon (mostly smoked and outstanding), scampi several times.  Oh, can’t forget the bread.  If you are on no carbs, you are in trouble.  The Kempinski restaurant in Budapest actually had a wall of bread.  And, while we did not sample them all, what we had was fantastic.  Finally, local beers are amazing and we think Wayne has sampled them all so far—and the steins are large!
OK.  Now the specifics.  Our first meal in Budapest was on the Danube river cruise.  We are not big fans of buffets but this one was lovely.  Particularly memorable was the veal goulash with light and airy spaetzle.  Very delicious in small quantities because the dessert was displayed close by.  Among other pastries, the introduction of strudel!  Oh my.  In this particular meal, it was cherry strudel, but since then we have had apple and chocolate.  So flakey, so buttery, so delectable.  The cardiologist we were dining with went back for thirds and new friends have been popping Lipitor like there’s no tomorrow!

Next meal of note… lunch on Thursday.  We were still stuffed after the grand buffet, so stopped for a bite at Gerbeaud (a Budapest open-air art deco café since the 1850s).  Our meal was not significant in terms of quantity—we both had salads (ah, nice to be in Europe where it is completely safe to eat greens ); a new friend had a beautifully constructed smoked salmon tower on an exquisite split mini-loaf of multi-grain bread.  But the dessert (ordered by one of us in our family—guess who) was the piece de resistance.  Ordered to satisfy an urge for one scoop of vanilla with hot fudge—it was four scoops with not only hot fudge but spectacularly designed whipped cream, sponge cake and two chocolate cigars.  Self-restraint was not really in the cards.

We had vowed there would be no dinner.  But, alas, that was not to be.  We headed over to Dio (which means “nuts” in Hungarian, which we were to eat another meal, but we went anyway).  Fantastic!  We did decide to limit ourselves to two courses, not including the delicious bread of course, with butter so creamy and delectable you could eat it with a spoon (after smearing it on your hips).  Wendy chose the breast of duck with Tokai wine and date barley risotto—the duck was superbly succulent and perfectly sliced and arrayed across the risotto. 

It was accompanied by a plate of beautifully grilled vegetables which we had requested.  (We originally asked for cabbage but the chef informed us it wouldn’t be appropriate—in other words it would “compromise the integrity of the dish.”)  Wayne ordered the paprikash veal stew with egg noodles (because you can never have enough goulash in Hungary!). It was delectable but the translation of “noodles” wasn’t quite right as this was more like a puffed egg soufflé then noodles per se. 

We ended the meal with chocolate strudel served with blackberry mousse and cappuccino.  (By the way, the cappuccino/coffee course is served separately.  As our guide informed us, once you have a table for dinner, it is yours for the evening.  The coffee course enables you to stretch that out and is generally accompanied by additional sweets.)
Friday, was the day of our “wow” meal in Budapest (not that the preceding meals were shabby). After Kabbalat Shabbat services, we treated ourselves to dinner at Onyx restaurant.  The “most famous” restaurant in Budapest (and also reputed to be the most expensive), Gundel is located next to the zoo and owned by the Lauder (as in Estee) family.  We purposefully chose to bypass that restaurant for Onyx which had been touted in the NY Times best restaurants in Budapest post (frequented more by locals than tourists).  It was truly a special meal.  The room was intimate (12 tables—30 guests) and the service wonderful.

Wendy started with Tokai sparkling wine “The Royal Court”” Kiralyudar 2009 and Wayne had, yes, a beer.  This was a meal of countless courses—starting with an amuse-bouche of miniature chilled tomato soup accompanied by a stacked canapé of watermelon sliver, feta, and sardine adorned with a miniscule square of balsamic vinegar gele and a wisp pureed of tapenade.  For the next course, Wayne had  “bean soup” (sic) with langoustine and bacon—this was more like an simplified bouillabaisse but was tasty--regardless of the name.  Wendy’s next course was several spears of grilled white asparagus garnished with a simple (yeah, righ) bergamot sabayon.  Very delicate and delicious. Accompanying this course was the first round of bread.  A bread “sommelier” wheeled over a cart allowing us to choose from among all or several of the following:  multi-grain bread, parmesan cheese crisps, Hungarian white bread and an assortment of focaccia puffs (“pog’csa”) including, but not limited to these flavors:  beetroot, bacon, cabbage, and olive. They were all extraordinary—and I say this from experience—accompanied by that creamiest of butters again (pork pate and cottage cheese were the other choices.)

OK, moving to the mains.  Wayne chose tenderloin of beef with ravioli stuffed with confit shoulder of beef serve with goulash jus.  This was, by far, the best steak either of us had ever eaten.  Upon inquiring whether it was from Hungarian beef, we were told “no, it’s from the United States.”  LOL, it was great. 

Wendy had sole with lemon mousseline, carrot textures (this is directly from the menu, folks), pistachios, and clam sauce. The carrot textures component was a swath of pureed carrot with different shapes and presentations. It looked like a little carrot town! The combination was light and extraordinary.

Palate cleanser next—elderflower granite with essence of grapefruit foam.  Doesn’t everyone?

We had to have dessert and Onyx did not disappoint.  Wayne had Tainori chocolate, violet—an amazingly configure chocolate fantasy including chocolate mousse, a chocolate cookie coil, and a chocolate ice cream cigar. 

Wendy chose a 21st century take on the classic Somlo sponge cake—a beautiful brandy snifter with layers of dark chocolate, white chocolate, milk chocolate, chocolate cookie, and whipped cream. 

Mere mortals would have been done by this point; but Wendy noticed that those who ordered coffee also had a cookie cart.  So, with my decaf (why bother) cappuccino, I had a choice of at least a dozen different cookies (no limit)—two types of exotic macarons (including poppy seed), several 21st century Gerbaud delicacies-chocolate/walnut/apricot concoctions—almost too beautiful to eat. We could go on.

Suffice it to say, our meal at Onyx was truly memorable and, luckily, we’ve done a lot a walking the past two days in Bratislava and Vienna with more walking to come because those calories need to be burned…but it was so worth it.  I could say we will never eat again, but that’s simply not true!


wendy and wayne


Saturday morning we left Budapest and headed west. We first stopped in Bratislava, Slovakia's capital city, for lunch and a walking tour past the Old Town Hall and St. Martin's Cathedral.
Vienna, the Austrian capital and former center of the Habsburg empire, is only about an hour away, but due to a Gay Pride parade that closed many streets (including the one in front of our hotel!) we took a "Tauck surprise" detour. This time it was to Seegrotte in the Austrian woods. This was originally a gypsum mine, but mining ended in the 1920s. Near the end of WWII, the Germans actually used people from the concentration camps to build parts for the new Heinkel jets down there!!! It also (purportedly) contains the largest underwater lake in Europe; the lakes we saw in the Salt Mine looked bigger. Here's the funny part: we knew we were going to the Salt Mine and were warned that it was a constant 52 degrees, so we went with our heavy coats and ski caps and gloves. But since we had no warning for this mine we were totally unprepared for the 40 degree temperature inside! (Did I mention it was 90+ outside??) We walked about 200 feet, saw a few tableaus and then went on a "It's a small world" Disney boat for a 3 minute ride! Then we ran out as fast as we could. We've really given this more space than it deserves; a definite "must miss". 

Then we drove to our hotel, the fantastic Hotel Bristol. Vienna was recently recognized as the safest big city in the world! It has a big city feel, lots of hustle and bustle and many street cars, but still features that "old world" architecture: the ornate buildings, the many large greenish-oxidized statues and monuments, even a 100+ year old Ferris wheel. They speak German in Austria, but apparently you can tell where someone is from by how it sounds. Sort of like Manhattan vs Chicago vs New Orleans. As an aside, the sensibility and emotional tension felt much different from when Wendy was here 38 years ago (more on that later). 

Sunday's touring started at the State Art museum. We saw hundreds of old masters (many of which we recognized) and learned a lot from our guide.

Up next was Schoennbrun was the summer home of the Hapsbourgs ('s a whole 5 miles from the city center!). It's one of those "we built it because we could" huge, ornate palaces (much like Versailles with beautiful gardens and all).

Before the actual tour, we were treated to a strudel-making demo! The baker tossed the dough like a pizza and it was so thin you could read a newspaper through it! Here he is with his assistant.

Then lunch: The choice was fish or Wienerschnitzel. Perfect for us. Both were delicious, but the schnitzel was the size of Slovakia! Unfortunately they ran out of the big buns!
Finally, of course, to end the meal, apple strudel mit schlag! Yummy!!!!!

Then we toured the grounds where we learned, among other things, that Maria Theresa had 16 children...11 girls and 5 boys. The girls (most of whom were named Marie) were married off to the kings and royalties of Europe. One of them was Marie Antoinette!

We had a light dinner at a local cafe. Finally there was a dark beer on the menu! It had a real chocolate-malty taste.

Then we went to the ballet at the Staats Oper (State Opera House). The program was "Ballet Vienna - Vienna State Opera - Juwelen der Neuen Welt II, George Balanchine, John Neumeier, Twyla Tharp, William Forsythe".  It was 20th century dance (though not "modern") to the music of  Bach, Stravinsky,Haydn, and Schubert. It was amazing, and seeing the variety of people and their outfits in the audience was also quite an experience.

Monday: a walking tour of the central area, Ringstrasse 1. The Hapsbourg palace, St. Augustin church, the building with the famed Lippazaner Stallions (the Spanish Horses); they don't perform on Monday, so we missed out.

Our guide explained how Austria was both victim and perpetrator during the war, and took great pains to explain that the Austrian people are not German even though they speak the same language. She said that the children are more exposed to the facts of the war and the holocaust now than when she was growing up. Even so the relationship between the Austrians and the Jews, beore, during, and since the war is complex.

Next we walked to the Juden Platz, an old Jewish part of town...NOT a ghetto in the sense of an imposed living area where people HAD to return to each night...this was more like the Jewish neighborhood in the 18th and 19th centuries. Now the square contains a holocaust memorial which was built through the efforts of Simon Weisanthal. It is an inside-out library, with the "books" carved on the outside...though there is a carved "door", there really is no inside. It is in memory of the 65,000 Austrian Jews killed in the war.

Then a short walk to view the outside (undergoing serious renovation) and a quick look-see of the inside of St. Stephen's church, the focal point of the city. This is a different St. Stephen than we saw in Budapest. This one is the first Christian martyr.

Then we had a little time to spare before our private tour of the Stadttempel synagogue, so we stopped for.....ta da: some apple strudel!!!!!! Sooooo good!! Just sat outside and watched all the tourists (btw: it was in the 90s again today).

Then we had a guide show us around the Stadttempel (City-Temple or City-Synagogue, also called the Seitenstettengasse Temple), which today is the main synagogue of Vienna. The synagogue was constructed in 1825 and 1826 and was fitted into a block of houses and hidden from plain view of the street, because of an edict issued by Emperor Joseph II that only Roman Catholic places of worship were allowed to be built with facades fronting directly on to public streets. Ironically, this edict saved the synagogue from total destruction during the Kristallnacht in November 1938, since the synagogue could not be destroyed without setting on fire the buildings to which it was attached. The Stadttempel was the only synagogue in the city to survive the war, as the Germans destroyed all of the other 93 synagogues in Vienna.

The tour was over at this point, so we went to the famous Cafe Demel for a light repast.....small open-faced sandwiches of egg salad, roast beef, and smoked salmon (und beer). Wendy had a mini pastry.

Then we took a one-stop ride on the subway (just to add it to our list), and a short walk to the Hotel Sacher for some Sacher tort!!! Yes....even we overdid it!

After a group dnner (nothing to write home about) we again had a private concert. This one was with members of the Vienna Residence Orchestra at the Palais Auersperg.   ( ) There was a piano, a flute, a cello, a bass, and three violins, one of which was a Strad from 1700. For several songs there was either an operatic duo (male and female) or two ballet dancers! How they choreographed that on a stage about 12' x 10' with 7 musicians we can't imagine! We sat in the same room where, according to the host, the 6-year old Mozart entertained the court of Maria Theresa! It was a fantastic program: the first half was all of Mozart's greatest hits. The second was Strauss favorites, ending with, you guessed it, "The Beautiful Blue Danube" and "The Radetzky March" (and we clapped at all the right times!).

Now, it's on to our last stop: Prague!

love w&w...........

Prague Part I

So much to share it will take two posts!

Early Tuesday we left Vienna and took a ride through beautiful farm country and small towns to our final destination, Prague (Praha to the natives). 

After a quick lunch at our hotel, we set out on a walking tour of the "Old City" area. Prague has been a thriving city for over 1,100 years. It is the home to Franz Kafka and the Golem; two of the strangest characters of all time. One of the city's great charms is the architecture. There was never any thought to tearing down old buildings (as in our "urban renewal"), so entire blocks are a fascinating mixture of Romanesque, Baroque, Rococo, Renaissance, and modern architecture, often, a "new" building has been built right on the foundation of an older one! The buildings are also decorated (via color, statues, ornamentation) to be unique. Here are some examples.

There used to be 13 huge towers surroudng the city (part of the wall); now only two remain. We saw an astronomical clock which has been keeping the correct time (plus moon phases, month of the year, etc) for 600 years (with, one would assume, some adjustments for leap year, etc.). It puts on quite a show every hour from 9 am - 9 pm and must really be seen to be believed.

Later, on our way to a wonderful dinner at Kampa Park restaurant, we crossed the Charles Bridge. This iconic structure was built beginning in 1357.

Along the 650 foot bridge are 30 stautues, most with religious significance (and yes, those are Hebrew words surroundig the cross in the picture below).

Then, dinner overlooking the Moldau River at Kampa Park restaurant (more on that in the next post).

It was still light out when we walked back at 9:15, and there were a lot fewer tourists around.  The main street of this area is totally full of tourist stores, ranging from the cheapest t-shirts and bumper stickers to the most expensive crystal and garnet (both local products). In a sense, it reminded us of Venice; the old buildings with the capitalistic catering to the tourists. However, instead of the Venetian masks, many of Prague's stores sell marionettes. We thought this was just a gimmicky thing, but our guide told us today that these hand-made puppets were actually used over a hundred years ago for a very good reason. At that time German was declared the official language and it was forbidden to speak Czech. German was taught to the children in the schools. But the people did not want their language to die, so they used the puppets to teach the children old folk tales in Czech! This is also a reason why Prague was not bombed during the war; Hitler felt that this area was really part of Germany, so he did not want to destroy his "own" territory. This is also why there are only a few war memorials in this city.

Wednesday began with a tour of the Prague Castle and St. Vitus' Cathedral. According to Guiness, this is the biggest castle in the world! ( and It is a huge complex of buildings actually built over many centuries (and again, in many different architectural styles). It is currently used as the President's offices, so we were not able to go in. But we were able to tour the Cathedral. Its beginnings date from the 15th century, but much of the work was not completed until 1929 in honor of the 1,000th year of St. Vitus. Even today, there are many parts of the exterior that are not done, but they spend so much time and money on just maintaining the rest it is questionable whether it ever will be finished. We have visited a lot of churches, but this one has to be one of the most amazing. The structure is an immense Gothic stonework, and the walls have the most beautiful stained glass windows (one exception is a rare painted glass window done by Mucha - see below).

From this, you can only imagine what it looks like in person.

Then we took a tour of the Strahov Library ( ). And it was actually a tour thanks to Tauck (our tour company). All other mere tourists can only look inside from the doorway. OK, so big's a library. Well, this IS a big deal! The library building itself dates from the 1700s and has beautiful frescoes on the walls and ceilings. But the 30,000 volumes(and antique globes) are much older than that! The oldest is the Strahov Gospel (the library is part of a monastery) from 860. No typo there: 8-6-0!  The books are in 22 languages; the 22nd being represented by a solitary bible in an Eskimo-Lappland language!

After the visit to the library, Wendy went to Terezin (Theresienstadt) and Wayne continued to explore the city.

Terezin was an altogether different experience from Auschwitz.  A transit camp in a repurposed medieval fortress, Terezin also is well known as the Nazi’s showcase camp for a Red Cross visit in early 1944. In preparation for that visit, the camp was scrubbed and manicured (with the center square beautified) and prisoners not only gave a musical performance but were instructed to “be happy.”  It worked. Ironically, Terezin was named in honor of Maria Theresa, the Hapsbourg empress, who actually had promoted a new tolerance of all religious faiths, including the jews.
Because the camp was only meant to be a temporary stop, Nazi censorship of the prisoners was minimal so there was significant underground cultural activity—theatre, painting/drawing, poetry and other writing, and music.  Indeed, you may be familiar with the book I Never Saw Another Butterfly, a collection of children’s poems and drawings from Terezin. A friend had told me told me that he was more touched by Terezin than Auschwitz and I was not quite sure how to interpret that.  After having visited, I understand because Terezin put a much more human face on the Shoah. Auschwitz/Birkenau was raw and Terezin was refined, but nonetheless just as horrific.  There is a relatively new museum with galleries of the artwork, musical compositions, and poetry—as well as re-constituted living spaces (complete with clothing and luggage), and very moving memorials in several locations.  But what was most moving was the beginning of the exhibit—dedicated to the children of Terezin.  When I saw the name of a child (under her butterfly painting) with whom I share a birthday, I started to shudder.  In the next room were the names of children with their birth dates and dates of death (or departure from Terezin) listed; I could barely catch my breath.  These precious children were contemporaries of my parents.  Their crime was being born Jewish.

(The caption on the original picture reads
"A Bohemian paradise 300 miles south of Berlin in Czechoslovakia")

The design and storyline of the exhibit were so powerful, professional, and respectful.  The visit to Terezin, in juxtaposition with the visit to Auschwitz/Birkeau truly provided me with the additional emotional intelligence I was searching for on this journey. 
Meanwhile, back in Prague, first off for Wayne was lunch at an outdoor cafe: the traditional goulash with dumplings and a beer, Then a subway ride to get close to the Mucha Museum. Most of you have probably never heard of Alphonse Mucha (we know we hadn't), but you have all seen his work. This Czech born artist was a leader of the late 19th century Art Nouveau movement and created (among other works) the captivating Sarah Bernhardt posters. Here is one of the most famous ("La Samaritaine").

Dinner was at another famous restaurant, V Zatisi "V" in Czech means "in". A lot of restaurants are called "V something". (See the "Prague for Foodies" post for details.)

Thursday was our last official day on the tour (we are staying through Saturday).

We began with a tour of the Estates Theater. This theater was built in 1781 - 1783. In 1787, Mozart himself conducted the premiere of his opera Don Giovanni there. And we have tickets to see the very same opera there on Friday night! (Not sure if Mozart will be conducting or not.) Before we left, we were treated to some period music played by a 7-piece ensemble of the theater's musicians.
We’ve had some type of Jewish tour in each city; the tour in Prague was the most complete.  The Prague Jewish community is over one thousand years old –with the Golden Age occurring in the 16th and 17th centuries. Per the explanation given earlier, Prague was spared extensive bombing during WWII because Hitler considered Czechoslavakia to be part of Germany. Many of the old synagogues and Judaica were left unharmed because Hitler wanted to create a museum on the “extinct Jewish race.”  That  aspiration aside, there was a lot to see including, but not limited to: the Pinkas Synagogue (now serving as a Holocaust memorial to Czechoslavakia and Prague victims of the Shoah), the 13th century Old/New Synagogue (an orthodox synagogue that, with only a few exceptions, has been in use continuously since it was built; even all through WWII), The Spanish Synagogue (given the name because of the Moorish design; Reform Ashkenazi Jews worshipped here—it is now used as a concert venue; they were having a Gershwin concert Thursday evening), the Jewish Town Hall (complete with Hebrew letters on the clock), the Maisel synagogue (repurposed as the main building of the largest Jewish museum with many beautiful examples of Judaica), the chilling yet impressive Jewish cemetery where over 100,000 people are buried in 12 layers (from 1489-1737), and the Klausen Synagogue.  The buildings were remarkably well preserved and the visit was extraordinarily moving.
There is also a "New Cemetery" (in use since the late 1700s). The people were buried there moving from one side to the other. In one area there is a large swath with no graves. This represents the missing graves of the two generations of people wiped out during the war.
Our final stop on the tour was the farewell dinner. Once again, Tauck came through with an amazing treat. The dinner was held at Lobkowicz Palace. The Lobkowicz family has been nobles in this area for 700 years! We were given an introduction by the current head of the family William Lobkowicz ("Mr.", as all titles were abolished in 1918!), who was actually born and raised in Boston!
To read more of this incredible story, see
We had a private audioguide tour of their "collections" which included paintings of most of the old family members, a room full of exquisite and one-of-a-kind china, a weapons room (guns, chain mail, swords), and other miscellaneous artifacts. But the most amazng was the Music Room, which contained (among other things), the original hand-written scores, of Beethoven's 3rd and 5th symphonies, with personal annotations by the composer! This was not just "obtained" somewhere along the was the 6th Prince Lobkowicz who actually commissioned these works! The Eroica is dedicated to him!
As if this weren't enough, the castle is on a high hill overlooking Prague. So we were afforded an outstanding view as we dined in one of the Palace's rooms.....but more on that in a later post.

All for now,
love, w&w

Prague Part II

The official tour is over but we are still in Prague!

First, three things we forgot to mention in the previous post:
1. They pretty much have two brands of beer here, Pilsener Urquell, the original Pilsener brewed in Pilzen, Czech, and Budweiser (Budvar), the original Budweiss beer, which tastes pretty much like Bud at home. In other words, flavored water. (Oh....they also have "erdbeer", but that's just the German word for strawberry!)
2. Most street intersections contain a "zebra", a black-and-white striped crosswalk. So unlike places such as Rome or Hanoi where you put your head down (No eye contact!) and walk across the street as the cars and motorbikes whiz by you on both sides, here, when a pedestrian is on the zebra the cars all stop! Amazing!!!
3. In the old town there are a lot of street musicians. But we're not talking about two guys with drumsticks banging on empty plastic pails (like in Chicago); here we have seen (singly or in groups up to 5) people playing flute, bass violin, accordian, violin, guitar, trombone, and bassoon (!). Quite a lovely sound.

Friday was an absolutely perfect day.  We actually slept late (well....til 7:30) and then a leisurely breakfast with some of the other Tauckies who stayed extra.

Then we walked to Wenceslaus Square. St. Wenceslaus is the patron saint of the country. This square was the site of the massive demonstrations in 1968 and the Velvet Revolution in 1989. So what better thing to do from there than to go to the Museum of Communism! We were anxious to see how this compared to the Communism exhibit at the National Museum of Bejing (see last year's trip post). The focus of this exhibit, unlike the one in China, was on how bad Communism was for Czechoslovakia! It started with a little history of the post-WWI period and then focused on the end of WWI and beyond. Much of it was told using photographs, materials (e.g., a Soviet-era classroom), and propagandistic posters of the era. There was a separate area showing how bad Communism still is in North Korea (photos of starving people, tortured people, etc.). The whole thing was very well done. This poster, an advertisement for the museum, pretty well sums up the Czechs' feelings.

Then we headed to the Jerusalem (aka Jubilee) Synagogue. This large, ornate synagogue (on Jerusalem Street!), was opened in 1906. It has a Moorish design, unlike the Gothic ones we saw earlier. It also has an organ and beautiful stained glass windows, which include the names of those who (apparently) donated the money for them. Best of all we could take pictures inside!

As a bonus, there are two excellent permanent photo exhibits upstairs in the former "women's" section. One is "A History of the Jewish Community of Prague from 1945 to the Present"; the other is "Jewish Monuments of Bohemia and their Restoration After 1989".

Then a stroll through the square back to the edge of the old Jewish ghetto to a fantastic lunch at Cantonnetta Fiorentina (OK, even though it was Italian it was highly recommended), which, until last year was called "Pravda" (Russian for "truth").  It was about 2:00, since we decided to do a late lunch and skip dinner becasue of the opera. Of course we ate outside. Wendy had a whole bronzini which was expertly filleted at our table. Wayne had linguine with baby clams in an olive oil - butter sauce. Both were divine. Dessert was a large caramel profiterole and a red fruit crostada slice. Bellisimo!

We walked back through the square one more time, did a little gift shopping, and then went to the hotel to get dressed.

Unlike the theater in Vienna, the attire at this theater was not quite as showy. Yes, there were many people dressed up (as were we), but many others had more casual dress. In fact, we saw a woman wearing shorts! (Not the same woman as in Vienna). Our perception was that this crowd was more made up of tourists than locals (e.g., one Japanese woman was wearing a kimono!).

As we mentioned in the previous post, this was a performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni. The music, libretto (super-titled in both Czech and English), and the men's costuming were all as they were in 1787, but the staging and women's costuming were definitely very modern. For those who may not be familiar with the story, here is a good synopsis of the opera:
Basically, Don Giovanni is a womanizer (note his awesome pompadour in the picture; no wonder the ladies couldn't resist him!). He goes from affair to affair, accompanied by his servant Leporello (who, in our opinion, was the star of the show), leaving anger, tears, and bodies in his wake. Of course, at the end, as in all operas, he dies.

It was a wonderful performance made even more impressive by the fact that we were seeing it in the same place as it premiered 125 years ago.

Saturday, our real last day, was again....perfect. The weather forecast was sunny and upper 70s as we started out for a day at Petrin Hill, which rises 130m just on the other side of the river. To get there we first had to take the subway (which features one of the steepest, fastest escalators we have ever been on.....needed a Dramamine just for that!). Then a subway ride from the Nam. Republiky station to the Narodni Trida station. Then we hopped aboard the #22 street car and got off on Uvezd street. Then we rode the funicular to the top of the hill! Wow! (A note about the mass transit system: it is just like in Budapest: the honor system. You buy a ticket - good for 30 minutes of travel, for 90 minutes, or a full day - then you put it in a machine to stamp the time. But there are no gates or turnstiles! And no one ever checked our ticket! They just trust that you will be honest. Hmmm.....).

Petrin Hill is a huge park with rose gardens and other attractions. For example, the Monastery / Library mentioned in the previous post is there. This time we visited the lookout tower. We climbed the 299 stairs to the top of this 60 meter miniature version of the Eiffel Tower (it was built by the Eiffel Company), built in 1891. The top gave a tremendous view of the entire city. Then we walked down (could have taken the elevator either way, but what fun is that?)

Then we went into the Mirror Labyrinth, which was also built for the Prague Jubilee Exhibition in 1891. This features a pathway through a "maze" of odd-angled walls that are covered with mirrors. As soon as you walk in, you are reflected to eternity from all sides. It was almost impossible to know which way to walk without whamming into a mirror!

And even though we have been eating a lot, we haven't gotten any wider, only taller!

Next we walked to fnd St. Michael's Church, a wooden structure moved here from the Ukraine in the 1920s. Alas, the winding paths and poor signage did us in and we never got there. But we did end up at the park restaurant where we had planned to eat lunch. Alack, the main dining area was closed for a wedding! So we had to content ourselves with tuna and hard boiled egg on white bread, with appropriate beverages, while we sat outside and looked over the city. Not too shabby!

Then a walk down the hill, into town, over the Charles Bridge and back to our hotel to relax and prepare for our final dinner. We were hot and exhausted!!!!!!

Well....we had intended for this to be the last post of this trip, and to include the Prague food report, but we've been having so much fun and doing so much that we just didn't have the time. So there will be a final post (including tonight's dinner!) after we get home on Sunday. Or Monday.....depends how tired we are.

Until then,
love, w&w.