Monday, June 9, 2014

Prague: 6/8 - 6/9/2014

Prague or Praha... Where do I even start this city is amazing!! It is a city with a mixed culture of Eastern and Western Europe and was spared from the WWI and WWII bombings making it one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe. We took an early flight out Saturday morning and after arriving headed straight to the Prague castle. When I heard of the medieval Prague castle, I imagined thick stone walls, a moat, and a drawbridge like a fortress, which is not at all what it looks like. The Prague castle is really a whole complex of buildings up on a hill overlooking the city. It has a cathedral, the Czech presidential offices and residence, open squares, small residential alleyways, and several other buildings and churches.

Here is the main gate to the castle complex. These buildings are newer than the cathedral you can see peeking from behind and house the current Czech presidential offices and living quarters.

Here are some pictures from the inner courtyard with the St. Vitus cathedral in the background. Parts of this cathedral date to the 12th century, although it has been added to several times over the years. The very first church on this site was built all the way back in the 900's and you can still see some of the foundations from that original church building.

The inside of the cathedral was pretty impressive. The Czech Republic was controlled by several different groups throughout history and at times was the ruling seat for much of Eastern Europe. Inside the cathedral they had the coats of arms of several different kingdoms that were once ruled from Prague including Hungary, Bosnia, Dalmatia, Poland, Moravia, Lusatia, Silesia, and Bohemia.

The Czech people are very fond of their national saints. Three of them are particularly well represented In this cathedral. The cathedral is named after St. Vitus. It also contains a large chapel in honor of the Wenceslas, who ruled in the early 900's and built the first church on this location. Finally, in this picture you can see the tomb of St. John of Nepomuk. He is another saint who was drowned in the Vltava river after he refused to reveal to the king what the king's wife had told him during confessional. There is also a large sculpture of St. John on the Charles bridge where he was supposedly dropped into the river.

Aside from the cathedral, the Prague castle has a lot of fun little streets to explore. The pictures above show Golden lane, a narrow street with tiny houses built right into the castle wall. The wall was constructed with arches on the inside of the wall and the laborers were told that they could build houses into the archways as long as they didn't stick out into the street. They built these charming little houses right into the wall that are probably only 8 feet from front to back.

After touring the castle complex, we walked down the hill to the square at St. Nicolas church. From the square we had some pretty awesome views of the castle on the hill and decided to eat at an outdoor cafe.

We both ordered dumplings, which are a Czech specialty. Kellen had beef and I decided to be brave and try the roast duck. I actually thought it was pretty good and we both liked the dumplings.

Further down this street we stopped for some treats, first we sampled gingerbread at the cutest little gingerbread cookie store. Next, we grabbed some good old ice cream. And lastly, some Trdelnik, which is cinnamon sugar bread. So yummy!! As you can tell we really like treats. 

Also on this street we stopped check out some of the knick knack shops. Prague is full of shops selling marionettes. They have them in all sizes and types, including some creepy ones they call kitchen witches. Apparently you are supposed to keep a witch in your kitchen to keep out evil spirits. Luckily, we haven't ever suffered from evil spirits in our kitchen, so we passed on picking up a kitchen witch. Prague also has a lot of shops selling Russian nesting dolls, even though apparently they are not a traditional Czech item. I guess they figure if you put something in enough touristy shops, the tourists will think it is authentic and buy it.

At the end of day one we stopped off at the Charles bridge before returning to our hotel. We were excited to find that the Sheraton had provided us with some yummy treats in our room. I guess there are definitely some benefits to having your husband spend a third of the year in a hotel!

On day two we did a walking tour from "New Town" to "Old Town" Prague. Thanks to trusty Rick Steves. We started in Wenceslas square, which is famous as the site for the beginning  of Velvet Revolution in 1989 when the Czech people rose up to overthrow the Communist party and escape Soviet control.

The Hotel Europa, here in yellow, was one of the key meeting places for the revolutionaries.

This is the Powder Tower, the last remaining gate from the original wall around the Old Town.

Here are several pictures from the Old Town square. You can see the Tyn church peeking from behind the modern buildings. Across the square is the Old Town hall that has a really cool old astronomical clock. Every hour a big group gathers to watch the clock put on a little show.

From the Old Town square we walked over to the Jewish quarter. Prague has a really interesting Jewish quarter with several synagogues and a really old cemetery. During portions of the history of Prague the Jews were only allowed to be buried in this one cemetery. It is now the oldest preserved Jewish cemetery in Eastern Europe, with some graves dating back to as early as 1439. It is very creepy cemetery where thousands of people are buried and old headstones are crumbling and leaning onto each other. 

By the time we made it to the Jewish quarter, baby Maddie was pretty wiped out. She didn't get to see much of that area of town ;)!

After the Jewish quarter we stopped by a traditional Czech cafeteria style restaurant called Havelska Koruna. This was a recommendation we took from Kellen's best friend Blake, who served a mission in the Czech Republic. Kellen ordered something called svickova which Blake had recommended and described as "meat with wet bread, gravy stuff, and jelly on top," which doesn't sound too amazing. Turns out it was actually really good! Thanks Blake!

In the evening we went out to enjoy the streets at sunset. Maddie loved the little cobblestone sidewalks in Prague- little cobblestones for a cute little baby!

Along one of the streets in the Old Town we watched a candy shop making hard candies. It was really cool to watch them; we saw the whole process from liquid butter and food coloring through to little hard candies with little elaborate fruit designs in the middle.

We spent the evening on Charles Bridge watching the sun set behind the castle and taking pictures. Maddie was in such a fun mood with the biggest smile and we had a bunch of random people who wanted to stop and take pictures with her. We are constantly amazed at the attention she attracts from strangers. She is so happy with such a big smile and she just draws people in. It is especially interesting when we are traveling because a lot of the time the people who come up don't even speak English, but they still just want to talk with her and get pictures with her.

Thanks for a great weekend, Prague!

Snapshots of Maddie

To everyone who mostly reads this blog to see pictures of cool European destinations, you may want to skip right on to the next post. To those of you who read this blog to see cute pictures of Maddie, you've just hit the jackpot- this post is entirely about our beautiful baby girl!

Maddie is seriously the happiest, most even tempered baby I could have imagined. Her short little life has been a bit adventurous so far, but she just seems to take it all in stride with a smile!

I especially love this happy picture because she is wearing a handmade outfit that I wore when I was a baby 28 years ago.  Doesn't she make it look good?!

When I was growing up I always wished that I would have a sister so that we could play together and dress up like each other.  Now, I get to dress up with my Maddie. This is a recent Sunday morning before we headed out to church.  These are the dresses that we wore to the wedding of my brother James and new sister-in-law Melina.

As you can see from these pictures, Maddie is quite an expressive baby.  It is so fun for us to watch her growing up and to see her personality developing.  While she is mostly a happy and laid-back baby who smiles a lot, I think she may have a bit of a mischievous streak as well.

Maddie loves her daddy and Kellen loves spending time with his Maddie girl.  When gets home from work she usually gets so excited to have a little break from mommy and Maddie time to play with dad.  She loves being lifted up high in the air and will sometimes just sit on Kellen's lap and relax, which is getting pretty rare for her these days.

Here is a picture of Maddie and her daddy at the Museum of Natural History in Brussels.  Whenever we take her out in public she wants to be held "facing out" like this so that she can see everything and smile at all the people.  She usually has such a big grin on her face that she attracts a lot of attention from strangers!

Maddie also loves to play with toys, especially ones that are colorful or make noises.  Some of her favorites are books, wooden puzzles, Sophie the giraffe, chapstick and bottles of baby lotion, her bouncer, and a green rubber frog and red octopus that she can take in the bath.

Like father, like daughter: Kellen's family is all addicted to popsicles.  They say it is because Kellen's dad, Blaine, fed them all popsicles when they were just little babies.  Kellen recently handed down the tradition as Maddie got to try her first taste of popsicle.  At first, she wasn't so sure, probably because of the cold.  Once she got a sense for the taste she was much more happy about it!  Every time Kellen would take a turn she would sit with her mouth wide open and beg for more. It was so cute and Kellen was so excited to share one of his favorite treats with his baby girl!

 I also recently shared one of my favorite things with Maddie - swimming! We picked up a little blow-up pool for Maddie and have used it on our patio on warm days.  Because it is such a small pool and only needs an inch or so of water for Maddie, we filled it up with warm water so it is almost like taking a bath outside in our swimming suits.  Maddie loves splashing and playing with her bath toys in the pool.  Because we don't have any community pools or anything to take Maddie to here in Belgium, this will likely be a regular occurrence for us this summer.

Having Maddie has been such a fun adventure and great blessing for us.  We hope you enjoy these pictures and glimpse into her life as much as we do!