The Benefits of Staying in a Historic Hotel in a Historic City: The Flanders Hotel Bruges

Staying over at the Flanders Hotel in Bruges’ historic district, allows enjoyment of iconic scenes like the colored gabled buildings in The Markt town square at night, enjoying the serenity after the day-trippers have gone © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bruges, Belgium’s UNESCO World Heritage city, is impossibly beautiful. Walking around, you almost feel like you are in Busch Gardens Colonial Williamsburg themepark or a movie set – it is that perfect, that fantastical, almost unreal in its perfection. The sheer beauty of this extraordinarily picturesque place, gives you such a sense of peace. I walk every route multiple times, entranced.

Bruges’ cobblestone streets © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I feel sorry for the day-trippers who flood into Bruges but leave before they can experience how magic descends in the late afternoon glow, the evening light, the reflected lights on cobblestone streets at night, and the early morning stillness when only the occasional swan makes a ripple in the canal – it’s as if the fairies wait for the people to leave the forest before they come out. I am so grateful to be staying overnight, having come a day early for my eight-day BoatBikeTours’ Bruges-Amsterdam bike trip.

The Burg, Bruges’ soul © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I stay in the Flanders Hotel, a four-star boutique hotel and a member of Historic Hotels of Europe – beautifully renovated and updated for modern tastes, and within the historic district.

The hotel provides the perfect ambiance in which to appreciate and immerse myself in Bruges.

The Flanders Hotel, a member of Historic Hotels of Europe, is in Bruges’ historic district © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I always seek out historic hotels – they typically are perfectly situated (location, location, location!), have charm and character and embody the stories and heritage of the people – in effect, they offer an “authenticity” and a sense of place. The owners and managers invariably see themselves as stewards, as guardians of that heritage and are fierce protectors, and it shows in the loving care they bring.

The beautiful bar, lounge and terrace at the boutique Flanders Hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Designed by one of Bruges’ foremost architects of the 19th century, the Flanders Hotel building stands where the former Grand Hotel Verriest once served travelers from all over the world. The structure includes a Gothic room, which once was part of a Dominican Monastery dating from 1304.

The Flanders Hotel puts you right in the historic district, and within a short (exceedingly pleasant) walk of all major sights in the historic inner city as well as offering amenities that make the stay here an absolute delight– there is actually a beautiful indoor pool, a stunning lounge-bar connected to an outdoor terrace, gardens with a picturesque pond and a lovely parlor. Much of the hotel has been recently renovated. Inside it’s actually hip.

A pleasant garden and koi pond provide scenic views while enjoying breakfast at The Flanders Hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Flanders Hotel offers 50 rooms: the classic room type mostly face the garden and pond; spacious club rooms; extra large Grand Double which has a canopy bed and mezzanine bathroom; and Triple and Family rooms set up to accommodate three to five persons, and offer excellent value.

A breakfast buffet is served from 8 to 10:30 am (weekdays) and until 11 am on weekends in its charming restaurant that looks out to the garden and pond.

Its lounge-bar (‘barazar’) is stunning, serving fine wines, cocktails and local specialty beers, as well as other beverages and finger food, daily from 4 pm to 1 am.

A pleasant garden and koi pond provide scenic views while enjoying breakfast at The Flanders Hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I am also impressed by the personal service with attention to detail, as well as online tools that have everything prepared for my stay before I arrive, and arrange for a taxi to bring me to the boat that will be my floating hotel to Amsterdam at the end of my stay.

The hotel is surrounded by loads of restaurants and eateries of all kinds, from Michelin star gourmet cuisine to local specialties and international dishes.

The Flanders Hotel has an indoor pool © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I am delighted with the accommodations, and love that just walking out of the front door, I am immersed in the city’s charm. It’s a very short and picturesque walk to Bruges’ key sites including the Burg and Markt (Town Square).

I quickly discover why it is said that Markt Square is Bruges’ heart and Burg is its soul.

The view just down the street from The Flanders Hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Markt Square, the beating heart of Bruges, is dominated by the Belfry, 83 meters high and the city’s most prominent building (you can climb to the top for a breath-taking panorama). In the Market Square itself, I marvel at the imposing Provincial Court and a line of buildings with colorful stepped gables. Horse-drawn carriages complete this exquisitely picturesque scene. Here on my first evening I come upon one of the nightly concerts – this one of Flemish music going back 300 years that is coordinated with the bells ringing from the famous Belfry tower.

A concert underway in The Markt Square is synchronized with bells from the historic Belfort © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Markt Square is the heart of Bruges, but the Burg Square is considered its soul. For centuries this has been the center of power in the city, and Bruges’ city administration still occupies the 14th century Gothic Town Hall. This grand, majestic square is lined with monumental landmark buildings built over the centuries and reflect the building style of their age. They include two palaces of justice, the Liberty of Bruges to the Deanery, and the renowned Basilica of the Holy Blood.

Night scene, Bruges © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Wandering down a street of shops – chocolate, waffles and such – I come upon a street festival where I mingle with locals.

It says something of the neighborhood that the Flanders Hotel is mere steps away from what is today the Grand Hotel Casselbergh Brugesbut from 1656 to 1659, served as the Royal Palace of England, Scotland and Ireland, where King Charles II held court.

“King Charles II lived here with his brothers James, Duke of York, and Henry, Duke of Gloucester until the restoration of the monarchy,” a marker outside states. King Charles II “loved Flanders and Bruges in particular. In 1662, the grateful Monarch wrote, ‘The Flemings are the most honest and true-hearted race of people I have met with.’”

Flanders Hotel Bruges, Langestraat 38, 8000 Bruges, stay@hotelflanders.com, call  +32 (0)50 338889, https://www.hotelflanders.com

Morning in Bruges © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Historic Hotels of Europe: A Notable Collection

The Flanders Hotel is a member of Historic Hotels of Europe, an exclusive collection of independent and unique hotels, castles, palaces, country houses and other properties of historic importance throughout Europe.

Each property has been handpicked for its historical authenticity, quality and unique story. The owners see themselves as guardians of heritage, with a responsibility to cherish each property as a historic national treasure. Accommodating guests provides the economic support to preserve, sustain and improve each property and keep their stories alive.

You can click on Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Croatia, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece,  Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Montenagro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and Wales to find historic hotels, castles and manors.

You can also search by themed itinerary (cultural routes; gastronomic road trips; wine-lover’s trails, fairytale castles; rooms with the best views) and bookmark an Itinerary Inspiration guide; or search by collections, wedding ideas, experiences. You can also arrange for gift vouchers.

And you can search by 2022 winners of the Historic Hotels of Europe Awards (https://www.historichotelsofeurope.com/award.html):

There were ten categories for this eighth edition of the awards to vote in this year, including two new categories – the Historic Hotel Sustainability Award and New Entry Historic Hotel Award:

Historic “A Story To Share” Award 2022: Known as “the hotel from fairytales,” Dalen Hotel in Norway snagged this year’s “Story To Share” award, no doubt because of its “floating” spa, jaw-dropping architecture and exciting common areas that include a terrace and gallery. (Silver Award Winner: Schloss Hertefeld in Germany; Bronze Award Winner: Suter Palace Heritage Hotel in Romania)

Historic Castle Hotel Award: Chateau Liblice in the Czech Republic has perfected the art of blending the old with the new, and combines a classic atmosphere with contemporary comforts, restaurant and spa. (Silver Award Winner: Castello di Gargonza in Italy; Bronze Award Winner: Barberstown Castle in Ireland)

Historic Hotel City Award: Hotel Stefanie has swept the accolade of best historic city hotel for the second time (having won this category in 2020). Having operated since the year 1600, it’s the oldest hotel in Vienna, Austria, and has clearly lost none of its charm or first-rate hospitality over the centuries. (Silver Award Winner: Hotel Britania in Portugal; Bronze Award Winner: Hotel Cattaro in Montenegro)

Historic Hotel Wedding Experience Award: The Slovakian gem Hotel Gino Park Palace, has been named the best place in the Collection to say “I do”. (Silver Award Winner: Villa Bergzauber in Austria; Bronze Award Winner: Villa Cipriani in Italy)

Historic Natural Setting Hotel Award: Overlooking Bantry Bay and Garinish Island on the Eccles Hotel is situated in one of the most enviable places in all of Ireland, the famous Wild Atlantic Way coastline. (Silver Award Winner: Kyrimai Hotel in Greece; Bronze Award Winner: Renvyle House Hotel in Ireland)

Historic Romantic Hideaway Hotel Award: Greece’s island of Santorini has long-been called one of the most romantic places to travel to in Europe… especially if you stay at Esperas Santorini, according to this year’s voters. This pearlescent property contains 17 Greek-style studios complete with such perks as jacuzzis, luxurious beds and bathroom amenities. (Silver Award Winner: Manowce Palace in Poland; Bronze Award Winner: Hotel Villa Schuler in Italy)

Historic Top Hotel Restaurant Award: Foodies are never more delighted than when settling down at a table at Ghan House. This Irish hotel’s restaurant has won numerous awards over the years and is loved by tourists and locals alike for its gourmet dishes. (Silver Award Winner: Twr y Felin Hotel in Wales; Bronze Award Winner: Castel Rundegg in Italy)

Historic Spa & Wellness Hotel Award: The spa and wellness services at Italy’s Relais San Biagio are inspired by the age-old traditions of the property and the monks who once lived there. It’s the place to boost your mind, body and spirit before exploring beautiful Perugia. (Silver Award Winner: Le Bouclier d´Or Hotel & Spa in France; Bronze Award Winner: The Ice House in Ireland)

Historic Hotel Sustainability Award: Schloss Wartegg in Switzerland is Historic Hotels of Europe’s first to be dubbed the best sustainable hotel. Along with its strong focus on cycling and bike tours, the property prizes organic ingredients and makes the most of its extraordinary locale on the shores of Lake Constance, a remarkable slice of Swiss nature. (Silver Award Winner: Hotel Schwarzer Bock in Germany; Bronze Award Winner: Allegory Boutique Hotel in Greece)

New Entry Historic Hotel Award: The peaceful Komierowo Palace in Poland is a wonderful recent addition to the Collection. Not only does the building boast a sauna and jacuzzi house, 16 hectares of enchanting parkland and gorgeously-furnished rooms festooned with Art Deco elements, it has a fascinating history populated with knights, royalty and noble families. (Silver Award Winner: Blue Haven Hotel in Ireland; Bronze Award Winner: Hotel Chesa Grischuna in Switzerland)

More information at www.historichotelsofeurope.com

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© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Rivercruise: Berlin, a Cultural Capital Again

The Brandenburg Gate, built in 1791, “survived 300 years, 2 world wars, 2 dictatorships, 1 wall” and restored to its glory © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Berlin is a surprise. The last time I was here, which was just after the fall of the Wall, it seemed dark, grey. Berliners were literally chipping away at the Berlin Wall, selling the graffitied pieces (the first act of Capitalism).

Berlin 1990. The first act of capitalism is selling the pieces of the Berlin Wall after the fall. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 
Our guide, Sylvia, shows the “then and now” at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Now, I find the city bright, bustling and building. And an interesting amalgam of how Germany’s various historical époques, even the Soviet era, have been integrated in the reconstructed city after World War II.

What is most interesting to me, especially as we stop at the Brandenburg Gate, is how Nazism seems to have been ripped out from the roots, like weeds from a garden.

There is still some evidence of Soviet control, especially as we go through what would have been East Berlin (later, at Potsdam, we will learn the backstory of how Berlin was divided).

Reminder of a Berlin divided into sectors by the World War II victors © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 
Soviet era art on a building in Berlin © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Elbe Princesse is docked in a lovely neighborhood park in one of the city’s 12 districts. We have a bus-tour today, which I am grateful for because the city is really vast and I only have one day here, but it is soon obvious, you need to spend at least two or three days.

Our guide, Sylvia, gives us a bit of history as we travel from district to district, neighborhood to neighborhood.

Apartment buildings built for workers before World War II © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

We drive around the Victory Column – Hitler had it moved in the 1930s as part of his plan to make Berlin the capital of the World, Germania. To cement his dictatorship, the Nazis set fire to the Reichstag, and blamed the opposition as an excuse to exert martial law.

We get out to walk around, stopping first at the new memorial to the Sinti and Roma murdered in the Holocaust. Out of 2.5 million Sinti & Roma, only 5000 survived (the German word for gypsy, Zigeuner, means trash and is forbidden).

The new Holocaust memorial to Sinti and Roma across from the Reischtag in Berlin © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Very close to the Brandenburg Gate is the Reichstag – the Parliament Building. People are lined up to tour the building, and can go up to a modernized glass dome.

The Reischtag in Berlin © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Visitors can ascend to the modern dome of the Reischtag for a great view © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Brandenburg Gate, which dates from 1791, was part of the original wall around Old Town, and is the only one of 18 historical gates still remaining. “It survived 300 years, 2 world wars, 2 dictatorships, 1 wall.”

In 1806, Napoleon arrived in Berlin after defeating Prussians, entering through center of gate. He promptly “expropriated” the sculpture on top of the gate.

The Brandenburg Gate, built in 1791, “survived 300 years, 2 world wars, 2 dictatorships, 1 wall” and restored to its glory © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For 20 years, the Gate was in a no-man’s land between East and West Berlin, and could not be visited. Then, in November 1989, the wall came down.

All the buildings that flank the Gate were built after 1989, Today, the US Embassy and across from the embassy, a Holocaust memorial that opened in May 2005, 60 years after the end of World War II in Europe.

New York architect Peter Eisenman, who won a design competition to establish a central memorial site, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, placed 2,711 concrete slabs of different heights that appear as graves or coffins (the heights, Sylvia said, are supposed to represent the number of Jews killed in a place). The 19,000 sq. meter area is open day and night. The memorial is intentionally set on a slight slope and its wave-like form is different wherever you stand.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe by Peter Eisenman, is across from the US Embassy in Berlin © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The memorial to the Shoah is supplemented by the underground information center, also designed by Eisenman. In a space covering 800 square meters you can find information on the victims and the locations. Themed rooms such as the Room of Dimensions, the Room of Families, the Room of Names and the Room of Sites deal with the fates of individuals, with photographs, diaries and farewell letters. Short biographies take the victims out of their anonymity. Historical photographs and film footage show the sites of persecution and extermination. (Cora-Berliner-Straße 110117 Berlin, www.stiftung-denkmal.de/en)

In the Museum Island complex we see where there are still holes from bullets and artillery fire in the Roman columns are the city’s most important museums (which were in the Soviet zone, so that the Allies had to build comparable museums): the Altes Museum (Old Museum), the Neues Museum (New Museum) the Bode Museum, the Pergamon Museum and the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery). The collections in these buildings encompass over 6,000 years of art and cultural history.

Museum Island was in the East German sector of Berlin controlled by the Soviet Union, so comparable cultural institutions had to be built in the West German sector © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sylvia tells us that because all the city’s important museums wound up in the Soviet zone, the Allies built comparable institutions in their quarter.

We pass the magnificent Berlin Cathedral, which dates back to the 15th century,.

Berlin’s stunning architecture © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As we pass the Royal Library, Sylvia relates that on May 10 1933, Nazis entered Royal Library, stripped the shelves, and burned the books in the square. “It’s important to keep people stupid to impose dictatorship,” she remarks. I mutter something about a Tennessee legislator who, when asked what they should do about banned books, said, “They should burn them, I guess,” to which one of my traveling companions from Munich recoiled in horror. (Max Planck and Albert Einstein gave lectures here, Sylvia notes.)

The square outside the Royal Library was where Nazis burned books on May 10 1933 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We go by Alexanderplatz, which was a market in the Middle Ages. (I spot “Stop Wars” as graffiti painted on a nearby building. There are also Ukraine flags on many buildings.)

“Stop Wars”. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We drive down an avenue that leads toward Frankfurt and the border with Poland. After WWII, Stalin renamed it for himself, but when Stalin died, it was renamed Karl Marx Allee (a German Jew and the ideological founder of Socialism).

Coca-Cola on a building along the boulevard named for Karl Marx © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The mark of East Germany’s time as part of the Soviet bloc is very clear when we arrive at a long, long wall – Sylvia said that the “first generation wall” was built in less than 24 hours. “Germans went to sleep on the night of August 12 and woke up on August 13 to find a 43 km wall built in middle of night, to separate east from west.”

Graffiti art on the Berlin Wall, 1990 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification of East and West Germany, 118 artists from 21 countries were invited to paint murals along a 1316-meter long stretch of the wall – the longest continuous section of the Berlin Wall still in existence. It officially opened as the open-air East Side Gallery on September 28, 1990, and a year later, was made a protected memorial.

The famous “Kiss” mural on the East Side Gallery, a 1316-meter long stretch of the former Berlin Wall © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sylvia points us to the mural that is very possibly the most famous: “The Kiss” by Russian painter Dimitri Vrubel in 1990, It depicts Leonid Brezhnev, the General Secretary of the Soviet Union at the time, and Erich Honecker, the General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of the GDR, based on a photograph taken in 1979, on the 30th anniversary of the founding of the GDR. “The photographer got two years in prison.”  

Possibly the most famous of the East Side Gallery murals is “The Kiss” by Russian painter Dimitri Vrubel, depicting Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet General Secretary and Erich Honecker, the General Secretary of the GDR Socialist Unity Party, based on a 1979 photo © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
118 artists from 21 countries were invited to paint murals along a 1316-meter long stretch of the wall, now enshrined as the East Side Gallery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Andre Sacharov is memorialized in one of the East Side Gallery murals © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The 1316-meter long stretch of the wall – the longest continuous section of the Berlin Wall still in existence – officially opened as the open-air East Side Gallery on September 28, 1990 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sylvia also points out Berlin’s pride and joy, the Berlin Television Tower, built in the 1960s. At 368m, it is the tallest building in Berlin. (You can go to the top for a 360° panoramic view of the city.) 

Berlin’s pride and joy, the Berlin Television Tower, built in the 1960s © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Potsdam, UNESCO World Heritage City

We are returned to the Princesse Elbe for lunch and then set out again by bus to Potsdam – famous as the place where the Allies decided Germany’s fate, split Europe, Germany and Berlin into sections, and launched the Cold War.

Potsdam, about a 45 minute drive from where we are in Berlin, is one of Germany’s most beautiful cities, and a UNESCO Heritage site.

The Glienicke Bridge, known as the “Bridge of Spies,” in Potsdam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We stop at Glienicke Bridge, known as the “Bridge of Spies”. Built in 1907, it was used as an exchange point between the Soviets and the Allies. In 1961, during the Cold War, no civilians were allowed on the bridge, only military, diplomats. To distinguish between the American and German Democratic Republic sides, you can see the dark green versus light green colors. The first exchange came in 1962: Francis Powers, who was taken prisoner in 1960 when his U-2 spy plane was shot down over Ukraine and sentenced to die, was exchanged for Soviet Colonel Rudolf Abel, a senior KGB spy. (The 2015 Tom Hanks thriller, “Bridge of Spies” depicting the events was actually shot here – they closed the bridge for a week).

Different shades of green demarcated the Soviet from the American sides of the Glienicke Bridge © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We stop at Cecilienhof Palace, where the Potsdam Conference took place in 1945, and are able to walk around the grounds. The palace was built in 1917 by Crown Prince Wilhelm, grandson of Queen Victoria, who would have been next emperor if Germany had won World War I. It hardly looks like a palace – he built it in Tudor style of a country manor to honor his grandmother. Today it is a hotel and museum.

Cecilienhof Palace, where the Potsdam Conference took place in 1945 and the Cold War began © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What I hadn’t known before is that Harry Truman, who had just become president after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death, got a phone call while here, ‘The baby is born,” code for the atom bomb was ready. He gave the order from here to bomb Hiroshima, seemingly as casually as that.

The Potsdam conference also lacked another major leader, Winston Churchill. In his place, a new Prime Minister. Clement Attlee. Stalin took advantage of them both.

Sylvia relates the back-story of how Stalin snuckered Truman and Atlee: on the last morning, Stalin drew a line in red pen through Germany and basically, said, “That’s mine.” “Potsdam set up the Cold War, a proxy war,” she says.

We next go to Sanssouci, Frederick II (Frederick the Great)’s fabulous palace. (We wander the outside, but do not have time to go into it).

Sanssouci Palace is like a mini-Versailles © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sanssouci Palace is like a mini-Versailles, with stunning formal gardens. The gardens were Frederick’s passion, and he built them even before the palace. It was the first royal park ever to be open to the public, and for free. (Versailles Palace was built first then garden, but was solely for royal use.)

Sanssouci Palace is like a mini-Versailles © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Frederick loved this place – it was his private refuge and he even banned his wife from visiting. He wanted to be buried at Sanssouci and had a crypt built, but his nephew buried him elsewhere; then, 200 years later, Frederick was reburied here, as he wanted, with his 11 dogs. We notice that people leave potatoes at the gravesite. “The Seven Years War was under his administration.  Potato, brought from the Indian countries of America, was a fast solution to hunger.”

Sanssouci Palace is like a mini-Versailles © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Potsdam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990, became the residence for Prussia’ royal family, spawning many fabulous buildings and palaces, making Potsdam one of the most-visited cities in Germany and deserves a full day visit (you can get to Potsdam by train from Berlin).

CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse, docked in Berlin, our last port on the Prague-Berlin rivercruise © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our tours of Berlin and Potsdam have been a very good introduction, but I would have liked to spend another two days in Berlin and a full day in Potsdam. But I am doing what many American travelers to Europe are doing this year and doubling up on trips from my bucket list. So the next morning, I get myself to the Berlin railway station, heading to Bruges. for my BoatBikeTours bike trip from Bruges to Amsterdam by bike and boat!

Berlin’s central train station © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Departing Berlin, enroute to Bruges, Belgium © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

CroisiEurope, 800-768-7232, info-us@croisieurope.com, www.CroisiEuropeRiverCruises.com

See also:

CroisiEurope Brings True Value, Quality to River Cruising Across the Globe

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Konigstein Fortress: Dramatic and Impregnable

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Dresden Rises Like a Phoenix; Meissen Preserves World Famous Brand

River Cruising on CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse, Prague-Berlin: Martin Luther, The Reformation and Wittenberg

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Magdeburg, Long History, Surprising Heritage

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Rivercruise: Berlin, a Cultural Capital Again

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© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Magdeburg, Long History, Surprising Heritage

The Green Citadel, Magdeburg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

I must confess to never having heard of Magdeburg before we were bussed from our ship, the MS Elbe Princesse, on the morning of Day 7 of our CroisiEurope river cruise, but, as in the case with the best travel experiences, it turns out to be marvelous to discover.

Market Square, Magdeburg, with one of the oldest equestrian statues in Europe © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our tour starts in the Market Square, renowned for its architecture and a City Hall with bronze doors that relate the city’s history – its 1,200 years is one of the longest in Germany – in 14 panels. Our guide also points out the golden “Magdeburg Horseman,” which dates from 1240 and is believed to be the first equestrian statue north of the Alps.

Market Square, Magdeburg, with one of the oldest equestrian statues in Europe © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After visiting so many churches, the St. Mauritius and St. Katherine Cathedral is an absolute surprise – and not because of lavish gilded decoration (it is relatively simple) but more because of what it contains. Built from 1209-1520, it was the first cathedral to be built in the Gothic style in Germany, it is the largest church in East Germany, and its towers the highest. It was destroyed twice – in 1631 during the Thirty Years War, and in World War II, when 90 percent of Magdeburg’s buildings were bombed. And oh, yes, the church for some reason was used as a horse stable by the French during Napoleonic War.

St. Mauritius and St. Katherine Cathedral, Magdeburg, Europe’s oldest Gothic church, dates from 1209 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We see where Germany’s famous son and Holy Roman Emperor, Otto the Great, and that of his first wife are interred inside the cathedral.

But what is immediately clear is the revolutionary spirit at the heart of this place – and Magdeburg.

Here we see a wooden chest with locks that was used to collect Indulgences – a symbol of its transition to a Protestant church. Indeed Magdeburg’s wholesale conversion to the Protestant faith was one of Luther’s greatest victories. (It is more impressive having just come from Luther’s House in Wittenberg the day before.)

A chest to hold indulgences at St. Mauritius and St. Katherine Cathedral, Magdeburg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A memorial in front of nearby St. John’s Church (which can be visited) erected by the renowned sculptor Emil Hundrieser in 1886 serves as a reminder of Luther’s influence on this historic city. Martin Luther attended boarding school here for a year when he was 13; he returned to the city on June 26, 1524 to give a sermon at St. John’s Church about “true and false righteousness” that was so powerful, it  inspired almost every church in Magdeburg to convert to Protestantism in a matter of days. From this point onward, Magdeburg became a leader in the Reformation and a forerunner in school reform. Our guide tells us suggests that Magdeburg was fairly liberal and its law was adopted in other places.

Statue of St. Morris, a black saint from Namibia, at St. Mauritius and St. Katherine Cathedral, Magdeburg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This cathedral is adorned with gorgeous sculptures and wood carvings that strike me as unusual. For one, I notice the statue of St. Morris, a black saint from Namibia who was officer in Roman army, became Christian and refused to take part in pagan ceremony.

Figures decorate a door at St. Mauritius and St. Katherine Cathedral, Magdeburg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

To my eye, the Church is ecumenical – it has Hebrew and Greek letters, doors from Greece that seem to depict Dionysus, and I see a fund-raising brochure from the congregation to help raise money to replace the synagogue destroyed by the Nazis (the cornerstone has just been laid). Our guide informs us there were 3000 Jews here before the Holocaust; today there are 600.) And in the pavement is a memorial to the Holocaust.

Holocaust Memorial outside St. Mauritius and St. Katherine Cathedral, Magdeburg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We see a beautiful World War I memorial, which dates from1929. When the Nazis came, they had to take it away. The statue was returned to artist’s family and then returned to church 1955.

We also visit the Unser Lieben Frauen monastery which has a sculpture park that was created in 1989, and is the venue for concerts. The monastery, the oldest building in Magdeburg, was constructed in two phases – the east section and nave were built in the second half of the 11th century; the western section between 1129 and 1160.

Unser Lieben Frauen monastery, Magdeburg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But most remarkable to me is the Green Citadel of Magdeburg, an apartment building that is literally a work of art and (amazingly) also a model for new urban design.

I can’t take my eyes off of it. We wander around this fascinating and magnificent structure, so colorful, whimsical. It exudes happiness and optimism, a Dr. Seuss-like quality and playful spirit. It is literally green – greenery grows from the roof, down the walls – none of which have straight angles. It is an “ensemble’ of buildings taking up a full square block, and is in such stark contrast to the other buildings in the vicinity, which range from Gothic to steel-and-glass modern.

The Green Citadel, Magdeburg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Green Citadel was designed by architect and artist, Friedensreich Hundertwasser (born Friedrich Stowasser in Vienna , he adopted Friedensreich, meaning peace, freedom, and Hundertwasser, meaning “100 Waters”), who died in 2000.

The Green Citadel, Magdeburg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Catholic Church underwrote the cost of building the building (27.1 million Euros) and it is now owned by a Swiss investor. It contains 55 rental apartments (the rental fee is based on the square meter, 10-12E/sq meter, which is cheap), a 200-seat theater, parking garage, day care center, and  a 41-room Art Hotel (that’s what it’s called).

The Green Citadel, Magdeburg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You walk into this breathtakingly beautiful courtyard and there are bird houses of all different shapes and colors (a Guinness record? Not sure). Within the courtyard are cafes and delightful shops (I can’t resist). The tower is 32 meters high, constructed as a spiral – a symbol of life – with a walkway all the way up to the top.

The Green Citadel, Magdeburg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The structure exemplifies Hundertwasser’s ”commitment to a more human architecture in harmony with nature and his visionary ecological commitment developed from his belief in the power of nature and individual creativity,” the The Hundertwasser  foundation writes. “Since the 1980s, he has been realizing architectural projects in which there is the window right and tree tenants, the uneven floor, forests on the roof and spontaneous vegetation. His buildings testify to his commitment to diversity instead of monotony, for romanticism, for the organic and for unregulated irregularities, for spontaneous vegetation and for living in harmony with nature.

The Green Citadel exemplified Hundertwasser’s commitment “to a more human architecture in harmony with nature and his visionary ecological commitment developed from his belief in the power of nature and individual creativity.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“At the center of his ecological activities were tree planting and greening campaigns, the restoration of natural cycles, the protection of water and the fight for a waste-free society. He disseminated his socio-critical and ecological positions with manifestos, letters, speeches and public demonstrations in which he criticized the pure functionality of all areas of life, the uninhibited growth doctrine and the adaptation to social conformism.”  (https://hundertwasser.com/en).

It’s interesting to learn that key industries here include the manufacture of wind turbines and small generators. Just saying.

The Green Citadel, Magdeburg. Artist and architect Hundertwasser used the Tower as a symbol of life. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Magdeburg was a fortress town and one of its favorite sons, memorialized with a statue, was Steuben, who helped the Americans win the Revolution. We are told that he also was the originator of “OK” –“He  couldn’t speak English well, and this was his way of signing off ‘all correct’”. (Another famous son of Magdeburg, I learn, is the composer Georg Philipp Telemann).

Old and new in Magdeburg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Old and new in Magdeburg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

That evening, as we sail to Berlin, our final port, we have a gala dinner, and it really is – cream of cauliflower soup; foie gras; veal; cheese in puffed pastry, and for dessert, dramatically served Baked Alaska flaming with Grand Marnier, accompanied by special wines selected by the chef. All the cuisine has been so flavorful, rich but not too rich, with gorgeous presentations.

The finale to the gala dinner onboard CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse: flaming baked Alaska © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We have asked for a tour of the kitchen, and they have complied – so we get to walk through. It is remarkably unbusy, unhectic, uncluttered. In the evening, we also are invited to tour the wheelhouse (I am told there is no auto pilot, which makes me think it is easier to “fly” to the international space station than to navigate the river because of the changing depth, hazards, currents.

The bridge on CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We arrive in Berlin, overnighting at a dock in a neighborhood park.

CroisiEurope, 800-768-7232, info-us@croisieurope.com, www.CroisiEuropeRiverCruises.com

See also:

CroisiEurope Brings True Value, Quality to River Cruising Across the Globe

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Konigstein Fortress: Dramatic and Impregnable

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Dresden Rises Like a Phoenix; Meissen Preserves World Famous Brand

River Cruising on CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse, Prague-Berlin: Martin Luther, The Reformation and Wittenberg

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Magdeburg, Long History, Surprising Heritage

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Rivercruise: Berlin, a Cultural Capital Again

___________________

© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

River Cruising on CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse, Prague-Berlin: Martin Luther, The Reformation and Wittenberg

Wittenberg’s old market square and the Stadtkirche, also known as the Wittenberg Town Church of St. Mary’s. It was here that Luther delivered the majority of his sermons © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our ship, CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse, sails early in the morning of Day 6 of our Prague-Berlin river cruise for Wittenberg, reaching this historic city, the epicenter of the Reformation lined with noble Renaissance-style houses and a marvelous way of preserving history, in the early afternoon.

Lutherhaus, Martin Luther’s house in Wittenberg is a museum to The Reformation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Martin Luther House, which was once an Augustinian monastery and now is the Reformation Museum, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a complete surprise – I might even say a revelation. I never expected to be so fascinated, so captivated by the unfolding of Martin Luther’s personal story so vividly depicted in the furnishings, artifacts, portraits and seeing where he actually lived, preserved pretty much as it would have been when he lived here. You begin to appreciate how one man could set a movement of such enormity – the Reformation! – into motion, how a single person could captivate and change the world.

Lutherhaus Martin Luther’s house in Wittenberg is a museum to The Reformation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I start off fairly disinterested but as I go through the house – the museum contains 1000 original objects from the Reformation over the centuries to the present including the many publications he put out – the answer comes quickly: the Guttenberg printing press (there is even a replica). You realize that Luther and the Guttenberg printing press were like today’s social media influencers. Indeed, by 1520, Luther had become a media sensation, unlike anything anyone had seen before.

The Reformation was made possible because of Guttenberg’s printing press © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among Luther’s ideas that were heretical to the Catholic Church: Sins cannot be redeemed simply through confession, but faith; he reduced the seven sacraments to two, baptism and holy communion; he called ordination, confession, and last rites as “tricks of priests” to exert power. He called for the abolition of celibacy (and used that as the reason he got married, so he would not be a hypocrite); and said, “A Christian is free, subservient to no one (but subservient to all)” and he called upon the “electors and sovereigns” to implement the Reformation.

Martin Luther’s books and publications are exhibited at Lutherhaus © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But the most controversial, which really roiled the entire institution, was the idea you can’t buy redemption with an Indulgence (the next day in a church in Magdeburg, we see the wooden box that would have been used to collect the Indulgences), and that priests can’t rid people of sin,

In June 1520, a Papal Bull accused Luther of 41 errors and gave him 60 days to recant. Instead, he created a media spectacle and burned the papal bull and other items.

Luther basically removed priests as the middle man between a Christian and his faith, and is most famous for translating the Bible into German, to make it more accessible (if I remember correctly, Jesus did the same thing to the priests).

Lucas Cranach the Elder’s portraits of Martin Luther and his wife, Katharina von Bora. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Luther had been a monk and his wife, Katharina von Bora, a nun, given over to a convent because her family could not afford to support her, lived here for 35 years.

In what would have been their bedroom, we learn that Katarina fled the nunnery to marry Luther. A monk at the time, Luther said he should practice what he preached – abolition of celibacy. There is a wonderful quote from him (just about everything he said was dutifully transcribed by adoring followers) describing the surprising changes in his life after marriage, and the pleasures of being part of a couple. They had six children of whom four survived to adulthood.

Martin Luther’s living room where he would have entertained guests and apostles © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We also see the living room where he would meet guests, have discussions with adoring followers. It’s like being in “the room where it happened” – where these ideas were formulated, transcribed, transmitted.

A Cranach portrait of Martin Luthern in the very room at Lutherhaus it depicts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The couple became well to do after their marriage. Katarina, who clearly did so much to propel Luther (among the journal accounts is how she poured beer for the guests), farmed, and rented rooms to students.

Having been informed the day before to the importance of artist Lucas Cranach the Elder by my traveling companion, I am alert to seeing several Cranach paintings here, including the first authentic portrait of Luther, several others of Luther, and his monumental panel of 10 Commandments. (The English-language audio tour is invaluable to appreciating what you see.)

An early portrait of Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach the Elder, who probably had as much to do with the success of The Reformation as Luther himself © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At this point, I am admiring of Luther and how he democratized religion, breaking the theocratic authority of the Pope and priests. But I later learn that in two of his later works, Luther expressed violent antisemitic views and called for the burning of synagogues and expulsion of Jews (I wonder if Luther regarded Judaism as a rival for worshippers.)

Martin Luther’s writings were beautifully decorated and published by Lucas Cranach the Elder © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Luther wrote of a sculpture depicting an antisemitic scene, “Here in Wittenberg, in our parish church,” Luther wrote, “there is a sow carved into the stone under which lie young pigs and Jews who are sucking; behind the sow stands a rabbi who is lifting up the right leg of the sow, raises behind the sow, bows down and looks with great effort into the Talmud under the sow, as if he wanted to read and see something most difficult and exceptional; no doubt they gained their Schem Hamphoras from that place.” The inscription “Rabini Schem HaMphoras” was installed above the sculpture 27 years later, in Luther’s honor.

My traveling companion on the ship – who is from Munich – has told me to look for the sculpture in the church which I assume (incorrectly) is the Castle Church where Luther posted his Theses.

I still have about an hour to explore Wittenberg on my own (the rest of our group are all French-speaking and led by a guide) – really not enough time. I would have loved to have the whole afternoon to wander. But, armed with an excellent map that pinpoints 36 important sites, I set out with an aim of finding the church and the sculpture.

Stadtkirche, also known as the Wittenberg Town Church of St. Mary’s, was where Luther delivered most of his sermons and is the site of the first celebration of Mass in German instead of Latin. A statue of Martin Luther is in the square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I head to the old market square and the Stadtkirche, also known as the Wittenberg Town Church of St. Mary’s. It was here that Luther delivered most of his sermons, and is the site of the first celebration of Mass in German instead of Latin. Wittenberg in general—and the Stadtkirche in particular—is considered the heart of the Protestant Reformation. There is a statue of Luther outside.

But on the map, behind the church, I see a street name, Judenstrasse (Jew Street) that suggests the Jewish Quarter would have been right here.

I later learn (from an article in Smithsonian, “Hatred in Plain Sight”)  that around the back of the Stadtkirche set into the facade is the carved sandstone sculpture depicting a rabbi lifts the tail of a pig to look for his Talmud that Luther referred to, that I was looking for.

“The sandstone sculpture is a once-common form of medieval iconography called a “Judensau,” or’Jew’s pig.’ Its existence predates the Nazi period by nearly 700 years. Sculptures of Jews and pigs started appearing in architecture in the 1300s, and the printing press carried on the motif in everything from books to playing cards well into the modern period,” Carol Schaeffer writes in the Smithsonian. “Today, more than 20 Judensau sculptures are still incorporated into German churches and cathedrals, with a few others in neighboring countries. At least one Judensau—on the wall of a medieval apothecary in Bavaria—was taken down for its offensive nature, but its removal in 1945 is thought to have been ordered by an American soldier. The Judensau in Wittenberg is one of the best preserved—and one of the most visible. The church is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

(Later, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City, I see the newly opened exhibit, “The Holocaust: What Hate Can Do,” showing how centuries of culturally-embedded anti-Semitism paved the way for the Holocaust. See: https://goingplacesfarandnear.com/the-holocaust-what-hate-can-do-at-museum-of-jewish-heritage-holds-lessons-warning-for-today/).

There was an effort in Wittenberg to “solve its Judensau conundrum” by turning the site into a Mahnmal – a memorial to the Jewish people.

“After five years of deliberation, those in charge of the project decided that the Judensau would remain—but they would add a memorial to the Jewish people. Unveiled in 1988, it is now installed on the ground in bronze. Two crossing lines are surrounded by text that reads: “The proper name of God, the maligned Schem-ha-mphoras, was held holy by the Jews long before the Christians. Six million Jews died under the sign of a cross.” Alongside those German words is a Hebrew quotation, the beginning of Psalm 130: ‘Out of the depths I cry unto Thee, O Lord’,” Schaeffer writes.

Neither of these are included on the map, and I miss them entirely, thinking that the sculpture is in the Castle Church.

Cranach House is now an art school © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But I do find the Cranach House. I’ve become fascinated with Lucas Cranach who turns out to have been an apothecary as well as important artist whose portraits filled the Luther House, and whose works decorate many church altars (including the one we had just visited in Meissen). You can visit the original apothecary (it’s still a pharmacy), and then go through to a courtyard where the Cranachs would have lived and today there is an art school. He and his son also served as Wittenberg’s burgomaster (mayor).

Lucas Cranach’s famous painting of the 10 Commandments is on view at Lutherhaus © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I later learn how important Lucas Cranach the Elder was in popularizing – spreading – the Reformation. Cranach was the court painter to the electors of Saxony in Wittenberg, ground zero for the Protestant Reformation. His patrons were powerful supporters of Martin Luther and he embraced the movement, using his art to spread the new faith. Cranach made numerous portraits of Luther – several that we see in the Luther House – and provided woodcut illustrations for Luther’s German translation of the Bible. Cranach became such a close friend of Martin Luther that he was best man at Luther’s wedding and later godfather to his son. At some point, the duke gave Cranach the monopoly for selling medicines at Wittenberg and a printer’s patent with exclusive privileges as to copyright in Bibles. Cranach’s presses were used by Martin Luther. His apothecary shop was open for centuries, and was only lost by fire in 1871.

Cranach’s apothecary is today a pharmacy © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I notice that apartments on the second floor of many buildings through the town have names of their important occupants: Maxim Gorki (1903), Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, German playwright, poet, and philosopher. Jeremias Trautmann, German physician who performed the first completely documented cesarean section, in Wittenberg, Germany, on April 26, 1610.  And very close to the Castle Church, one name really stands out: Harriet Beecher Stowe (who wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”), who lived here in 1852.

Novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe lived here in Wittenberg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I make it to the famous door of the Castle Church where, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther is said to have posted his 95 Theses, challenging the notion that indulgences can buy salvation, setting off The Reformation.  The old wooden Theses Door was lost when the church was destroyed by fire in 1760. In 1858, King Frederick William IV of Prussia funded the bronze door with the Latin theses.

The Thesis Door at Castle Church where Martin Luther publicized his challenge to the authority of the Church that indulgences can buy salvation, setting off The Reformation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I don’t have time to go into the Castle Church (the Elbe Princesse group that was guided did). You can also pay a small fee to climb the tower.

I really would have liked more time to explore Wittenberg, a truly beautiful and well preserved historic village. (You can purchase an audio tour of the sites.)

Wittenberg is an important historic city © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We get back on the bus and then back on the ship for lunch, and then a relaxing afternoon sailing to Burg. In the evening, we have another marvelous dinner and entertainment. Tomorrow, we discover why Magdeburg is so interesting.

Cruising on the Elbe River on CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse to Burg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

CroisiEurope, 800-768-7232, info-us@croisieurope.com, www.CroisiEuropeRiverCruises.com.

See also:

CroisiEurope Brings True Value, Quality to River Cruising Across the Globe

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Konigstein Fortress: Dramatic and Impregnable

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Dresden Rises Like a Phoenix; Meissen Preserves World Famous Brand

River Cruising on CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse, Prague-Berlin: Martin Luther, The Reformation and Wittenberg

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Magdeburg, Long History, Surprising Heritage

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Rivercruise: Berlin, a Cultural Capital Again

___________________

© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Dresden Rises Like a Phoenix; Meissen Preserves World Famous Brand

Meissen at night © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

We sail on to Dresden, where CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princess is supposed to dock for the night, and we are invited to take a 9 pm walk through Dresden’s historic city center. We are all excited and standing around, when we just sail passed. It seems that the docking spot which is reserved for us was occupied by another ship, and because it is Sunday night, there is nobody to complain to or address the issue. So we sail on to Meissen while the ship’s manager scrambles to arrange for a bus to take us back to Dresden for the morning’s excursion.

Our excursion the next morning is first by bus for an overview and then walking, and between the two, we get to see – from the outside at least – Dresden’s highlights and get a sense of its history, but this is certainly a city that deserves more time and a more immersive experience.

Dresden, one of Europe’s most beautiful cities © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Most of Dresden’s city center was destroyed in World War II, but the “suburbs” survived the so-called “moral bombing” in which 25,000 out of a population of 650,000 died. But you would hardly realize it – except that our guide, Alexandr Klein, pulls out black-and-white photos of the destruction so we can compare.

It’s fairly amazing, then, that the bombing could not stamp out Dresden’s extraordinarily rich history, heritage and culture, which in so many instances, have risen literally from ashes. They have restored and reconstructed the architecture, saving the facades where possible and in many cases reusing the stones;.

It was here, August 26-27, 1813 at the Battle of Dresden that Napoleon had his last big victory in Germany. It was fought on the outskirts of the Saxon capital of Dresden, between Napoleon’s 120,000 troops and 170,000 Austrians, Prussians, and Russians under Prince Karl Philipp Schwarzenberg. Alas, victory was short lived – a week later, Napoleon was defeated at Leipzig.

Dresden is a green city with more trees than people © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dresden is a “green city’ boasting more trees (600,000) than humans (550,0000). We drive through an enormous park – like Central Park – where among the sites is the intriguingly named German Hygiene Museum, Europe’s only science museum to focus on the human being and body within the context of the environment and society, culture and science.

We drive by the New Synagogue, built in 2002 to replace the 1840 synagogue designed by the revered architect Gottfried Semper, that was destroyed on Kristalnacht, Nov. 9-10, 1938. At its peak, Dresden had 5000 Jews; today there are 700. “Most had escaped before World War II, so we have Jewish life again.” The New Synagogue has Star of David finial from the old synagogue. “A fireman who put out the fire in 1938 saved it, then gave it to survivors after the war.”

Dresden’s New Synagogue © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

We pass Fletcher street. “The Soviets arrived May 8 1945. 200 soldiers had died in combat; Hitler had already committed suicide. Fletcher took white flag to surrender to the Soviets. The SS shot him in the back. He was martyred,” Klein relates.

Dresden also shows its history under Soviet occupation. There is probably no sight that better encapsulates the Soviet era than “The Red Flag” mural and wall fresco, “Our Socialist Life” on the exterior of the Dresden Kulturpalast. It was the pride of GDR architecture when it opened in 1969 as a “House of Socialist Culture”. Today it is the home of the Dresden Philharmonic.

“Our Socialist Life” mural is a reminder of East Germany’s Soviet era and no doubt figures into Dresden’s support for Ukraine. Today the Kulturpalast is the home of the Dresden Philharmonic © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The revolution against Soviet rule started in Dresden and Leipzig churches in 1989. It was the only successful revolution in German history. Then the Berlin Wall came down a year later.”

Dresden’s experience under Soviet rule no doubt figures into its support today for Ukraine against Russia’s invasion © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A Ukraine aide center in Dresden © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We get off the bus and start a delightful walking tour through this beautiful city.

We start at Frauenkirche, the Church of Our Lady. Completed in 1743, the Baroque church was considered one of the most beautiful in Europe. After it was destroyed by Allied bombing in 1945, the ruins were catalogued and stored for its reconstruction. 4,000 of the original stones were used in the rebuilding, which began after Germany’s reunification, in 1990 and reopened in 2005. Great Britain, which was responsible for the bomb that had caused so much of the devastation, sent a gold cross to place at the top.

Dresden, one of Europe’s most beautiful cities © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We see the famous Fürstenzug – the Procession of Princes – a 102-meter-long portrait of the Dukes, Electors, and Kings of the house of Wettin, together with leading German figures from the arts and sciences. Commissioned in 1870, it consists of 25,000 Meissen Porcelain tiles.

Dresden’s famous Fürstenzug – the Procession of Princes – consists of 25,000 Meissen porcelain tiles © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our guide, Alexandr Klein, points out Taschenberg Palace, built in the 18th century by the Saxon King, Augustus the Strong for his mistress. (Augustus “had ambitions to be like Henry VII”; a mistress was an actual official position, he tells us). There is a bridge, reminiscent of the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, connecting it to the Royal Palace. The original building burned down and was faithfully restored in 1995 and transformed into the luxurious Hotel Taschenbergpalais Kempinski Dresden, owned by the Thai royal family (rooms can cost as much as 10,000E/night). A member of Historic Hotels Worldwide since 2017, it is within the historic city center, steps away from the most renowned sights, such as Semper Opera House, Royal Palace, Zwinger, and the Frauenkirche. (Famous past guests of the Taschenbergpalais include Prince Albert II of Monaco, designer Karl Lagerfeld, and President Jacques Chirac of France, https://www.historichotels.org/hotels-resorts/hotel-taschenbergpalais-kempinski-dresden)

A bridge connects the Royal Palace to the Taschenberg Palace © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We walk along a Tuscan-style arcade with 22 rounded arches leading to the Court Stables.

One of my favorite parts of this delightful walking tour is strolling along Brühl’s Terrace (Brühlsche Terrasse), also known as the “Balcony of Europe.” Our guide explains that by the 19th C, Dresden already popular for European tourists. This half-mile long promenade is built on the old city ramparts and was laid out in 1738 as a private garden; it was opened to the public in 1814.

Brühl’s Terrace is also known as the “Balcony of Europe,” a testament Dresden’s popularity with European tourists in the 19th century © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Klein points to where novelist Kurt Vonnegut, who fought with Americans in World War II, was held as a POW in the slaughterhouse district. He wrote “Slaughterhouse 5,” a science-fiction infused anti-war novel, based on his experience.

Klein leads us to the Zwinger, a magnificent early 18th-century palace and a stunning example of Baroque architecture. Inside is The Old Masters Picture Gallery with 750 paintings from the 15th to 18th centuries, among them Italian Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces by Raphael, Titian, Correggio, and Tintoretto, and Dutch and Flemish paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, and Vermeer.

Semper’s Opera House was reconstructed after World War II © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also worth visiting (we don’t have time) is the Royal Palace, which houses some of Dresden’s most important museums, including the Green Vault and the Numismatic Collection. You can also visit the State Apartment, a suite of rooms that have been faithfully restored to their original condition.

Outside the Zwinger, our guide Alexandr Klein compares to a photo of the scene after being bombed in World War II © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The tour gives us an overview, but I wish we had the afternoon to explore on our own.

(You can get a Dresden museum card with gives two days and free admission to the city’s must see museums and exhibitions: Old Masters Picture Gallery with Sculpture Collection until 1800; Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments; Collection of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, Porcelain Collection; The Royal State Apartments of August the Strong and the Porcelain Cabinet, Coin Cabinet; New Green Vault; Renaissance Wing; Giant´s Hall of the Armoury; Turkish Chamber; Albertinum with Art from the Romantic Period to the Present Day; Lipsiusbau Exhibition Hall; Museum of Saxon Folk Art and Puppet Theatre Collection; Special Exhibitions in the Japanese Palace; Joseph Hegenbarth Archive; Hausmannsturm, 22E pp).

The market square in Dresden © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Dresden has managed to reclaim its history, culture and heritage © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Meissen: World Famous for Porcelain

We are returned to the ship for lunch, and in the afternoon have a walking tour of Meissen.

Meissen’s Cathedral © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We ride an elevator to the hill top, and visit the Cathedral, a three-nave Gothic hall church built between 1260 and 1410 and preserved in its near-original medieval state. We buy a ticket to see inside where there are paintings by the renowned Lucas Cranach., and stained glass windows from the 13th century.

Meissen © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We walk around Albrechsburg, a palace built between 1471 and 1500 by Duke Albrecht of Saxony that dominates the city and the beautiful historic square.

Meissen’s Town Square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After our brief walking tour with our guide, Brigetta, we are taken by bus to the Meissen “manufactory,” where you go room by room to see demonstrations of the remarkable artistry and craftsmanship that goes into making these porcelain treasures.

Seeing the Meissen Porcelain process as it has been for 300 years © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is remarkable to realize that they have been doing this very same thing for over 300 years, the oldest porcelain manufactory in Europe, founded in 1710 by King Augustus the Strong, who put together a team of physicists, alchemists and metallurgists to come up with the new technology. There’s also a museum with some 2,000 Meissen items.

Seeing the Meissen Porcelain process as it has been for 300 years © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Back on the ship, we sail from Meissen through the late afternoon and overnight to Wittenberg.

We are always a stone’s throw from shore. We sail by people’s backyards and front yards, close enough to exchange greetings. Bicyclists keep pace and even go faster than boat, as they ride along a path beside the water. I see one man on horseback as the sun goes down. The scenery is beautiful, and the cruise so peaceful.

Departing Meissen in the late afternoon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 Enjoying the scenery along the Prague-Berlin rivercruise on CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 Enjoying the scenery along the Prague-Berlin rivercruise on CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse enroute to Wittenberg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 
Enjoying the scenery along the Prague-Berlin rivercruise on CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse enroute to Wittenberg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dinner this evening is spectacular, beginning with an olive paste on toast, salmon with cheese, filet mignon, goat cheese with salad, raspberry/cream pie.

We cruise overnight to Wittenberg.

Contact CroisiEurope, 800-768-7232, info-us@croisieurope.com, www.CroisiEuropeRiverCruises.com

See also:

CroisiEurope Brings True Value, Quality to River Cruising Across the Globe

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Konigstein Fortress: Dramatic and Impregnable

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Dresden Rises Like a Phoenix; Meissen Preserves World Famous Brand

River Cruising on CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse, Prague-Berlin: Martin Luther, The Reformation and Wittenberg

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Magdeburg, Long History, Surprising Heritage

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Rivercruise: Berlin, a Cultural Capital Again

___________________

© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Konigstein Fortress: Dramatic and Impregnable

Konigstein Fortress as seen from CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princess © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

We get our first glimpse of Konigstein Fortress, perched on a 24-acre rock plateau high on a hilltop, 240 meters above the river, as our ship, CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princess, sails past. It is formidable. Known as the “Saxon Bastille,” it is Germany’s largest fortifications and one of the largest hilltop fortifications in Europe. It was never conquered and never invaded (though our guide tells the story of a local teenager who managed to “invade” the fortress by scaling the walls; he was initially taken into custody but released after they could not find a law to charge him with breaking, and he became a local hero).

Konigstein Fortress © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The fortress is a complex of more than 50 buildings, some more than 400 years old, including a dramatic medieval castle, with ramparts that run 1,800 meters and walls up to 42 meters high, which for centuries was used as a state prison (political prison). The fortress has been an open-air, military history museum since May 29, 1955, and is now one of Saxony’s foremost tourist attractions, visited by 700,000 a year. ((I keep thinking it should have been used in a James Bond movie).

Konigstein Fortress was built to be impregnable and self-sustainable. Built as a refuge, it was mostly used as a state prison and now a museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

100 million years ago, this place would have been at the bottom of the ocean, our guide, Gerold Jahn, tells us. Now, because it is the highest perch, there are lightening conductors everywhere (100 years ago, three tourists were killed by a lightening strike) and there is a safety talk and posters.He takes us to his favorite views of the Elbe Valley and villages well below.

Konigstein Fortress is perched on a 24-acre rock plateau high on a hilltop, 240 meters above the Elbe River © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The fortress is a complex of more than 50 buildings, some more than 400 years old, including a dramatic medieval castle, with ramparts that run 1,800 meters and walls up to 42 meters high, which for centuries was used as a state prison (political prison), and is now one of Saxony’s foremost tourist attractions, visited by 700,000 a year. ((I keep thinking it should have been used in a James Bond movie).

View from Konigstein Fortress © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Originally, there was a monastery here, which was closed after Luther’s Reformation. It took 40 years to build the fortress, beginning 1580 until 1620, just after the start of the Thirty Years War (half of all Saxony people died in that war). The fortress was built to be invincible, though in fact, it was not built for defense, but as a refuge for the townspeople, scientists, and government.

Konigstein Fortress was built to be impregnable and self-sustainable. Built as a refuge, it was mostly used as a state prison and now a museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It was designed as a refuge (Dresden is 28 km away) to accommodate as many as 4000 people (the fewest number of full time residents is 40, the present number of permanent occupants). Peak occupation was during the Seven Years War, in 1756.

It’s fascinating to see the engineering and architecture that went into Konigstein Fortress. Known as the “Saxon Bastille,” it is Germany’s largest fortifications and one of the largest hilltop fortifications in Europe © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What I find most fascinating is how they solved all the problems – water, food and sanitation – to make this place totally self-sufficient (not just impenetrable). The secret to its steady supply of water is a 152.5 meter deep well, which is the deepest in Saxony and second deepest well in Europe – and the key to how this fortress was made to withstand any kind of siege. We get to see how it was built by local miners over a four-year period. The well is fed by rain that filters through the soil over a period of 6 to 7 months (they calculated) and naturally refills and could not be poisoned by an enemy. They devised a system to a 130-liter barrel into the well to collect the water.

Also, every household had a patch of land and was expected to cultivate their own food. The fort has a self-sufficient town with its own butcher, bakery, brewery, hospital and treasury. Even today, young children attend school at the fortress and older ones are picked up by bus.

The fortress was used to protect the Saxon state reserves and secret archives during times of war. In 1756 and 1813 and during World War II, Dresden’s art treasures were also stored at the Königstein.

Konigstein Fortress was built to be impregnable and self-sustainable. Built as a refuge, it was mostly used as a state prison and now a museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Its main function since the 17th century was as a prison. Some of the more notable prisoners incarcerated at Königstein (likely after secret trial) include: the Crypto-Calvinists, including Caspar Peucer (1574–86) and Nikolaus Krell (1591–1601), chancellor of the Electorate of Saxony; Johann Friedrich Böttger (1706–1707), co-discoverer with Tschirnhaus of European porcelain; Count Karl Heinrich von Hoym (1734–1736), cabinet minister of the Electorate of Saxony; committed suicide in his cell; Mikhail Bakunin (1849–1850), Russian anarchist and revolutionary; Thomas Theodor Heine (1899), caricaturist and artist and Frank Wedekind (1899–1900), writer and dramatist.

The fortress was never bombed during World War II, even though nearby Dresden was famously destroyed, That is because it was known not to be a military base but rather, American, French and Polish POWs (mainly officers) were kept here. “They were kept in very humane conditions – one day a week they could leave to hike,” Gerold tells us.

The fortress was considered impregnable – “The only way prisoners left was when their dead bodies were thrown over the wall” – but there is a famous legend of the daring escape of a French general Henri Giraud, who was kept here 1940-1942.

Konigstein Fortress is a complex of more than 50 buildings, some more than 400 years old, including a dramatic medieval castle, with ramparts that run 1,800 meters and walls up to 42 meters high © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“We never knew how it happened. One theory was that he was smuggled little pieces of rope that he joined together until he had 45 meters, repelled down, and that a special agent met him at the bottom with clothes, false passport and he escaped to Switzerland. Another theory is that he had inside help and the Germans wanted him to escape because Giraud was an enemy of DeGaulle and if was free, there would dissention. The French claim it was Resistance who helped him. But after only two years, he died in airplane crash in North Africa.” (I’m thinking, murder???? What a film!)

In May 1945, the 20 soldiers (more like police) here waved a white flag to welcome the Russians. “They came with art experts. The Soviets confiscated the art, but when Stalin died in 1953 and Khruschev wanted to have détente, they and gave back the art.”

“It is a masterpiece of engineering, of architecture,” Gerold, who has a background in civil engineering, tells us.

I am grateful that we have about 40 minutes to explore on our own, and I go into a marvelous exhibit about the history of this place and this area housed within the castle (a treat to see inside).

We walk down from castle the through the four gates (coming up, we used the modern elevator). Really wonderful.

Back on the ship, we sail on to Dresden.

Scenic views as we sail on CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse to Dresden © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Bastei Rocks formation in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains of Germany © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
We get a view of Bastei Bridge from the Elbe Princess as we cruise on the Elbe River to Dresden © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Scenic views as we sail on CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse to Dresden © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Scenic views as we sail on CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse to Dresden © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Dresden © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Contact CroisiEurope, 800-768-7232, info-us@croisieurope.com, www.CroisiEuropeRiverCruises.com

See also:

CroisiEurope Brings True Value, Quality to River Cruising Across the Globe

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Konigstein Fortress: Dramatic and Impregnable

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Dresden Rises Like a Phoenix; Meissen Preserves World Famous Brand

River Cruising on CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse, Prague-Berlin: Martin Luther, The Reformation and Wittenberg

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Magdeburg, Long History, Surprising Heritage

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Rivercruise: Berlin, a Cultural Capital Again

___________________
© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

CroisiEurope Brings True Value, Quality to River Cruising Across the Globe

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse riverboat, docked while we visit the Koningstein Fortress © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

It doesn’t take long to appreciate CroisiEurope’s small-ship river cruise concept, and how, since its founding 40 years ago, it has grown into fleet of 55 ships sailing 170 itineraries in 37 countries.

CroisiEurope offers an outstanding onboard experience, marvelous river cruise itineraries through Europe, the Mediterranean and as far flung as Asia and Africa, and an all-inclusive pricing policy that affords exceptional value for money. (The mega-ship cruise lines use the tag “all-inclusive” but nickel-and-dime for drinks, shore excursions and the like). On CroisiEurope, the excursions offered in each destination, the wines and beers and cocktails, are in fact included at no extra charge (okay, the exception are premium liquors you might choose to order).

The ship, the MS Elbe Princesse, specially designed to navigate the low-draft canals and Elbe River, which carries me on an eight-day river cruise from Prague to Berlin, is delightful.

The excursions are for the most part very well done – they even arrange our own English-speaking guide for the four of us who are not French – though I would have preferred more time to explore on my own after the excursions.

River cruising is one of the best ways to travel and see and do the most in maximum comfort, and CroisiEurope’s value-for-money concept puts this experience within reach of more travelers.

The Elbe Princesse, 95.4 meters long and 10.5 meters wide, is a perfect size, with 40 cabins accommodating 80 passengers – not too small to feel claustrophobic or crowded and not too large to feel overwhelmed and anonymous – a village versus a floating city. The ship – which was built in 2016 precisely to sail along these relatively shallow rivers and canals and slip through the locks and under the low bridges with mere inches to spare- is actually a 21st century paddleboat.

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse was purposefully built to ply these shallow canals and rivers from Prague to Berlin. It’s really a 21st century paddleboat © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The main deck cabins have large windows, and the upper deck cabins have French balconies. The cabins have an amply sized private bathroom (shower!), a really comfortable bed, TV, windows and daily maid service.

The dining room on the main deck is surrounded by large panoramic windows that give fantastic views of the scenery as it flows by (though I spend most of the time sailing on the rooftop deck), so you don’t feel you are missing anything as you dine and the sun sets.

The lounge and bar on the stern of the upper deck has outdoor access so you can have a drink while enjoying the feel of the open air, and is where each evening there is some sort of entertainment.

Traveling companions on CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Prague to Berlin river cruise enjoy cocktails in the lounge © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The sun deck, with chairs and sun loungers, spans almost the full length of the ship with part under an awning, and is where I spend most of the time as we sail to enjoy unobstructed views of the scenery.

Equally important is the ambiance created by the crew – as friendly and fun with a ready smile as they are efficient and helpful. In fact, within no time, the wait staff anticipates your preferences – two coffees at lunch, one decaf after dinner; sparkling water with lime; who prefers red, white or sparkling wine.

I had just come from a “wild camping” and hiking trip in Utah, followed by my three days literally hiking around Prague, so this opportunity to just sail place to place, not have to pack/repack, be taken on marvelous sightseeing excursions, and have three fabulous meals served with such panache each day is a true vacation.

Meeting CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse’s chefs © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The first evening, after a welcome in which we are introduced to the crew, there is a marvelous dinner (CroisiEurope has a fixed menu for its four-course dinners and lunches; breakfast is buffet with the opportunity to have omelettes made to order), rather than the choice of two or three items for each, but special dietary requirements are satisfied and there is always enough to enjoy. The food is fabulous – flavorful but not too saucey, rich or seasoned, wonderful variety, stunning presentation and service – and wine and beer are served pretty much throughout the day (premium bottles are extra).

CroisiEurope is renowned for its cuisine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

All but four of us on this particular cruise are French or French-speaking (half of CroisiEurope’s clientele are French and half are international).

The English speakers who become my dining and traveling companions include two ladies from Vermont (one is originally from Montreal) and a woman from Munich, Germany who wants to practice her English (she reads the New York Times every day so is more knowledgeable about American current events than most Americans), and me. We become the “four individuals.” They send an English-speaking guide along for our excursions just for us, rather than half the French-speaking guide re-translate everything.

On our first day, we are taken by bus up to the entrance of the Prague Castle for our tour (the day before, I hiked up). Our guide, Vladimir, points out aspects that I never would have thought about – including pointing out the windows of the famous 1618 Defenestration of Prague.

In Prague Castle, our guide Vladimir points out the windows where nobles were tossed from in the famous 1618 Defenestration of Prague© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We return to the ship for lunch, and then go out again for a walking tour through the Jewish Quarter (a short walk from where the Elbe Princesse is docked, where we encounter a climate action protest just outside the university), to the Old Town Square.

We walk through a university where Vladimir points out where Johannes Kepler, a German astronomer, mathematician, astrologer, natural philosopher and key figure in 17th century Scientific Revolution, who figured out the movement of planets around the sun, used to live and where meterological observations have been taken daily since 1775. (Interesting to note Kepler, a Lutheran, came to Prague after being banished from Graz for refusing to convert to Catholicism, and later was excommunicated by the Lutheran church). Kepler’s house on Karlova Street in Old Town where he lived 1600-1612 is now a museum.

St. Francis of Assisi, where Mozart played the organ in 1702, in Prague © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We walk to the Charles Bridge (Karlova Most), stopping inside St. Francis of Assisi (where Mozart played the organ in 1702) and then over the Charles Bridge, where Vladimir points out the statue of St. John, the martyr we learned about at Prague Castle, and where people touch to guarantee their return to Prague). At my suggestion, we walk down to the Lennon Wall on Kampa Island. On our way back to the ship, Vladimir walks us through the garden at the Senate complex.

The Lennon Wall on Kampa Island is a symbol of Prague’s desire for peace and good will and is constantly redone (recommitted), though John Lennon never actually visited Prague © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After dinner, there is a marvelous folk music band and dance troupe that performs on the ship.

Entertainment on board CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse while in Prague © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The ship departs Prague early the next morning, at 6:30 am, and I’m up to watch. We immediately go through the first of 17 locks on our way to Berlin. The ship was literally built for this route –the ship is powered by what looks like two water wheels because the water levels are actually pretty shallow – and we make it through the lock with just a few inches on either side.

The early morning scene sailing outside of Prague on CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The sail is picturesque and peaceful, as we float by charming villages and farms – stunning scenes of yellow fields of canola (cultivated for biofuel) juxtaposed against the blue water and white fluffy clouds – a very leisurely morning.

Scenery sailing on CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse comes through the lock at Horin © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The route for today is to dock at Melnik and be taken by bus to Litomerice (which I mentally note on the road sign is but 3 km down the road from Terezin, the concentration camp).

The highlights of Litomerice include the Renaissance architecture of the city square; Mostria Horna, a tower that rises up 20 meters on a hill 272 meters above the water; and a medieval castle of Litomerice that dates from the 13th century, then converted into a brewery and today a wine tasting facility and museum. It is across the street from the brewery we are here to visit.

The bus takes us back to the ship which has sailed ahead to Roudnice, driving by the Roudnice Palace where (as I learned in at the Lobkowicz Palace in Prague) the Lobkowicz family has a vast and important art collection, Unfortunately, we do not have time to visit.

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse leaves Roudnice © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As soon as we are back on board, the ship sails on to Litomerice (!), as the late afternoon sun casts golden light, where we dock overnight.

After a marvelous dinner (gazpacho, salad nicoise, quail with potato, asparagus, a cheese course and ice cream) so beautifully presented and served, we thoroughly enjoy the evening’s entertainment of Martin the Magician, who does “close magic” (sleight of hand). It is marvelous fun.

Martin the Magician delights guests aboard CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sailing again in the morning toward Bad Schandau – which means we will be leaving the Czech Republic and entering Germany – we are invited to do “gymnastics” (actually calisthenics) on the rooftop deck. It’s fun, but I keep running over to the rail to shoot photos of the scenery. We are given the heads up that we will be sailing by some of the most beautiful scenery of the cruise between 11 am and noon. Indeed, the scenery as we sail through Swiss Bohemia and Swiss Saxony (very popular tourist areas) is stunning, with dramatic rock formations, cliffs, a castle.

Admiring the scenery sailing from Prague to Berlin on CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is the Bastei Rocks formation in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains of Germany. It is part of the Saxon Switzerland National Park, with 400 km of stunning landscape, so popular with hikers. Together with the Bohemian Switzerland in the Czech Republic, the region forms the Sandstone Mountains.

Admiring the scenery sailing from Prague to Berlin on CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The only way we could tell when we sailed across the border between the Czech Republic and Germany was that a crew member changed the flag and (now that I think about it), a bell was rung. But it is hard to tell just looking out onto the shore, though we strain to read signs.

Admiring the scenery sailing from Prague to Berlin on CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From the numbers of inns and cyclists and people we see along the shore (we often sail so close we can shout out greetings and people often wave to us), it is obvious that these are popular places to visit. Three of the most visited landmarks are Lillenstein Rock, Bastei Bridge, which we will see from the river, and Köningstein Fortress, which we visit after lunch.

Contact CroisiEurope, 800-768-7232, info-us@croisieurope.com, www.CroisiEuropeRiverCruises.com

Next; Koningstein Fortress

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© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Lobkowicz Palace is Prague’s Jewel Box

 Lobkowicz Palace, the only privately owned palace within Prague Castle, commands a stunning view of Prague and holds exquisite cultural treasures © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

When I come out from Golden Lane, with its tiny houses that line the Prague Castle walls, I look across to see the Lobkowicz Palace and realize it is included on the Prague Cool Pass, so decide to check it out. This turns out to be the absolute highlight for me in Prague.

The Palace, itself, is fabulous, and the collection it houses, is breathtaking. And the family’s story is utterly fascinating.

Built in the mid-16th century, the Lobkowicz Palace is one of the most significant cultural sites in the Czech Republic (no hyperbole), and the only privately owned palace in the Prague Castle complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The family, once one of the richest and most powerful in Bohemia, have been key players in the history of the Czech Republic and the whole of Europe.

I know none of this when I walk in, but quickly am awe-struck.

The audio tour through 21 galleries is narrated by William Lobkowicz (b 1961), the current heir and manager of most of the Lobkowicz lands in the Czech Republic (Lobkowicz Palace, Nelahozeves, Roudnice and Strekov Castle), with some cameo appearances by his wife and mother. He puts faces as well as context to the portraits you see (as fabulous as they are, going back to the first Prince Lobkowicz, Zdenko Adalbert Popel).

The Lobkowicz Palace was built in the mid-16th century by Bohemian nobleman Jaroslav of Pernstein (1528–1569). It came into the Lobkowicz family through the marriage of Polyxena of Pernstein (1566-1642) to Zdenko Adalbert Popel, 1st Prince Lobkowicz (1568–1628), in 1603.

A painting in the Lobkowicz Palace immortalizes a key rolePolyxena and the palace played in one of the most significant events in Prague history: the famous Defenestration of Prague in 1618 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Polyxena and the palace played a key role in one of the most significant events in Prague history: the famous Defenestration of Prague in 1618, when Protestant rebels threw two Catholic Imperial Ministers and their secretary out the windows of the Royal Palace in Prague Castle. Surviving the fall (they fell on a pile of refuse in the moat), they were given refuge in the adjoining Lobkowicz Palace, where they were protected by Polyxena.  (The scene is immortalized in a painting which you can view.)

The Defenestration of Prague signaled the beginning of a Bohemian revolt against the Habsburg Emperor Ferdinand II, leading to the Thirty Years’ War.

“It is no exaggeration to call the Thirty Years’ War the worst war in European history. The combatant nations lost between 25 and 40 percent of their populations to military action, famine and disease,” states historyextra.com.

Also in this room, there is a notable painting attributed to Velazquez of the “Infanta Margarita Teresa of Spain,” the daughter of Philip IV of Spain, and granddaughter of Emperor Ferdinand III, when she was four. At 15, she was married to her uncle, Emperor Leopold I, in 1666, and bore him four children before dying in childbirth at 22. (Philip would only have Velazquez paint the family). She is featured in one of Velazquez’ most famous portraits, “Infanta Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress” and in “Las Meninas” (“The Ladies-in-Waiting”), a painting that is recognized as one of the most important in Western art history.

Among the family portraits at Lobkowicz Palace, a notable painting attributed to Velazquez of the “Infanta Margarita Teresa of Spain,” the daughter of Philip IV of Spain, and granddaughter of Emperor Ferdinand III, when she was four © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But this is nothing compared to the astonishment you experience when you enter the Music Room. Here you see various historical instruments on display and the important musical personalities within Lobkowicz family in the 18th and early 19th centuries.  

Ferdinand Philipp Lobkowicz (1724-1784) is described as “an eccentric melancholic, a passionate collector, scientist, painter and musician. He was the second born son, so expected to be able to devote himself to his passions – science and art. That plan was derailed when his older brother Wenzel died suddenly and Ferdinand was required to take over the ancestral estates. He preferred to reside alone in Eisenberg castle where he experimented with alchemy, created bizarre paintings, played violin and composed. He spent time outside the Hapsburg Empire – in England, Italy, Prussia – and became acquainted with important composers. He composed a Sinfonia with Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and was closely associated with Christoph Willibald Gluck. He married when he was 45 to a woman who shared his passion for music.

Joseph Frantisek Maximilian (1772-1816), 7th Prince Lobkowicz, was Beethoven’s greatest private patron. Beethoven dedicated his 3rd (Eroica), 5th and 6th (Pastoral) symphonies to Lobkowicz and original manuscripts are on view at Lobkowicz Palace © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But the family’s paramount musical figure was Joseph Frantisek Maximilian (1772-1816), 7th Prince Lobkowicz, who was Beethoven’s greatest private patron. The first performances at both the family’s Vienna Palace and North Bohemian castle of Jezeri resulted in Beethoven dedicating numerous works to Lobkowicz, including his 3rd (Eroica), 5th and 6th (Pastoral) symphonies. Joseph was a founding member of the Society of the Friends of Music in Vienna,  a member of the Society for the Promotion of Musical Culture in Bohemia and a director of the Court Theatre of Vienna. He was also responsible for commissioning the reconstruction of the palace’s exterior, giving it the appearance it has today. Upon his early death, in 1816, his son Ferdinand Joseph, 8th Prince Lobkowicz (1797-1868), continued Beethoven’s annuity and maintained the family orchestra, most of instruments of which survive today in the collection, along with autographed manuscripts by Gluck, Mozart and Beethoven.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s famous “Haymaking,” painting – one of only five known today is on view at Lobkowicz Palace © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Walk on and you find yourself in an intimate gallery with Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s famous “Haymaking,” painting – one of only five known today (one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, three in Kunsthistorisches museum in Vienna and this one), notable because it is among the  first landscape paintings depicting everyday life. Just beyond, in another gallery, are two masterpieces by Canaletto: “London: The River Thames on lord Mayor’s Day, and ‘The River Thames Looking Towards Westminster from Lambeth,” “an important and comprehensive visual record of how the city looked in mid-18th century, and among the greatest of the Venetian painter’s English period works.”

Another highlight of the visit to Lobkowicz Palace is an incomparable view overlooking the city from one of the balconies.

Lobkowicz Palace, the only privately owned palace within Prague Castle, commands a stunning view of Prague © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The tour continues on the first floor of this magnificent palace. In the Princess Ernestine Room you see a remarkable series of portraits painted by Princess Ernestine of Nassau-Siegen (1623-68) including her own self-portrait. Her work is notable as a 17th century woman painter, particularly because she was of noble birth. She was herself painted by Sir Anthony van Dyck in 1634, when she was 11, in one of his largest and greatest family group portraits, which possibly inspired her to paint. The portraits entered the collection through the marriage of the artist’s only daughter, Claudia Frantiska (1660-80) to the 3rd Prince Lobkowicz in 1677. (We are informed that they were cleaned and conserved through funding of Friends of Heritage Preservation.)

The Lobkowicz princes, throughout history, played important roles as high-level officials working closely with kings and emperors.

After World War I and following the end of hereditary titles in 1918, Maximilian Lobkowicz (1888–1967), son of Ferdinand Zdenko, 10th Prince Lobkowicz (1858–1938), provided crucial support to the newly formed, democratic Czechoslovakia as a lawyer and diplomat, campaigning abroad for international recognition. He demonstrated his support for the fledgling First Czechoslovak Republic by making several rooms at the Palace available to the government, headed by the new nation’s first President, Tomas G. Masaryk. 

In the 1930s, Maximilian mustered diplomatic support for opposition to the German annexation of the Sudetenland, and during World War II he served as ambassador to Great Britain for the Czechoslovakian government in exile.

“Max supported the new Czechoslovakia in 1918, even though it abolished inherited titles,” William narrates about his grandfather. “He was against the Nazi regime. He had a British wife and was active in the underground.” Their property was taken by the Nazis. Most of the possessions were returned in 1945, but confiscated again in 1948 when the Communists came to power. “Max was trapped in Czechoslovakia after it was taken over by the Communists. He got a two-day pass to visit his wife. He left with nothing but his hat and coat.”

The property was returned to the family in 2002, and in 2007, they opened the palace and all its collections to the public.

The surprises of this place continue.

At the end of the visit, is a special room dedicated to the “Queens of Ukraine”:  glamorous photographs of Ukrainian women who work in the Czech Republic.  “They have worked hard all their lives as housekeepers in our country, sending money to their families in Ukraine as there was no work. Now their sons are at war and their daughters are running away with little children from a country that’s fighting for its freedom.”

“Queens of Ukraine,”  glamorous photographs of Ukrainian women who work in the Czech Republic, is a photo exhibit on view at Lobkowicz Palace to raise awareness and funds for Ukraine’s plight after Russia’s invasion © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is related to an exhibit of “Culture Under Siege” photos documenting the devastating destruction of cultural sites in Ukraine as a result of the Russian invasion. They were taken by several Ukrainian photographers in two weeks early in the invasion. Religious buildings, museums, monuments, antiquities, “the silent cultural casualties in Ukraine continue to intensify, exacerbating the country’s humanitarian suffering. These photographs remind us that culture is an essential source of identity and community. Where culture is destroyed, humanity’s past, present and future is too.”

The project was created in collaboration with Ukrainian photographers – each photo uses a backdrop taken by Ukrainian photographers in the first days of the war. “Queens of Ukraine” is aimed at highlighting Ukrainian artists and raising funds to support families suffering from war. The works were sold as NFTs (non fungible tokens), with 50 percent of the sale supporting the Queen herself and the other 50 percent supporting the Ukrainian artist, writes Bet Orten, the photographer/artist.

There are also concerts here, and I can’t imagine a more impressive venue.

(Lobkowicz Palace, palace@lobkowicz.cz, www.lobkowicz.cz).

Walk out the Prague Castle gate and immediately in front and to the left is the Schwarzenberg Palace which houses the National Gallery’s Old Masters I collection © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Just outside the gate to the Prague Castle, flanking the enormous square, are two palaces that are now are part of the National Gallery Prague (also included in the Prague Cool Pass):

The Schwarzenberg Palace,  which it turns out was built by Johann iV Popel of Lobkowicz in 1567 and from World War II to 2002 was a Military History Museum, before being acquired by the National Gallery Prague) features Old Masters of the Renaissance (Albrecht Durer, El Greco, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Hans Holbein the Elder, Brueghel), Baroque (Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck) and Rococco.

The Sternberg Palace, with its gorgeous garden, houses the National Gallery’s Old Masters II collection © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Sternberg Palace, built by Count Vaclav Vojtech of Sternberg, features Old Masters II, continuing a long tradition as the Picture Gallery of the Society of Patriotic Friends of the Arts, the National Gallery’s predecessor. It features Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s collection of Italian paintings of the 14th and 15th centuries, the largest collection of Italian primitive school outside of Italy. My favorite section, though, is an extraordinary collection of Dutch and Flemish painting of the 15-18th centuries from Antwerp, Amsterdam, Utrecht and Layden (Brueghal, Rubens, van Dyck).  There is also a delightful garden area.

More information at www.naprague.cz

Walking around Prague, I was struck by how demonstrably pro-Ukraine the Czechs are – banners unfurled at government buildings, apartment buildings – which is understandable considering the Czech people know full well what it is like to live under the Soviet yoke. I also came upon a climate protest, and after spending a lot of time in the Jewish Quarter (a square is named for the Jewish novelist Franz Kafka, in front of the Library), and even in the National Museum, I was struck by how respectful of its Jewish heritage Prague is.

Prague, which knows something about being under Soviet Russia’s rule, shows its support for Ukraine after Russia’s invasion © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also, how culturally liberal. Prague is a place of pleasure, of indulgence – you see it and feel it in the number of chocolate and sweet shops, cannabis shops, beer and wine, casino, Thai massage parlors,and a generally permissive attitude toward sex (you can visit the Sex Machine Museum at the archway to the Old Town Square).

Surprising liberal: Prague’ s Sex Museum just outside the arch to Old Town Square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And a streetscape that is out of a fairytale. Prague is a place to wander, explore, discover, get lost and be surprised and delighted.

By now, it’s time for me to return to the hotel, pick up my luggage, and make my way to Elbe Princess for my CroisiEurope river cruise. I will have one more full day here in Prague – the ship offers guided walks of the Jewish Quarter and the Prague Castle – before the ship begins its eight-day cruise to Berlin.

The Prague Cool Pass is extremely easy to purchase and use – you purchase it online, download an app, and it activates the first time you use it, and is good for the amount of time you purchase, 2 to 4 consecutive days. You just flash the QR code to the ticket counter and they issue you a ticket. (Each attraction can be visited only once. The pass provides free entry to some 70 attractions (including Prague Castle, Jewish Museum, Petrin Tower), free sightseeing bus tour, free river cruises, plus discounts on other attractions, tours in and outside Prague, concerts, entertainment, dining and other activities. The app is really helpful, giving details and visitor information about the attraction, plus maps. (See praguecoolpass.com)

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© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Best Part of Prague Castle? The Tiny Houses

Tiny Houses on Golden Lane, just the right size for these Prague school children © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

For my second full day in Prague, I head out to what is appropriately its most important attraction, Prague Castle. I walk over the Charles Bridge (Karlov Most), which was built by Charles IV in 1357, and then up, up, and up (you can take a tram) to the castle gate. I flash my Prague Cool Pass app on my phone at the ticket window and get a ticket that you present at for entry to each of the various attractions within the castle complex, which dates back to the 9th century.

Cathedral St. Vitus within Prague Castle was built between 1344 and not finished until 1929© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I am so happy to have the time to just wander and read the various notes that are provided (I opt out of renting the audio tour), and will return the next day with a guide from the CroisiEurope Elbe Princess who will point out the details that I have missed in the famed St. Vitus Cathedral, Royal Palace and Basilica of St George (I note the relief outside of St. George slaying the dragon, symbolic of the Church defeating paganism). (Some of the Castle sites were closed, including the Rosenberg Palace).

St George slays the dragon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Castle is a vast complex and today is the seat of the Czech Republic’s government (a flag is raised when the president is in).

A few tidbits: Cathedral St. Vitus was built between 1344 and not finished until 1929. Half of the Cathedral is “new”. The two original architects are buried within the Cathedral, and in the most elaborate tomb of all is Charles IV, himself, who did so much to build the “New Town” of Prague, the cathedral, and the university.  The Bohemian Crown jewels are kept within a hidden room inside, and seven keys – each one held by a different official – are needed to open it. In a small chapel, I note actual skeleton remains peeking out through a window.

Basilica St. George within Prague Castle © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are horrific stories, too. Ludmilla, with her husband sought to convert the country to Christianity, was killed assassins hired by her daughter-in-law, Drahomira of Stodor, who was jealous of Ludmila’s influence over Wenceslaus (her son and Ludmilla’s grandson). Soon after Ludmilla was canonized. Wenceslaus (widely referred to as Good King Wenceslaus) was killed by his brother around 935 and also was made a saint.

Basilica St. George within Prague Castle © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s interesting who becomes a saint. An extremely popular saint, prominent in the cathedral, is St. John of Nepomuk, the court priest of King Wenceslas IV. Legend has it that he was killed by request of the king, because he refused to tell the king about the queen’s confession, and his body thrown off the Charles Bridge. When you go to the Charles Bridge, you can see the statue (one of 30 that line the bridge) depicting this story, where the tradition is to touch his image in order to return to Prague, and walk a few steps to the place where his body was thrown into the water, in 1383.

Basilica St. George within Prague Castle © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the Royal Palace, we go into a gigantic hall, that dates from 1492, where jousts (on horseback) were held. It is an architectural achievement because it was built without supports for the ceiling.

We learn that Empress Maria Theresa, who brought compulsory education to Europe and was responsible for a major rebuilding of the castle, was the mother of 16 including Joseph II who ruled from 1780-90 and freed the serfs (as well as liberalizing restrictions on the Jews); his sister was Marie Antoinette who lost her head in the French Revolution.

There is a portrait of Joseph II in a ceremonial room where there are replicas of the crown and septre that are hidden away.

The best part is going into the room that was the scene of the “Defenestration of Prague,” a key event in European history. In 1618, the Protestant rebels threw two Catholic Imperial Ministers and their secretary out of these windows. Surviving the fall (they fell on a pile of refuse in the moat), they took refuge in the adjoining Lobkowicz Palace where they were protected by Polyxena.  (The scene is immortalized in a painting which you can view in the palace.) The Defenestration of Prague signaled the beginning of a Bohemian revolt against the Habsburg emperor Ferdinand II, leading to the Thirty Years’ War.

But I am grateful for having the time to really linger on the Golden Lane, my favorite part of the castle – there is simply so much to see.

This, I grin to myself, is where the “tiny house” trend was born.

Golden Lane within Prague Castle © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Golden Lane has a marvelous history. It’s  an irregular strip of land, varying in width from 4-8 meters between the older (12th C) Romanesque walls and the later (15th C) walls that form the outer north fortification of Prague Castle on the edge of a natural ravine, the Stag Moat. Three defensive towers are attached to the castle wall (up to 320 cm thick): Powder Tower on the west, Dalibor Tower on the east and between them, White Tower. And between Dalibor and White towers, 12 vaults, each 720 cm deep and 600-660cm wide, were used as makeshift dwellings.

Number 15, Golden Lane, as it would have been when the Goldsmith occupied it (there is a bird cage to alert the goldsmith when there were toxic fumes) © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Number 15, Golden Lane, as it would have been when the Goldsmith occupied it (there is a bird cage to alert the goldsmith when there were toxic fumes) © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The oldest written reports are from 1560s when the lane was called Goldsmith’s Lane – its residents were probably “lesser” goldsmiths who had fled the strictly enforced guild laws in Prague’s three towns of Old Town, New Town and Lesser Town. We get to see one of these tiny houses, Number 15, as it would have been when the Goldsmith occupied it (there is a bird cage to alert the goldsmith when there were toxic fumes).

Tiny houses as they would have been © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In 1597, artillerymen at the gates asked Emperor Rudolf II for permission to build little rooms within the newly repaired walls. The Red Artillerymen (named for their uniform) had to build their dwellings at their own expense, and bought and sold them. We get to see one of the houses, Number 13, that would have been inhabited by a Red Artilleryman.

A Red Artilleryman’s tiny house © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Red Artillerymen served without fixed salary but were exempt from paying tax and lived in the castle for nothing. There were 24 Red Artillerymen guarding the gates and were subordinate to the Castle Governor. In 1597, they asked Emperor Rudolf II for permission to block the niches in the newly reconstructed castle walls and establish rooms. Their most important source of revenue came from services they performed for the nobles who were imprisoned in the White Tower and Dalibor Tower – they acted as servants, cooks, stokers, and mail carriers in addition to being prison guards. The Red Artillerymen unit was disbanded by Emperor Joseph II in 1784.

Not long after, little houses began to expand into the lane with the addition and fireplaces; new additions made. Hardly idyllic, conditions for basic hygiene remained backward. In the 18th century, there was only one privy for all the houses, a second one was only installed in the 19th century. Water pipes were laid in 1877, but it wasn’t until 1942 that the house at Number 24 had running water.

In 1953, the office of Czech president (which is within the Castle complex) expropriated the little houses from their owners.  The lane was restored in 1955 by architect Pavel Janik, and the façade colors chosen by painter and animator Jiri Trnka. The last reconstruction of Golden Lane took place in 2010-11, with a new drainage system and repaving, the tiny houses were underpinned and repaired, the facades repainted, and the Defense Passage and White Tower restored.

Right up to the departure of the last tenant, in 1952, the Golden Lane community was very colorful. At first, it consisted of Castle employees – gatekeepers, guards, bellringers –and later, people who rented, many who appreciated this place as a source of inspiration.

When you see groups of tiny children coming through, you realize what a fantasy place this is – they stop in front of one that seems out of a fairytale.

Several names in the land records that have been preserved are notable:

No 22 was the home of Franz Kafka in 1916 and 1917, who rented it from his sister. It was here that he wrote “The Country Doctor.” (The house is now a bookshop with Kafka’s books prominently featured; several other tiny houses have been turned into marvelous shops.)

No 22 was the home of Franz Kafka in 1916 and 1917, where he wrote “The Country Doctor.” Today it is a bookshop with Kafka’s novels prominently featured © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

House No 12 was in the late 1930s the temporary home of the dramatist and writer of prose fiction Jiri Maranek.  “In the romantic atmosphere of the lane and in everyday contact with the past, he found inspiration for his writing, particularly for his historical novels and short stories”

No 14 still has an old sign with playing cards, an owl and a crystal ball. For years this was the home of the renowned Prague tarot-card reader and clairvoyant Madame de Thebes.  Before the Second World War, Matylda Prusova (her real name), the widow of a phamarcist, drew attention from afar with her black clothing and old-fashioned hat adorned with ostrich feathers. Since 1914, she had waited in vain for the return of her son who was killed in the first World War. Clients came daily to her cozy room, stuffed with bizarre objects, to have her look into their future. Because of her frequent predictions about an early end to the war and the fall of the Third Reich, she was arrested by the Gestapo and tortured to death.

No 24 was the House of Mrs. Magdalena. By the early 20th c, Golden Lane was already famous and she charged the growing number of tourists and history lovers to see her tiny house. Other enterprising owners rented to artists, writers looking for inspiration.

Number 27 was the Herbalist’s house. This essential skill of treating wounds, curing diseases, and easing suffering was always managed by one of the servants of the Castle, the notes say. Folk healers and herbalists often had enough experience to carry a certificate stating that someone was successfully cured by them. Herbalists used herbs and botanical extracts but also magic and incantation. The herbalist’s household resembled an apothecary – bottles, jugs, boxes containing nectars from plants, purgative and tonic opiates, powders for curing teeth, throat and roundworm, plasters, seeds and sugar coated flowers. A trunk or cupboard would contain snail shells, human craniums, pig’s teeth, bones from the sea spider (octopus) and dried frogs. Ceramic jars had lards from dog, human, tom cat, stork, rabbit, bear and snake.

It’s especially fun to wander through the house of a film critic – seeing the old movie posters, the clutter of cans of film, the movie projectors, as if he recently left.

A 1920s film critic’s house © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I climb a narrow, spiral staircase to an upper floor where there is an astonishing exhibit of arms and armor (really intimidating helmets). And in the Dalibor Tower, a prison from 1496 to 1781, there is a horrifying display of implements of torture. You realize that those movies depicting Dark Ages brutality were not fiction or fantasy. You can see the rack, a skeleton hung in a cage, the “Spanish boot.”

In Dalibor Tower, a prison from 1496 to 1781, there is a horrifying display of implements of torture © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are told that the most famous of the prisoners was the knight Dalibor Kozojed, imprisoned because he backed rebels and confiscated property. After two years of bread and water, he was sentenced to forfeit “his chattels, his honour and his head” and was executed in the courtyard in 1498. Much later, the romantic legend of Dalibor and his fiddle emerged: Supposedly, out of boredom, he played the violin so masterfully in prison that people came from far and wide to listen, enraptured. But it turns out that “fiddle” was a nickname for an instrument of torture:  a rack (which we see) on which the convicted man was stretched until he began “to fiddle” – change his tune and confess.

In Dalibor Tower, a prison from 1496 to 1781, there is a horrifying display of implements of torture © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I find the place extremely disturbing (a skeleton is in a cage dangling from the ceiling as you walk down the stone stairs), but a group of school kids seem enthralled.

When I come out from Golden Lane, I look across to see the Lobkowicz Palace and realize it is included on the Prague Cool Pass (praguecoolpass.com). This turns out to be the absolute highlight for me in Prague. The Palace, itself, is fabulous, owned by a noble family that was once one of the richest in the land. The collection inside is breathtaking. And the family’s story is utterly fascinating.

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© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

How to Pack Prague’s Must-See Attractions into Just a Few Days? The Prague Cool Pass

Prague Castle at sunset © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

I was so glad I had the cleverness to arrange three full days to explore Prague on my own before embarking on CroisiEurope’s Prague-Berlin river cruise aboard the Elbe Princesse. I could wander, linger, get lost amid the narrow cobblestone streets, be surprised and delighted upon coming upon stunning views of the Prague Castle from the Charles Bridge across the Vltava, the Old Town Square, the Astronomical Clock at night (the most underwhelming scene you can’t miss), contemplate the Lennon Wall, discover the personalities who occupied the tiny houses on Golden Lane in the wall of Prague Castle, follow whimsy and pop into the Lobkowicz Palace to be dazzled, and have the time to really muse over the exhibits, displays and notes in the Jewish Quarter and Prague Castle, and for good measure, visit the National Museum.

Walking over Charles Bridge into Prague’s Little Town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And the Prague Cool Pass, which provides free access to over 70 attractions, tours, river cruises, plus discounts to concerts, entertainment and activities, helped maximize my enjoyment and how much I could see and experience in this all too brief time in such a phenomenal destination (praguecoolpass.com).

Prague’s Old Town Square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I lose the better part of a full day when my Delta flight from JFK to Amsterdam was delayed, causing me to miss my connection to Prague (I knew the 50 minute-connection was too good to work out). But if you have to wait eight hours in an airport, Schiphol is one of the most pleasant. Still, instead of arriving at 8 am, I arrive at 5:30 pm, but still in a good mood – largely because I had made a fantastic choice of hotel, the EA ApartHotel Melantrich, which I found on hotels.com, and pre-arranged an airport pick-up through the hotel.

On the street where I’m living: walking back from Old Town Square to the EA ApartHotel Melantrich on Welcelas Square, the view to the National Museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I actually have an entire apartment on a street that strikes me as comparable to New York’s Fifth Avenue – actually Welcelas Square – with the National Museum at one end, and Old Town at the other, walking distance to everything I want to see in my all-too-short time. (Further benefits: the hotel has a gorgeous dining room where an enormous smorgasbord breakfast is served, an outdoor landscaped sitting area, an indoor pool, elevator, bar/lounge.) (EA ApartHotel Melantrich, Praha 1-Vaclavska Namesti 36 Stare Mes Prague, phone +420734596570).

I had used my time in the airport wisely, looking over “Top Attractions in Prague” and “Three Days in Prague” and there was consistency in the must-see list. I only needed to plot out the logistics (only a little tricky because the map (I LOVE a paper map) is in Czech (it takes me a day to figure it out – but I soon figure out that there are also helpful signposts pointing the direction and distance to what most people are looking for). Still, each time I set out, I get a little lost, or rather find a different way, and each time I am surprised and delighted at what I stumble upon.

Walking over Charles Bridge at sunset © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I drop my bags at the hotel and the concierge points me in the right direction to walk to the Charles Bridge, which has to be the absolute best place to be at sunset. I get there just as the final patches of orange and pink break through clouds. (It turns out was the best of all three nights, proving my maxim to seize every moment) and I get caught up in that whole vibe. There is music, hawkers, a constant flow of people.

Prague at sunset © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I walk back to Old Town Square and come upon the Astronomical Clock (on the hour, there is a 45-second display – the most underwhelming must-see attraction anywhere, but nonetheless, hundreds wait each hour for the show). The square is absolutely stunning. I find my way back to hotel.

Prague’s iconic Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The next day, I set out for the Jewish Quarter, stopping again at the Old Town Square and the Astronomical Clock (you can’t resist). I present my Prague Cool Pass at the Jewish Museum – actually seven separate sites that each tell a different part of the story of the Jewish experience in Prague, going back to the 13th century. I kind of do the sites in reverse order, which I actually appreciate more.

Prague’s Old-New Synagogue © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I start at the Old-New Synagogue, the oldest landmark of “Jewish Town” in Prague and one of the oldest surviving synagogues in Europe. It has served for more than 700 years as the main synagogue of the Prague’s Jewish community. Why “old new”? Because it wasn’t the oldest or first synagogue – that one was a shul on the site where the Spanish Synagogue, built in 1867, now sits. You go in and see the traditional way the synagogue was laid out – with a bima in center and seats all around the walls (women on other side of the wall). Each of the chairs still has the name plate of the family that has inherited it; one of the chairs has the name of former US Ambassador Norman Eisen, whose family came from here, and the Israeli Ambassador. A banner that hangs high is adorned with a Star of David with a golden hat in the center – the hat was original required for Jewish men to wear, but instead of a humiliation, the Jews made it a badge of identity, so incorporated it into the symbol of the Jewish Quarter.

Prague’s symbol of the Jewish Quarter incorporates the special hat that Jewish men were required to wear © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I go next to the Ceremonial Hall, adjacent to the Jewish Cemetery, which discusses and describes Jewish burial rituals as well as medical care. Next to the Klausen Synagogue, where the exhibits describe Jewish life – you get the sense that the Prague Jews were actually well off, especially compared to the images you typically see of impoverished Jews in the Russian shetls – and you learn that under Joseph II, who reigned from 1780-90, laws governing Jews were liberalized.

A memorial to the Shoah and the 80,000 Bohemia region Jews killed in the Holocaust – their names are written across the walls of the Pinkus Synagogue © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then on to the Pinkus Synagogue, which dates from 1530, where I was surprised to find it has become a memorial to the Shoah. Some 80,000 names of Jews killed just from this region of Bohemia and Moravia are inscribed all over the walls (you can do a search for names on a computer). A gallery in one room displays paintings by Jewish children who had been deported to Terezin, organized by different themes: longing for home, a dream of Palestine, being taken away, memories of family, with the names of the child and the dates of their birth and too soon death.

The artwork of Jewish children deported to Terezin concentration camp is displayed at Pinkus Synagogue. Their teacher was Friedle Dicker-Brandeis who died 1944 in Auschwitz © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Their teacher was Friedle Dicker-Brandeis (born in 1898 in Vienna, died 1944 in Auschwitz), who, from the beginning of her internment in Terezin, devoted herself to drawing lessons for the children in the ghetto. Children signed their drawings and wrote their room number, the group to which they belonged, and lesson hour. Then she classified them. She scoured the camp for paper and paint. When she was deported from Terezin to Auschwitz in a “liquidation” transport, she left behind two suitcases with more than 4000 children’s drawings. This display is heart wrenching.

Outside the synagogue, there is a photo exhibit, “Journeys With No Return,” documenting the Nazi removal. 

The centuries old Jewish Cemetery in Prague’s Jewish Quarter. There are some 12,000 tombstones but actually some 100,000 are buried here. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then you go through a courtyard to enter the Jewish cemetery. There are some 12,000 tombstones in a tumult – crowded together, pushed over in all directions over time and flooding – but actually some 100,000 are buried here. But after going through the Holocaust Memorial, I felt these people at least had a grave, they had people who buried them, said prayers over them, placed stones to show they had come to pay respects.

 The centuries old Jewish Cemetery in Prague’s Jewish Quarter. There are some 12,000 tombstones but actually some 100,000 are buried here. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Having had this tour, I now go to the Maisel Synagogue (marked as the #1 site) which is a museum that describes the history of Jews in the Bohemian lands from the 10th to 18th centuries, and for me, provides a context for what I had been seeing.

Notably, during the reign of Joseph II (1780-90), Jews could attend university and higher education, but their schools were taught in German instead of Hebrew; under special conditions they were allowed to rent land, learn trades and set up factories, and no longer had to wear “identifying marks.” On the other hand, Jews were compelled to adopt fixed first names and surnames (1787), and only the eldest son was allowed to marry; also the Jewish judiciary was abolished (1784) and Jews now had compulsory military service (1788). It is interesting that the Jewish Quarter is named for Joseph II.

Statue of Jesus on the Charles Bridge has Hebrew words, referred to in an etching at the museum in the Maisel Synagogue in Prague’s Jewish Quarter © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In one of the displays, having to do with the effort to assimilate, integrate and convert Jews, I see an etching of the statue of Jesus that is on the Charles Bridge, which I had noted because of the Hebrew lettering, and in Latin, the word for blasphemy. The notes state that “in 1696, the Hebrew inscription ‘Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh’ (holy, holy holy) on the statue was paid for by a fine imposed on the Jews Elias Backoffen and Berl Tabor for alleged blasphemy against the cross in a coded letter. The letter in question, however, was never deciphered by the authorities.”

 (I wondered how these structures, these monuments and artifacts survived the Holocaust. I read somewhere that Hitler loved Prague and had thought to “retire” here. He allowed the Jewish Quarter to survive as a “museum to an extinct [extinguished?} people.” The docent at the Old New Synagogue, though, could not or would not confirm.)

On my way to the Spanish Synagogue, I wander into a gallery devoted to Robert Guttmann, “the Oldest Zionist in Prague”, who was famous in his day – a celebrity – for his long-range hikes and travels that might take 14 ½ weeks at a time (people were in disbelief, so beginning in 1903, he kept diaries). He sketched himself with famous people – very possibly the first great self-promoter, like Dali or Andy Warhol. “He belonged to Prague like the Charles Bridge, the Golem, Kampa Island or the Apostles on the Astronomical Clock. It was impossible to imagine Prague without ‘Professor’ Guttmann, the ‘renowned painter’.”

Sculpture of Prague’s favorite son, novelist Franz Kafka, just next to the Spanish Synagogue © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then on to the Spanish Synagogue (more accurately known as the Temple on Dusoni Street), built 1867-8 on the site of the demolished oldest shul. It deserves its boast to be “the most beautiful synagogue in Europe.” It’s magnificent, but not so large and overwhelming that you feel enveloped by its beauty. Its design reflects a movement of “Jewish Enlightenment,” under the auspices of the Society for the Improvement of Israelite Religious Worship in Prague that followed a relative emancipation of 1848, aimed at promoting assimilation and integration into the “mainstream.”

Spanish Synagogue, which dates from 1868 on the site of the oldest synagogue in Prague, one of the first to be in the modern design, is one of the most beautiful in the world  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The change in synagogue design – which moved the bima to the front from the center to increase the seating in pews – came in conjunction with changes to the liturgy and introduction of music.

Indeed, Frantisek Skroup (1801-1862), the organist here from 1836-45, composed the Czech national anthem, and the reformed worship music introduced by Skroup later spread to most other synagogues in Bohemia.

There is a 7 pm concert at the synagogue consisting of favorite compositions of favorite composers – Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi, Rossini, Verdi, Bizet, Smetana, Dvorak, Bernstein and Gershwin. I purchase a ticket. (Actually, it is amazing how many of the important churches and sites hold concerts almost nightly, including the St. Francis of Assisi Church, right at the entrance to the Charles Bridge, which claims the second oldest organ in Prague, 1702, which Mozart played, www.organconcerts.cz).

Just outside the Spanish Synagogue is a terrific sculpture of Franz Kafka (a square at the entrance to the Jewish Quarter is named for him, where the National Library is located.

Next, I go in search of the Lennon Wall, on Kampa Island, just under the Charles Bridge. In my search, I come upon a fascinating historical display documenting the 1967 uprising against the Communist Regime, led by university students. One of the panels notes that the American beat poet Alan Ginsburg who describes being detained by police, deported, and writing “this poem on a jet seat in mid Heaven.”

I ask a woman I see walking through the park where the Lennon Wall is and she says she works at the French Embassy, directly across from the Wall, so we walk there together. (To get to the Wall, walk down stairs from Charles Bridge, turn right on Hroznova.)

Notably, John Lennon never visited Prague, but the wall began as street art, capturing his spirit of peace. The wall keeps changing – people add to it, and all of it is whitewashed so the process begins again. At this time, poems printed on paper in support of Ukraine, are hung on string in front.

The Lennon Wall on Kampa Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The John Lennon Wall was chosen to host the event because of its apparent symbolism. For decades the wall has served as a place to share messages of peace, love and hope. Lennon, former lead singer of the Beatles, was an avid anti-war activist, who, until the day he died, encouraged the world to ‘Give Peace a Chance’.“

Prague shows its support for Ukraine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I still have some time before I need to go back to the Spanish Synagogue for the concert, so I walk over to the National Museum, and flash my Prague Cool Pass. There is a very condensed history (actually there is a second building), so I find it quite interesting that there is a note that after Joseph II’s liberalization of laws suppressing Jews, repression was reestablished with the rise of a nationalist movement. Emancipation did not come until 1848. And there is one panel that refers to ‘The culmination of anti-Semitism was the so-called Hilsner Affair, 1899-1900), in which T.G. Masaryk, a founder of Czechoslovakia and its first president, stood up for Hilsner, a Jew convicted in a show trial of ritual murder. It draws a parallel to the Dreyfus Affair in France, when an accused Jewish officer was defended by the writer Emile Zola.

In addition to history, the museum also contains exhibits of Czechia’s natural history. I take note of the country’s gold rush, when I visit the Golden Lane in Prague Castle.

The Czech Colegium perform a concert at the Spanish Synagogue. Frantisek Skroup (1801-1862), the organist here from 1836-45, composed the Czech national anthem © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After stopping off at my hotel to regroup, I walk back to the Spanish Synagogue. The concert is one of the best I’ve ever heard – the five musicians of the Czech Collegium, plus soprano Michaela Srumova and trumpeter Miroslav Kejmar sound like an orchestra of 60 and perform one of the most thoroughly magnificent programs.

After the concert, I wander back to the Charles Bridge and catch the end of the setting sun’s afterglow, linger in Old Town Square, before making my way back to the hotel.

Prague has its own love locks © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Prague’s Old Town Square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Prague’s Old Town Square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The next day, I will continue to work down my Prague Cool Pass list of attractions, starting with the Prague Castle.

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