Saturday, December 25, 2010


It was a clear, almost sunny day in late October; I had a thick, woolen sweater on me, and yet I felt chills all over my body. My brain was busy translating sights into people and happenings, my camera 'behaved' as if it highly resented the idea of taking pictures.
Visiting a place which used to serve as ghetto, prison and concentration camp was not an enjoyable experience .

Terezin (Teresienstadt) , a peaceful little town one hour north of Prague. has been turned by the Nazis into a ghetto for the jews of Czechia and adjacent countries during World War Two.

Things are somehow dispersed here, confusing the first time visitor. There's the main site (the city Ghetto) and a small fortress ( Gestapo political prison) - some twenty minutes walk apart from each other. Both places have museums and exhibitions , cemeteries, yards, barracks, torture cells, bunks, gallows - all testimony to the attrocities that have been comitted here by the Nazis.

'Arbeit Macht Frei ' sign ( upon the inner gate)

inhuman cell

Outside of the small fortress (Mala Pevnost - built in the 18 century on the edge of the town of Terezin) , near the entrance, there's the National Cemetery , dedicated to the victims of Terezin prison and concentration camp. Buried here are people exhumated from the mass graves within the fortress, urns containing ashes from the Crematorium of the Ghetto, and also remains of the dead from the Ghetto. In all, 10,000 victims (jews and other nationalities - and there 's a Cross and a David's Shield on the spot).

entrance to the small fortress

national cemetery

I believe , a visiti to places like Terezin (Czech Republic) , Dachau (Germany), Auschwitz (Poland) gives one a new perspective to the concepts of Life and Death; it teaches a lot about Human Nature , about Evil and Suffering. After visiting places like the above mentioned , one's view of the world ceases to be romantic , and becomes more lucid and realistic.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Now You Come?!

I often hear people saying it's not wise to live too close to Nature's major elements; in fact, it's quite dangerous: forests present us with the danger of Fire, waters - danger of Floods, volcanoes - eruption of Lava and so on.
With the global climate becoming crazy (as a result of frequent nuclear experiments performed in various parts of the world), things are going to be worse as far as natural disasters are concerned.

At the beginning of this month, terrible fires broke out in the forests of Mt. Carmel in the north of Israel causing loss of lives, of property, and consumming thousands of acres of forestland. People living on the mountain and its surroundings (among them a cousin of mine and his family) had to evacuate themselves.

Rain would have saved the situation, but there was no sign of it.
It was hot and dry, and the fire was spreading so quickly (helped by a deceiving cool breeze) that the firefighters on the ground were totally helpless. PM Netanyau had to ask for foreign assistance. Firefighting aircraft sent by the other countries did a good job in extinguishing the fire (especially the russian plane capable of holding up to 42,000 liters of water) .

A week or so after the disaster, heavy rains started to fall all over the country. 'Now you come?!' raged the headlines in the newspapers.

Well, the rain and the storm accompanying it caused damage to all sorts of cables , (including my phone cable) leaving people without electricity, TV, internet, etc.. The phone company was supposed to send someone the next day to repair my cable, but the technician appeared after... several days. I was so angry , that all I could say to him when he came in was : Now you come?!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Old and Jewish

The blue sign located above the souvenir stands (see picture below), indicates by the little white arrows , the direction to the synagogues (Maisel, Spanish, Pinkas, Old-New, Klausen), to the Ceremony Hall, and to the Old Jewish Cemetery- the major sites that make up the Old Jewish Quarter of Prague (Josefov). These historic-religious sites are visited every year by thousands of people from all over the world.

souvenirs in the Old Jewish Quarter

The above mentioned sites, display items belonging to the Jewish Museum in Prague: collections of jewish prints, manuscripts, books, silver ornaments, textile, traditions ,customs, and also lots of drawings by children from Terezin concentration camp.

The Pinkas synagogue is a Memorial to the czech victims of the Holocaust ; their names are written on its walls.
The Old-New synagogue ( the Altneushul) is the oldest in Europe, still in use as house of prayer. The Spanish synagogue hosts, besides exhibitions, also various concerts.

It is forbidden to take pictures inside the synagogues ( the interior of the Spanish synagogue with its moorish decorations is , in my opinion, the most beautiful); visitors can buy postcards, books and commemorative coins offered for sale on the spot.

exterior of the Maisel synagogue

The Old-New synagogue (the Altneushul)

the Pinkas synagogue

The Old Jewish Cemetery is somehow peculiar and yet very impressive .

Although small, the cemetery contains thousands of graves from various historical periods; the oldest gravestone is from year 1439, and the last burial took place in 1787 .
It is said that the graves are put one upon another in some 12 layers! Many of the gravestones seem close to each other and inclined , probably because of
lack of space.

hebrew inscriptions on the tombstones

The most prominent figure burried in this cemetery is Rabbi Jehuda Loew ben Bezalel (known as the MaHaRaL) a scholar and educator who has published more than fifty(50) religios and philosophical books. According to the legend, he created the Golem, a monster made of clay , brought to life through magic, who stood by the Jews in bad times, but later became violent and had to be destroyed.

One thing is obvios; no peace and quiet for the dead of this cemetery. It's constantly flooded with tourists taking pictures and wondering about the sights.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Horses, Boats, and a Hug

A ride in a horse-drawn carriage and a cruise on the river , are popular and romantic ways to view a city like Prague. It is not for everyone though. Me, for instance, I'm rather shy, and the ride in a carriage is not for shy people; the glances and turning of heads of the passers-by might be embarassing.

ride in a horse-drawn carriage

As for a cruise, I'm not on very good terms with boats and ships. For some reason, I feel rather unwell on vessels. I've promised myself to 'work on it' , but there always seems to be something more important on my agenda. Pity!

Anyway, a cruise on the Vltava river offering spectacular views of its bridges (Karl bridge the most famous among them) and the landscape around including the Castle complex, The National Theatre, and more , is I suppose, a lifetime experience. I've noticed all kinds of boats there and the possibility of various tours according to duration, price, luxuries.

evening on the Quay; there are also night cruises

On Petrin Hill, they offer assisted rides on horses and ponies. Near the funicular terminal, there's a sculpture (mentioned by me in a previous post) showing an embrace between a man and woman (both naked). Two little ones , brother and sister, were intensely looking at it, giggling and discussing it. I wished I could understand the language. Perhaps I could have learnt something ...'out of the mouths of babes'. Sometimes kids surprise us with their wisdom and their mature understanding .

The father got angry with their interest in the statue, so he put them on a horse to keep them away from it. A horse- ride is not cheap, but then education does cost money.

horse riding on Petrin Hill

Friday, November 26, 2010

Panoramic 'Headache'

Shall we walk up the hill, climb the stairs of the old church/tower? take the funicular/the elevator/the chair lift? dine at the restaurant at the top of...? do it at the beginning of the tour, towards the end of the tour? all of it?

Well, these questions are about ways to get a panoramic (wide-angle) view of the city we've come to visit. A lot depends on the amount of time one has at one's disposal, weather, mood, and of course physical fitness.

A panoramic view is a Must as it offers some of the most exquisite moments in one's life. Who could ever forget the panoramic view of the Bay of Naples from the top of Mount Vesuvium in Italy, or the view of Athens from the Acropolis in Greece, for instance. Certainly
Not Me.

In Prague there are quite a few spots that offer a stunning panoramic view of this fascinating city: The astronomical Clock Tower, the Powder Tower, the Ziziko TV Tower (pobably the highest place not only in Prague, but in the entire Czech Republic) ,
the Castle, the french Restaurant on top of the Dancing House, etc... The above mentioned towers and the Castle are the most famous attractions in the city.

the Astronomical Clock Tower

the Powder Tower

If it's a clear , nice day, I would strongly recommend the Petrin Hill for a panoramic view of Prague, and not only for this. The Petrin Hill is home to lush gardens, a house of mirrors, churches, and...a look out tower ( copy of the Eiffel Tower, 60 m high, 299 stairs to climb to the top platform, unless you decide to take the elevator).

to the Petrin Hill

There are two ways to get to the top of the hill: by walking uphill or by taking the funicular. Once you reach the top, there's the imposant observation tower. After being up and taking some pictures, you walk down towards the Castle that also offers amazing views of the city.

the Observatory Tower - Petrin Hill

people, food, and fun near the entrance

panoramic view from the Observatory Tower

view of the Castle from the gardens of Petrin Hill

view of Prague from the gate to the Castle

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Becherovka and Hot Springs

Becherovka - sounds nice, tastes sweet- bitter. It's a herbal based liqueur produced in Karlo Vivary (Karlsbad ), a lovely spa town, a two hours drive from Prague.
This liqueur made with spa water , originally for medicinal purposes, comes in green bottles of all shapes and sizes . Its aroma is dominated by cinnamone and anise seed. Its recipe is top secret like that of Coca Cola.

cute liqueur- selling street Booth

Karlo Vivary's hot springs (12-15 numbered main springs) are, of course, the big attraction of the city. The average temperature of the water which flows through special taps is around 60 degrees C. It is said to help with various health problems, mainly digestive ones.

Colonnade (there are five)

It goes like this: you buy a porcelain cup (there are various sizes and qualities) with spout, fill it with the spring hot water, then sip from it slowly while strolling on the promenade, through the Colonades, or sitting on a bench near the spring. I did that of course, but wasn't too excited by the taste. I suppose it takes time to get used to it. Some people, by the way, prefer to bring a bottle and fill it with the curative water. Anyway, whether you like the water or not, the cup is a nice souvenir.

my personal cup

checking the temperature

enjoying a sip and a chat on the bench

curious boy

king Karl's the4th hot spring

Next time, with God's will, if I happen to be there again, I'll go in the footsteps of historical and cultural personalities (including cinema stars that attend annually the Karlo Vivary International Film Festival) - and take a few mineral baths and massages.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Quick Bite in Praha.

At home , I'm more or less disciplined as to what I eat; after all, I do believe in the saying: "You are what you eat and drink" . When I'm away from home, especially in another country, I am always eager to sample the local food (which usually tastes pretty good , but is not exactly the dieter's friend).

The Czechs have booths and stands placed strategically in central squares, markets, at touristic sites - selling a great variety of fast, mostly hot food which goes very well with the cold weather, and with beer.

The sausage (klobasa) is the king, and the delicious fried cheese sandwich ( smazeny syr) is the Queen of this sort of food. There are various types of sausages, and they are eaten with mustard/ketchup/sauerkraut. In the meat category, one could also choose to buy chicken shawarma topped with veggies and sauce or chicken fried cutlet.
The fried cheese (Edam cheese) which comes with mayonnaise on top and is placed in a bun, is a 'star', both on a simple food stand, and in a classy restaurant.

There are ,of course, various side dishes such as those based on potatoes (boiled, baked or fried), pasta, rice, dumplings. The main beverage to go with all this is local beer. They say, by the way, it is best to eat fried food items after you've had some beers, as the fat will absorb the alcohol.

Sweet treats are fairly represented by waffels, dumplings filled with fruit or cream, crepe, and yeast-based pastries.

The smells in the area of the booths and stands are irresistible, and the atmosphere - cheerful. People obviously enjoy eating & drinking in the open air, especially when there's also some entertainment around.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Prague at first sight

Last week I was in Prague (the capital of the Czeck Republic). That's a lovely city with very impressive architecture and lots of attractions.
The weather was cold (especially in the area of the famous Vltava river), but the sky was clear and even sunny at times, and this was good for walking around and taking pictures.

Most of the locals don't know English or any other major language . If a foreigner enters a store to buy something, both the salesperson and the customer get irritated as they have no common language. In this respect, Prague is not a friendly city. Driving is crazy here, and it's really dangerous to cross a street with all its tram lines and very few, if at all, traffic signs.

There are some love-sculptures in public places that are a delight to look at. Two such sculptures caught my eye in particular. One is placed in front of the Intercontinental Hotel ( a few steps from the Vltava), another, on the Petrin Hill (which offers a panoramic view of the city).

In the very center of the city, at the entrance of a book shop - a poster of Madeleine Albright (Albrightova, in the czech language). It seems that the Prague-born former USA Secretary of State is loved and admired here.

I can't remember anything specific about her as a Secretary of State. I think I will remember though, the present one, Hillary Clinton, for the fact that although she couldn't keep an eye on her husband, she thought she could keep an eye on the World.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Gem in the Desert

The alpaca farm is located in a hidden valley among desert hills, offering visitors much fun and joy. At the entrance , on both sides - amazing cactus plants. Next, a multi -purpose stone cabin which serves as cafeteria, exhibition of alpaca-wool based products, activity room etc..

People interested in recreation and a base for trips in the desert and nearby Mizpe Ramon crater will find here some B&B cabins., well-equipped and air-conditioned. ( I suppose , sometimes , in high touristic season, the recreation area gets a bit noisy because of the many visitors on the farm).

[Enlarge the following colorful map to learn something about the structure of this unusual place. The captions are in hebrew , but the pictures help give an idea of how things are grouped].

The alpacas (raised for their wool) and llamas (reliable burden carriers) , live in harmony here with pigeons, horses, angora sheep, dogs, ponnies, camels, goats etc.. The dogs are supposed to protect the other animals at night from foxes and wolves .

There are some nice activities for both children and adults taking place at the farm: ponny and llama rides for kids, horse rides for the grown-ups, watching shearing of alpacas , weaving of wool on a loom, and the biggest attraction of all - hand feeding the alpacas and llamas. Sometimes these gracious camel-like animals get cheeky or start spitting, so - watch out!

Please, watch my musical slideshow displaying pictures of this special farm. Enjoy!

Friday, October 15, 2010

On the edge of Machtesh Ramon

The Visitors' Center (in the above picture) located on the very edge of the Ramon Crater is the starting point to almost everything concerning this huge, unspoiled, geologically fascinating area (viewing, hiking, rappeling , camping, exploring, info regarding status of trails, etc..).

There seems to be a slightly embarassing hygienic and estethic problem at the spot: men tend to urinate near the structure ignoring the nearby toilets and the warning sign which says the delinquent will be punished. (See the picture below, a combo of two pictures: 1. man in "action" 2. the warning sign and the ugly brown urine stain.).

It's possible to get to the top of the rocky hill where the Visitors Complex stands, by road or by climbing stairs. I went up and down by both ways and enjoyed it. It's a bit windy up there; one's hat/cap could be easily carried away by the light wind. A plane from a nearby military base flying low, scarred the bejesus out of me ( I suppose this kind of low flight is not uncommon here).

A few meters from the Visitors' Center , there's a balcony which hangs above the crater offering the best panoramic view of the crater. The floor of the balcony is made of wood so I was kind of afraid to step on it ( trauma of the collapse of the wooden bridge - see my post from July 15 "The Fatal Bridge and Fungus"). I did it in the end , and the reward was a breathtaking view of the crater.

Please watch my musical slideshow with views from the edge of the crater! ( I couldn't upload it from my blog editor , so I had to learn how to use the method of uploading on Youtube, and then embed the code in my blog). Enjoy !