The above image is a statue of a famous Polish painter found in the Krakow city park .
It’s been six months since I picked up Marsha from work on her last day. We are amazed at how fast the time is blasting by. Almost every day we learn something new. We have to figure out transportation, languages, light switches, showers, TVs, Wi-Fi, currency, coffee makers, windows and doors, shopping, and the continuous rerouting with Google maps as we navigate cities on foot. To be honest, we can’t see life any other way now. Once you get into the learning flow and begin to relax through the constant new situations, it becomes a lifestyle with huge rewards. We are hooked.
What I am about to share with you is very humiliating but I feel you should know that full-time traveling, although a fantastic way to live, is not always fun. I got scammed in the Prague Metro station. Here is how it happened: We got off the Flixbus from Krakow. It was an eight-hour trip but very enjoyable. We needed to take a metro train to get closer to our apartment, so I went to the ATM to withdraw some money … more new currency. For some reason, I felt pressured by time. Some guy came up to us and told us we would get a better rate at the exchange booth. I knew this was bogus and turned my attention back to the money machine. I was confused with my options … there were a ton of zeros for each one. I’ve always had difficulty reading numbers with more than three zeros. I wound up pushing a button that spit out twenty 1,000 notes. Now, I don’t know if I have $20 or $20,000 in bills. It looks like play money to me at this point. The same guy comes back by and said he would break one of my 1,000 bills for me. Of course, I said no. Who would do something that stupid? We then went down to the metro station to get our tickets. The machine only takes coins; no credit cards and certainly no 1,000 bills. So, I see another exchange booth and head over. Just as I get there, a nice, older guy comes up to me and starts talking. I tell him I need to make change for the ticket machine. He tells me he can break one of my 1,000 bills and I can then go over to the booth next to the ticket machine to buy my tickets. He shows me two 500 bills. And … I … swap … with … him. No, I do not know why I did it this time, just a major brain fart, I guess. I think it was a combination of feeling pressured for time and the new currency. I traded a perfectly good 1,000 Czech bill (worth about $40) for two COUNTERFEIT Russian 500 bills worth squat! So, there you have it. There are some pitfalls when you travel. If I add this experience to my losing €40 to a pickpocket in Paris I think I have contributed about $85 to the European underground economy. I can’t wait until someone tries to sell me some magic beans.
Although we arrived at the Berlin train station in plenty of time, it turned into an unexpected adventure. The platform was separate from all the others and was quite a hike. When we finally found it, all the numbers were wrong; train number, platform number, track number, and departure time. Finally, we figured out our train was delayed and we found all the right numbers. Fun.
We were met at our great apartment by young Wictor, who showed us how everything worked. Since we were running around trying to find our train earlier that day, we had not eaten. So, our first task was to find a restaurant. We found one and had the best burger ever! After we realized we weren’t going to starve to death, we enjoyed a great evening walking around Krakow’s fantastic square. The lights, music, and people made it very enjoyable. The picture below is a daytime shot.
The next day we went to Schindler’s Factory. We were actually more moved by this great museum than we were at Dachau. It seemed to be more immediate with all the personal stories. Seeing Schindler’s office was especially impactful for me. He started out as a Nazi but was later moved to help the 1,200 Jews who worked for him. He got the Nazis to build a satellite ‘concentration camp’ on his grounds. He told the Nazis it would improve production but it actually provided a very humane place for the Jews to live. Schindler did not allow the Nazis or SS officers to enter his camp. The Jews honor non-Jews who helped during the holocaust; they are called “The Righteous to the Nations.” Schindler is one of these, and has a tree planted in Jerusalem in his honor. Marsha and I saw his tree many years ago.
The second day in Krakow we had a great experience with the ceremonial opening of the Veit Stoss altarpiece in St. Mary’s Church. At 11:50 a nun came out, gave a little talk in Polish, then with music playing, she opened the altarpiece to reveal the three-part wood carvings of Mary going up to heaven. It took the artist 12 years to finish this beautiful scene. The before and after images below do not do it justice.
On one of our walkabouts, we stumbled upon a series of pictures of the 2014 visit from Pope Francis. These large pictures stretched for about 200 yards along the park walkway. The photographer did a great job of capturing the event. I was very moved by the two images below from the Pope’s visit to Auschwitz. The first is walking through the camp. The second one is meeting survivors of the camp.
Prague, Czech Republic
Did I tell you I got scammed? Our start in this city was not a good one.
Prague is known for its Astronomical Clock, found just off Wenceslas Square … yep, that guy we all sing about at Christmas time. Every hour there is a little glockenspiel-like performance with music, characters frolicking about, and the chiming of the hour.
The churches in Europe continue to impress us. There are over-the-top cathedrals, modest chapels, and churches dedicated to God for stopping the plague. St.Vitus Church was started in 1344 but wars, plagues, and church reforms stalled its completion until 1929. The image below is an interior shot of the organ pipes.
The highlight of our visit to Prague was going to an evening concert in Smetana Hall at the beautiful Art Nouveau Municipal House. “The Best of Classics” was performed by the eight-piece, Prague Symphony Orchestra. The acoustics were great and we enjoyed ourselves immensely.
Because Prague was spared by the Germans during WWII, the city’s Art Nouveau buildings are still making a beautiful impression on visitors. In fact, Prague is the most visited city in Eastern Europe. Another unexpected tourist sight is a wall dedicated to John Lennon. Shortly after his death, this wall became a spontaneous memorial to him.
Well, we are still learning … sometime the hard way, but really enjoying our Great Adventure.
The next post will be about Vienna, Austria and Budapest, Hungry.
Just a reminder … don’t take any wooden nickels … or counterfeit Russian money.
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We look forward to hearing from you.
Preston & Marsha
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