Saturday, May 5, 2012

Our 2012 Swan Song….. Prague to Washington, DC

Yes, another fabulous year of adventures and scavenges is sadly over.  It is with great depression that I report on our final few days.
Last day of the Europe leg was spent in Prague in the Czech Republic (another first time country for me).  Prague is built on a river and has an astounding variety of architecture:  from Baroque to Gothic to Cubist to Art Nouveau.  Our list of scavenges for Prague included gathering two different photo montages of examples of 10 different architectural genres as well as ornamentation on buildings and statues. So we spent most of the day with our heads turned up assessing the variety of building styles and looking for gargoyles and statues of saints or gods.  

Favorite Prague scavenges included:
(a) Eat a special type of Czech schnitzel: a smazeny syr. Schitnzel is a battered and fried food, not dissimilar to a chicken fried steak and can be made with chicken, veal etc.  What a surprise when I cut this one open to find: a fried slab of cheese… like a giant Cheese Stick but with no marinara sauce for dipping. It's a heart attack steak.  

(b) We had to find the city clock which has been keeping official time for the city since 1410….It’s an astronomical clock and very beautiful. 

(c) We crossed the Charles Bridge which is lined with statues and shrines. My favorite is the “Love Locks Shrine” where couples attach padlocks to an ornate shrine to essentially “lock-in” their love.  There are so many padlocks that the city had to cut them off each week or there would be no more space. 

(d) We visited the John Lennon wall - an oddity on a tree-line side-street:

When John Lennon was murdered in 1980, graffiti about his music and his life started appearing on this particular wall in Prague.  It was a thinly veiled protest against the Communist regime that still ruled Czechoslovakia: a regime that did not allow music from suspicious singers such as Lennon because his songs promoted peace and freedom. The wall is a constantly changing art piece as new graffiti is put on top of old on a regular basis. 

There is a mini Eiffel tower on a hillside in Prague (approximately 1/5th the size of the real one). From the top there is a great view of Prague. Naturally we had to hoof it all the way to the top...  legs burning again.

We had to sing Cezch drinking songs in an authentic beer hall.  Since I have to eat the nasty food all over the world, Rainey gets to do the embarrassing perform-in-front-of-total-strangers-and-make-a-fool-out-of-yourself stuff...

And my favorite piece of architecture in Prague... the Dancing Building – a condo complex designed to visually depict the movement and fluidity of dance. Isn't it great?

Observations: Apparently if you are a totally healthy and able-bodied 19 year old, you find it appropriate in Prague to kneel down beside a dog and beg for money.  I wanted to give this kid a flea dip and send him to a labor pool. Get a job, buddy!!!

WASHINGTON, DC:  Our last leg was back to the US for a day in Washington, DC. We only had a few hours for scavenges so we rented bicycles to get as much done as possible. 

And we hit all of the expected sites: Washington Memorial

The Capitol  - with all of its glory

The brand new Martin Luther King memorial - which I liked a lot - except why couldn't they do the statue from an earlier and slimmer time in his life? It's like they picked the most unflattering depiction of him to carved into white marble for all of time. 

And then we found the names of potential ancestors at the Vietnam Memorial Wall.

David and Natasha at lunch...

THE END: And so ends our amazing trip.  We just finished the Awards Ceremony and the Farewell Party.  This year, Rainey and I came in third. "The Sidney Sisters" were in second place (a sister team from Australia - far right) and Andrew & Sasskia took first place (the couple in the middle from New Zealand).  Here’s the winner’s circle…..  

Home tomorrow and back to the real world.  I’m dreading it already. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Europe Leg

What an amazing few days since I last was in contact… Italy, Austria, Slovenia, Czech Republic… and great adventures along the way.  Just arriving in Prague so I will have to write about this city later. 
We started on Monday in Rome. The city was already crowded with tourists and a real change from some of the remote places we’ve been in the last two weeks.  I prefer the country to big cities but it’s hard not to love Rome.  So full of beautiful architecture and sites. Of course, one of our first challenges was to visit the Coliseum because no trip to Rome is complete without a photo in front of there. 
Then we had to find some religion at the Vatican and St Peter’s Basilica…. 

And re-enact the Audrey Hepburn scene where she throws a coin into the Trevi Fountain  because legend is that this will ensure that you come back to Rome again one day.

 Apparently more than $5,000 of coins end up in the fountain every day !!!!  A lot of people must want to return to Rome in their lifetime.
Day 2 of the Europe leg we set off for Bologna because (a) there were a lot of scavenger point there; (b) I’d never been there and (c) It is May Day in Italy and a lot of tourist attractions and museums are closed for the holiday so going to Florence seemed a waste of time as most the scavenges there would have been shut. On the other hand Bolognas had a lot of stuff to do that was outdoors and we gambled that we’d pick up more points there. We were right.  As soon as we got into town we stored our luggage at the train station (remember – for this leg – we are traveling with all of our baggage which is a true pain in the butt) and rented bikes. The bikes gave us an extra 100 points and made navigating the town quicker and easier. 

It was nice to be outside, on a sunny day, speeding along And Bologna is a pretty town with lots of archways and piazza (open plazas). 

We had to climb this VERY TALL tower in the center of town. All the way to the top. It was a tough, hard climb - which left my legs burning - but the view at the top was awesome. You could see the entire town and all the surrounding countryside.  

We also had to find this church with creepy marble-inlays on the floor of skulls laughing at you. Odd,  odd, odd. 

The hardest scavenge was to visit a church on the top of this hill right outside town … but the walk there is steeply uphill (for a few MILES) on a beautiful arched walkway.  Having climbed the tower just an hour earlier, I was dying by the time I reached the top.. sweating, cussing, hating that I am not in better shape. 

On the way down, there was a hole in the wall where you could write down your spiritual wish and “post” it into the wall.  Obviously I’m not religious at all but - under the theory that you should always cover your bases – I faithfully posted my #1 wish.  

That afternoon, we hopped on another train and arrived in Venice by late afternoon.  We got extra points that night if we stayed in a hotel for less than 100 Euros (quite a feat in Venice, one of the most expensive cities in Europe).  We managed to find a hostel type place with a room for 90 Euros  and – expecting the worst – went to discard our luggage.  As expected, the room was modest with a hard mattress, no air conditioning and limited hot water... but this was the view out of the window.    

And it was onto a quiet canal without a lot of boats or noise, a great find since we had to sleep with the windows wide open to try and  get some breeze. There apparently is no awful lodging in Venice – it’s too beautiful a city. We had dinner and then walked around … over bridges and along canals.. and got hopelessly lost.

Day3 of Europe saw us up early in Venice – taking the first Traghetto (a non-fancy kind of gondola) across the Grand Canal to a market. 

We had to buy bread and meats and cheese for a train picnic later that day as we moved on from Venice. A quick feeding of the pigeons in San Marco square and it was time to say goodbye to Venezia. 

We made a short lay-over stop in Austria to get some mandatory food scavenges and headed on to Ljubljana, Slovenia.  I’d never been to Slovenia before and I presumed that it would be a somewhat plain town with boring Soviet-block architecture and very little charm. Boy was I wrong. Ljubljana is a lovely Austrian-type town in the mountains. It’s built along a river with lots of pretty bridges crossing the river every short distance. 

We got 100 bonus points if one of us did a street performance and asked for donations.  Rainey paid  the drummer of a 2-person accordion/drum group to let him handle the drum for ½ hour while we waited for our dinner. I went around with a hat.  It was slim pickings. The accordion guy was good. Rainey... not so much. 

We were able to have a leisurely dinner in Ljubljana – at a restaurant right next to the river – and grabbed a few hours of sleep before heading out for Prague (our check-in destination).  

We have to change trains 4 times to get to Prague from here and some of the connections are right with only a few minutes spare between when we arrive at one platform and have to leave on another one all the way across the station.  We are going to be running like mad people with our luggage. It’s going to be rough - and on only a few hours of sleep – YUCK !!!


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