Monday, August 4, 2014

New York - The fun city

New York Skyline


From One Square to Another

When you travel from the historic cities of Prague and Munich to the commercial capital of the World called the New York – the contrasts are stark.  In Prague we could delve in one historical building after another for many days. There was culture in every corner.  In New York, we were just checking which building had more length and which place had more lights! There were perhaps as many people in Old Town Square of Prague as they were in Times Square. While the Old Town square had those amazing architectural wonders in the shape of churches, houses and buildings – the Times Square was all gloss and glitter. At any given time of day or night it was full of action. Most of the people were just there so that they could be at Times Square. I mean they were not doing anything but sitting down on the famous steps and just looking around. Then they would look up as a larger than life attractive model advertising some clothing brand would almost like walk out from one the large hoardings on one of the tall buildings. Times Square never sleeps. All the 4 nights that we were in New York, we spent each evening at Times Square doing what others were doing – Nothing !

Experience the Broadway Musical- the less expensive way.

The Broadway. The Lion King is one of the most popular musicals.

Our hotel was near the Times Square. So this effectively meant that we had to cross Broadway to get to the square. Each day we would see the glittering hoardings advertising the Broadway musicals. We had seen a couple of them during the last visit but we were keen that the children get the experience of watching one. I did some research and zeroed in on ‘Pippin’ after deciding to eliminate ‘The Lion King.’  The prices of the musicals are pretty steep and some of the latest like ‘Book of Mormon’ were going for almost $ 350.00 each. I was told discounted tickets were sold in booking counters under the steps of Times Square. I also read that on Wednesdays many theatres had matinee show and discounted tickets would be available under the steps on the same morning. Very diligently I went and stood in a serpentine queue under the hot June New York Sun. Dear wife and children kept providing me with snacks and drinks. Many old people who stood in the line were flushed pink and it seemed that a couple of them would collapse due to heat. But they held on and moved with the line. I marveled at their enthusiasm. In about 75 minutes I came out victorious. I had 4 tickets of Pippin for the matinee show at 50% discount!

Popular Broadway shows need to be booked much in advance
The musical itself was nice and I think all four of us had fun. It was well produced and had good effects. We had good seats and I am happy that Children saw a Broadway musical. 

You will end up meeting a lot of people here just as we bumped into family members.


Understanding Manhattan

 It is easy to Navigate Manhattan. For those who have been there know that the city is built in grids and addresses are mentioned like ‘34th on the 7th’, which means 34th street on 7th Avenue. In between they have some names of avenues instead of numbers like 'Broadway' or 'Park Avenue.' Each of the avenues from the 5th to the 10th is a shopper’s paradise. All the big stores and designer names are in this area. You could get lost in a store like Macy's as it is pretty huge. At 'Forever 21', it seemed that merchandise was being given free the way crowds were shopping. Upmarket stores like Tiffany's have a huge presence here. A glass structure indicating 'Apple' store stands not very far from Central Park on 5th Avenue. They have a pretty large store but you have to take glass steps to underground. My son loved being there. People seem to be in a hurry in New York as they walk at a brisk pace.  The legs get tired walking as this is what you do most of the time. The neck gets tired if you keep raising your head to watch top of buildings.As you walk you pass restaurants, music shops, theatres, pubs and lot of colourful shops. They all are lit up at night and the music plays and hot dog vendors do brisk sale. There are a lot of places to visit and we would stop by at Rockfeller foundation or some other landmark like Trump Tower. Some great flower decoration was going on near Rockfellar foundation for the coming 4th of July Celebrations. We were not there long enough to be around 4th July or else we would have got great discounts on shopping. 
For the Art lovers, Museums are there and in nutshell one can say that you could do loads of things if you want to while in New York . The last time we were there we had taken the hop on and hop off bus which shows you most of the things. But otherwise the transportation is simple if you don't want to walk too much. You might be on 5th Avenue but the walk to Apple store from 20th street may take more than 40 minutes. Either you can take a Taxi or underground metro. We did both.
Taxis have a fixed fare from JFK Airport to Manhattan but we did get cheated when we arrived at New York. A fellow Indian whom I thought represented the Airport staff got us in a limousine instead of a normal cab and we ended up paying more than double the fare. Best would be to go to the cab queue and there would be no problem at all as most taxi guys were very decent.

The Story of Nightclubs

While at New York, it is imperative that you go to Nightclubs. My brother in law took us to a Pan Asian place called the Tao. It was full of action with a busy bar and a busier restaurant. It had a great d├ęcor and great crowd. Enjoyed the place very much.
A couple of days later we decided to celebrate our friend Sunil's birthday at the famous pub '230 on the 5th.' Sunil and Renu were also travelling at the same time and we had met up in New York at the fag end of our holiday. We were in for quite a shock when we were stopped at the gate and not allowed to go up. They refused to let us go to their lounge area as well. When we insisted, we were told that we would have to book a table by paying $ 200 which would include a wine bottle. What troubled us was that each and every person was allowed to go up other than us. It certainly seemed to be a case of racial profiling.
We finally managed to break this barrier and went up just to see what it was all about. We shouldn't have gone after the treatment that had been meted out to us but curiousity got better of us. It is just as well that we went up as our doubts got confirmed that this $200 deal was a big fib. There was one area which was for the reserved tables with wine but otherwise people could just buy their drinks and have fun.

Fun with Friends. The Empire State Building as a backdrop.
As we went up by a lift , the lift stopped at a high floor which had an indoor louge but it was the main terrace a flight of stairs up that was full of action with a couple of bars and loads of people. People were all over the huge terrace and the place was rocking. You could get a night view of the entire lower Manhatten. On the other side the brightly lit Empire state building towered magistically above you. We did have a couple of drinks there, observed the people and left soon after. This racial profiling business had left a bad taste in mouth.

Times Square does not sleep at nights and shops also are open till late at night. We ended up having dinner each night at quite a few places around the Square. Our friends Sunil and Renu enjoyed the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company experience very much as they had never eaten at this restaurant before. One day we had dinner at chinese Restaurant  'Nanking' which served us some nice Indian-Chinese the likes of which the Delhi based Nanking is famous for. One of the nights we went to Ruby Tuesday very late at night and were surprised to see full bar operational and the restaurant filled with guests. It had a nice atmosphere.The kids were highly recommended Max Brenner as their cousins described it as the best dessert place in the world. This was not at Times Square but it was a little away at Manhattan itself at Union Square. So, while we were pubbing the kids went to Max Brenner and had their food and desserts there. There are a couple of very famous dessert places in Manhattan. The kids were decent enough to get for me a plastic syringe full of chocolate from Max Brenner. The chocolate was injected into my mouth giving me a taste of what the kids must have eaten. They told me that the place was over crowded and very popular. They suggested that I see the menu on the net. I did see the menu on the Net after coming back to India and thanked god that I hadn't gone there. It had the most mouth-watering desserts and the pictures of what they had to offer was awesome. A sweet toothed guy like me would have eaten a load of the exotic desserts and then gone there on all the days we were there. This certainly would not have been good for the waist line.

Statue of Liberty

Hope the kids learnt something !

You cannot go to New York and not visit The Statue of Liberty. One of the hurricanes had caused some damage to the area last year so the trips to the island housing this mammoth structure had been shut for most part of last year. We hadn't pre-booked on internet so did not get the pedestial tickets which would have allowed us to go up to the pedestial of the statue but we didn't actually have any inclination of making any climb. The ticket windows were crowded but pretty organised so it didn't take too long to get the tickets. The security was pretty extensive and then one boarded a ferry for a trip to the island. On arrival we were given audio appliances with headphones and soon we were all fully versed with the entire history of Statue of Liberty.
They describe very well how it was made, what materials were used, how architects and sculptors worked on it, what thoughts went into making such a high pedestial, what issues cropped up while it was being transported from France to USA etc etc. Having read several books and watched many films about immigrants landing in USA in the past one could identify when the audio describes the happiness and hope that these immigrants felt when they saw the towering Statue of Liberty from their ships. For them it symbolised freedom !

Nice way to relax on a Ferry ride

Long Queue to get back to New York

When our ferry was docking at the island a few hours earlier, we saw the long queue of people waiting for us to get off so they could alight the ferry to get back to New York or New Jersy. We knew that soon we would also be in that queue.

The 9/11 Memorial

It is around a 20 minute walk from we disembarked from Ferry to the memorial. The twin towers stood tall when we last visited New York. So much has changed and so much has happened since then. They say America and American way of life has changed since that fateful day. The homage to hundreds of fire fighters who died on that day is poignantly done. It is a good tribute.

A tribute to fire fighters who perished when the twin towers collapsed

The water body paying tribute to all those killed on 9/11 is a very fine and very mature way of paying tribute.
It all looks very nice and peaceful. Well done New York City !

The homage to all those who perished on those attacks is beautifully done. 
When we had reached New York, we had wondered what we would do for 4 days. The 4 days had slipped by and we hadn't even done justice to the great lung of New York called the 'Central Park.' We had barely spent 30 minutes there and most of the evenings they have some concert or some show. We didn't see any. We didn't see any because we ran out of time ! People had suggested some place near Manhattan which had amusement park and fun things to do. I think we were having enough fun here walking the streets, window shopping and sitting at Times Square doing nothing !

Some images of Times Square

Times Square is all color, all action and is full of energy. As mentioned earlier you can spend a great deal of time just sitting around and doing nothing. Observing people is a good entertainment here. Some images : 

Rickshaws in Times Square, New York. Wow.

Good paint job. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Maui - Paradise in Pacific. Lahaina and Kaanapali.

All the kids today seem to know what 'Hot Spots' are. When I asked my daughter about hot spot she was quick to answer that 'it was an area where internet was available !' Alas, I was aksing her in terms of geography where hot spots have a different meaning. I do hope I managed to explain what the real 'hot spot' was otherwise she will have at least one wrong answer in her exams.

The age trend of the volcanoes is thought to be due to the way in which the islands are built on the moving sea floor of the North Pacific Ocean: the Pacific Ocean is mostly floored by a single tectonic plate (known as the "Pacific Plate") that is moving over the layer in the Earth known as the Asthenosphere. This movement takes it to the northwest compared to the layers below it at a rate of 5 to 10 cm/yr . As the plate moves over a fixed spot deeper in the Earth where magma (molten lava) forms, a new volcano can punch through this plate and create an island. The Hawaiian Islands are believed to be formed from one such 'hot spot'.

As the plate moves away, the volcano stops erupting and a new one is formed in its place. With time, the volcanoes keep drifting westward and getting older relative to the one active volcano that is over the hot spot. As they age, the crust upon which they sit cools and subsides. Islands are formed and people like me visit them for a holiday.
Picturesque Maui Airport
The flight to the island of Maui was just about 45 minutes from Honolulu. Having a window seat on the flight helped as you could see the brilliant blue pacific ocean and the islands sprawled over. Some islands were lush green while some others were totally barren.

We could have taken a cab to the hotel but decided to take an Airport Shuttle which promised to drop us at the hotel itself. It would have costed us almost the same as the shuttle charged $ 16 per person and taxi was around $ 75.00 and we were  4 of us. But the Airport shuttle was quite comfortable and our lady driver kept telling us about the places as we passed them and gave good suggestions about the tours, shopping etc.
There were some interesting people on the shuttle and while we were a family on a holiday,
a couple was here for their Golden Anniversary while another couple was in Maui for their honeymoon !

 The views on the way were spectacular  as we drove towards Lahaina area as we had to go to Kaanapali beach. It took around 45 minutes to get to the hotel. As mentioned in my last blog, at Honolulu you felt that you had come to a big town and not to a pristine island in the middle of Pacific. At Maui our wish of staying a few days in a paradise appeared to be coming true as we could see nice beaches, green hills and some lovely houses as we approached our hotel. This is just what we expected from Hawaii.

The Aston on Whaler at Kaanapali

Our 8th floor apartment at 'The Aston on Whaler at Kaanapali' had spectacular views. On one side there was this vast ocean starting from where the resort swimming pool and beach ended. On the other side were lush green mountains and Golf Courses. We had a huge balcony and I spend several hours sitting on the balcony each day and enjoying the morning tea and the sundowners in the evening. In the evenings the sea breeze would pick up speed and it actually used to become chilly on the balcony.
Kaanapali is the main area where all the good hotels are located. Most of them like Shereton, Marriott holiday club etc were walking distance away.

Hawaii is famous for the Humpback Whales. I was told that several Whales could be seen from our hotel itself during the winter season. The name 'Whaler' in the name of hotel and also the name of the 'Whaler Village' is due to this. During the summer months these Whales migrate all the way- thousands of miles away- to Alaska. That is why we had seen so many whales in Alaska last year in June.

The pictures say it all regarding the spectacular views from our apartment.

You could get a great view of the ocean on the left side

On the right were these lovely cottages on the Golf Course flanked by lush green hills

The apartment itself was spacious and thankfully it had 2 baths. It was fully equipped and I realised that most people were here in this property as time share owners. The property had no restaurant or coffee shop or the bar. The Whalers Village was adjoining property and it had quite a few restaurants and had grocery shop as well so one didn't actually miss any restaurant in the property except that one needed something near the pool. I mean after a swim you do require a cocktail or a soft drink or a Beer. Well, to compensate for this they provided some very nice lemonade at the poolside !
The sea water was crystal clear and nice and cool. Being lovers of beach, we spent considerable time swimming in the sea though the waves were nothing exciting.  Not much surfing was happening here. People were in more relaxing mood.

Whalers Village

We spent quite some time at the whalers village next door to our apartment building. They had some fancy restaurants like 'Hula Grill', 'Leilani's on the Beach' and 'Maui Fish and Pasta'. It also had a food court which had Pizzas, Subway etc. The Barefoot Bar outside the Hula Grill was very popular at sunset.
Maui Fish and Pasta was good for us as 2 PM onwards thay had happy hours for drinks and food and this suited us very much. They served some very good  fresh beer and some great fish.

The Barefoot Bar at Hula Grill next to the beach was very poular for sun-downers. 
The Village had a lot of fancy designer shops and many interesting shops selling souveniers and Hawaiin specials. In the evening they would have some cultural programs to attract crowds. Within the complex was Whalers Museum which presented the history and formation of Hawaiin islands and had interesting artefacts.

At the Whalers Village
A $2 shuttle would take us to Lahaina town which had some good shopping for us as they had outlet stores.
The tourists from India love the outlet stores in USA and we are no exceptions. I think we did our maximum shopping of clothes from the outlet stores during this trip.
 We went to Lahaina town twice and enjoying having lunch on the waterfront. The first day we had a delicious lunch at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company and the 2nd day we found this nice restuarant called Kimo's. Sitting next to the sea having beer in great atmosphere is my idea of fun and relaxation. The food was great and service was top class with some good suggestions from our attractive hostess.

Being a Golfer and staying next to so many Golf Courses , it is always tempting to go and play a round. My son is also a Golfer but the price of playing a round is steep as you have to hire equipment etc as well. We decided to forego this luxury on this trip but to me the course across the road looked pretty simple and straight forward. I walked till the tee and simulated a Golf swing. The gushing wind hit me on the face as I postured myself for a swing. I realised then how difficult it must be to control the ball in this stiff sea breeze. This is something that we in Delhi are not used to !

Sightseeing Anyone ?

We were given 2 options for sightseeing in Maui. Haleakala Volcano at the Haleakala national park can be seen from anywhere in Maui. The drive takes time and you climb more than 10,000. Adventure lovers go there for hiking and hundreds go early in the morning for the great sunrise. It is spread over 30000 acres and I am told it is a must see while you are in Maui as great views can be got from top.

The other option given was 'Road to Hana' , a tough winding road going through national parks, forests, cliffs, peaks  and giving spectacular views. I was told that tour stops at  a few great water-falls where you can soak in the water from the waterfalls and swim around them.

A dangerous but spectacular road trip which we missed.

Both the tours sounded great but I was more inclined towards the latter. I had heard good things about the tour from my cousins as well and as I was not driving myself, I took all the information from the hotel travel desk. The tour starts at 6 AM and ends late in the evening. Enthusiastically I announced to dear wife and my children that next morning we were to assemble at 5.45 AM for a day 'on road to Hana.' They looked at my face as if I had said something wrong. Their unanimous decision was that I was most welcome to go but they would under no circumstances undertake this torture at 5.45 in the morning ! Needless to say, the idea was shelved.
Devicka and kids said that they wanted to relax and have fun. And we did have loads of fun during the 3 days that we were in Maui. Sometimes relaxing and enjoying days as they come can be more enjoyable than planned ventures.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Honolulu- Surf and fun at Waikiki Beach !

Sunset in Honolulu go well with sun-downers. 

Uncle Gill put his arms around me and said "Papa , I like Dad's who participate in activities with their children. Many Papa's just send their children for the activities and sit and drink beer. Very good that you went surfing with them. Family that do things together always stay together !"

With our fine instructor 'Uncle Gill'

We had just finished a grueling 90 minute of surfing lesson at Waikiki beach at Honolulu, Hawaii. I was bruised and battered and tired. Uncle Gill had made us work hard. We would go with the surf, try to get up and then fall into the sea. Then we had to drag the surf board all the way into the sea to be lectured by Uncle Gill that we were not listening to him. This carrying and dragging of surf boards was exhausting. Uncle Gill would bawl fresh instructions in his gruff voice and strange accent and we went in again on surfboard with the same results. The sea bed had rough rocks which would hurt the feet while walking. The beach was crowded and one had to be very careful. While the kids Sanya and Kartik managed to do wonders by the end of the session, I kept toppling over.

There were theory classes followed by the actual thing.

Towards the end of the session as I toppled over and got up, a beginner on a surfboard lost her balance and her surfboard smashed into my upper jaw. I saw stars all over. I thought my jaw had broken. Thankfully I survived with just some swelling. That ended my dreams of being a surfer ! At least on this trip !
Surfing is a passion with people in Hawaii just as it is in Australia. The Northern beach of Honolulu boasts of the best surfs and great surfers. The sea is wild there and there are many drownings and accidents there. I was astounded to watch a TV programme showing how many people get crippled a year trying to master the waves. Yet people carry on as if nothing has happened. It is a dangerous sport - no doubts about it.

Surfing is a way of life here.
We had arrived in Honolulu a night earlier. From San Francisco the flight was of more than 5 hours.The United flight was comfortable but you had to buy your own food and drinks and the food was awful.
Luckily it was night when we arrived in the city so we missed out seeing a big town with tall buildings. One had traveled to the middle of Pacific Ocean to be near the nature and not to encounter the freeways, the tall buildings and thousands of cars. It would have been a huge disappointment if we had encountered all this soon after landing. Our hotel Marriott Waikiki beach was well located and we had a decent sea view room. We found a decent Italian restaurant just near the hotel and as it was late at night , Devicka and the kids decided to call it a day. I was a bit more energetic so took a walk down the Kalakaua Avenue. I liked what I saw. There were a lot of colorful boutique shops having Hawaiian identity. They sold stuff not seen normally in shops around the USA. There was a lot of color in the shops and I was tempted to buy a Hawaiin shirt at that very moment.The shops were open till late. There were quite a few restaurants, and even late at night there was a lot of activity on the road. One thing that really strikes you in Honolulu is that you almost feel that you are in Japan ! The place is full of Japanese tourists and as a consequence you see many Japanese restaurants.

Waikiki Beach and Kalakaua Avenue 

The tall concrete hotels border the beach

One associates a beach with serenity, shacks and a beach road having small shops and restaurants. Waikiki beach is covered with tall concrete buildings. The beach is over crowded most of the times but water is crystal clear. There are a lot of water sports and activities happening all the time. It does have a beach road and thankfully it has some lovely shops and some good restaurants.
Each morning we would go swimming in the sea and the water would be cold but refreshing. One had to choose a safe side so that one would not be in the way of surfers. As evening would set in, the people would sit in restaurants and the music and sun downers would flow. Most restaurants had live band playing.

This is a common sight in the evenings

We did try a lot of restaurants and the good one's were Tiki's and Duke's. Waikiki is a tourist dominated area so one has to be prepared to pay a hefty bill if one goes to a reputed restaurant. There were a few very good Italian places as well and one could always pop into the Cheesecake factory located very centrally. There was a food court also but the food was pretty bad there.
It is however the ubiquitous Japanese Restaurants which remained full due to so many Japanese tourists.

Shopping at Waikiki

The entire Kalakaua avenue is full of shops . Not only do they have the boutique stores but also big names like Macy's. But a little further away is a huge  open-air shopping center. Ala Moana happens to be the world's largest outdoor shopping center.A pink line shopping shuttle takes you there for a fixed fare of $2 per person. Service is pretty good but while coming back we had to stand in a long queue. The funny part is that someone had told us about this trolley but whenever we would see a trolley there would be a lot of Japanese sitting in them. When we tried to enter them, we were told that trolley was reserved. An American who was watching us smiled and told us to take the pink trolley . Japanese tourists had made sure that they chartered the other trolleys on island with a guide.

The shopping trolly

The Ala Moana was quite well laid out and one could have spent a lot of time there. On an upper floor they had a lot of good restaurants and we decided to go fora Chinese meal on 4th Level called the Royal Garden. The food was really nice here and it was a very comfortable restaurant.

We were welcomed by the call of Aloha in each shop and restaurant we went to. People here were very nice and friendly. People would be very fascinated that we had come all the way from India.This was not surprising as we did not see many Indians in Hawaii. The Indians who do go to Hawaii are the ones settled in USA. In terms of time zone, Honolulu was more than 15 hours behind Delhi. It would have been simpler to go back home from here via China or Japan but our tickets did not permit that. We would have to go back on SFO-NYC-MUNICH- DELHI route spending hours and hours of endless time at the Airports and in the Aircraft's. But I am not complaining ! In any case we were not leaving Hawaii as yet. Our next destination was the island of Maui which was around an hours flight away ...............

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Prague - Goodbye to Communism

The Graffiti Wall known as John Lennon wall.

We actually stumbled upon the John Lennon wall accidently. We had crossed over the Charles Bridge and were exploring the lesser town (Mala Strana) area. We had stopped at Kampa island area when we had taken a round on hop on hop off bus so now tried reaching it through narrow cobbled lanes when we saw this beautifully painted wall. The vibrant colors and the images of John Lennon makes it an immediate attraction where you want to stop and click a few snaps.

Prague had been under Communist rule for several decades so in 80's students found an outlet by using this wall as a graffiti wall inspired by the lyrics of Beatles songs. The wall became symbol of freedom and rebellion. So much so that in 1988 there was a major clash on and around Charles Bridge between the students and Government over the graffiti messages. Not much of the original wall remains as it has been painted over, but the colorful Lennon wall is still quite popular with artists and tourists.

It is a long privately owned wall. The owners don't mind it being used as Graffiti. 

The period from 1948 to 1989 was a very dark and dismal era for Czechoslovakia. Under a totalitarian rule there was no freedom of speech; there were purges; executions were common; there were shortages of essential commodities; religion was considered to be enemy; raids were conducted at homes for illegal literature; and interrogations, spying on citizens and harsh punishments for any kind of rebellion activity was a norm. It is difficult to imagine a lively and colorful city such as Prague being home to lakhs of suffering people in those gloomy days where overnight, the rich  became poor and artists were made to do menial work.
 I asked a friendly taxi driver about that era and he said that he was too young at that time but he said that his family had suffered a lot and they are thankful that the nightmare had come to an end. He suggested that I visit the museum of communism to get a first hand experience of the life and time of those days. For some reason I did not have the courage to go there. Maybe I would do it the next time. 
This was a good taxi driver who was friendly and honest. Unfortunately on the first day itself we had got rooked by a taxi driver and made sure that then onward we fixed the price in advance before we boarded a taxi.

Mala Strana (The Little Quarters)

The Mala Strana area is very lovely. Many tourists who come for a short visit often miss out spending time here as they are concentration on Old Town square.The ancient houses are really nice and most hotels are set in ancient buildings.Many people prefer staying here as it is quieter and more beautiful than other parts of the town. The side roads are cobbled and I was told that a visit at night will make you feel as if you are in ancient Prague as these cobbled lanes are lantern lit. The churches, the cafes, the pubs and the atmosphere make this side of Prague a lovely area to take a stroll and have a meal.

Once you are at the Mala Strana square you can walk on the delightful Nerudova Street up which you can walk to reach the castle district, the Church of St. Nicholas, Petrin Hill, and the Wallenstein Gardens.
The residential area is not very far as you walk in this area of Mala Strana. The houses are lovely and one would be much better off coming here to the restaurants for nice meals. The Old town is a tourist trap and though the atmosphere is good, the food is very mediocre at a very hefty price. Here, you would get great food at half the price !

Visiting the Castle 

How can you go to Prague and not visit the castle ? The castle is omnipresent in Prague. It stands out from whatever direction you look. It stands tall on a hill. From Mala Strana square many people climb up on foot. We decided to go by tram. It was very convenient as you can buy a ticket anywhere, validate it on the tram and depending on the price you have paid, you get the number of hours for which you can use any tram in city. The castle is beautiful . It looks stunning at night. 

 We took one of the gates and soon could see the kind of carvings and paintings that had gone into the castle. It had beautiful courtyards, intricately carved buildings and a very pretty chapel inside the St Vitus cathedral. 

We did not take a full castle tour. We have seen too many castles to spend a few hours exploring another one. The kids would have protested had we decided to explore the full castle ! In fact we did not buy any ticket at all. Many people had gathered outside for the change of guard ceremony and the courtyard was full of people. Most people were tourists who travel in groups with a guide. Entry into the chapel was free and fortunately there wasn't a very big line to enter the chapel so it was a good idea to go inside and admire the beautiful work inside the chapel.

At the Chapel inside the St Vitus Cathedral

Birds of Prey

As we walked towards the Royal Gardens we stumbled across the birds of Prey. There were exotic birds of this region and we were told that they were being looked after by an organisation here. The kids loved these birds and this size of owl was unheard of anywhere in India. For the photographs we paid some donation and we ended up spending almost half an hour here being fascinated by these birds.

Have you seen Owl of this size ?

Winceslas Square and the clubs

Wenseslas square with National Museum and if you look carefully, the statue of St Wenselas on a horse.

Wenceslas square is the 2nd most popular square of Prague and I would say it is more of a boulevard rather than square. This vibrant boulevard is a shopping and entertainment area more like other shopping areas of Europe. Once you are in Wenceslas square it is difficult to imagine that communists did not allow free enterprise here as this place is what defines the free enterprise as it has all the big names of retail , cafes, banks and restaurants. For 2 days we kept visiting Wenceslas square by cabs and paying a hefty amount . Then we realised the square was walking distance from our apartment through the Old Town square. This shows how compact the old town actually is. Though the square is next to the Old Town square, the area is referred to as 'New Town.' .
People come to Wenceslas square for the National Museum and and shopping. The Prague Opera house is also located here. The entire day the restaurants and the pubs are busy selling the famous beers of Czech Republic. The Czechs take pride that they make the best beer in the world. I liked the Staropramen Beer the best followed by Krusovice. I didn't much care for the popular Pilsner Urquell. Czechs are indeed crazy about beer. Many would be sitting and having beer when we would be having our breakfast !

Wenceslas square also has a busy nightlife with a few famous strip clubs located here. The most popular being the Red Pepper , Darling Cabaret and The Goldfinger. These are pretty safe places to go with no cover charge. Special deals are given for Bachelor's night for which youngsters from all all the Europe troop in to celebrate their friends' bachelor nights. The package includes stay and good time !

Before I conclude my marathon series on this beautiful city I must say the Old Town has some of the most exquisite Crystal shops. Carry a lot of money if you want to bring back some.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Prague- The Old Town Square is wonderful and Architecture is superb.

The National Theatre is something the Czechs are proud of. 

As you look around from the Charles Bridge, the gleaming Golden roof of a building catches your attention. The roof gleams even more when it is nice and sunny. It looks spectacular at night.


It looks quite near but it took us a good 20 minutes to reach there when we walked down to it. The building is The National Theatre of Prague and I was told that it was constructed in late 19th century with most of the contributions from Public. It was supposed to be a symbol of Czech national revival at that time and today it is the most important cultural symbol of Praha (Prague). There was no show running at the time of our visit but concerts, drama , Opera and Ballet are regularly held here. The story is that just days before the Theater was scheduled to open in 1881, it was completely gutted by fire. But the Czechs collected money in 6 weeks and rebuilt the entire Theater in 2 years and it opened with great fanfare in 1883.

The Astronomical Clock

It was around 11.45 PM when we reached the Old Town Square. We were pretty stunned to see hundreds of people gathered together and looking up at what is known as the Astronomical Clock. We didn't know what was happening so we also stood along with the crowd. 

As the time turned 12, a lot of things started happening above the dial of the clock. The dial also has significance and meaning but I will let that pass. The wooden figures of Apostles appeared from inside and many of the sculptures begin to move at the same time. The golden cockerel crows and the clock chimes the hour. This happens each hour but at 12'O Clock it happens 12 times ! With the show over, the crowd dissipates and involves itself into many activities which are happening at the square. I meet up with Kunaal and we pick up a Beer each and move on to board the Hop On & Hop Off Bus for a city trip. 

Hopped On but did not Hop off

I think we just wasted our money by taking this trip. Prague is not a very large city and most of it is walkable. Secondly, if you do a bit of study, you can manage with their efficient tram system which is quite affordable. You could buy a full day pass for the tram and use it all over the city. There were around 8 stops and as we had boarded the bus quite late, we did not get off at any stop. It is another matter that we got a fair idea of places so in the next few days we walked to those places or rode the tram. As the bus took us to some of the high points of the city, I managed to get a nice picture of the city from the top.
Once this trip was over we trooped back towards the square for a delayed but well deserved lunch.

The Old Town Square

At the Old Town you would think that Tyn Church and Astronomical clock are all that is there to see . Ask the lovers of architecture and they will tell you that they could spend days together admiring and studying the buildings and houses around the square. Houses such as 'At the Blue Goose', 'At the Golden Angel' , 'At the stone table', 'Storch House', Kinsky Palace' etc etc. Buildings of different periods and different eras co-exist here. For us ordinary tourists, they were a visual delight but for the experts - each building was a gem.
A lot is happening all the time at the Square to entertain the tourists. But it is the buildings and architecture which takes your breath away. 
Our kids also participated in all activities at the square

Street food at the square
These foods are very popular

Tyn Church is a Gothic Church.

Was this Church an inspiration for castle in Disney's Sleeping Beauty ? Difficult to say but this church again is a landmark of the city and it is lit up beautifully at night. It is a Gothic Church with Baroque interior. You do get overawed by this superb structure. 

Tyn Church lit up at night.

Each building is classy

Racism Exists 

Mattoni- A restaurant only for fair skinned !

Our plans for lunch at a prominent restaurant at the Old Town Square were hit as we were not allowed to take a seat. A lame excuse was given that the restaurant was only for hotel guests. It was a little later when an African woman realised that she was being discriminated against as everyone else but dark skinned people were being allowed by the restaurant to enter, she became hysterical. When Jyoti confronted the owner and asked him about this discrimination his reply was : "This is my place and I will do what I please !"  
Such incidents leave a bad taste in mouth. But we consider it as an exception as at no other place did we feel discriminated against.

We visited Old Town square almost each day. But other parts of the city like Winceslas Square, Lesser Town and the Castle were not ignored. Will write about them in the concluding part soon..................