Thursday, June 27, 2013

Dresden, Germany

Dresden by Night
Dresden is a quaint town about 2 hours south of Berlin.  We left Prague after dinner, and drove to Dresden in the dark.  While looking for our hotel (the one that we wanted to stay in... we hadn't actually reserved a room yet), we saw a beautiful view of the City of Dresden so after checking in, we walked back to take a photo.  Unfortunately it was after just midnight so the lights on a few of the buildings had just gone out.  On our way back to the hotel, we went on a search for ice cream, but didn't find any.  However, we did find several live bands.

Dresden is the capital of the free state of Saxony in Germany.  It sits on the Elbe River not far north of the Czech border.  Dresden was known as the Jewel Box because of it's baroque and rococo city center.  Unfortunately, the entire city center was destroyed when the city was bombed by the Allies near the end of World War II.  Parts of the city center have been reconstructed, but the bombing, along with 40 years of the Communist reign,  considerably changed the face of the city.

Dresden Frauenkirche
The morning after we arrived, it was raining (lightly), but we ventured out anyway.  We were only out for a few minutes before it started raining harder, but I did manage to take a few photos of the Dresden Frauenkirche before we headed back to the hotel.

The Dresden Frauenkirche was originally constructed between 1726 and 1743 but was destroyed in 1945 during WWII.  It was reconstructed and has been open since 2005.  The church and the Neumarkt Square surrounding it are to regain their status as the historical center of the city.  Neumarkt Square is being gradually reconstructed to follow its former opulent baroque design.  It was originally built in 1548 but was seriously damaged during the seven years war.  The square was later rebuilt in the simpler late baroque style.

Not long before I went to Germany, I saw a post about a building in the art district of Dresden that plays music when it rains.  I didn't know if we would be able to visit Dresden, and if we did, I didn't expect it to be raining.  Since it was, we decided to head to Neustadt Kunsthofpassage to see the singing house created by sculptor Annette Paul and designers Christoph Rossner and Andre Tempel, who all live in the musical home.

The Courtyard of Elements, home to the singing house, is also home to a building with a yellow facade with aluminum panels (above), representing the light and another with a green facade adorned with giraffes and monkeys representing the animals.  The rain stopped as we were looking for the singing house so after seeing it, we headed back to the city center.

Semper Opera House
The Semper Opera House (Semperoper) in Dresden is the most famous opera house in Germany.  It houses the Saxon State Orchestra, one of the oldest and best-known orchestras in the world.  The opera house was built between 1838 and 1841.  It closed in August of 1944 and was destroyed 6 months later in the Allied attacks.  It was reconstructed and reopened again in 1985.

Zwinger Palace
The Zwinger, designed by court architect Matthaeus Daniel Poeppelmann, was constructed in stages from 1710 to 1728.  It was originally designed as an orangery and a setting for court festivities.  

Zwinger Palace
The name derives from the German word Zwinger (outer ward of a concentric castle).  It was for the cannons placed between the outer wall and the major wall.  The Zwinger was not enclosed until the Semper Gallery, designed by Gottfried Semper, was built on the norther side between 1847 and 1855.

Dresden Royal Palace and Cathedral
Dresden's royal palace was once the hub of power for the Saxon princes and kings.  It was first mentioned in the 14th century as a castle complex and the four-winged structure was developed in the 15th century.  It was destroyed by fire in 1701 and was reconstructed under Augustus the Strong.  The palace once again burned down in the WWII attacks, and most of the valuable interior furnishings were lost.  It was reconstructed in 1985 as a museum

Hofkirche from the Front
The cathedral, Hofkirche, is Dresden's youngest baroque building.  The Hofkirche was constructed between in the baroque style between 1739 and 1755 by Italian architect Gaetano Chiaveri.  The Hofkirche has been the Cathedral of the Dresden-Meissen Diocese since 1980.

The Kreuzkirche was built in the late baroque and early Classiscistic style between 1764 and 1800.  The church is the home of the Kreuzchor boy's choir, whose tradition reaches back more than 700 years.

Inside the Kreuzkirche

The Fuerstenzug is a large mural of a mounted procession of the rulers of Saxony.  It was originally painted between 1871 and 1876.  To make the work waterproof, it was replaced with Meissen porcelain tiles between 1904 and 1907 (approximately 23,000 of them).  It's located on the outer wall of the Stallhof (stables courtyard) of Dresden Castle.

We only spent a few hours exploring Dresden, but it was another city worth the visit (and another city that we could have spent much more time exploring).  After spending a few hours exploring, we continued back to Berlin, where there was much more to see!

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Czech Republic: Brno and Prague

Prague, Czech Republic - Looking across the Vltava River
I've been back in the U.S. for almost a month, and I'm still working on these posts... and I still have lots more to share.  We saw so many amazing things that it's hard to sift through it all, not to mention the time it takes to look up information on what we actually saw!

On our way back to Germany, we drove through the Czech Republic and made stops in Brno and Prague (Praha in Czech).  Some websites advised against driving through the Czech Republic because of bad roads and poorly placed road signs, but it was the shortest route back to Berlin (and I REALLY wanted to go to Prague).  That night we did nearly get lost because of detour that directed us off of the highway, but we found our way back to the highway and into Germany.  Prague was worth the trip (even with the roads and even though we had to do a currency exchange because the Czech Republic hasn't made the switch the Euro yet)!

Brno:  Prague was the highlight of our drive through the Czech Republic, but before Prague, we stopped in Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic.  We were there for a very short time and didn't see that much of the city, but it was an interesting city to visit.

Brno, Czech Republic - Liberty Square
Liberty Square, above, was the main square during the Middle Ages.  Brno has been inhabited since the prehistoric era.  The direct ancestor of Brno was a fortified settlement of the Great Moravia Empire, inhabited from the Neolithic Era to the early 11th century.

Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul

Driving into the city of Brno, it is impossible to miss the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, which rests on top of the Petrov hill.  The chapel was founded on the Petrov hill in the 11th century.  It has undergone many changes since which have resulted in the Gothic Cathedral that can be seen on the hill today.

The bell at the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul is traditionally rung at 11 a.m. rather than noon.  Legend is that during the Thirty Years' War, the invading Swedes had promised to call off their attack if they had not succeeded in taking the city by midday on the 15th of August.  With the battle underway, some citizens rang the bell an hour early, which fooled the Swedes into breaking off the attack and leaving empty handed.  History tells us that Brno was the only city to effectively ward off the Swedes during the war.

Looking toward the City from the Petrov Hill

Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul
Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul on the Petrov hill
Prague:  After our short stop in Brno, we continued North through the Czech Republic to Prague.  I was intrigued by the idea of visiting Prague after seeing it on TV in shows such as HGTV's House Hunters (HGTV can make any city sound intriguing), though I wasn't totally sure what the draw was.  I'm so glad we made the trip!

Prague, looking toward the Prague Castle from the Vltava River

Crossing the Charles Bridge heading into Old Town

Prague, founded during the Romanesque and flourishing by the Gothic and Renaissance eras, is the historical capital of Bohemia Proper.  Prague was not only the capital of the Czech state but also the seat of two Holy Roman Emperors.  It was an important city to the Habsburg Monarchy and its Austro-Hungarian Emperor.  After World War 1, it became the capital of Czechoslovakia.  The city also played major roles in the Protestant Reformation, the Thirty Years' War, during both World Wars and the post-war Communist era.

Prague Castle
The Prague Castle, one of the most important sights in Prague, has been the home of the offices of the Kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman Emperors and the Presidents of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic.  The castle is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest ancient castle in the world.  The history of the castle dates back to the 9th century, when the first walled building, the Church of the Virgin Mary was built (today only the foundations of the church survive).

Basilica of Saint Vitus 
Basilica of St. George
The Basilica of Saint Vitus and the Basilica of St. George were founded during the reign of Vratislav during the first half of the 10th century.  Both churches are located within the Prague Castle.  

The Basilica of St. George, originally founded in 920, now houses the 19th century Bohemian Art Collection and also serves as a concert hall.  The Baroque facade dates from the late 17th century.

The two photos above show the front view of the St. Vitus Cathedral.  
We walked into the main entrance of the Prague Castle and through a courtyard and then through another archway that opened up to the Basilica Saint Vitus, a grand Gothic cathedral.  The cathedral is so close to the wall that you can't see its entire face at one time.  The original cathedral, founded in 925 was an early Romanesque rotunda.  In 1060, prince Spytihnev II embarked on building a more spacious church because the existing rotunda was not spacious enough to accomodate the patrons.  The present day Gothic cathedral was founded in November of 1344 and building continued for hundreds of years, with several architects, most notably Peter Parler who also designed the Charles bridge and the Frauenkirche in Nuremberg, Germany.

Like many other churches in the region, the Basilica Saint Vitus is currently being cleaned and restored.
Entrance to the Prague Castle
View from Prague Castle
Changing of the Guard

Two more noteworthy churches sit in Prague's Old Town Square, the gothic, two towered, Church of Our Lady Before Tyn sits directly behind street buildings that house restaurants on their first floors.  We walked through an alleyway to see the church only to find that the church has actually been built into the buildings in front of it.  Although it is impossible to see the much of the front of the church, the gothic towers, peaking above the other buildings and rising into the sky, are a stark contrast in the mostly baroque style town square.  The second of these churches is the baroque style, St. Nicholas Church (shown below).  The square is also home to the Prague Astronomical Clock (also shown below).  The clock was originally installed in 1410 and is the oldest working astronomical clock in the world.

Old Town Square
St. Nicholas Church
Prague Astronomical Clock built into the Old City Hall
Old City Hall

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

My European Tour: The Food

One of the most amazing things about Europe is the accessibility of bakeries, cafes and restaurants.  Though there are some chains, most are small businesses with great chefs that prepare amazing food!  I have to admit that not everything we ate was amazing, but so much of it was that I feel the need to share!

Doener - Actually spelled "D'O umlaut'ner" in German.  The "o umlaut" is actually an "o" with two small dots above.
I'm starting with my favorite, the Doener.  Many restaurants throughout Germany and the surrounding area sell Doener's, but none as good as Mustafas Gemuese Kebap.  The Doener consists of toasted bread (shaped kind of like a pita) with kebap chicken (think of the meat on the stick at a Greek restaurant), seasoned vegetables, feta, and cucumber salad (and a choice of 3 or 4 sauces - I only tried the garlic sauce).  The chicken and vegetables are seasoned and cooked perfectly.  The flavors and textures are perfect, a little crunchy and a little melt in your mouth.  It's perfect!

This little stand has the best Doener available.  There is always a line, according to my husband, even at 2 am, but it's worth the wait.

Chocolate Muffin from a Bakery Near Our Flat in Berlin
Pastries and Desserts!  Sugary treats were always in abundance, and so hard to refuse!

Apple Fritters with Vanilla Ice Cream from Bratwurst Roeslein in Nuremberg
Trdlenik in Prague

Pastries from the 15 Suesse Minuten Bakerei

One day we were searching Vienna for a bakery.  There weren't many bakeries in the area of the town we were in so we really didn't think we'd find anything.  Then we saw a photo of that amazing waffle above on an A-frame sign on the street.  We walked in to check it out and discovered that this bakery, 15 Suesse Minuten, was run by a young chef who made everything himself (well maybe he had help, but it was all made fresh in the bakery).  This was our lunch on our second day in Vienna... that must be why I liked Europe so much!

Homemade Pasta with Fresh Pesto Sauce, Pecorino Cheese and Dried Beef
The Pasta above rivals the Doener for my favorite meal.  Homemade pasta with fresh pesto sauce (so fresh that you could taste the fresh herbs), pecorino cheese and dried beef.  This was pretty amazing!  It was from an Italian Restaurant in Vienna called Da Capo that we found wondering the streets looking for food.  We passed it up the first time we walked by but ended up going back.  It was so worth it!  I could have eaten there over and over and over!

Now that I've taken a break to share an actual meal, back to the pastries!

Apple and Strawberry Pastries in Wittenberg
Poppyseed Pastry in Kruezberg, Berlin

Delicious pastries on a beautiful day in Wittenberg (see my full post on our visit to Wittenberg here).  Wittenberg is a super cute little town, and this bakery was right in the middle of town.  The street was quiet, the sun was out, the pastries were amazing, and we had a great view of the Schlosskirche from the outdoor seating.

The second pastry above was one of my favorites.  Bakeries are the best because you don't have to be able to read/speak German.  You just choose by looking and pointing.  I later found out that the little black specs in this pastry are ground up poppy seeds, though I would have never known. Though the poppy seeds probably added some flavor, I have a feeling that what made me like it so much was the obscene amount of sugar.
Cheese and Raspberry Danish in Kreuzberg
The pastries above came from a cafe on the corner of our street in Berlin... exactly what I needed after a good run at Templehof, an old airport turned park near our flat.

Pizza in Linz, Austria
Pizza is always one of my favorites, and we enjoyed this one from Pizzeria Verona in Linz, Austria.  Funny story though, the English menu called this pizza salami and pepperoni.  We hadn't seen pepperoni in the area and were really excited to have pepperoni.  Unfortunately, pepperoni was lost in translation, and instead of pepperoni, we got this peperoncini on top of our pizza.  Small pieces of peperoncini added an interesting flavor to our salami pizza.  It wasn't bad, but it definitely wasn't what I was expecting!

Delicious Meal from Restaurant Z in Kreuzberg
Restaurant Z is a Greek restaurant, located on Friesenstrasse, about a block from our flat (note that when I say our flat, I mean the flat that my husband was staying in during our time in Berlin).  This was another AMAZING meal!  As an appetizer, we had feta dip with all of the important greek ingredients and warm bread for dipping.  Then, we got the meal pictured above:  chicken stuffed with cheese and wrapped with bacon with potatoes on the side.  This is a restaurant that I'd go to often if I lived in Berlin.

Cafe Frauenhuber (Mrs. Huber Cafe) in Vienna boasts such guests as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.  The actual meal, in the first photo above, was kind of like a crepe stuffed with meat, swimming in sauce.  This wasn't our favorite meal in Vienna (see above for our favorite), but it was good - though a little heavy at lunch time.  It was on a quiet street, and we sat on the patio.

And what's a trip to Germany without a little Bratwurst?  We purchased this one in Wittenberg and enjoyed it during our drive from Wittenberg to Nuremberg.

Check out some of my other posts of our trip for photos of the cities we visited and some of the history of the area!