Category Archives: Eastern Europe 2014

I am now on my way home making connections in Paris.  I am spending 2.5 hours in Charles De Gaulle Airpot.  Country number six.

Eifelturm, Paris

On the way to Budapest we passed hundreds of windmills and miles of flat cultivated fields.


Budapest is a very large city located on the Danube with many bridges connecting Buda with Pest – pronounced Pesh – t.  It is a grand city, one that reflects it’s history as part of the Hapsburg’s Austro-Hungarian Empire.  There are Baroque buildings as well as 19th century Neo-Classical, Neo-Baroque, Neo-Gothic, and Art Nouveau buildings.  Below is the Opera House, which although a bit smaller than the Opera House in Vienna, is supposed to be even grander inside.  (I did not have a chance to visit it – next time!)


Here are more buildings that exhibit a variety of grand styles. The one below looks like a bit of French style thrown in – mansard roof.


And mixed in with all the elaborate styles, are 1950’s Soviet buildings.  Compare the left with the right.


Here are some building tops. Many buildings have sculptural ornaments.


The castle is on the Buda side of the city.  Here is the Gothic cathedral on the castle hill.  The tile roof was influenced by the Turks who occupied Budapest for 2 centuries.


This is a night view of the Neo-Gothic parliament buildings. (I did not take this picture – from internet.)


Elizabeth Bridge on left and a modern building on right where sculpture is part of the design.


The major streets are very wide and intersections are large rotaries or squares.  This square is the Hero’s Square with a very Baroque monument.




And tourists. If I ever I dye my hair, I hope I have the guts to go orange!


This is the big covered market that carries food of all kinds, including sauerkraut strudel, as well as souvenirs galore. Souvenirs were on the second floor.



Some of the stuff that was for sale in the market and elsewhere:


Lots of colorful felt items  inspired by folk art- purses, pillow covers, potholders, etc.

IMG_5155Peppers and paprika everywhere.


Endless array of embroidered items from clothes to linens.




IMG_5222These items are made out of mushrooms!


We visited a small town outside of Budapest where I visited a museum displaying the ceramics of Margit Kovacs, a well known Hungarian artist who was heavily influenced by folk art.  I found her work charming.



The group had its last meal together in a Medieval wine cellar.  It was two stories underground!  Food was good, entertainment was fun, wine was freely flowing, and it was a very nice conclusion to the trip.



It was a great trip and a learned a lot about these counties.  Stay tuned to my return visit to San Miguel de Allende, MX in February and March, and parts unknown after that.


On the way from the Czech Republic to Hungary, we stopped for lunch in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia.  We were less than an hour from Vienna, Austria! At one time, Bratislava was the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary and flourished under the Hapsburg reign of Queen Maria Theresa.


As I walked around the old town I noticed this clever sculpture.


And had we had more time, I might have been tempted to do some serious exploring in this shop.


Prague II

I enjoyed discovering Czech food both in restaurants and on the streets. I had lunch in this charming restaurant near the famous Charles Bridge.



This is a potato soup with a slices of a bread dumpling.


IMG_5002This dish consisted of a skewer of mixed meats with to-die-for scalloped potatoes.

There were many street vendors in the outdoor markets.

IMG_4971These are freshly fried potato chips on a stick.


On the left is a pastry that is baked over coals and on the right is fried dough that is served with cheese, sour cream, or ketchup, or all three.  The dough is very light, almost like puff pastry.

IMG_4990Beer is everywhere – in beer halls, beer gardens, in shops, and even in convenience stores at gas stations along the highways.


And vodka is also very popular.  It comes in all flavors.  Check out this one!


There are numerous crystal shops – adding lots of sparkle to the interiors of the stores.




Below is a street artist making paintings with spray paint and stencils.  He had his technique perfected!


Near the Charles Bridge on a wall owned by the Knights of Malta is an on-going expression of global peace and love.  It began in the 1980’s when students began posting lyrics and images inspired by John Lennon’s songs. The graffiti changes daily and reflects current social issues throughout the world.  It is referred to as “Lennonism.”



Notice the recent addition of a plea to support Hong Kong students.


Now on to Budapest!

Prague I

On the way to Prague, we stopped at the Czech town of Olomouc for lunch.  The main attraction in this charming town was the astronomical clock on the town hall.  First constructed in the 16th century, it has been updated every century since.  The Germans destroyed it in 1945, so when the Soviets occupied the territory during the Cold War, they had it restored with a decidedly communist slant.  The clock celebrates the workers in mosaic medallions (months of the year) and when it chimes hourly, little moving figures act out their working roles.


Since most of Prague was spared destruction during WW II, there are many historic buildings still standing. The city was home to several Austro-Hungarian kings, so there are some impressive Baroque buildings.  The city also flourished in the latter part of the 19th century when the city increased in population, was very prosperous,  and some very grand buildings were constructed.

Overlooking the city is an impressive castle which has been rebuilt and expanded over they years. It is the largest castle in Europe.



Every hour there is a changing of the guards.


Within the castle complex is a gothic cathedral, partly built in the 14th century and finished in the 19th century with historical accuracy.  One of the stained glass windows was designed by Alphone Mucha, a well known Czech artist who worked in an Art Nouveau style.


In front of the castle where entertainers!


Throughout the neighborhoods of Prague, the architecture was impressive. It was nice to see how well the buildings were maintained. They have stone foundations, but the rest is constructed of brick surfaced with plaster.  Many of the buildings are painted with an array of colors and color combinations, some recently painted so the buildings look clean and bright.

IMG_5014IMG_4959 IMG_4960 IMG_4962IMG_4965IMG_4991IMG_5028

One evening we traveled outside of the city to visit Sychrov Castle, a summer palace where we were served a wonderful dinner after a tour of the many rooms. It has been restored to the way it looked in the late 19th century when it was remodeled in a Neo-Gothic style.




While in Prague, I visited the museum of Alphonse Mucha, best known for his Art Nouveau posters. His work is wonderfully decorative, sinuous, alive, and colorful!  Below are posters for a publishing company and for cigarettes.



These panels depict the four seasons.



Here are posters promoting performances by Sarah Bernhardt.


Krakow II

While in Krakow we took several day trips.  One was to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, which has been operating since the 13th century and is now an UNESCO World Heritage Site.  There are 200 miles of underground tunnels that go down nine levels.  Commercial mining of salt ended in 1996 due to low salt deposits, but today there are about 500 miners maintaining the tunnels and galleries.  We toured 1% (2 miles) of the tunnels and viewed galleries with sculptures in salt created by the miners.


Unlike coal mines, the air in the salt mine is very healthy.  The tunnels are re-enforced with wood that hardens over the years and does not rot or decay.  The wood is painted white to better reflect light.

The salt sculptures below depict a Polish legend about Princess Kinga who became the Patron Saint of Salt Miners.


There is even an underground cathedral carved out of salt.  It took 67 years to complete and was accomplished by only 2 miners. Hanging form the chandeliers are salt crystals.




We also visited Auschwitz Birkenau.  It was sobering. In the smaller camp of Aushwitz, men and women were housed in former military brick barracks where they slept on the floor so crowded together they had to sleep on their sides.  They were selected to work, but due to disease, starvation, and brutal treatment, they only lived for about 3 months.  Then new workers were brought in.

The brick barracks have been turned into a museum with displays of documents, photographs, and personal items that were confiscated. It was horrific to view.





At Birkenau, the larger camp, they built wooden quarters that were just as crowded.






This is the train track that entered the camp.  Of the more than 6,000,000 Jews who were put to death, half of them where Poles.




Another day trip that we took was to Zakopane, a popular vacation area at the base of the Tatra Mountains, part of the Carpathian range in the south of Poland near the border with Slovakia.  The town is characterized by a unique style of wooden architecture that has a stone foundation and three upper floors with steep roofs.  Many of these homes are B&B’s for skiers and hikers. The town is located adjacent to a national park that has many trails and ski areas and ski jumps.  The shops carry many local handcraft items as well as woolen clothes made from the wool of local sheep – which are in abundance.  As we ascended, temperatures dropped and we went from rain to snow!


We stopped at a small church, popular for weddings year round.


Then we stopped for lunch at this charming restaurant.



This is a smoked cheese made from sheep’s milk that is made in the region.



We were served some of the cheese for lunch, sliced and heated so the center was gooey. Current relish on the side. Yummy!



The food has been great everywhere we’ve been and we’ve been served the local specialties: stuffed cabbage, perogies, lots of pork, sausages, soups with beets or sour rye or mushrooms. Below is mushroom soup in a bread bowl.


Polish sausages.


Now I’m off to Prague.


On our way to Krakow we stopped at the town of Czestochow, a religious center in Poland where we visited the shrine of the Black Madonna.  Since it was Sunday, the church was packed with people attending services as well as visiting the highly venerated icon.  There are many legends about the origin of the icon, one of which attributes the artist to St. Luke.  It is painted in a Byzantine style and is displayed behind a decorative covering so that only the Madonna’s face and that of the Christ child’s and hands are visible.  These elaborate coverings, or “dresses” have been donated by worshipers and are switched periodically.




Unlike Berlin and Warsaw, Krakow was not destroyed during WW II because the Nazis used the city as administrative headquarters and it wasn’t located where troops were moving through.  Consequently, the city has many beautiful historic buildings, many of which are found in the old market square.  It is the largest market square in Europe.

On the left is the Cloth Hall where merchants did their business.  On the right is the church were every hour a trumpeter plays a tune from a window at the top of the taller of the steeples.


Below right is a closer view of the Cloth Hall and the tower is what remains of the old town hall.



The Cloth Hall is filled with vendors selling typical Polish handcrafts and amber jewelry.





Some windows around the square.


We toured the Jewish District and passed by the home where Helena Rubinstein was raised.



Then we visited Wawel Castle Hill which is surrounded by massive walls and guard stations. Within the walls is a massive Renaissance Palace that was the home of many Polish kings.  The same kings are buried in the Cathedral that is also within the castle walls.  The Cathedral was the seat of Pope John Paul II when he was Archbishop and Cardinal in Krakow. His residence at that time was a half block from our hotel. (The weather keeps changing, sometimes quite quickly, which explains why the sky in the pictures go from gray to blue!)




In my next post I’ll show photos of several day trips we took outside of Krakow.  Each day has been filled with adventures!


I’ve had two days to experience Warsaw and have seen and learned a lot about its history.  Just as most of Berlin was destroyed during WW II, so was Warsaw, but by the Germans.  85% of the city was left in ruins, but soon the residents returned to rebuild.  During the Soviet occupation that followed, the city began to thrive, but the buildings they built were dismal concrete structures.  Since 1989 when Poland became a free nation again, the buildings reflect a much more modern design.  In the photo below, which I took from my hotel window, the Soviet era structure is in the foreground.


This trend toward post-modernism as an expression of the new free Poland was the theme of an exhibit of architectural models at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw.  These new innovated structures make a strong statement of Poland’s new nationalistic identity.


Below is a dramatic contrast between a Soviet gift to the city (left,) the Stalin Palace for Science and Culture (now the Warsaw Center for Science and Culture)  and two recently built high-rises (right.)  Finished in 1955, the Soviet building was inspired by American skyscrapers and rises to 42 floors, containing offices of corporations, museums, theaters, cinemas, sport centers, and shops.


Some mansions and palaces were spared by the Germans only because they used them as Nazi administrative and military headquarters and housing.  Here is a photo of the oldest section of the town after the war.


And here is a photo of the same area today.


Not only has the city been rebuilt, there are an incredible number of historic buildings that have been reproduced as they were before the war.  The most ambitious undertaking has been duplicating the buildings in the Old City, including completely replicating the old palace, inside and out. (on right below.) This area has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.



Research in reproducing these historic buildings included the paintings by the nephew of the Italian painter, Cantaletto, who painted scenes of Warsaw in the 18th century.



Many churches have also been completely rebuilt.


In another part of the city there is a large plaza with a statue of Nicholaus Copernicus. Our solar system is depicted on the ground of the plaza with the sun and planets in bronze.


Here is Earth and our moon.


At the Museum of Modern Art I discovered the sculptural work of Maria Bartuszova (1962 – 1996,) a little known Eastern European artist who worked almost exclusively in plaster.  Her forms are very organic. Some seem to pulse with energy while others are fragile crusts.




Last evening, our group broke up into three smaller groups that each visited the home of a Polish family for dinner.  We traveled to a small community outside of Warsaw and my grouped was hosted by Sylvester and Barbara and their family.  Sylvester owns an auto repair garage and Barbara is a seamstress who runs a business with five employees who make garments for pregnant women.  Their daughter, Agatha, has a master’s degree in English and teaches English in a private school while their son, Michael, has an university degree, is fluent in English, and works for the city of Warsaw in crisis management.  His girl friend is getting a degree in civil engineering.  Barbara served us a typical Polish meal of stuffed cabbage, pork loin, beets, potatoes, cucumber salad, cauliflower and broccoli, and a sweet crepe for dessert. Michael poured lots of vodka for whom ever wanted to join him!  It was a delightful evening.



L to R: Sylvester, Barbara, Agatha, Michael with his girl friend

Off to Krakow tomorrow!


(I think I have solved the problem and my photos will now appear much larger.)

Another interesting period of Berlin’s history is when the city was divided after 1945 by Russia and the Allies.   Because Russia wanted to demonstrate that Communism was an ideal economic and political form of government, they undertook major restoration of buildings in East Berlin including a cluster of buildings that serve as museums of art, sculpture, artifacts, coins, and history. And because East and West Berlin were two separate cities with no interaction between them, each city created their own cultural institutions – opera houses, museums, libraries, etc. Now that reunification has taken place, these institutions are gradually uniting their collections and resources.

The Berlin Wall was built in 1961 because so many East Germans were trying to escape to the West. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the end of the separation.  This is a memorial to some of the 100 individuals who were killed trying to get over the wall.


Checkpoint Charlie was one of several openings in the wall.  Each opening was restricted to certain persons and Checkpoint Charlie was used by military personnel while the Brandenburg Gate was used by foreign visitors.  Today, Checkpoint Charlie is swarmed with tourists who have their pictures taken with two fake soldiers impersonating Americans!  Cost is 2 Euros! And there is a McDonalds just steps away.


Of the 100 miles that once existed, only parts of the wall remain, less than 1.5 miles.  One section, about 1 mile in length, was preserved for artists to paint.  Over the years, some well known artists have left paintings.  The sad part is that some of the paintings have been destroyed with graffiti.  Some artists have repainted their sections, while others refuse to do so.




In other parts of the city, cobble stones mark where the wall once stood.



My interests in art have been prehistoric and contemporary and the museums I have visited have been superior.  The rooms are spacious, the installations and presentations have been very well done with labels and text in both German and English.  I did see Nefertiti and the Ishtar Gate, but the Pergamum Altar was closed for restoration.

I love the forms of these prehistoric figures.


I visited several museums and galleries of contemporary art.  One was in an old train station where the huge galleries accommodated huge artworks.




Below is a permanent installation by Dieter Roth that is about 50 feet long and is titled, Garden Sculpture. He worked on it for over ten years, exhibiting it at various stages.  It consists of lots of junk that looks like it is piled up haphazardly, but is actually quite orderly. Some of the stuff he used has completely or partly disintegrated because it was exposed to the elements.  In one section he has bottles of rain water that he collected and labeled. There is also a rabbit hatch that at one time had a live rabbit.





In the same museum was a painting that reminded me of walls of graffiti I have noticed on the streets.  Here is the museum painting.


Here are my photos of street graffiti.



At another museum, I viewed an exhibit of Exotica – some very strange things…


The food here reminds me of what my German grandmother used to serve. Here is beef roulade, potato dumplings, red cabbage and beer gravy.



A popular snack with Berliners is Curry Wurst – a hotdog with a curry sauce made with ketchup that tastes a lot like barbecue sauce.



And here is a mobile hotdog stand.  Condiments are behind.



Take your pick of pretzels!


Now I’m off to Warsaw.  More later.


Here I am in Berlin at the beginning of a tour of Eastern Europe, and what I have seen in the heart of the city during the five days I’ve been here, has really impressed me. The city is spacious with wide boulevards and streets; large, wide buildings rather than tall ones; and lots of green spaces, large and small. There is construction going on everywhere! Pre-war buildings are undergoing massive reconstructions and post-war buildings are getting new face-lifts and interior remodeling. The sky is filled with yellow cranes.



There is also still evidence of the devastation of the city during the war when 70% was demolished. This is the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church which was originally built in the 1890’s as a huge cathedral that held 2000 people.  All but one section was destroyed in 1943 and it still stands next to a modern church that replaced it in the 1060’s.




We visited the Reichstag which was originally built in 1894.  A fire gutted part of the interior in 1933 and it was further damaged during the war.  The building has since been restored and in 1999 it was reoccupied by the German Parliament. The picture at the bottom shows the building 1995 when the artists Christo and Jeanne Claude wrapped the building.  (Same artists who did the orange gates in Central Park.)


The photo at the top shows the building as it is today with its glass dome.  We visited the dome at night and walked a ramp up to the top.  In the roof under the dome is a hole where you can see the meeting chamber below.  In the middle of the dome is a cone made up of hundreds of mirrors that reflect sun light into the chamber below.  There is a shield that moves during the day to protect the mirrors from the direct rays of the sun.  At night, the dome and views of the city were spectacular!






This is a sculpture in the middle of one of the boulevards that symbolizes the reunification of East and West Berlin.


The Germans openly acknowledge their past and the 12 years of the Nazi regime.  There are numerous reminders throughout the city in the form of memorials and museums.  One of the museums is the Museum of Terror and it documents the horrible atrocities of the SS and the Gestapo.  Another museum documents the history of the Nazi reign.  The memorials include the one below which is located in the guardhouse of the former palace.  It is an empty room with a sculpture of a mother with her dead son in her lap by Kathe Kollwitz. It is dedicated to all victims of repressive governments everywhere.


Another project was taken up by Gunter Demnig, a German artist, who researched Jews who were taken to the camps and located their last place of residence.  In 1997 he placed a couple of brass plaques in the sidewalk in front of the place where two Nazi victims once lived.  Since then, he has placed more than 40,000 plaques in cities in Germany, Hungary, and Austria.


Then there is the memorial dedicated to the 6,000,000 Jews put to death by the Nazis.  This large city block is filled with large blocks of stone, resembling tombs, of various heights set on uneven ground.  It is haunting.



From this site, you can see the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, and the American Embassy in the distance.


I have more I’ll post tomorrow.