Journey to Cyprus: Part 1

We flew into Cyprus, grabbed our rental car and drove to our hotel in New Helvetia in Platres—a small beautiful mountain town.

Although this picture does not show the hairpin drive up to the entrance- one can feel it!

The hotel is about 100 years old- but excellent and a bargain!

One side of the room is down stairs and it contains the bathrooms and the bed,

and the stairs going up contain the television and reading couches. The porch has chairs and are semi-enclosed and separated from your neighbor with a view of the hill side.

I took this picture from the balcony looking down to see how many were still eating. And as you probably noticed my camera is having troubles and there were no postcards to be had I found out later.

After settling in we decided to see our small town.

The first stop was Choirokoitia, an ancient site existing from around 4,000 B.C.

Lying at the crossroads of  Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, Turkey, and among others who were interested in their rich copper deposits. Their name Cyprus came from Kypors which meant copper.

The trasnition between the Stone and Bronze age was called the Chalolithe- and was the site we were heading for. The Troodos moutains had a large deposit of copper.

A Neolithic village, in the 2nd half of the 7th millennium B.C. Choirokotia was inscribed on the UNSEC world heritage list.

The “house” consisted of a group of these structures around an open space where all were installed for growing and storing corn. Light came through the openings in the walls for visibility. Their custom was to bury the deceased inside the bottom of the pit so that the families could remain together.

We were tired and hungry when returning from this excursion so I leaned out over the balcony to see how crowded the dinning area was. It showed very few people.

So we ended up having lunch in the bar and discovered the huge tree trunk growing there. It was planted by our hostess grandfather. He was revered by both his family and the town. And by the picture of his last car embedded in the outside patio wall.

Mike thinks it’s a Morris Miner car of the 50’s.

I included this picture because I thought it revealed the attitudes and ambiance of both the lovely hotel blending with the early Fall season at the outside dining area.

We will get to the wine areas next time!

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After Prague: the hinterlands of the Czech Republic

800px-Vltava_in_Prague

After discovering the strength and bravery of the Czech people in Prague, we wanted to see more of the Czech countryside. It was a dreary morning, made more so by the mammoth SUV the rental company foisted on us.  “…but we got no other car…maybe tomorrow?”  (Mike had reserved and paid for a sedan 3 months earlier.)

I was driving with the parking lights on when a policeman motions us over. “No lights!” he said.

I got out and reached up my hand to reflect the parking light. He mumbles and walks around the car. “So K” he says “but need brighter”.  I flicked on the brights. “So K, so K” he says and smacks the trunk. We learned afterwards that the police are poorly paid and compensate for it. Hence I carried money in my pocket and only had to use it once.

c-cesky-sternberk-castle-1

About an hour later we reached the Sternberg Castle loftily capping the hill and guarding the Sazava River valley. Perfect for coffee and a leg stretch. This 13th century  Gothic castle was captured in 1467 and at the end of 15th century the original family regained and restored it. We got coffee from the heavily wooded bar and walked the windy river battlements and found a network of iron cages containing owls and eagles. The trainer was speaking to several kids and removed an owl from its cage and freed him. It flew up in growing circles until the trainer whistled him back to his arm. We were all enthralled.

On to Tabor.

Tabor,Czech_RepublicIt was beautiful and uncrowded. The Luznice river can be seen behind the rooftops. The village grew from a military camp of Hussite refugees escaping Prague in 1420. The maze of streets and narrow alleyways were beautifully built!  This group were avid supporters of Jan Hus, one of the most important religious thinkers of the 1400’s. He fought against the Catholic Church’s  corrupt practices and opulent life styles. The Papacy excommunicated Jan and then burned him at the stake. (Not much negotiating in the 14th century!)

On to Jindrichuv Hradec  (even a linguist would have difficulty with this name).

+Trout ponds

Although this looks more like a “trout stream”, there were many round ones. Fresh fried trout decided our staying several days and exploring nearby sites.

Jindrichuv Hradec

The castle, towering over a trout farm, was built in the 13th century and Italian architects expanded it into  a Renaissance  palace in the 16th century. There were no English tours so we linked to a Norwegian group who graciously helped us understand the tour guide. Five floors but no Elevators. After several hours of climbing and descending, we cut to the castle wine bar.

Not often can one visit a Gothic Castle converted to a Renaissance Palace!

We had a wonderful trout dinner that evening and decided to see Ceske Krumlov tomorrow.

krumlov

It was just an hour’s drive, the beautiful medieval Ceske Krumlov was across the river from Austria. (Saving that for another trip.) This village belonged to the Rozmberk dynasty from 1302 to 1611. In 1992, Unesco added it to its World Cultural Heritage Site. Just looking at the picture…..one can understand why! Additionally, the town center is closed to cars. Beyond that, Ceske Krumlov is noted for its Baroque Theater that is one of a kind. It offers a fascinating glimpse of 18th century theatrical life …including costumes, sets and stage machinery.

Back to Jindrichuv Hradec just in time to see a weather change.

Cloudy evening in Hradec

Nothing like a pub and fireplace when the weather chills. The next day on to Znojmo and a few days at the Prestige Hotel’s outdoor patio where one can read and rest their feet.

Prestige Hotel patio

The next day on to Znojmo and a few days at the Prestige Hotel’s outdoor patio where one can read and rest your feet.Znojmo

Znojmo is one of Moravia’s oldest towns with a warren of narrow streets and surrounding river.

After a final cup of coffee on our hotel’s sunny patio, we are off on a side trip to Brno. Mike had arranged  to meet with structural engineering Professor Strasky for an overview of his bridges.

Pedestrian Suspension Bridge

I thought this was outstanding and wanted to run across…but then I’d have to come back.

Professor Strasky then took us to lunch. He and Mike had much in common and talked for hours about architecture and engineering.

We also stopped at Brno’s “Hall of Prayers”, the site of 9,000 Jewish tombstones.

Prag Jewish Cemetery2

The Jewish community raised the funds to put headstones on the unmarked sites. Meanwhile, the Church of the Holy Cross has mummified  monks (dressed) in the crypt. These towns certainly preserve and honor their past….remarkable!

The next stop: Mikulov.

MilkulovIt offers a palette of wineries, naturally, a castle, and an intriguing cemetery. The town is beautiful especially with the ancient “foundations” protecting from the highest point. (The 13th century castle was destroyed by the Germans at the end of WW II.) But, you can see and smell the vaults where the remnants of the 2 centuries storage of locally-made wine still flowed.

The Jewish cemetery began in the 16th century.

Jewish_cemetery_in_Mikulov

That this was the seat of Moravia’s chief rabbi, 16th century, was not coincidental. Many of the headstones date back to 1618. In “Prague” (see blog on same), the Jewish ghetto ironically survived the destruction because although the Nazis’ destroyed ghettos elsewhere, Hitler wanted to preserve the “Prague collection” as a museum of the “Extinct Jewish race in Europe” after the Final Solution was achieved!  Ha.

Continuing on, we drove into Trencin , Slovakia and were enthralled by the huge castle above and the modernity  of the streets below.

Trencin Castle

The large building below is the Hotel Tatra and staying there was lovely and easy: out the door and you are in the central square.

The next day we drove toward Olomouc and Mike sighed when the first vineyard appeared.

vineyards-2

Lush, green and magnetic. If there only was a tasteing-room…..

Olomouc-Czech-Republic-3828Driving into the city was a joy, the streets wide and parking easy. The Holy Trinity Column dominated the area, crowned by figures representing the Holy Trinity and surrounded by people sitting on the steps enjoying the weather and the view of this 7th century village.

Brateslava, Slovakia was our last site. It was difficult getting into this city of 600,000 people. What few street signs there were, we couldn’t read. After checking some hotels that were full we headed for the central plaza. The Carlton (Radisson) Hotel, with a parking lot beneath that turned the trick. We got a splendid room (123) on the first level with a big balcony over looking the pedestrian area.

Bratislava, The CarltonThe railing blocks a view of our room, but we had a splendid room and view. I asked the clerk how much for one night, for two nights, three nights… and bingo! Got down to 40% reduction for three nights. (Which we planned to do anyway)

We set off with our prearranged guide “Roman” at 2, going to taste wine at the castle cave. It was very good. That evening we had dinner at out hotel bar which was more lively and fun than the formal dinning room.

 Brateslava Castle

At 10 AM we met with our other guide, Susan, for a tour of the castle and part of the town. Perched on a hill above the Danube, the castle was first mentioned in 907. A strategic spot covering the trade routes and the old Amber route, it went through the usual transitions, rebuilt in 1950. The original huge castle cellar had been used for copper storage but evolved to wine storage, it certainly smelled better!

The next day I took time off from wine touring to explore the central square and narrow alley ways.

Brateslava Square

And what a joy it was! People everywhere small shops and vendor wagons crowded for space, and lots of smiles. I bypassed the wineries the second day and explored more. Found a church and started to enter late for the noon mass- a guard blocked the door “No tourist wondering through the church.” Remembering picture taking and talking tourists in European chruchs … I left.

We returned to Prague the next day for our departure the following morning. Only one area I wanted to revisit- the Jewish ghetto and burial site.

Prague Jewish Cemetary

I gave my thanks to the unbelievable culture and courage of the Czech people.

1/17/2016

 

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The Serendipity (choices) of Senior Malfunctions

View when entering RovinjAfter leaving Venice and Slovenia, ultimately heading for Split, Croatia, we were sidelined by Rovinj, Croatia. And this picture is what lured us. On the left, by the sea, there was a narrow road that dead- ended in multiple parking lots wedged between the buildings. So we did too.

Rovinj, Croatia (port)


Out with the umbrellas and start walking. We circled the buildings and arrived at “Port Side” just as the sun and people came out! Confused by our location and the whereabouts of our car, we stopped for a map. ,Rovinj like a jig-saw And the uncertainty vanished. This is an Overall view of Rovinj and our car was hiding on the left side, near the water, while we had zig-zagged between the houses to the Portside path. The first hotel I looked at was for “Sailors” only. (I wonder what they would have said if Mike had gone in?)

The final one was on the other end of the Port Side and perfect. Small, maybe 10 rooms, and the owner gave us a 2nd floor room with this view. Rovinj, Croatia (view from hotel) The Old Town and Church are straight ahead…a bit on the right. The hotel’s restaurant was just below us. The owner gave us directions for car retrieval (using back streets only) and a parking spot next to the hotel….and we extended our stay to two nights. But first, I love Old Towns and wanted to see this one. Inside old Town This one was very different. It was and is a fishing port….so the major entrance is the door opening to the sea while the alley ways we saw were secondary entrances…narrow, dark and functional. But well maintained. This picture with the pumpkin in it allows us to see the shrouded passage way behind it. Then it began to drizzle again and we found the perfect place to eat. Rovinj...dinner Choosing a small table adjacent to the restaurant, we applauded our waiter raising an umbrella.  We had a narrow view of the Adriatic Sea and the fishing boats returning. The thrumming of their motors and their twinkling lights were a wonderful show. (Too dark for a photo.)

The next morning we noticed a large green area on the far left of our balcony.

Rovinj, Croatia

Our hotel owner said it was open to all.  And it was exquisite….some very old stone walls, an occasional “rusting” statue and views over the sea. Of course we did a wine tasting and tour that afternoon. Mike rated the wines very highly….as the driver, I only had 2 sips. Dinner in our own restaurant that eve.  The seafood and the local music were exceptional.  This city was a wonderful choice….but we didn’t realize it until we arrived.

Now that’s “Serendipity”!

4/15/2015555

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A Short Trip- But fruitful until the end, Disaster.

 

Our plans were on visiting our kids in Sacramento—an early Thanksgiving. We realized that the small town of San Juan Batista California would be more interesting. Small old town. This is an overview of the town and I have to admit it is a very beautiful one. What a surprise as we drove down the lovely valley and the hills. This city is basically a farming community.

In 1779 Saint John the Baptist established the Franciscan order and began the Indian conversion to Christianity and used their labor to farm the land for the Order.

Pasada Hotel: We had reserved a week earlier and loved its antiquity- and the inside was splendid.

We had to drag our luggage up to our second floor room but the hallways were wide and have live growing trees and the grand doorway entrances showed the buildings age, character and luxury…We even had an outdoor patio that was private and looked across the street at the Christmas decorations on a huge house nearby. Charming.

Still enough daylight to walk to the mission and see the statues in the gardens. It was a surprise to walk on wooden planked sidewalks in the streets throughout almost the entire town.

The mission was closed but soft singing came from behind the doors. There were two wonderful statues, one for Saint John the Baptist and one for an Indian.



Suddenly the large plaza came to life with the golden lights- apparently as a prelude to the coming Christmas season.

Back to town where we found a wonderful Basque restaurant. After we entered the chef waved to us to specify any table we wanted- and we sat by the door. Apparently that was good for business because shortly thereafter several small groups arrived and the chef smiled broadly.

Next morning we left for Sacramento and the early Thanksgiving family get- together. We had a wonderful reunion and after dinner at our favorite restaurant we left. All of us complained of the heavy fog. We didn’t find out until the next day the awful campfire had decimated that small town.

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Tivoli in Copenhagen, Denmark

Freefall at the Tivoli in Copenhagen, Denmark

Tivoli Freefall

We took a cab from the airport to our Copenhagen Plaza Hotel and checked in. Stepping out on our 4th floor balcony I was delighted to see the main train station on our right and directly across the street was the Tivioli, one of the most beautiful amusement parks in Europe. Timing was everything! Suddenly, what looked to be a giant umbrella arose from behind the park wall and opening gracefully began to climb. It slowly spiraled around swirling out the tethered chairs attached beneath. The sounds of scared laughter rose with it until the flying seats were parallel to the park ground 5 floors below. I was reentering our room when the shouting lessened and the  umbrella began to close, descending to earth.Copehagen train station

A train came noisily into the station and distracted me from this wild ride that both fascinated and terrified me.

The weather was bits and pieces of chill with a few drops of rain but we needed exercise after a very long flight from San Francisco. We headed out on the pedestrian zone to do a walkabout. Because the cobbled-stone streets can be slippery when wet, we crowded in with the others sharing the narrow sidewalks. We spotted a “Plank Steak House” serving spare ribs and caught a couple of seats next to the fireplace. Excellent meal. Back to the hotel and the balcony to watch the fascinating Freefall again.  The umbrella was rising and the vocal whoopla was beginning……but this time there was one voice that screamed in panic. As it crescendoed into piercing shrieks, the Freefall’s ascent  slowed and then stopped. Then it began to lower. When it reached the ground, it was quiet.

A few minutes later it rose again trailed by the normal yells of delight and fear.

Now I felt really comfortable with this wild and scary ride.

Tivoli Gardens

The next day we walked through the park entrance….and the area was so large that without the map we would have been lost. Rides, restaurants, gardens, shops, ponds…it was wonderful, and vital. We spent hours. This is a city and country that we plan to revisit.

Copehgane River

4/13/2013

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A Sad Tale of Two Persons Traveling

(I’ll get to the picture of the enormous airplane in a bit.)

It began when Mike called our hotel clerk to find out which terminal we should go to for our, “Delta connection” And she said, “Go to the regular Delta domestic connection.”

A bad start for a Holiday; when we arrived at Delta we needed the International Terminal! So dragging our luggage, up the escalator, down the walkways, on to a tram- and finally to check-in.

After a single glass of good wine we dragged our luggage through the passport control.

Now, look at the plane picture in the beginning. Mike had reserved us window an isle seats- but we were given a three-seater row instead. And I have a window obsession. He ended up in the middle seat and had paid more for the extra leg room-?? There were two-seaters across the aisle from our seats. It turned out they were backed up to a wall with no windows because they were up against a kitchen, so now opportunity to switch seats. A lovely stewardess, because of a take-off delay, gave me a tour and told me this was the end of the 767-7000 plane because the smaller planes are more spacious, comfortable, and economical to maintain.

 

Looking at the picture above we were in the row of the three brown seats in the front of the plane. And the two-seaters on the sides of us had no windows because the kitchen walls impeded their views. So it wouldn’t help switching.

The stewardess also showed me the first class… and I was not impressed. (Giant sea shells like pods) But maybe the food was good!

I was thankful for the many bathrooms she showed me around. The only exercise I had for this thirteen hour flight was using it frequently, sometimes with a book.

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Baltic States IV

Pure joy for Mike today!   We’re off to meet with 2 of the winemakers he had emailed long before our trip began. Both their vineyards  were near Kandava, Latvia.

Kaspars Sunins 16+ year old  vineyard (his wife the wine maker) were not producing this year but we got a vineyard tour.

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Their winery.

The second winery, Abaxas Vineyards, owned by Martins and  Liene Barkans, was open and the tasting plus discussion about  good and bad problems from the winemakers was excellent.

While they talked about viticulture and aging,  I went to the car and read my book….it’s not fun to be the designated driver…but I’ll make it up tonight at dinner!

Then off to Cesis, Latvia  for a wonderful 13th century castle.

Cesis Center

 

With no GPS, the smaller towns are easier: find the Old Town Center and follow the people.

It was certainly smaller than Riga’s (Baltic State III) and far less crowded .When we ate dinner here later, a gentleman was playing the guitar and different women came to sing with him.

Our drive through town ended with the Hotel Cesis…and there we stayed.

-hotel-cesis

This building maintained its 100+ old dignity both inside and out although  it did update the amenities. The dining room was regal with many windows overlooking the park beyond.  After lunch we explored the park and were delighted to find remains of the “old” 13th century castle.

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Walking further, we saw reconstructed 13th and 14th  buildings. The following picture gives a better overhead view of what we found.

Cesis Castle, Latvia

Our hotel, upper left, orange roof, was very convenient to everything.  Also, free parking. We continued to  explore the site.

In 1236, the Pope, after the battle of Saule, incorporated the survivors into the “Livonian province of the Teutonic Order” in the 13th century. It became the strongest military organization in present day Latvia and Estonia. (These may have been descendants of the Knights’ Templar.?) From the 13th to the 16th century the Teutonic Knights reconstructed this Castle. But a shadow fell in 1558….Tsar Ivan the Terrible declared war on them and the subsequent history is both bloody and brave…..

Cesis Castle, #2

This recent picture of the castle shows the continuing restoration.  The newer walking bridge is just above the original (rocks and boulders) and hovers over the original moat. (left side, big rocks) with a newer walking bridge above.

Now, on to Tartu, Estonia,  the university town. There was a big fire here in 1755 so most of the city is “new”.

Barkley Hotel, Tartu

 

 

 

We drove to the Barclay  Hotel, stopped and stayed. We got a balcony room which over looked one of the many parks and was ideally located for walking. We loved the hotel, except for the shower- the water was not “contained” and we walked on wet towels! (Who designed this atrocity?!)

The hotel was built in 1912, forfeited to Soviet headquarters in 1944 and became this hotel in- 1995.

Tartu kissing coupleThis statue of a “Kissing Couple” was our favorite in the town square- a definite sign of the university city!

Later we walked through the university campus and found the Tartu Cathedral ruins adjoined to the back of the university library.

Tartu Cathedral ruins

Astounding that the university kept and maintained what had gone of long before. This 370 year old university is the undisputed intellectual center of the country, and 370 year most prestigious seat of learning in the Baltics.

The next day we took a ferry over to Peke’s winery, restaurant and hotel on Muhu island for dinner and overnight.

Dinner was lamb, roasted underground all day- with a multitude of excellent wines.

Photo209Mike is sitting and wine maker Peke is standing. (Aspirin needed before bed)

The next day we were driving to catch the ferry back to Tallinn when whoops—

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Although we had a rental with Lativa plates our being American upped the ante from 20 Euros to 160 Euros!

Finally arrived at Tallinn. Mike, still   driving, goes through the old town to our hotel the wrong way through the pedestrian streets, (Sunday crowded- hazardous to everyone’s life and limb- he pulled into a “no parking” spot and says, “We’re here!”) And we were in front of our hotel, the Merchant’s House.

 

Merchants house hotelAnd then we started touring. Our concierge told us that since it was Sunday afternoon, most of the crowds would return to their ships very soon.

Alexander-Nevsky-Cathedral-Tallinn-Estonia-2-UL3

Tsar Alexander III ordered this Cathedral  named after the Duke Alexander Nevsky (1219-1263) who had defeated the Livonian Knights in 1242. Many Estonians disliked it as a symbol of the “Russification” policies. As a tourist and unaware of their political viewpoints, I saw this massive building looking down on the crowded square and very narrow streets below, and also looking out beyond to its livelihood :the shipping trade and visiting ocean linerson the Baltic Sea. A conundrum. But it is colorful.

 

Our hotel had a lovely private courtyard  and we had our lunch delivered there.

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Reenergized, we walked the many pedestrian streets particularly noting the restructuring and widening of some. Around 7pm we entered the major square and found a restaurant.

Town Hall Square in Old Medieval Hansa Tallinn, Estonia

Much less crowded now- but most of the restaurants  were busy. Our roasted lamb was  delicious.

Excellent breakfast in our hotels basement “Cave”. Two hundred years, old-heavy stone walls and floor but wonderful atmosphere!

Our concierge arranged our ferry tickets to Helsinki for tomorrow and our car rental return today. Wonderful assistance!

Walking through the city, we came to Toompea castle at the very top.

toompea

Although now home to Estonia’s Parliament, for over 700 years it belonged to various occupying foreign powers. Except for the towers, the most interesting site (for me) were the original defense walls down below. You can see through one straight ahead between two of the towers.

That afternoon we toured the vineyard of winemaker Jaak Eensolu who produced some excellent wines. My tour was short lived- driven back to the car by various bugs!

Our 4 hour ferry to Helsinki was beautiful….after we found our way up the 10  floors to Deck 10…the open area on the stern and the beautiful Baltic Sea!

Arrived at our reserved lovely Hotel Rivoli Jardine shortly and the assistance of very professional Concierges. Our last meal in Helsinki was near their beautiful port….and this is what we saw…..

07/24/2016

Helsinki Port

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Baltic States III

Riga, Latvia

Today we were leaving Vilnius, Lithuania and we had loved it! But just one more castle first.

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Mike was not happy and yelled “Where’s the &%$# wine cellar????”.  This was a 13th century defense castle…but that didn’t matter to him.

On to Riga, Latvia and the Garden Place Hotel. I had reserved 2 rooms, 3 months earlier for us and  our “exchange” student Kate and husband Tom.

garden-palace-hotel-riga

Part of the reason I choose this hotel was the lovely outdoor courtyard where people meet and greet and sip something while doing so.

hotel-garden-palace, courtyard

Bit of an argument with the Registrar when checking in. “No”, he said, “all rooms with balconies are rented. Let’s see what’s left.”  I said “the manager”.  “…This is our policy…” I said “the manager  now.”  He called…and then said “we can offer a suite for the same price and a room with windows with a view to your companions.”  After checking the rooms, I asked him to thank the manager for honoring our reservations.

Since Tom and Kate are two educators with 2 kids, time was short, and they were arriving at 9 PM. So Mike and I strolled the Old Town looking for a restaurant. This one was typical of the many within walking distance.Typital dining in Riga

And I am glad we didn’t stop!  On our return it was packed with students singing “fight songs” at another large group across the street…and they, of course, returned the favor.

Our guests arrived and we spent hours on the lovely patio, catching up. The next morning we decided to tour this beautiful Old Town and headed to the river.

Riga Town

Looking around, you can see much of the Old Town, including the Cathedral and Daugava River.

When the city walls were torn down (mid 19 century), the space was divided into a ring of avenues and parks and most of the remaining area became pedestrian.

This is the Swedish gate- The soul survivor of the eight gates. It was built in 1698.Part of Riga town walkwaythe front wall and archway were the original and the remaining walls rebuilt into apartments  and shops, keeping  the rough, stone streets.

Finally, when our feet (ours not theirs) gave out, we stopped for lunch.

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Mike is grimacing because he had to share his larger portion of wine with Tom.  Being energized by food and wine, we headed off to explore the collection of “Art Nouveau” buildings which UNESCO recognized  as “Unparalleled anywhere in the world.” And they were!

 

Photo196

This Art Nouveau building was my favorite (and there were many). It could use a little make-up  but I loved the windows  and “kid” noise coming from the tunnel down front. Most buildings were apartments.

Photo194I used this picture to show the difference between the structures: the first was on what was designated the “quiet zone” with limited street traffic and the second, although lovely, was on a busy street…and that’s what all those beautiful balconies overlooked.

When the city removed the major part of the fortress, starting with the riverside and including the Old Town, they added parks and walking areas.

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It included walking and biking trails, part of the river, benches and beauty, and a quiet escape from a somewhat noisy city center!

That night we ate in the cellar of an Italian restaurant  and moved up to the walkway patio to finish our wine.  Since Kate and Tom were leaving tomorrow for home, kids and jobs, we made the most of our time together!

christian-kober-al-fresco-dining-at-night-in-square-of-traditional-buildings-old-town-latvia

“Al-fresco dining at night in the square” This shows just one of the many patio dining areas. The next day we only had the morning to finish the tour.  And there it was…only 2 blocks from the hotel.

Riga Old Town

And this was the Center.  On the left the, Cathedral,  and on the right the beautiful House of  Blackheads originally built in 1334 for the city’s guilds. (They obviously revered their workers.) Apparently the name came from their patron..who was depicted as a Moor.  Since they were mostly unmarried foreign merchants and the sole occupants of this building, they had riotous parties.(??)

The Dutch Renaissance façade was added in the 1500’s.

A bit sad that it was time for them to catch their flight back to Antwerp, we clinked our wine glasses together.

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Mike and I look a little down……but maybe it’s just the exhaustion of trying to keep up with them!

 

 

 

 

07/09/2016

Baltic States IIII  coming soon!

 

 

 

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Masada

MasadaMasada! One of the oldest and most glorious places I have ever seen. We saw the classic, Roman buildings from the 1st century BC on the very top of this 6,ooo year old Chacolithic Period site. Today it is crammed with people from all over the world coming to see and visualize our past as a people. And perhaps to learn from it.

This archaeological site tops the rock mountain at 1,300 feet above the Dead Sea. The ancient Roman fortress, built by Herod the Great in 31BC , became the 20th century symbol of Jewish heroism. UNESCO World Heritage Status evolved in 2001.

Cable Cars

There are two ways to travel to the top: walking the Snake path (curvy, stony, and hot), or taking the Cable Car. Easy decision! You can see the top of the Snake beneath the cars. Obviously the structures were build around the mountain rim for protection. The center plateau was used for farming and cattle/sheep raising. For this water was essential but scarce.

Calidarium

Herod had water chambers dug around the bottom of the mountain with channels catching and carrying the rainfall into the cisterns. Then donkeys were used to haul the water to cisterns at the top. Now, with aquaducts and sufficient water, Herod created a bathhouse complex.

Masada3

The water was heated, passed through pipes into the saunas and eventually funneled into the swimming pool. Incredible.

This Hanging Palace, a 3-terraced structure, was Herod’s personal quarters. If you look closely there appear to be three giant steps down the mountain side. And there are. The top level holds the throne room that opened out to a courtyard. On the back wall behind the throne, we were able to see faded wall paintings. These were the original drawings and it was magic to stand there visualizing the artist working on them. The second terrace contained the meeting/conference quarters, while the third level was the family living area.

SynagogueThe incredible discovery that this synagogue, presumed to be the oldest in the world, has ties to the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The skeleton excavation so far sheds light on this ancient House of Worship. Standing at the edge of Harod’s courtyard, we could just see the Dead Sea beyond and the salt mounds that pepper it. Makes me hungry.

Dead Sea

Leaving Masada we prioritized our needs as air conditioning, food and wine. While driving along the Dead Sea, a surprise Las Vegas appears. A compound of large hotels and restaurants situated along the shore.

Dead Sea2Shortly we sat in a lovely, cool restaurant, drinking wine and watching the beach activity. Mobs of people, young, old and families plunged in and out of the warm water and lounged under roofed cabanas. Apparently there are wonderful health benefits from swimming in this super-saturated salt water.

Ein Gedi Kubbutz3

Ein Geddi Kubbutz

 

 

We checked into Ein Gedi Kibbutz Hotel about mid-afternoon. This family styled hotel was located about a half mile up the mountain.

 

And this was the view we had from ourback patio.

Ein Gedi Kubbutz2

 

 

 

 

 

They closed our wonderful pool at 5:30 so everyone would make a timely arrival the family-style dinner buffet (which closed at 8).

While walking to the dining hall, the lowering sun began its slide toward the Dead Sea.

 

And tomorrow we have but an hour’s drive till we reach Jerusalem.

Jerusalem1

Tel Aviv: the new Face of Israel

Tel Aviv3

Arriving at 5pm in Tel Aviv, through Security and into a rental car, we dashed to our reserved Lusky Suites Hotel with the sun-lit Mediterranean Sea and the promenade viewed from our balcony.

Tel Aviv4

Tel Aviv was created in 1909, when the Jewish National Fund purchased land among the dunes north of the old Arab port of Jaffa and named it Tel Aviv “Hill of the Spring”.

While not a beautiful city in its self, its rebel but friendly attitude and vitality are most appealing. Dinner that evening, overlooking the Mediterranean shore, was alive with people of all ages and many cultures, walking, sitting but most of all, socializing, along the promenade.

With only 2 days here, we planned the first for a walkabout of the Bauhaus buildings which received UNESCO World Heritage status in 2004. This was a pre-Nazi German architectural style of the 1920’s and 1930’s. The over 4000 Bauhaus buildings have earned Tel Aviv the nickname “The White City”.

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As an architectural form, the buildings are based on functionality rather than glamor but the elongated balconies and rounded corners vastly appealed to me. Some of them are sensually appealing and I wanted to run my hand over them.

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THEN OFF TO JAFFA, one of the most beautiful ancient sea ports in the world! According to to the Bible, Jaffa was built after the great flood by Noah’s son Japheth.Old Jaffa

Remains have been unearthed dating back to the 20th century BC ,  establishing this site as one of the world’s oldest ports. After a decline in 1948, it revived as a center for arts, crafts and dinning. We can vouch for the food, sea view,  salty breeze and the beautiful antiquity of this ancient site.

We found the Visitors Center on the main plaza just in time for the “English” tour of the “Underground” . Down one level was a museum with many relics: statues, working implements, part of a fishing boat and the like from hundreds/thousands of years ago, all excavated from from this site. Our guide told us who used them and when. Unbelievable.  How many cultures passed through and left their mark??

Old Jaffa2Two stories down we found the on-going excavation of a Greek village. The stairs took us down-and-around  the walls and room of a typically ancient house opening to a section of the forum and a water well. The excavators were not the least bothered by our passage. The guide said they had many more levels planned for digging. (That’s probably why the workers were smiling!)

At the end of the tour,  we were led to an enormous circular viewing screen. A marvelous 3-D video of the history of Jaffa was presented. I wanted to see it again but our guide said another group was entering and another language would be used. (Dam)

Hot and tired, we headed back to our hotel. Later we walked to an outside Kosher restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean Sea  and sipped an excellent wine.

Tel Aviv

07/20/2013

Posted in Israel | Leave a comment

Armenia now, after the Soviet Union Implosion

Armenia now , after the Soviet Union  Implosion

When Armenia and Georgia  were mentioned as  possible wine trips….my response was “I’m not Excited.” (I went and researched them on a World Map and was less enthusiastic to see they abutted the Caucasus Mountains with the Russians on the other side.) Then Mike mentioned the discovery of  a viable “ 6000 year old Cradle of Wine cave “ …..and I was hooked.

Yerevan

This picture (yes, we went) of Yerevan, Armenia, backed by the beautiful Mount Ararat (initially Armenian owned but now belongs to Turkey), dominates the landscape. On your left notice the drooping  cross arms….enfolded by angel wings which became the Christian symbol for both Armenia and Georgia since the 4rd century. Saint Nino, a 4th century female evangelist and miracle healer, formed her cross with grape branches and bound the arms with her hair.

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Over time the arms dropped, but the symbol continued.

As we drove into Yerevan,

we were surprised to see the

downtown lit up by the lights on

the Noy Brandy Factory.

6936186117_8283e07986.jpg Noy Brandy FactoryShortly after, we approached the Ararat Brandy Factory. Obviously this was a day time photo, I couldn’t find a night shot.

5383583993_69c2ff6da0_z.jpgArarat Brandy Factory

I looked at Mike and said, wine??? he said, “It will all become clear.” When the Soviet Union took over 90 years earlier, the Armenians had to adapt their fully developed vineyards and wineries to the Soviet tastes: sweet-heavy duty Brandy.

Their brandy was highly regarded by Winston Churchill (who preferred it to the French).  That said, Armenia produces some wonderful wines, particularly from a grape variety that can hold its own with the world’s best: the ancient, indigenous variety Areni. (If you want to find it in the U.S., seek an Armenian grocery market).

 

Yerevan Armenia

We chose the B.W. Congress because it centered the city and was good for walking tours. Our suite was on the top floor, left front corner with a balcony that overlooked the city and park.

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This picture I took looking down over the pedestrian area. Those squared Soviet-constructed buildings in the  distance were under renovation for Armenian businesses.

Yerevan Hotel Pool

Breakfast overlooking our lovely pool. (Except it was too early in the season and had no water.) We then joined up with our remarkable guide/translator for sites and wineries. Armenia is a country of ancient monasteries and churches.  St. Hripsime was the first.

Church Hripsime 2

We were followed into the parking lot by a herd of sheep being ushered up the church’s roadway to a pasture beyond. Many curious and noisy ewes…..and messy. We had to watch our steps to the church door.

St. Hripsime was a refugee nun from Rome in the 3rd century. The Bishop tried to rape her and she was killed. It seems he had her buried under the front portico of the church. He left instructions to be buried beside her when he died. (Some of these sites were going to be interesting!)

Mother Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin

Forth century Armenia was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity. The history says  St. Gregory the “Illuminator” saw a vision of Christ descending to the ground and striking the earth 3 times. Clouds and fire arose from these sites. Holy Mother Ejmiatsin Cathedral, pictured here was the first. It was built over a 4th century pagan church, one wall which they incorporated into the Cathedral. Looking closely at the picture, it’s easy to see the newest addition of the entrance. The older sections were built in the 5, 15, 16, and 17th centuries. Stone wears well!

Our guide told us that this was a most important and revered site for the Armenia people. And it looked like it….many people were respectfully coming and going, lighting candles and praying.

Armenia is a country of many mountains but few forests so almost all structures are built with stone. (Hmmm, 2 thousand years and still standing…..got to be a message here.)

geghard_monastery

Historically, Geghard Monastery, 4th century, was initiated by Christian/Syrians who crossed the mountains and began excavations at this site. Many individual caves were dug into the mountain for independent living and worship. (Looking at the picture it’s clear more monks arrived and additions, churches and cooking especially, developed.)

In 923 the site was plundered by Nast from Azerobaijan who wanted to use it for the conversion of the Christians to Islam. After that it declined until the 12th century. Then there was a revival of Monastery building that reactivated reconstruction.

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The main Cathedral was built in 1215, below ground level. In the following picture you will see the enormous pillars, an oculus at the top for light and air, and be able to hear (if visiting) the fantastic acoustics.

Geghard Monastery Armenia

Standing by a pillar, I whispered to Mike “Do you know where the facilities are?”   A good distance away, the guard by the entrance said “The first left turn past the pillar for the bathrooms.” Embarrassing.

 

 

There were individual caves you could climb into (carefully) and visualize how these monks chose to live their lives. Disappointing that I could find no information on WHY  they chose to isolate themselves here.

Our marvelous guide arranged a lunch at a small hotel in the nearby mountain.

Garni TempleExcellent meal and fantastic view of the Garni  Temple across the Azat River. This is Armenia ’s only Graeco-Roman 1st century pagan temple. The structure was mostly destroyed in the great earthquake of 1679 but restored in 1969.  Looking closely, you can tell the original stones from the replacements. Hard not to stab yourself in the mouth when looking at a view like this!

Coffee and off to visit 2 prearranged wineries.

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A wine tasting at the Areni Wine Factory. Our translator smoothly got us through the introductions, oversight and tasting with the winemaker, who, thankfully, had chosen 3 wines for us to sample.

Since I was the driver,  tasting  limited,  looking at all the wine bottles….it was very tempting. The hospitality was wonderful.

The second winery used all organically grown and processed grapes paired with the organic cheeses made by the  winemaker’s wife. He is breaking new ground and entering the new “artisan” markets. His success won’t be from luck!

The following picture happened just before we left Armenia and entered Georgia.

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Nothing like having someone back into our car and rip off the front bumper (the white stuff on the ground).

To be continued in GEORGIA

07/28/2014

Posted in Armenia | 3 Comments