(To all our Dear Friends and Family, between our time living in Germany, our travels, and Dad’s work, we were so busy that we failed to keep our blog up to date. However we still want to share with you all the wonderful places we visited in the hope that you too will enjoy what we’ve seen and be encouraged to explore wherever and whenever.  Enjoy …)

(dateline: August 5th, 2013) Until the 19th century, two communities in central Hungary faced each other across the Danube.  Royal, medieval Buda, with its majestic architecture standing upon the hilly western bank and modern Pest, a flat area of busy boulevards, on the eastern bank.  Then in 1849 the “Szechenyi lanchid” or the Chain Bridge was completed, linking the western and eastern landscapes of Hungary, and Budapest was born.

Hungry is situated at the heart of Europe, bordered by Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia.  As such it has been influenced and to a large extent has absorbed the cultures of those peoples as well as many past conquerors: The Romans, Magyars, Turks, and Habsburgs among them.  For centuries it has been a nation in flux, its territories expanding or diminishing through a series of invasions, occupations and liberations and on our journey there we found a city undergoing yet further change after emerging from more than 40 years of life behind the Iron Curtain.

Once arriving in the city from our interesting ride in from the Airport, we immediately set out for our hotel and Anthony led the way…

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After settling in at the hotel, The Boscolo Budapest – which turned out to be a great choice in both amenities, location and its history as the site of the New York Cafe – we set off for our first site “Szent Istvan Bazilika”, or St. Stephen’s Basilica.

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St. Stephen’s Basilica is a Roman Catholic basilica named in honour of Stephen I, the first King of Hungry (c. 975 – 1038), whose incorruptible right hand is today housed in the reliquary.  A Neo-Classical architectural style with a Greek cross ground plan, it was completed in 1905 after 54 years of construction and it is the 3rd largest church in the country.  Equal in height to the Hungarian Parliament building it is one of the two tallest buildings in Budapest with it dome 315 ft high.  unfortunately we arrived too late in the day to go inside so we explored around this magnificent building, deciding quickly we’d return there tomorrow.

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Our next stop was the Szechenyi Chain Bridge.  As mentioned above, the Chain Bridge is a suspension Bridge that spans the River Danube between the western and eastern sides of Budapest.  Designed by the English Engineer William Tierney Clark (who also designed bridges crossing the River Thames in England) construction began in 1839 and it opened in 1849.  The Chain Bridge was the first permanent stone bridge across the Danube in Budapest and it is a symbol of Hungry’s advancement and unity of East and West.  During WWII the retreating Germans destroyed all the bridges of Budapest, including the Chain Bridge and only the Pillars remained intact.  So after the war, from 1947 to 1949 the bridge was rebuilt and on 20 November 1949 (exactly 100 years after its initial inauguration) a somewhat improved Chain Bridge was reopened to the public.

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We enjoyed exploring the bridge, crossing one end to the other and back and viewing its sites of the River and the city.  Most spectacularly, we could see both the Budai Var or Buda Castle

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and Nagyboldgasszony templom or The Church of Our Lady, aka St. Matthias Church off in the distance.

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We looked forward to tomorrow, returning to cross the bridge again and exploring them both.

The next day we decided to first stop by the “Opreahaz” or Hungarian State Opera House, a neo-Renaissance (with elements of Baroque) opera house located in central Budapest before heading to cross the Danube again.  Funded by the Austrian-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph, construction began in 1875 and the new house opened to the public in September 1884.

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The exterior celebrates the musical world with statues of Beethoven, Mozart, Verdi, and Wagner on the stone cornice of the front terrace.  Pride of place goes to Hungarians Franz Liszt and opera composer Ferenc Erkel, whose statues flank the entrance.  Richly decorated its interior ornamentation includes paintings and sculptures by leading Hungarian Artists of the day.  The vaulted ceiling of the foyer is covered with magnificent murals depicting the nine Muses.  Although not very large, in beauty and in the quality of acoustics it is considered to be amongst the finest opera houses in the world.

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After the Opera we decided to return to St. Stephen’s Basilica.  The facade, facing a big open square, is anchored by two large bell towers.  In the Southern tower (left side in the picture) is Hungry’s biggest bell weighing 9.9 short tons, five other bells are in the North tower.

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The interior was dazzling and is said to be adorned with over 90 pounds of 24-carat gold.   No place showed this better than the sanctuary and alter.

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Many Transylvanian and Hungarian heroes are represented throughout the church by some 88 statues.

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The interior of the cupola is magnificent in its design and beauty.

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And after seeing it from the inside, we decided to go to the top of the dome.  Passing on the 364 steps it takes to get up there, we wisely took the elevator.  Once up there we were treated to a wonderful full 360 degree view of the city.  What a terrific vantage point to see what lay ahead today.

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St. Stephen died in 1038, was canonized in 1083 and in the reliquary, displayed in a gold case is his intact right hand.  Hmmm?

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Before leaving we said our prayers and gave thanks.

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Next it was off to cross the Chain Bridge again and this time head to the Buda Castle.

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Once in Buda, we took the “Budavari Siklo” or the “Budapest Castle Hill funicular railway” or the “incline” to reach the Castle.  The ride provide a great view of what was to come but also a great perspective to just how high above the City and Danube the Castle sits.

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Built from 1868 to 1870, castle hill funicular railway was the second of its type in all of Europe (the first being in Lyon.)

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Once at the top, we were at the entrance to the Buda Castle.

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A historical castle and palace complex of the Hungarian kings in Budapest, it was 1st completed in 1265.  However, the oldest part of the present-day palace was built in the 14th century.  Built, sacked, destroyed, and rebuilt many times over centuries, the complex is a mix of arcitectural styles and composition.  Heavily damaged in WWII much work was done to rebuild it and in the process it was somewhat redesigned too.  A neo-classical dome now stands at its center and there is a statue of a mounted Prince Eugene of Savoy – a Hero of Hungry who routed the Turkish armies in the late 1600’s – in the terrace overlooking the Danube.

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The plinth is decorated with two bronze reliefs showing the capture of the earth-works in Zenta and the decisive cavalry charge in the Battle of Zenta in 1697.  Although in the Battle of Zenta took place in what is today Serbia, it was a monumental defeat of the Ottoman forces by the Habsburgs  and it was the last decisive step to force the Ottoman Empire into the Treaty of Karlowitz (1699), ending the Ottoman control of large parts of Central Europe.

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Passing through a courtyard to the other side of the Castle, we found on the north wall the lovely “Matthias Well” fountain.  It depicts King Matthias Corvinus, slain game and two other state heroes.  It is said to be the most photographed object in the palace.

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The west wing leads to both the Hungarian National History Museum and also the National Szechenyi library which stores 2+ million books.

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And in the western forecourt is the  notable statue of the Hortobágy “Horseherd” taming a wild horse.

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The Hungarian National Gallery moved to the Royal Palace of Buda Castle in 1975 and much of the artwork we saw depicted life during the Ottoman Turk occupation from 1541 – 1686.

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The views from the Castle were expansive.

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and the mythological Turul sits high above the Danube looking down on the city.

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After we finished this trip to the castle, we proceeded back down the incline to hop a street car back to towards Pest for dinner.

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On the way we passed the “Orszaghza” or the Parliament Building.  Bristling with neo-Gothic spires and turrets, it sits on the eastern bank of the Danube with its 315 feet high red dome.  Having seen it in the distance from many other vantage points, only now could we fully appreciate its magnificence.

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For our last day of exploring we decided to revisit the Castle District, except this time we approached it from the North.  Entering the Castle complex from this direction was different than that of the incline the day before and we got a real feeling for what it was like to ascend  to the high ground where Castle’s town lay.

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Once inside the outer wall, we found a nicely laid out town, with streets and alleys of a much different character than other places around Buda.

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After a bit of wandering around the town in the hot sun we came across “Matyas-templom” or Matthias Church and we looked forward to getting inside to get cool.  Officially named as the Church of Our Lady it was popularly named after King Matthias who ordered reconstruction of its south tower.  The tower was under scaffolding at the time we visited so the second picture below is from the internet.

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Once inside we found a beautifully and uniquely decorated church.  Built in the 14th Century, and at one time serving the Turks as a mosque, it was remodeled in the 19th Century in striking neo-Gothic style.

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Medieval touches have been reproduced in the interior to go along with dramatic features such as the soaring 262 foot spire of the exterior.

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For 400 years King Matthias coat of arms adorned the 3rd story of the belfry of the south tower until it was moved to a place of prominence close to the entrance.

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Beautiful stain glass windows adorned the walls.

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and from the mezzanine you can get a sense for the fresco painting that give the church its character.

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Cool from exploring the Matthias church, we paused to get some fresh water from a fountain in an adjacent park and to take in yet another view of the Danube before heading off to explore some more of the Castle town.

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As we walked about we found a still functioning town with many stores, shops and restaurants.

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After a bit of navigating through the town we came upon our last site for the day, the “Budevari Labirintus!”  From the street is a nondescript entrance that you’d pass right by it if you were not looking for it.

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Descending down the stairs you enter a maze of catacombs that extend for 16 miles under Castle Hill.

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Rich in history right up to the modern-day, the caves of the Labyrinth are believed to have been created as an effect of hot water springs and their use goes back to prehistoric times, and of course have been expanded and worked on and used for hiding, living, storage, hospitals, jails, etc. throughout the centuries.  The various caverns are linked by passageways and corridors.

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Only a tenth of the Labyrinth complex can be visited by the public, but even this gives a vivid impression of a strange, enclosed, underground world.

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We closed out trip by returning to our hotel to freshen up and then back to the Opera House to enjoy a nice meal in an adjacent restaurant we had seen earlier.  During the meal we were treated to the performance of a band playing classical music and it could not have been more fitting for our time here.

We hope you enjoyed sharing our adventures in Budapest with us!

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(To all our Dear Friends and Family. Between our time living in Germany, our travels, and Dad’s work, we were so busy that we failed to keep our blog up to date. However, we still want to share with you all the wonderful places we visited in the hope that you too will enjoy what we’ve seen and be encouraged to explore wherever and whenever.  Enjoy …)

(dateline: July 28, 2013)  We really were not prepared for the beauty of Prague.  Its title of “Golden Prague” barely conveys the color and elegance of this historic capital with its painted medieval, Baroque and renaissance facades, rust-red rooftops, mellow stone, turquoise domes, and steel-gray Gothic spires.

Prague’s buildings and streets span 1,000 years and its wandering and cobbled passageways and alleys were among the the many highlights of our visit.  From the moment we emerged from the underground at “Náměstí Republiky“ or Republic Square we were overtaken by Prague’s charming and inviting ambiance.

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As we set off to explore the Old Quarter, we first came upon the “Prašná brána” or The Powder Tower.

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Dating back to the 11th century, with the present structure having been constructed in 1475, this late Gothic town gate is one of the most remarkable monuments of medieval Prague.

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One ot the original 13 city gates in Old Town Prague, the foundation stone was place by the beloved Bohemian King Vladislav II.  The gate marked the beginning of the royal route, along which Bohemian Kings walked on their coronation procession to the Prague Castle.  The gate was used to store gunpowder in the 17th century and hence was given the name.

Inside it was remarkably large…

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and the stain glass windows throughout provided ample light while displaying the various crests and coat of arms of the regional nobles and neighboring Bohemian countries.

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Not sure what to expect we ascended to the top.

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To our surprise we came upon an outer walk …

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and once outside we had our 1st view of Prague from above …

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including the spires of The Church of Our Lady in front of Týn in the Old Town Square and St. Vitus’ Cathedral which lay inside the Prague Castle.

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Excited by all we had viewed from the Powder Tower, we next we set off for the Old Town Square.

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Prague’s historic Old Town Square features various architectural styles including the Church of Our Lady in front of Týn.

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The Church of Our Lady in front of Týn is without a doubt one of the most important ecclesiastical buildings in Prague.  A Gothic church with a Baroque interior, construction began in the 14th century and was completed in the 15th century.  It has since been the main church in this part of the city.  The towers reach 320 feet into the sky and can be seen from all around the city.  If you look closely you can see the towers and spires are not symmetrical as they were made to represent both the masculine and feminine sides of the world.

A large structure, the interior is both ornate and beautiful.

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Across the square lay the Baroque St. Nicholas Church (one of three St. Nicholas Churches in Prague),

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as well as the clock tower…

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with its infamous Astronomical Clock,

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and the adjacent the Old Town Hall.

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The Prague “orloj” or astronomical clock first installed in 1410 is the third oldest astronomical clock in the world, and the oldest one still working.  Complete with dials representing the sun and moon in the sky, a calander, and figures of the Apostles and others – including one of death as represented by a skeleton striking time- that preform an hourly walk.

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The square’s center is home to a statue of Jan Hus.  Hus was a forerunner of the Protestant Reformation who was put to death at the stake in Constance for heresy.  Hus’s principles led to the formation of the Hussite movement after which followed considerable amount of conflict including a revolution and war between the Hussites and the nobility of Bohemia as well as the Catholic Church.

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Like the Church of Our Lady in front of Týn, the St. Nicholas Church of the Old Town Square also has a rich history.

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One of the Oldest Churches in the Old Town Area, it is mentioned in sources as early as 1273.  In 1635 the chruch came into the possession of the Benedictines who built a monastery alongside that was completed in 1735.  It was consecrated in 1737.  The interor is adorned with frescos and sculptures and although partially dismantled during the late 1700’s it is beautiful.

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The main chandelier in the church is in the shape of the crown of Czars and weighs just over 3000 lbs.

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From 1870 to 1914, the Church was used by a Russian Orthodox Congregation, and since 1920 the Church has been used by the Czechoslovak Hussite Chruch.

Next we set off for the Vltava River.  The two banks of the Vtlava are connected by 15 bridges, the oldest of which is the “Karluv most” or Charles Bridge.

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As we approached the East end of the bridge, we found it was anchored by another huge tower to the Powder Tower.  We decided to ascend it as we were sure it would provide great vistas – and it did not disappoint!

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Looking South down the Vltava…

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Looking North towards the “urad vlady CR” or the Office of the Goverenment of Czech Republic…

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Looking East towards Old Town…

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Looking West towards the “Prazsky hrad” or Prague Castle…

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And looking down where we immediately discoved that the pedestrian Charles Bridge is more than just a river crossing, it is a popular location for tourist, performers and vendors.  Built in 1357  to link the Old Town with the Lesser Quarter, it was known as the Stone or Prague Bridge until 1870.  Its has a 1700 foot span and 16 sandstone arches.

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Originally a relatively plane bridge, its first ornament, a bronze crucifix was added in 1657.

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Over the next 60 years more statues were added and now line each side of the bridge.

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Having enough for one day, we decided we’d cross the bridge and discover what lay ahead in the Less Quarter tomorrow.  We ducked back into the metro to return to the hotel for the evening.  Although only 3 lines, the metro together with the light rail system combine for an easy and convenient way for getting around the city.

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The next day we picked up right where we left off at the Charles Bridge.

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At the West end of the bridge we found another tower through which we entered the Lesser Town.

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We quickly cam upon our next site, the Baroque “Kostel svatého Mikuláše” or  Church of Saint Nicholas – also called the “Chrám svatého Mikuláše” or Saint Nicholas Cathedral.

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Constructed to celebrate the Catholic counter-reformation, and built between 1704 -1755 on the site where a Gothic church from the 13th century also dedicated to Saint Nicholas formerly stood, it has been described as the “Greatest Baroque Church in Prague.”

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We could not fully appreciate that title until we entered the Cathedral.  This magnificant Cathedral possesses a grandiose interior that excels not only in its architecture, but also in its frescos and sculptures.

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The ornate alters,

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the pink and green mock-marble pillars, ceiling frescos, and surrounding sculptures,

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the 230 foot high dome,

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the Baroque organs with over 4,000 pipes (which was played by Mozart in 1787),

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and huge sculptures of the four church fathers, including St. Cyril killing the devil,

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were breathtaking.  From the Church of Saint Nicholas…

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we next walked a long steep street and flight of broad steps to arrive at the “Prazskyu hrad” or Prague Castle.

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Looming over the city and the Vltava river, the Prague Castle has been a symbol of Czech authority since the first fortress was built on this high, rocky site in the 9th Century.

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We couldn’t tell by the Castle’s entrance but the Castle is actually a complex of palaces, courtyards, churches and streets each part of a mixture of archectural styles spanning 11 centuries.

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At the entrance to the outer courtyard, two soldiers stand at attention under some rather grotesque and threatening Titans.

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Once through the gates you begin to experience the majesty of what lay ahead.

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In the second courtyard are the castle’s art gallery and informaiton center.

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Finally, as you pass through to the third couryard, you immediately come face to face with the “Katedrála svatého Víta” or St. Vitus Cathedral – a Roman Catholic cathedral and the seat of the Archbishop of Prague.  The full name of the cathedral is St. Vitus, St. Wenceslas and St. Adalbert Cathedral.

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Founded in 930 A.D., taking its current form and 1344, and taking over 600 years to complete – it was finally consecrated in 1929 – St. Vitus is an excellent example of Gothic architecture (although you could see a few Renessance and Baroque elements).  St. Vitus is the biggest and most important church in the country and it contains the the tombs of many Bohemian kings and Holy Roman Emperors and its towers contain numerous bells including the country’s largest at 15 tons.  Mass is  celebrated daily throughout the week.

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The Cathedral’s stain glass windows are as detailed and picturesque as they are large.

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From inside the third courtyard we could see the remainder of the Cathedral whose spires we had seen from across the city.

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Across the courtyard is the back of the “Stary Kralovsky palac” or Old Royal Palace.

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The Palace is a maze of rooms centered around Vladislav Hall…

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and includes, not surprisingly, a throne room

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At the end of the Vladislav Hall, there is a “Riders’ Staircase”  that mounted knights would trot up and down while mounted.

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Next we visited the Romanesque “Bazilika svatého Jiří” or St. George’s Basilica which also had an adjacent and historically important nunnery of the mediaevil Czech state.  The oldest surviving church building within the Prague Castle, St. George’s was founded by Prince Vratislav in 920 A.D. and was rebuilt following a major fire in 1142 after a seige of the Castle.  The current Baroque façade dates from the late 17th century.

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St. George’s interior is of a Gothic style…

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has a chapel dedicated to Ludmila of Bohemia that holds the tomb of the Saint,

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is the burial ground of the Princes of the House of Premyslid,

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and a Chapel dedicated to St. John of Nepomuk on the southern wall of the façade.

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The Eastern and Northern exteriors show St. Georges characteristic mediaevil look.

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After more walking though the narrow streets and visiting the various shops representative of life within the Castle’s walls …

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and exploring the outwall and learning about the weapons used throughout the Castle’s history…

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we decided to end our visit to the Castle by returning to St. Vitus Cathedral and ascending the Great South Tower to get a 360 degree birds-eye view of this Prague.

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After a busy day we ended the day as we often do with a nice dinner.  We returned to the Old Town Square restaurant “Caffé Italia” that is situated at the corner of the Old Town Square and Týnská Street in the premises of the Týn School, just below the Týn Church.   The first documented evidence of the building dates back to 1359.  The restaurant is divided into two parts – a café on the ground floor with an outside terrace in the Old Town Square and a gothic cellar dating to the 13th century.  The restaurant´s ambience was ideal for all the history we experienced that day and was brightened by permanent exhibition of paintings from the La Femme Gallery.   The interesting thing about the restaurant’s celler was its discovery.  A formerly forgotten and unmapped historical premise from the period around 1250 it was rediscovered during a renovation in 2008.  Before dinner, Anthony treated us and the wait staff to some music on a Piano set off in the corner and after dinner, we decided we couldn’t have possibly selected a better place or finer fare to conclude our wonderful trip!

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Thanks for coming along with us!

(To all our Dear Friends and Family. Between our time living in Germany, our travels, and Dad’s work, we were so busy that we failed to keep our blog up to date. However, we still want to share with you all the wonderful places we visited in the hope that you too will enjoy what we’ve seen and be encouraged to explore wherever and whenever. Enjoy …)

(dateline: July 5, 2013)  After our visit to Innsbruck and learning something about Austria, both it’s political dominance and social impact on much of Europe for the better part of six centuries, the Habsburg Legacy and more importantly the warmth and hospitality of the today’s Austrian people, we decided to once again set out and explore this small yet beautiful country.   Although Wien lay in the eastern part of Austria, we decided to drive from Stuttgart and experience was well worth it.  As we traveled across the country we stopped often enough to enjoy some of what the country had to offer and we enjoyed each moment.

The first sight we visited was the Schloss Schoenbrunn, located in the southwest of Wein not too far outside the Innere Stadt.  If we had done nothing else this trip it would have been worth coming just to see the Schloss.  Empress Maria Theresa, whom we’d learned so much about in Innsbruck, dream of creating a Habsburg Versailles resulted in this magnificant baroque palace with more than 1400 rooms!  A imperial summer residence designed by Nikolaus Pacassi between 1744 and 1749, it was breathtaking.

It was difficult to capture grandeur of the palace as we entered the front courtyard, but here with Anthony and Natalie in the foreground you get the idea.

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Getting closer we decided to see what it’d look like if we were at the front door looking out to welcome family and friends!

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If the magisty of the entrance was not spectacular enough, after being treated to the closing song of an Ocheristra visiting form America playing in the courtyard, we passed through to the back of the palace where we found an even more imposing facade…

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The rear of the Palace looks out onto ornamental gardens, fountains, and a park full of treasures stretching off into the distance.

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After enjoying a playful trip around grounds, during which we cooled off at the fountain and Natalie and Anthony explored a Labyrinth, we decided to venture to the top of the “Palm House” to see the Palace from that vantage point.

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After taking in the beautiful sights of the Palace and city off in the distance, we next toured the Palace itself.   The state rooms and private appartments inhabited by Maria Theresa and her 16 children and later by Franz Joseph and his consort, the Empress Elizbeth “Sisi”, included opulent rooms, furnishings, paintings, frescos and tapestries that formed a vivid backdrop of what it must have been like to live there.  Unfortunately, no pictures allowed.

We ended the day with delicious dinner, returned to the hotel for a swim, and called it a day!

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Our next day began with a trip on the U-bahn (subway), which Anthony had already figured his way around, to the Innere Stadt, where we came across Karlkirche or “St. Charles Church”.  A baroque church located on the south side of Karlsplatz, it is widely considered the most outstanding baroque church in Vienna, as well as one of the city’s greatest buildings.  A Catholic Church dedicated to Saint Charles Borromeo, one of the great reformers of the sixteenth century, it was built from 1716 to 1737.

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The altar paintings in the side chapels were marvelous…

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and the high alterpiece portraying the ascension of Saint Charles with the large round glass window above the alter shedding light down brillantly made for a reverent alter.

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But perhaps the most exciting site for us to see was dome fresco, which displays – among other things – the intercession of Charles Borromeo supported by the Virgin Mary surrounded by the cardinal virtues.  Coincidently the beautiful dome was under going a restoration and as a result there was an elevator and stairs to bring us – much to the chagrin of Mom who was a little nervious with the ascent – up close!

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After admiring all the beautiful art and then making our way down, we stopped before departing this magnificant church and gave thanks, said some prayers, and lit some candles.

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With only part of the day over, we next visited the Albertina.  Housed within the beautiful Hofburg (Imperial Palace), the Albertina is named for its founder, Duke Albert von Sachsen-Teschen (1738-1822) who lived in the palace at the end of the 18th century.

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The Albertina’s collection has more than a million drawings, prints, and engravings dating from the 14th century and includes pieces by Raphael, Michelango, Goya and Cezanne.

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During todays visit we were fortunate to view the Batliner Collection of “Monet bis Picasso” or “Monet to Picasso.”   The exhibit included a vast collection of works from the period of Modernism and the Impressionist greats.

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Natalie loves dancers and Dad was glad to see she could experience several of Edgar Degas’ works, many of which portray dance and ballet.

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Anthony had other preferences…

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Next we decided it was time to experience some of the Coffeehouses, pastry shopes and resturants.  Natalie led the way…

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Having had our share of “Weiner Schnitzel” we chose the old standby and enjoyed a nice italian meal in Vienna!

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Having recharged with a delicious meal, our last stop for the day  was the “Stephansdom Wein” located in “Stephanplatz.”

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“Stephansdom” or St. Stephen’s Cathedral is an unmistakable landmark with its black-yellow and green tiled roof and 446 foot Gothic South Tower known as “Steffl” or “Little Steve.”

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St. Stephen’s is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna  and the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna.  The current Romanesque and Gothic form of the cathedral was, for the most part, begun by Duke Rudolf IV (1339–1365) and it stands on the ruins of two earlier churches, the first a parish church was consecrated in 1147.

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There are 18 alters in the main part of the church, and more in the various chapels, of which there are several. The High Altar and the Wiener Neustadt Altar  are the most famous alters. The distant High Altar was built over seven years from 1641 to 1647 as part of the first refurbishment of the cathedral in the baroque style.

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St. Stephen’s Cathedral has 23 bells in total. The largest is officially named for St.Mary, but is called “Pummerin” or “Boomer” and it hangs in the north tower.  At 44,380 pounds it is the largest swinging bell in Austria and the second largest swinging bell in all of Europe – after the 51,800-pound Peter in the Cologne Cathedral.  It is said that the  composer Ludwig van Beethoven discovered the totality of his deafness when he saw birds flying out of St. Stephen’s bell tower as a result of the bells’ tolling and could not hear the bells.

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As we ascended to the top of the cathedral we were rewarded with great views of Wien.

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Our last couple of stops included the Vienna State Opera

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and the “Mozarthaus” where Mozart and his family lived from 1784 to 1787.  During that time he wrote the world-famous opera “The Marriage of Figaro” and three of the six Haydn Quartets.  It is the largest, most elegant and expensive apartment ever occupied by Mozart and the only one that is still intact today.  It provided a great representation of how a middle class family lived during that time.

We brought our trip to an end with a nice dinner back at the hotel which sat along side the Danube.  Our home base for the trip it provided a great temporary home for our stay and travels in Wien.

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As we discussed our trip and departure the next day, Anthony was already planning a return to experience the wonders and sites that are Vienna!

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(To all our Dear Friends and Family. Between our time living in Germany, our travels, and Dad’s work, we were so busy that we failed to keep our blog up to date. We still want to share with you all the wonderful places we visited in the hope that you too will enjoy what we’ve seen and be encouraged to explore wherever and whenever. Enjoy …)

(dateline: June 26, 2013) Jumping back in the family trickster, we proceeded further South over the Dolomites, a mountain range located in north-eastern Italy, and headed to Venezia.

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Passing by Verona we thought of stopping to learn about the city of Romeo and Juliet but decided it should be a trip in itself another time. Before we knew it we were boarding a boat at Santa Lucia to traverse the entire Grand Canal and arrive at the last stop, San Zaccaria, for our Hotel.

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Unfortunately we arrived later in the day and it took us a while meandering through the narrow alleys of the Castello district at night to finally find our Hotel, Casa Nicolo Pruili. Navigating the streets and alleys of Venice are difficult enough, let alone at night when you’re exhausted. Dad was very proud of everyone.

A few doors down from the larger Palazzo Priuli, an architectural gem from the fourteenth century, Casa Nicolo Pruili sits alongside a picturesque canal in quiet neighborhood.

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It is dedicated to Count Nicolo Pruili, whose oil on canvas portrait and campaigns he participated in were displayed prominently throughout. A decedent of the doge and deputy of the Venetian Republic during the Romantic Age of the Risorgimento when Venice, in 1848, declared its freedom and fought for the unification on Italy, the hotel is appointed with period furniture and has an atmosphere of a late Nineteenth century Venetian Noble residence.

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After some much needed rest, we awoke to sounds of a Gondola driver calling “Gondola, Gondola!” every couple of minutes. One look out our windows and we immediately felt immersed in the City.

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Since the Hotel was very close by the Piazza S. Marco, after a nice breakfast and some great Venetian coffee for Dad and Natalie, it was our 1st Stop. Anthony and Natalie could not get over how big the Piazza was.

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For Mom and Dad this was a return to a place they had visited together on their Honeymoon almost 25 years ago. Both decided, not surprisingly, it looked the same, except maybe it had more tourists. One thing was for sure, it certainly had two more named Anthony and Natalie. Who would have thought?

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After some exploring around the Piazza, we next toured the Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale de San Marco (a.k.a. Saint Mark’s Basilica), the cathedral church of the Archdiocese of Venice. It is purported to be the most famous of the city’s churches and unlike many of the churches and cathedrals we’ve visited in our travels, it’s one of Byzantine and Gothic architecture. Dating to 828 A.D., and first the Doge’s Palace and then chapel, it was destroyed and rebuilt several times. Consecrated in the 1600’s it’s only been the city’s cathedral since 1807. The interior, alters and area’s for prayer were a stark contrast to Cathedrals like that of St. James’s we had just visited in Innsbruck.

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It’s design is grand and it is guided with Byzantine mosaics. The upper interior was completely covered with bright mosaics containing gold, bronze and a variety of beautifully colored stones. The floors were warped and curvy and mosaic as well.

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The Exterior was under construction and Mom and Dad had a bit of a laugh since it was the same way they saw it last time they visited. But, the Greek Horses, the statues of the Theological and Cardinal Virtues, the four Warrior Saints: Constantine, Demetrius, George, Theodosius, and St. Mark with the Winged Lion beneath him were all visible.

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Seeking out another well-known landmark, next we trekked to the Ponte di Rialto which is one of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal. Built in 1551 the Rialto Bridge is the oldest bridge across the canal and it is the dividing line for the sestiere (or districts) of San Marco and San Polo. Lined with shops and offering such picturesque views of the canal, it seems it must always be brimming with activity.

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After exploring all the bridge and local shops had to offer we set out to explore some more of the town.

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All along the children loved to stop and see the seemingly endless alley way and Canals with Gondola’s floating along.

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Our next stop was The Ponte dell’Accademia (Accademia Bridge). Another of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal and it crosses near the southern end of the canal.

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It is named for the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia which from 1807 to 2004 was housed in the adjacent Santa Maria della Carita (Scuola della Carità) Complex which encompasses the school (Scuola Grande), the Church of Santa Maria della Carità, convent (The Convento of the Canonici Lateranensi) and Gallery Accademia (Gallerie dell’Accademia) which is still there. The bridge links the sestiere of Dorsoduro and San Marco. The view was remarkable.

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First suggested sometime in the late 1400’s a bridge was not constructed until 1854. The original bridge, a steel structure was demolished and replaced by a wooden bridge in 1933 that was again replaced by the present bridge, of identical construction, in 1985. Similar to what we saw when we visited Paris, Lovers attach padlocks (“love locks”) to the metal hand rails of the bridge. Mom and Dad recalled how on their Honeymoon years ago they stayed by a hotel very close to the bridge and would cross it every day they were there in Venice.

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The next morning was a bit overcast so we set out for the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace). This turned out to be a great decision for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that it kept us out of the drizzle and the visit was much cooler than it would have been otherwise. More importantly, visiting the palace was a historical experience we had not expected.

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A beautifully large place and functionally very practical, the Palazzo Ducale has its origins beginning in 810 and was built and rebuilt over the centuries with the current palace in the Venetian Gothic style and basically the way it was envisioned in the 1500’s. Of course, from the beginning, the palace was the residence of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the Republic of Venice, but over time it came to housed the Doge’s apartments, the government’s institutional chambers, the court, a courtyard, the prisons and a massive hall.

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The court and the prisons were originally in the Doge’s Palace and the prison cells were in the wells and in the Piombi (the leads). Cells in the wells which were crowded, stuffy, and infested with insects. Cells in the Piombi, directly under the palace’s conductive lead roof, were very hot in summer and very cold in winter. A famous inmate of the Piombi who escaped was Giacomo Casanova.

A corridor leads over the Bridge of Sighs, built in 1614 to link the Doge’s Palace to the structure intended to house the “New Prisons.” Enclosed and covered on all sides, the bridge contains two separate corridors that run next to each other.

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The famous name of the bridge dates from the Romantic period and refers to the sighs of prisoners who, passing from the courtroom to their cell in the Notte al Criminal which they would serve their sentence, took a last look at freedom as they glimpsed the lagoon and San Giorgio through the small windows.

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The “new prisons” intended to improve the conditions for prisoners with larger and more light-filled and airy cells, but after we got a look at a few of them we can assure you many sections of the new prisons fall short of that aim.

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Until we toured the palace we had not realized the magnitude of the importance of Venetian Republic, Venice itself, and the Venetian people throughout time. Venice was the seat of power, a critical node in all commerce, and as a result a sophisticated populous, city and government for over a thousand years.

For our last night we set out for dinner at a seemingly wonderful restaurant we had passed days earlier. Like the first day of our arrival, we got lost in the alleys and piazza’s of Venice we happened across our last sight, the Venetian Arsenal.

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Dating to the 1100’s, the Arsenal was a large complex of state owned armories and shipyards and it housed Venice’s mighty navies for hundreds of years. It was the largest industrial complex in Europe prior to the industrial revolution and was responsible for producing the merchant and war ships that generated the city’s economic wealth and power.

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Some how finding the restaurant, we enjoyed a delicious meal and some great wine.

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On our walk back we lamented about having to go so soon, but our time here was full of fun. We hope you enjoyed it too. Caio !!!

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Our first excursion began on June 25th and was to Innsbruck, Austria. The drive from Stuttgart, down past Garmisch, through a pass close to the Zugspitze (the highest mountain in Germany), was breathtaking. We’ve come to appreciate the Majesty of the Alps and it seems that no matter how many times we experience them, we appreciate them more and more.

After a long ride in the car – especially for those with queasy stomachs on twisty and turny roads – we arrived in Innsbruck after Sunset. Sprawling beneath the Nordkette mountain ridge, Innsbruck is Austria’s only major urban center in the heart of the Alps. Strategically and beautifully situated on the Inn River, Innsbruck stands on a great European crossroads.

A glorious city deep in the alpine mountains, the rougher surroundings, the distinct Tyrolean culture, and the historic control of the North–South trade route through the Brenner Pass, placed Innsbruck firmly on the trans-European map. Dramatic mountains encircle the city, their lower slopes scattered with picturesque villages.

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As with all the cities we have been to, we find ourselves drawn to the river that no doubt was the reason for it’s existence. We have now visited the Inn River in all 3 countries it runs through: Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

Crossing the Inn on the way to Altstadt

Crossing the Inn on the way to Altstadt

The center of Innsbruck is small and our hotel, the Hotel Mondschein (seit 1473), was within an easy walking distance of the Old Town (Altstadt).

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Our 1st stop was the Goldenes Dachl (or Golden Roof). The Golden Roof is an oriel window, added onto the front of the previous Ducal palace to commemorate Emperor Maximilian I’s marriage Bianca Maria Sforza of Milan in 1493. One of the finest existing works of German Renaissance sculpture, it is beautifully decorated with 24 reliefs showing scenes of the Emperor’s life and roofed with more than 2700 gilt copper tiles (hence it name).

The Golden Roof

The Golden Roof

Just as we were visiting we were treated to a performance of the Austrian Army’s band who put on a great performance of some traditional Austrian songs.

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During the concert Anthony and Natalie became the interest of some visitors from the Far East. They danced with them and took some photos too.

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Although we’re not sure why Anthony and Natalie were so popular, Dad suspects it has something to do with Anthony and Chinese food restaurants, Mom just thinks it’s because their cute.

Next we walked through a pedestrianized maze of picturesque streets in Altstadt to the Innsbruck Cathedral, a.k.a., St. Jakob Dom (or the Cathedral of St. James’s). The cathedral is an eighteenth-century Baroque cathedral built between 1717 and 1724 and was built on the site of a 12th century Romanesque church.

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The interior was filled with so many beautiful painting, frescos, and sculptures, all we could do was marvel at what is one of the most magnificent Cathedrals we’ve ever visited.

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Natalie noticed and was fascinated by the item at the top of the copula, Dad remarked how Grandpa Sal would know what it represents.

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The Cathedral is especially notable for two important treasures. The first is the painting of Mary of Succor (considered among the most venerated images in Christendom ) by Lucas Cranach the Elder from 1530 displayed above the main alter

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and the canopied tomb of Archduke Maximillian III of Austria, Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, dating from 1620.

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As we prepared to leave, Anthony and Natalie paused to light a candle and say a prayer. Dad said a prayer as well and, as he often does, thought of his father.

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Next it was on to the adjacent Hofburg for a tour.

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Tour? “I’m Hungry”, “I’m interested”, “I’m Happy”

Innsbruck’s Imperial history is a story all by itself. Under Maximilian I, the Emperor of the Germans from 1493 to 1519, Innsbruck was the administrative and cultural center of the Habsburg Empire. The Habsburg’s were one of the most important royal houses of Europe, and they lay claims to numerous kingdom’s including Rome, Germany, Spain, Aragon, Sicily, Naples, Castile, Hungry, Bohemia, Croatia, and a few more. Perhaps most importantly, they continuously occupied the throne of the Holy Roman Empire for over 300 years (1438-1740). So we set off to discover how the Habsburgs made Innsbruck their home with a tour of the Imperial Palace.

Well, in a word …Opulant: The Innsbruck Hofburg owes it present appearance to Empresses Maria Theresa (1717-1780). A fascinating figure in history. The only female ruler of the Habsburg dominions and last of the House of Habsburg, she was the sovereign of Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Milan and others and by marriage the Duchess of Lorrain, Grand Duchess of Tuscany and Holy Roman Empress; she reigned for 40 Years. She clearly had a special place in her heart for the Hofburg, if for nothing else probably because she was born there.

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Unfortunately we couldn’t take pictures inside the Hofburg (which drove Natalie crazy and much to Dad’s chagrin she got off one or two) but The rococo façade, the chapel and the state rooms all reflected her sense of taste. After her husband, Franz I’s death she had the palace furnished as a memorial. Perhaps the most impressive room was the great hall with a colorful ceiling fresco by Maulbertsch that pays homage to the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty and the Tyrol. The portraits of her sixteen children are a demonstration of the fertility and political power of this unusual regency. (her youngest daughter with whom she was very critical of for being lazy and her frivolity with was Marie Antonia, aka, Marie Antoinette!)

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Not our Pic, but it looked just like this and was breath taking!

The more we learned about Austria and the Holy Roman Empire, the more we decided we need to discover more about this great country, (the Ӧsterreich) and its rich history. A trip to Vienna may be in the cards but not first before we travel further South to another city that starts with a V!

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On June 18th, 2013, Jill, Little Anthony, and Natalie arrived in Stuttgart Germany for their second summer abroad. Big Anthony’s teammate and friend, Glenn, who works for the airlines was nice enough to provide buddy passes and we are all very grateful. He is a truly kind man and his help will always be appreciated. Although it was a learning experience for us, a test of everyone’s patience, and it took a week longer than hoped for, everyone made it safe and sound and we were happy to be all together again.

Close to the airport and convenient to Big Anthony’s work, we arrived via the Family Truckster (which Natalie was so happy to see and ride in again) to our new home away from home in the village of Stetten.

Our new home away from home!

Our new home away from home!

After settling in and getting acclimated, we head out to celebrate with a nice family dinner in near by Echterdingen.  Dad had discovered a great Italian Restaurant, Trattoria Antico Casale, that he often goes to with his friend Rich and he was sure everyone would enjoy; and we did.  Just like last year, Natalie had a huge appetite after the plane ride and she ordered up a yummy Steak.

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It was so great to share a meal together.  There was a lot of catching up to do and dinner was lively with conversation and kisses. Of course, as has become our post-dinner ritual, it was “Eis” for dessert.

Yummy!!!

Yummy!!!

As we head to our home away from home that night, we all wondered what another summer abroad would bring as we explore more of this great continent, learn more about different countries, cities, cultures, and their rich history as well as meeting and making new friends.  We hope you’ll follow along, and enjoy, our adventure with us.