Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Ron's Relatives (part 2)

Refreshed after our night in the 479 year-old hotel, we set out to find Ron's mother's grandparents.  Our first stop was Třeboň (Wittingau) which still retains its old world charm with city gates.

Just look at the town square!

But we came to see where Ron's great-grandfather attended church - the Church of St. Giles and the Virgin Mary the Queen.

He traveled there from nearby Stará Hlína (Alt Lahm) and Ron even had his address.  This is what the house looks like today.

There was a nice lady walking her dogs who, although she spoke no English, managed to understand Ron when he said his great-grandfather lived there.  She responded with the ancestor's name.  She invited us into her lovely home which is under extensive renovation.

Here's the 'before' picture.
As you can see, it was two separate buildings - a house and the remains of a barn.  We couldn't believe all the work they had done on it!

And here's Ron with Marie.  We don't know if she's a distant relative, but if she isn't why would she know the name of the person who owned the house so long ago?

Next we found Ron's great-grandmother's hometown of Lomnice nad Lužnicí (Lomnitz an der Lainsitz).
A lovely town and big enough that she didn't have to travel to another town for church.

We think this was her church.

Well, this completes Ron's genealogical tour.  It's a shame we didn't have an interpreter with us.  Imagine how much fun that would be.  Maybe Ron could have stumbled along in German, but the Czech language is just a mystery.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Ron's Relatives (part 1)

While we were over in the Czech Republic, Ron wanted to see where his ancestors came from.  He has done a lot of genealogy and had a list of places he wanted to see.  We found this statue of Saint Wenceslaus in Prague, that was a good start since his great-grandfather's name was Wenzel..

We rented a car and for the first time in 12 days, we were completely on our own.  Yikes!  Armed with a map, we took off to find Ron's roots.  His father's family came from some small towns in the southwest corner of the Czech Republic where I just knew nobody would speak English. 

In this post, all the ancestors are on Ron's father's side of the family.

The first town on his list was Janovice nad Uhlavou (Janowitz) where his grandfather's family attended this church.  (In each case, the name in parentheses is the former German name for the town.)

His grandfather lived in nearby Petrovice nad Uhlavou (Petrowitz) which is just a few houses in rolling countryside.  He left there for America at age 16.

Next stop was Hamry (Hammern) where Ron's grandmother was from.  She and her family emigrated to America when she was 6 years old, and settled in Luxemburg, WI, where she later met and married Ron's grandfather.

The town stretches for several miles through a lovely, but sparsely populated valley, and is very close to the border of Germany.

This area, known as the Sudetenland in the early 20th century, was occupied mostly by ethnic Germans.  After World War II, the German-speaking people were expelled.  We spoke to the owner of the local bed and breakfast who verified that fact and added that their houses were also destroyed.  It must have been a terrible time - neighbor vs. neighbor.  Of course Ron's grandmother had left long before this happened.

We were surprised to see a memorial to the exiled Germans in the church yard.

Here's the inscription on the first stone.  The other five stones list the names of all the displaced families.
With help from our friend Richard, we understand it to read:  
Remembering the German families who lived here for hundreds of years
Who were kicked out in 1946 and the relatives who rest in this cemetery.

The next stop was Cachrov (Cachrou) where we found the church attended by Ron's great-grandfather.

And a beautifully maintained cemetery.

The stones were very elaborate.

But what was a complete surprise was the number of graves with Ron's family name on them.  Especially since we had just had it confirmed that the Germans had been exiled.

We were confused, but moved on to Jeseni (Gesen) where Ron's great-grandfather and his family lived.  Although it was another tiny town, the houses were very nice.

And there was a nice restaurant there so we stopped for a snack.  After enjoying a pastry, Ron asked the two ladies in the next booth if either of them spoke English.  Luckily one did and she gave us the answer to our puzzle.  It seems that if the Germans were married to Czech citizens, they were allowed to stay.  In fact the other lady's maiden name was Ron's last name!

Here's a shot of the rolling countryside around Jeseni.

We ended our day in České Budějovice (Budweis) which is a large city and, incidentally, home of the original Budweiser beer.

This is the beautiful town square and we stayed at the Grand Hotel Zvon which is the third building from the left.  The towels said 'since 1533.'  It was very  nice, but ridiculously expensive.

Just for fun, here's a night shot of the Black Tower and St Nicholas Cathedral.

In part 2, we'll look for Ron's mother's ancestors.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Positioned high atop a hill, overlooking sprawling Prague, is the Castle complex.  (I promise this is the last castle.)  The castle history dates back to the 9th century and has been used by Kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman Emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic.

It's a huge complex, complete with guards.

Although just the statues on the gate would be enough to keep me out.

Here's a piece of the courtyard.

The massive Cathedral of St. Vitus lies within the palace grounds.  We almost were deafened by the bells.

It's said you can't visit Prague and not walk across the Charles Bridge and obviously everyone agreed.

Construction began on the bridge in 1357 and it was the only bridge connecting the castle side of the river with the main part of town until 1841.  It has beautiful sandstone statues along the length which have turned dark and hard to photograph over the years.

Over in Old Town, is the equally famous Prague Astronomical Clock.
The upper part of the clock, consisting of a mechanical clock and astronomical dial, dates back to 1410.  The lower part, a calendar dial, was added about 1490.  It's the third oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest still working.  It puts on an hourly show with moving figures in the windows at the top and 'Death', represented by the skeleton on the right side of the clock.

After the show, I notice this 'knight' with a cell phone and umbrella.  What's up with that?

We used our free time to wander around, taking in the modern and bustling city.

This actually concludes our 12-day Cruisetour with Viking River Cruises.  From Paris to Prague (named the Cities of Lights tour), it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime trip.  We had two days in Paris, eight on the boat, and two in Prague.  Everything was wonderfully organized with a good ratio of guided tours and free time.  I wondered how we would handle all the scheduling after years of going and doing what we want, but we adjusted well.  Maybe too well.  We found ourselves wondering what to do during our free time in the various towns, maybe because we're not shoppers.  In fact I wondered if the customs official would believe that all we bought were two maps.  We would recommend this trip and Viking highly.  About the only thing I would add is 'bring clothes hangers.' 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

On Dry Land

All too soon our 8 day cruise was over and we were transferred by bus to Prague (Praha in Czech.)  The transfer of all the passengers involved three buses and three different color ribbons on our luggage, but, as always, it all went very smoothly.

First we toured Nuremberg beginning with the site of the infamous war trials.

Here's a summary of those dark days from a plaque.

We didn't tour the court room, but moved on to (you guessed it) another castle - Imperial Castle Nuremberg.  This one was different in that it had a moat, although it was dry.

If the invaders made it across the only bridge and through the narrow doorway,
they had to navigate a tunnel with openings overhead.  Utilizing these openings, the defenders would pour, no, not boiling oil (which was not something they had in excess,) but urine!  I can't find any mention of that in Wikipedia, but that's what the tour guide claimed.

Once inside the castle walls, I thought it resembled a small town with its cute half-timbered buildings.

Why are all these women in line?  They're waiting for the bathroom of course.  (Not the original use for this building.)

After the castle, we saw the world's largest chair

And fanciest firehouse.

The guide used this street as an example of typical Nuremberg.  Pretty, but where's the yard or even a sidewalk?

We walked around the Hauptmarkt (Market Square) and sampled the locally famous gingerbread.  Schöner Brunnen is a 14th century fountain depicting the world view of the Holy Roman Empire.

There is some story that it has powers of fertility.  I don't know if that's why there's a high fence around it, but I know all of us stayed far away.

Funny thing - This is something else that I couldn't verify in Wikipedia.  I'm beginning to think that tour guide was just making things up to entertain the crazy Americans.  Maybe that wasn't even the world's largest chair!

At noon the jesters circled around the king on the church bell tower.  I was pretty far away and looking into the sun or I would have tried a video.

Then it was back to the buses for our trip to Prague.  When we reboarded our bus, Ron and I agreed that it smelled like the driver had been smoking while we were gone.  But just after we crossed the border into the Czech Republic, we found out that there was something wrong with the air conditioning and that was causing the odor.  We all piled out and had to wait for a replacement bus.  I was amazed by two things.  First, the new bus was there much faster than I expected, 45 minutes to an hour tops.  And second, nobody, not one single person, complained.  Some of the guys even helped transfer all the luggage to the new bus.  Am I just jaded, or is that surprising?

The new bus was a double-decker!   Super cool!  Ron and I, along with Mary and Gary (Mary also suffers from motion sickness) ran upstairs and grabbed the front seats.  It was a little disconcerting having the windshield right in front of your face, but the view was great.
(Mary and Gary - fun people.)

We rode into Prague in style and I snapped this picture out the front window.
Do you notice anything funny about the building on the right?  It's called the Dancing House.

I was too busy staring to get a good picture, but there was an article in the Wall Street Journal soon after we arrived back in the states.  Here's their picture.
The towers are nicknamed Fred and Ginger (Ginger being the one on the left and Fred with the top hat.)

I'll quote the Wall Street Journal.
With Dancing House, Messrs. Gehry and Milunic succeeded in giving architectural form to Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution, marking a singular moment of national transition and celebration.
(The Velvet Revolution was the name given to the non-violent demonstrations of 1989 that led to the fall of the communist government in Czechoslovakia.)

One more thing we learned in our world travels.  Did you know that a sign of a good beer is that it leaves a ring of foam each time you take a sip?  Here's proof.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Along the Main

In Wurzburg, we viewed the most amazing example of conspicuous consumption ever, namely the Wurzburg Residence.

Completed in 1744, this home of the prince-bishops has to be seen to be believed.  Cameras are not allowed, so I bought a few postcards to share.  The entrance hall was designed to allow carriages to circle and discharge their passengers indoors.  The grand staircase is said to be the most beautiful in the world.

The Venetian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and his son Domenico were brought in to paint the frescoes.  The ceiling over the grand staircase is particularly awesome (and I don't use that word lightly.)  The artists painted scenes from the four (then known) continents with marvelous 3D effects.  Of course the American section depicts Native Americans, not the New York City skyline.

The ballroom is full of gilt and glitter and more of Tiepolo's artwork.
Another room is remarkable for its 3D plaster work.

There is also a Mirror Room so blinding that it defies photography.

Sadly, Wurzburg was mostly destroyed in WWII, so I’m not sure how much of the Palace is original, how much is restored, or even unrestored since we only saw a small percentage of the complex.

After the palace tour, our guide pointed out the Falkenhaus, rebuilt in every detail after WWII.
We were astounded by this performer.  I even gave him a donation, so you KNOW I was impressed.

And this couple kept watch over all the goings-on.

Next we visited Bamberg, which is one of the few larger towns in Germany that escaped bombing in WWII.  Bamberg is very connected with the river.  In fact, the town hall was built on an island.

Similar to some of the paintings in the Wurzburg Residence (which I couldn’t photograph,) this cherub’s leg has escaped the mural.

This is the Rosengarten (yes, that means rose garden) of the Bamberg Neue Residenz with Abbey Church of St. Michael in the background.

Views from the Town Hall bridge.

These houses are known as 'Little Venice'.

They even have gondolas, but I have to wonder if they’re just a tourist attraction.

After Bamberg, our cruise continued on the Main-Danube Canal.  Contrary to my expectations, the canal looked very much like the Main River.