Thursday, October 4, 2018

Green Bay, Wisconsin: Packers Heritage Trail Plaza

Visitors to Green Bay often will stumble upon a sign indicating that they are staring at something that used to have some significance in the history of the Green Bay Packers. They have stumbled on the Packers' Heritage Trail.

The trail is designed as something of a walking tour and covers the first 50 years of the franchise, going from 1919 to 1968. Those were the days of Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi. It covers an old office building, the birthplace of Lambeau, a train station where thousands greeted the world champion Packers in 1929, and several other locations.

The center piece is in the middle of downtown, the Packers Heritage Trail Plaza, and it debuted in 2013. This plaza has statues of such people as Johnny "Blood" McNally and Paul Hornung. Look for it at Washington and Cherry Streets.

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Green Bay, Wisconsin: Tunnel of Automatic Fish

Sometimes, chasing down alleged tourist attractions can be a bad idea. This was one of them.

Green Bay offers a "tunnel of automatic fish" in its downtown district. What could that be? As a lover of all things touristy, it sounded as if it was worth a quick photo visit.

Obstacle 1 - It was raining. Hard. We pulled off the Walnut St. Bridge into downtown, and headed north. However, we came across Obstacle 2 - the directions for a parking lot didn't work. Apparently the space has been filled by a buildingover the years. So we headed south and found a lot relatively close. But remember, it's pouring.

I sprinted to the Riverwalk while my companion kept an eye on the car. I splashed may way through the area and found the entrance to the tunnel, which went under the bridge.

Here's what I found in photo form. There indeed are fish with lights there, although some didn't appear to be working from the tunnel entrance. I couldn't test the theory that each fish has a motion detector, since the floor was mighty wet from the day's storm. Funny how a color photo can look black and white.

So do what I say, not what I did. If you feel forced to check this out, do it on a non-rainy day.

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Green Bay, Wisconsin: Huge Football

This one is a bit of a puzzle.

This football is holding up part of a learning center on Lombardi Avenue in Green Bay. Now, Green Bay is associated with football because of the Packers, and Lambeau Field is about a block away. Still, there's no obvious connection to football here.

However, the building is in the midst of the entertainment district. An arena football league team has played in that area. So maybe there was a connection once upon a time. In any event, it's easy to pull off Lombardi Ave., take a photo, and go back to your business,

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Green Bay, Wisconsin: World's Largest Hex Nut

Every handyman needs the right tool to complete a job. If that worker has a need for a giant nex nut, I guess this is the place.

Packer Fastener is the proud owner of this monument. It checks in at 3.5 tons and 10 feet tall, and provides quite a welcome to those visiting the business. The owner got the idea from the Packers' 50-foot replica of the Lombardi Trophy in its atrium. And, the business is at the end of Lombardi Ave. - you can see the scoreboard at Lambeau Field from the net.

The company hoped it would be a good photo opportunity. Yes, you can stand in it and post for a picture.

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Green Bay, Wisconsin: National Railroad Museum

Not everyone comes to Green Bay to watch the Packers, although on the right weekend it seems that way. Some make the trip to town to look at old railroads. The National Railroad Museum is the place to go for them.

This started in 1956 or so as a way to raise money for a single train that traveled around the park. That idea grew until it was a full-fledged museum, greeting more than 100,000 fans per year. Looks like the place hosts a wedding every weekend when the weather is good; it is located right on the Fox River.

There are a variety of train-related items here. Some of the engines and cars are kept either inside a large hall or outside in a shed. The highlight might be Union Pacific's "Big Boy," one of the largest engines ever built. It takes up two full cars, tied together so it can go around turns. You can see the engineer's viewpoint of the controls in this photo. The museum also has part of an "aerotrain," which was GM's answer to airplane competition in the 1950s. It never really worked well at high speeds, and didn't catch up. Dwight Eisenhower's personal car from World War II is here. I enjoyed seeing a Pullman car, with the upper and lower sleeping berths on display.

By the way, you can take a ride around the grounds. It takes 25 minutes for two trips around and only costs a couple of extra dollars when you buy an admission ticket.

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Thursday, September 13, 2018

Prague, Czech Republic: Dancing House

This probably is the first post you'll read about our recent vacation to Central Europe. On the other hand, it's my last of 170 posts on the trip. We saw a lot.

These buildings make for a fitting introduction or ending. It's the Dancing House in Prague. Or, as it is more commonly known, Fred and Ginger.

It seems there was a vacant spot on the riverfront, thanks to a stray bomb in 1945. The space sat idle for quite a while. Meanwhile, the neighboring space was owned by the family of Vaclav Havel, who didn't know it but was on his way to leading Czechoslovakia.

Eventually, a cultural center was planned for the spot - which never materialized. The architect wanted to show that the country was shifting from static to dynamic. But it's now an office building, complete with a bar and restaurant.

Some people don't think it's a good fit with the neighborhood, while others love. And so it goes.

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Prague, Czech Republic: Crawling Babies Statue

You'd think the statue at the Kafka Museum would be enough, but David Cerny wasn't done there. He's done a variety of work that is on display throughout Prague. The Kafka head was his idea too.

Just down the riverwalk in Kampa Park is this trio of sculptures. They are crawling babies, giving visitors a chance to get up close and personal with the work.

Crawling babies are also on the TV tower in town. Run for your lives!

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Prague, Czech Republic: Kafka Museum

No, I didn't enter the Kafka Museum along the west bank of the river in Prague. But that doesn't mean I didn't go there, because I did.

I had to see the peeing statue.

It's actually name is "Proudy." It features the sculpture of two men who are, um, urinating. The catch comes with their hips, which rotate a few degrees so that the stream lands on different parts of the base.

The men, by the way, are a shade under seven feet. Apparently you can send a text message to have the statues write something in the water.

A newspaper called it the most strange statue in all of Prague, and it's tough to disagree with that. But, it is Kafka, and we're talking about it.

The museum is located just off the Charles Bridge. Go to the west end and turn right. However, the area is not well marked and we got a little lost in trying to find it. So bring a good map.

After all that, you still want to see what it looks like in action? OK.

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Prague, Czech Republic: Old Town Hall

This normally would be the spot for a photo of the Astronomical Clock, one of the great attractions in Prague. But since it was being repairs, we'll spare you from that. Who wants to see a shot of scaffolding?

The rest of the Old Town Hall is pretty interesting too.

The first part of the tour goes through several rooms above ground. The rooms have some great artwork and furnishings in them, and they are often used to this day for ceremonial purposes. The Brozik Assembly Hall takes up an entire floor's space and goes up two flights.

Then there's the medieval underground. Part of it was used as housing back in the day, and another section was a prison. Since it's pretty much all stone, you can bet the prison was, um, less than sanitary. Gotta be careful walking around this part.

Finally, there's the tower. It's been around since the 14th century, but upgraded fairly recently. The views are excellent. It's fun to look right down into the Old Town Square.

Apparently the Nazis tried to destroy this building when the Soviet troops were ready to occupy the land. They did some damage, but it is nice that Prague has rebuilt it.

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Prague, Czech Republic: Statue of Franz Kafka

What, you would expect a statue that salutes Franz Kafka to be normal?

No. This is actually closer to hypnotic.

You can see on this photo that the "head" is cut into a few dozen slices. Each piece can rotate individually.

Let's say the top slice moves 15 degrees. Then the next one moves. And the next one. And so on. Eventually all of the pieces have moved 15 degrees, and the head is whole again.

But it may be more than one slice, as I recall. And maybe one piece starts before the other piece stops. You can amuse yourself for quite a while if you watch this, It's located south of the Old Town tourist area.

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Prague, Czech Republic: Woodrow Wilson Statue

You can guess what a statue of Woodrow Wilson is doing in Prague, at least if you know something about world history. You only know half of it.

Wilson played a key role in the peace treaty after World War I, which create the nation of Czechoslovakia out of Austria-Hungary. The statue went up in 1928, and stayed there ... for more than a decade.

Then on December 12, 1941, the Nazis pulled it down. They had declared war on the United States the day before, and wasted no time in cleaning up the area.

The Czechs wanted to bring it back some day, but the Cold War doomed those efforts for quite a while. Finally, in 2006, the American Friends of the Czech Republic got to work on a restored version of the statue. It was unveiled in October, 2011, with several key officials and ambassadors in attendance.

Ambassador Fred Eisen had this to say: "The monument that stood here was one not only to a great American president but also a monument, a symbol that recognized the close and lasting ties between our two nations. That monument recognized the many people who left here, who moved and settled in the New World and who made the United States a better country, the country it is now. The monument also recognized those such as myself, Fred, Madeleine and all of the American Friends of the Czech Republic who have come here from every corner of the United States who have the privilege to come back to their ancestral homelands.”

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Prague, Czech Republic: Narodni Muzeum

What do you do with a large, relatively new and relatively ugly building?

That's the problem that the city leaders of Prague have faced for the past several years.

The Communists built this place and put the National Assembly there. The architecture isn't too striking, but the Soviets were never too good in that department.

Then after the Velvet Revolution, the Czechs rented Radio Free Europe the building for essentially nothing.  It was a thank-you gift for the service provided during the Cold War. But RFE is no longer necessary, so the building has moved on to its newest use - a branch of the National Museum next door.

There is supposedly a statue of a happy worker in the plaza of this building, left over from the Bad Old Days.

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Prague, Czech Republic: Wenceslas Square

While Old Town in Prague is nice, the so-called New Town adjoining it is also very, very interesting. The center of it is Wenceslas Square, and the big attraction there is a large statue of Wenceslas.

Have you heard the song "Good King Wenceslas" at Christmas? Probably. Then you should know that the King was actually a Duke. He united the Czechs in the 900s, and was a literate and enlightened leader. Wenceslas brought Christianity to the region, formed an alliance with the Roman Empire, and became a symbol of Czech nationalism. This saint may hear some prayers from his people if things go badly.

Up the hill a bit is the National Museum. It was built in the 1800s to show that the Czechs were a separate people and deserved their own country some day; it was part of Austria-Hungary at the time. If you look closely at the building, you can see bullet holes causes by shots from Soviet forces when they came to the square in August 1968. It's amazing to walk this area, realizing that Soviet tanks were on the streets restoring Communist control. It's also amazing that this is the same area in which Vaclav Havel proclaimed to a few hundred thousand countrymen that the Communist government had resigned.

This is not a square, but instead a long rectangle. Many of the buildings on it are beautiful. It all makes for one of the best walks in Prague, which is saying something.

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Prague, Czech Republic: Spanish Synagogue

The Spanish Synagogue sounds like something of a contradiction in terms. It was built in the Moorish Revival Style.

The Spanish Synagogue sits on the site formerly held by the first such religious building in the city. When that got too small and old, it was demolished and replaced by this structure in 1868. It stayed open until 1982, when years of neglect took a tool.

Luckily, after the Velvet Revolution the synagogue was restored and was once again open in 1998. There are exhibits about Jewish history in the region. The inside of the building probably is the main attraction, though, as it is elegant and beautiful.

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Prague, Czech Republic: Franz Kafka Memorial

It's tough not to bump into Franz Kafka, or at least hear about him, while visiting Prague. He's the most popular of all Czech writers.

This tribute, you'd have to say, is an odd one. It's almost Kafka-esque, which is a way of saying it is bizarre.

As you can see, it's a sculpture of a giant man carrying another man around. Why? It's part of a scene from a Kafka novel, "Amerika." Kafka took some of the experiences of his relatives who had gone to the United States, and used them in the book.

The odd part if that "Amerika" was his first novel, and it was never finished. The book was published after his death.

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Prague, Czech Republic: Pinkas Synagogue

The names go on and on and on.

This is the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague. It's the second oldest synagogue in the Jewish section of the city.

The building is best known as a memorial for the 78,000 victims of Nazi genocide who were from Bohemia and Moravia. Walk from room to room in this haunting building, and the names keep coming. And every single one is a person. The effect is staggering.

The "exhibit" was opened to the public in 1960, but closed by the Communists after the 1968 crackdown on the country. The building was reopened in 1995 as a memorial, and suffered some damage in the 2002 flood.

One room is dedicated to the art work of the children of Terezin, Families were "processed" here before going east to death camps. Quite touching. 

When visitors have gone through the building, they can walk on the adjoining Jewish cemetery. The tombstones (which are dated from the 14th century to 1787) are stacked up because the Jews were not allowed to add land for this purpose. Therefore, they had to throw dirt on the grounds and stack them up. There are 12 layers in some parts of the cemetery. It is crowded.

This is what it all looked like on Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, 2015.

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Prague, Czech Republic: Strahov Stadium

This, as you can guess, is not the best angle to take a photo of Strahov Stadium. And if you don't know its there, as we didn't at the time, you won't understand its significance.

The facility was built for displays of gymnastics, one of Czechoslovakia's best sports. It is three times the size of a standard soccer field, and could seat 56,000 - but it could hold a quarter of million people when necessary. That was second only to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It started as a soccer stadium in 1926, and was altered in 1932.

After 1989, Strahov Stadium hosted some rock concerts, including a memorable show by the Rolling Stones that drew 110,000. Other acts have played there as well.

There was talk about 20 years ago of demolishing the place, but Strahov remains standing. It is a training facility for AC Sparta Prague.

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Prague, Czech Republic: Petrin Tower

All right, what's the Eiffel Tower doing in Prague?

It's not the Eiffel Tower, but it sort of resembles it in design. Petrin Hill is on the west side of Prague, and most of the top of the hill consists of parks and other public areas. There's a church, garden, observatory, etc. But the prime attraction is the Petrin Tower.

It seems that a bunch of Czech tourists went to Paris in 1889, saw the Eiffel Tower, and said more or less, "We have to get one of those." The money was raised, and the tower was completed in a mere four months in 1891. They've done some work on it over the years, naturally. The top of it is the same height as the Eiffel Tower - as long as you add the height of the hill to the Prague version.

By the way, Petrin sort of translates to rocks in Latin. Some of the stone from that hill helped build portions of Prague. 

Visitors, and there are plenty of them, take the funicular up the hill, and then take a short walk to the entrance. Lots of tourists and kids groups go there, based on our experience, so you might want to get there early. We'd advise taking the elevator to the top for some unmatched views of the city. Walking down the stairs to ground level (and the gift shop/cafeteria) is relatively easy.

Care to see the view? The tower gives a particularly good look at the Castle area.

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Prague, Czech Republic: Monument to Victims of Communism

Those who are headed up to the Petrin Tower in Prague ought to take a look at something at the base of the hill, near the road that goes by it.

This is a monument to the victims of Communism, put up by the City of Prague and some other groups. The inscription reads: "The memorial to the victims of Communism is dedicated to all victims not only those who were jailed or executed but also those lives who were ruined by totalitarian despotism."

As you can see, the figures grow more skinny as you look up the hill. During the Communists' rule, 205,000 people were imprisoned, 248 were executed and 4,500 died in prison.

By the way, to the left of this is the so-called "Hunger Wall." That was a project built in the 1300s under Charles IV. It was designed to give the poor people of Prague a way to earn a little money in order to survive - in other words, something like the original WPA project.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Prague, Czech Republic: The Golden Angel

Not every building in Prague dates back to somewhere around the 16th century. This building went up in the year 2000.

There's a short, interesting story to be told here. This is the area of the Angel Crossroad, so named because the Golden Angel Pharmacy (and accompanying statue) was located in this part of town. The drug store bit the dust in 1980, when a subway station was built. Yes, it's the Andel stop - Angel in Czech.

The building has plenty of curves and thus can look different depending on the time of day. Meanwhile, the quotes written on it are from some famous Czech writers.

And if you look carefully, you can see the outline of an "angel" on the left side of the building. I didn't notice it until I was writing this. Pretty neat, actually.

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Prague, Czech Republic: Lennon Wall

If you doubt that the Beatles appealed to all corners of the glove, consider the location of the Lennon Wall. It's in Prague, which was on the other side of the Iron Curtain during the time of the Beatles' peak popularity.

Early in the 1980s, it became a place for messages about peace and love and quotes from his music. By 1988, the wall angered Communist officials, who called the students who left messages such things as alcoholics and agents of Western capitalism.

New paintings are added to the wall every so often, so this tourist attraction is usually fresh upon repeat visits. The paint must be pretty thick by now.

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Prague, Czech Republic: Charles Bridge

One of the most popular tourist attractions involves a little walking.

The Charles Bridge first went under construction in 1357 under the orders of King Charles, and took more than 40 years to complete. It goes over the Vitava River, the main water way in Prague.

It's been the subject of a variety of accidents and other disasters over the years. The bridge also served as an important link between the two sides of the river, and thus drove commerce between two portions of Europe.

By 1978, city officials decided that have commercial traffic on the old boy wasn't helping, so it was limited to pedestrian use. There were about 30 original statues on the bridge, but they have been replaced by replicas. The originals are in the National Museum.

By the way, you can see the Old Town Bridge Tower in the middle of the photo. It's one of the most beautiful Gothic gateways anywhere. You can climb the 100+ steps for a view. 

This gets really crowded with tourists in the proper season. So, watch your wallet or purse.

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Prague, Czech Republic: Jan Hus Monument

Here's a statue that grabs your attention immediately. It's in the middle of the Old Town Square.

The subject is Jan Hus, an important religious leader in Czech circles. You probably have heard about Martin Luther, whose complaints about the Catholic church led to all sorts of after-effect.

Bet you didn't know that Hus was complaining about those same practices 100 years before Luther spoke up. He was kicked out of the church for his trouble in 1410, but continued to preach in Prague. That didn't go over well, as you'd expect. Hus was given one last chance to change his views, and refused. So he was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415.

A mere 500 years later, this statue was unveiled. By the way, no celebrations were allowed that day, so people simply put flowers on it. One of the inscriptions on that statue is a quote from Hus: “Love each other and wish the truth to everyone." Hard to argue with that.

On the right of the photo is the beautiful Golz-Kinsky Palace. 

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Prague, Czech Republic: Old Town Square

We've been lucky enough to visit some beautiful town squares in Europe during the past few years. This might be the most impressive of them all. The Old Town Square in Prague is so massive that it's easy to feel insignificant simply by walking into it.

It's the home of the world-famous Astronomical Clock, which sadly was covered in scaffolding during our visit. They were fixing it up for the country's 100th birthday party. The Church of Our Lady is the big building in the middle of the photograph. The rest of the architecture is equally impressive, and there are plenty of shops in the area to satisfy your need for souvenirs.

This probably is the main meeting point for the tourists who come to Prague each year. Therefore, it's a big lure for pickpockets. Be careful.

By the way, this is the spot where the Czech celebrated their greatest athletic moment. The 1998 Czech hockey team won the gold medal in Japan. Goalie Dominik Hasek and his teammates flew home to soak up the cheers here. Must have been quite a moment.

There's no sign of that on video, but the gold medal win was greeted this way:

Some things are universal.

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Prague, Czech Republic: Jewish Town Hall

The Jewish population of Prague had its own town hall, starting in 1541. That one burned in 1577, but it was eventually rebuilt and still is in the middle of Prague Jewish Town.

But what's neat about this particular buildings is that there are two clocks. Click on the photo to blow it up. The top clock has the classic Roman numerals. The bottom one, though, has the first 12 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. What's more, the letters count off from aleph and go counter-clockwise around the dial. It might take some practice before you can tell what time it is that way.

The Town Hall, as you can see, has some great architecture keeping it company.

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Prague, Czech Republic: World War I Memorial

The story of the granite monolith show in front of the church comes in two parts. That's appropriate, since the memorial itself is in two parts.

In 1928, Czechoslovakia was celebrating its 10th anniversary as a nation. The leaders chose to erect a monument to those who gave their lives in World War I. A granite monolith was chosen for the design, and the granite was carried to Prague. But, it broke along the way.

The Czechs tried again. They got another big piece of granite and ... it broke again. However, only the top cracked off this time, so they put it up as is. Fine.

Finally, in 1996, the authorities decided to return the shape to its original design. They put some golden-plated metal on top to compete the job. It took almost 60 years, but it watches a courtyard in Prague Castle.

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Prague, Czech Republic: St. George Statue

You slay a dragon, you get a statue - even if there are no such things as dragons.

Say hello to St. George, who rides on a horse as he slays a dragon in the middle of St. George Square in the Castle area of Prague. According to legend, the King's daughter was sent off to a lake to be fed to a dragon when St. George rode by. He took care of the pesky creature, and thus achieved ever-lasting fame.

The statue is famous in the Czech Republic, as it dates back to the 1300s. However, it has been damaged a few times. The original surrounding fountain has been sent to the National Gallery for safe keeping.

By the way, it also was the first statue in the country that was put in its own space - public art, if you will - and connected to a building of some sort.

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Prague, Czech Republic: St. Vitus Cathedral

Walk up to this structure, look up, and you'll quickly figure out that you in a rather special area. St. Vitus Cathedral can strain the neck of a visitor quite easily.

The structure is considered the most important church in Prague. All sorts of coronations have been held here over the years, and many patron saints and other important people are buried here.

Churches have been on this site since 925, which is almost 1,100 years if you are counting. Construction on a Gothic cathedral began in 1344. However, it has not been a smooth process. Wars got in the way, which meant that the structure went virtually untouched for centuries. But eventually, the current occupant of the space reached its present form.

I've knocked on the door, so let's go inside ...

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Prague, Czech Republic: The Castle

The first stop for many visitors to Prague is the Castle. It's a short-hand way of describing the vast complex that is the official place of power for the President, along with a variety of other function - such as a huge, gorgeous church.

Emperors, kings and presidents have worked here for something like 1,148 years. The first walled building went up on the site in 870. Adolf Hitler spent a night here after annexing the region.

This is a photo of one of the entrances, although most tourists come in at the other end. We saw a diplomatic parade of cars go through here during our visit, so something was up. The photo is actually looking out from the Castle complex at the surrounding area.

I'll have more on some of the particulars of the place in other posts. Here's the once-over of the place:

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Prague, Czech Republic

Just about everyone loves Prague.

The narrow cobblestone streets, the red roofs, the beautiful waterfront, this history - no wonder eight million tourists come here each year. This photo was taken from above the city, and you get the idea how it looks. But it's better with close inspection.

Prague has been a key point in Central Europe for centuries. In relatively recent years, it was the capital of Czechoslovakia. Once Slovakia went off on its own way, Prague remained the capital of the Czech Republic.

Unlike much of other parts of Europe, the city really didn't suffer much damage during World War II. Thus we have an idea what the other cities in the region would look like had they had the same fate.

The Czech Republic has been one of those countries that tended to be in the way over the course of history when nearby countries became ambitious in terms of territory. It hasn't been an easy ride, but let's hope they will continue to prosper in the years ahead.

I like the Cities in 4K series of videos; here's another one:

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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Bratislava, Slovakia: Napoleon's Soldier

Napoleon's forces have been gone for sometime in Bratislava, but one soldier maintains his post there.

Well, no. But supposedly he is modeled after a soldier named Hubert. When he came to town a little more than 200 years ago (1805), he fell in love with a local girl. And stayed to marry her.
And went into the wine business.

Still, he's never too busy to say hello to visitors and pose with tourists. There's a line for him to do that to people constantly during the day.

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Bratislavia, Slovakia: Korzo

This used to be the place to be in Bratislava. Until it wasn't.

Korzo became the name of a commercial district in downtown Bratislava. It was famous for restaurants that served cheap and fast meals to residents in the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, Korzo was the name of one of those restaurants.

But once Slovakia opened up, the tourists quickly followed. The area soon became much more trendy, and the restaurants became more expensive. And the tradition died.

There's something a little sad about all of this, but it's reality.

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Bratislava, Slovakia: Old Town Hall

This is a pretty good looking building, considering some of it is about to turn 650 years old. Happy birthday in advance.

This is the Old Town Hall of Bratislava, and they aren't kidding. The clock tower was built in 1370. Supposedly the view of the top is still quite nice. The rest of the facility consists of three buildings that were connected to the tower in the 1400s. It's all undergone some work over the years, but the structure was first completed in 1599.

The city workers have been gone for a while, though. Now, it's a museum that dates back to 1868. There are some torture instruments to see, if you like that stuff.

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Bratislava, Slovakia: Primate's Palace

The Roman Empire lasted a long time - almost 2,000 years. This is where, more or less, it came to an end.

The Primate's Palace is were the Peace of Pressburg was signed. The actual signing room was in the Hall of Mirrors. Napoleon had won decisive victories over the Austrians earlier in the year, and it was time to settle some scores.

Shortly after this agreement, the Holy Roman Empire was finished. Napoleon created the Confederation of the Rhine to replace it, and a huge part of history had come to an end.

This building was finished in 1781. It now serves as the office of the mayor of Bratislava.

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Bratislava, Slovakia: Cumil the Sewer Worker

You won't be surprised to know that this is the most photographed sculpture in Bratislava. And maybe all of Slovakia.

Say hello to Cumil, the sewer worker. He has been around since 1997, as the city tried to come up with some interesting ways to create interest in downtown. As you might expect, pedestrians are often tripping over him, to the point where there is a sign over his head. And cars sometimes give him a bump.

It's hard to say what's he's doing. Is he taking a break? Pondering the area? Seeing a friend? It's been suggested he is what Americans might call a "peeping Tom."

No matter what, though, bring your camera to see him. He's not going anywhere.

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Bratislava, Slovakia: Slovak National Theater

The Slovak National Theater has a new building. It was started in 1986 after a few years of planning. The projects proved difficult to fund, and after fits and starts it was finally finished in 2007.

But the old place still looks good and is still in use. It was built in 1886, and the opera and ballet companies perform there.

The guy in the fountain in front is Ganymede, the good-looking Greek God who was selected to pour wine to Zeus.

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Bratislava, Slovakia: Ludovit Stur Memorial

This one certainly needs some explanation, and I can only provide a little.

Ludovit Stur was a poet, teacher, philosopher and politician in 19th century Slovakia. He is best remembered as the person who standardized the Slovak language for the masses.

The statue went up in 1972, so the Soviets probably had a say in the design - which is unusual. But finding out the particulars of this one proved elusive.

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Bratislava, Slovakia: Memorial to Nazi Resistance

It's always interesting to see what cities and countries choose to remember. This is a very powerful image, but a translator is needed to figure out what's going on.

But it makes more sense upon learning that it is a tribute to those who resisted the Nazis in World War II. The statue is in a park located along the Danube, not far from the history museum.

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Bratislava, Slovakia: Memorial to Soviet Fleet

It's a little odd to visit a former Soviet bloc country, like Bratislava. The history is a little different than on the other side of the now-imaginary line.That's reflected in the public monuments.

This group of boulders is actually a tribute to the Soviet Danube fleet. Did you know that existed? Me neither.

In any event, I did find a translation for what was on the rock. Here it is:

4 April 1945 Bratislava //

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Bratislava, Slovakia

Poor Slovakia. Everyone knows about the Czech Republic and its capital, Prague. This is the other half of the equation in a sense.

When the maps of Europe were being rewritten in 1918, the Czechs and Slovaks were thrown together to form Czechoslovakia. It was a shotgun marriage that didn't really work for both sides, but they had little choice in the matter.

The country became part of the Soviet bloc in 1948. Twenty years later, Soviet troops occupied Bratislava in an attempt to quell talk of an uprising. But those feelings never left, and Czechoslovakia fell away from the Communists in 1989. Speaking of old feelings, the Czechs and the Slovaks eventually saw this as a chance to go their separate ways and create two states from one. That's what they did, starting on Jan. 1, 1993.

Bratislava was picked as the capital, a logical pick since it was the biggest city in the country. Its area borders on Austria and Hungary, the only world capital to touch on two separate countries.

Now about the photo. The structure that straddles the bridge is called the UFO Bar and Restaurant. You can't beat the views of the Danube.

I will let the official tourism group try to convince you to pay a visit:

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Vienna, Austria: Marriage Fountain

Hoher Markt is the setting for the so-called Marriage Fountain, a tribute to the marriage of Mary and Josef. It's a 18th-century Baroque piece. Emperor Leopold I was supposedly very happy when his son Josef came back to war and his subsequent marriage to Mary. In fact, he had pledged to build some sort of tribute when Josef took off to take part in the Siege of the Fortress of Landau.

The problem was, Josef came back, and Leopold did nothing. And then the Emperor died in 1705, leaving it to his two sons to mark the occasion. This started as a wood object, but fell apart rather quickly. So it was on to something more permanent by 1735.

For a fountain, there isn't a heck of a lot of water in it. But ... it still works as a statue, I guess. The credit for this goes to Johann Emanuel Fischer von Erlach.

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Vienna, Austria: Maria-Theresien-Platz

Darn sun. We weren't at this huge square in Vienna when the sun was at a proper angle to take this photo. So its features are in the shadows. Take our word for it, though - it is impressive.

This translates to Maria Theresa Square, of course, and that's Empress Maria Theresa looking out over her subjects.

She's the only female leader in the history of the Habsburg Dominion. She was married to Francis I, the Holy Roman Emperor.Maria Theresa's biography is a mile long. 

The square is big and powerful. It is between the Natural History Museum and the Art History Museum. The complex was finished in 1889, and - as you'd expect - the two museums are quite famous and fabulous.

If you are headed to Vienna, here are some suggestions on what to see in museums - as opposed to taking photos of the outside:

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Vienna, Austria: Mozart Statue

I guess this is a rather rare photo of the Mozart Statue in Vienna. You see, there are no people in the frame. It's a popular spot to gather in Burggarten park. It seems the Royals did not want anyone to forget his work, so this elaborate piece of art was commissioned.

Mozart moved to Vienna in 1781 and lived there for ten years until his death. Mozart moved several times during those years, so there are several buildings with plaques reading the equivalent of "Mozart slept here," like our George Washington.

Mozart is buried in St. Marx Cemetery in Vienna. His legacy continues in a number of ways in Vienna.

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Vienna, Austria: Monument Against War and Fascism

This display, right outside of the Albertina Museum, caught me a little by surprise.I stumbled on the Monument Against War and Fascism, constructed between 1988 and 1991, while walking the streets of Vienna.

The sculptures were made of granite from the area around the Mauthausen concentration camp. It's all dedicated to those who lose their lives during the period of Nazi rule and World War II. The work is placed deliberately on this spot because it was the site of an apartment building that was bombed in 1945, and no one is sure exactly how many people died as a result.

This is the "Gates of Violence" sculpture. Nearby is a structure depicting a Jewish person on the ground cleaning anti-Nazi graffiti off the streets, along with a stone with portions of Austria's Declaration of Independence in 1945.

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Vienna, Austria: The Albertina Museum

It's tough not to bump into a museum while in Vienna. This is one of them.

The Albertina has established a reputation for its print room. It is said to have something like 65,000 prints and more than a million master prints in its collection. Plenty of other drawings are around too, in addition to some more classic art.

The building was inhabited by royalty for decades and decades, but eventually was taken over by the government. A museum was created in 1776 and has works by some of the biggest names in art. The Albertina was damaged during World War II, but was quickly rebuilt and then expanded about 20 years ago.

And it is in an interesting building, as you can see. That's Emperor Franz Joseph I on the horse on the second floor entrance. Nice of him to welcome visitors.

The inside is much more interesting:

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Sunday, September 9, 2018

Vienna, Austria: Donnerbrunnen

Don't let the kiddies see this famous statue in Vienna.

At least that's the message one ruler of the city issued.

This is supposed to be a 1739 sculpture of the woman Providence, who was supposedly in charge of the water supply. Providence was a bit tough for the locals to pronounce, so it was named after the artist, George Donner.

The four figures are supposedly in tribute to the area's most famous rivers.

The catch is that everyone is naked.  Empress Maria Theresa didn't like that part of it, so she ordered it to be melted. That order was ignored, and the sculpture was returned to the public early in the 1800s.

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Vienna, Austria: St. Stephen's Cathedral

For those who look to go from city to city in Europe looking for old, grand churches, well, Vienna had better be one of the stops.

Because it is the home of St. Stephen's Cathedral, and it's a must-see for anyone.

It was put together in a mere 23 years. Construction started in 1137 and was finished in 1160. However, construction continued on and off through 1511, and the upkeep of course continues to this day.

The German leadership ordered the place destroyed late in World War II, but those orders were ignored. There was some fire damage when Soviet troops entered the city, but most of the building's treasures were saved. After a rehab project, St. Stephen's was back in business in the 1950s.

Let's look around:

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Vienna, Austria: Pestsaule Statue

It is funny to see the reaction of tourists as they see the Pestsaule Statue. No one is too sure what they are seeing, but they are all reaching for their cameras.

A plague hit Vienna in 1679, and clobbered the population. Somewhere between 75,000 and 150,000 people are said to have died. Even the Emperor, Leopold I, had to flee.

It was quickly decided to put up a memorial to those people. It took a little more than a decade, but this was up in Graben Square in 1693. It checks in at 69 feet tall.

Vienna was not a nice place in 1679. It was overcrowded with no sewage systems and had rodents everywhere. In other words, it was ripe for the bubonic plague.

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Saturday, September 8, 2018

Vienna, Austria: Emperor Francis I Statue

When it comes to leaders, Francis I was also Francis II. Very confusing.

Emperor Francis I of Austria also was the second period of that name to be the Holy Roman Emperor. So he was I and II at the same time.

The Roman Empire fell apart because of Napoleon's armies (1806), but he went on to lead Austria until 1835. In a courtyard stands a large statue in tribute to him. It was created by the Italian sculptor Pompeo Marchesi. He is surrounded by four smaller statues representing religious, peace, justice and strength.

The front of the monument reads:
AMOREM MEVM POPVLIS MEIS (testam cap xiii)
"My love to my peoples (from the emperor's last will, 1835)"

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Vienna, Austria: Hofburg Palace

Wow, what a complex - 30+ buildings and 2,600 rooms spread over enough space to fill almost three dozen soccer fields. It's the centerpiece of Vienna.

This is where the seat of power has been since 1275. The Habsburgs ruled from here.

There are apartments, museums and exhibits scattered about. You can tour some of the area, but it's so big that you might want to think about allocating your time unless you have a few days to spend in Vienna.

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