Welcome to my travel blog! Over the next 10 weeks I will be travelling throughout Europe and will share my adventure here. The name of this blog is a Latin phrase which translates roughly to mean 'to gain, understand, perceive'. It explains perfectly what I hope to experience in this trip; a sense of understanding and appreciation for life all around the world.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A monastery, a castle and many, many tissues

-- Just to let you know, I cna't get the photos up for this post but will keep trying, so stay tuned!--

Yesterday I had high hopes of springing out of bed and doing lots, however it didn't quite work out that way. I think my efforts the day before had tried me out because I was sick so yesterday I slept in. By the time I got out of the hostel it was midday. That's not really an issue in itself, it's just that by 3pm the best light is gone so I didn't have too many hours of daylight left! It was a snowy, windy day anyway so perhaps it was not the best idea going out at all.

However, I did have a fantastic few hours up on the mountain that overlooks the main part of Prague. There is a monastery there called Strahov Monastery that I really wanted to go to after doing my research before I left and finding that it is world famous for its library!

The monastery itself was founded in the 12th century by St Norbert, who had a rather lightning bolt conversion akin to St Paul. It has a long and colourful history, as all the buildings in Prague seem to have, that includes war, destruction and continual re-building. Going to these places is always fascinating as there are so many layers of history to the buildings – there might be a fresco from the 12th century here, a knave from the 15th century there, the paint job from the 17th century.
Anyway, the view from the monastery is stunning and I imagine that in summer you would be able to see all the way to the other end of Prague. Unfortunately yesterday dut to the snow storm all you could see was 50 metres of snow capped roofs and then a sea of white. It was still quite beautiful though.

The relics of St Norbert are in the main Church of the Monastery but this was not open to the public. It is still functioning as an active monastery so there are certain parts that are not open to the public. The Library, however, was a real treat. I have loved books since I was a child find a real asthetic pleasure in old books. There are two halls in the Library – the Philosophical Library and the Theological Library. Together they house about 20,000 books.

There was also a large collection of scientific objects – stuffed animals and sea shells as well as archaeological artefacts. My family will understand me when I say it was like one giant Wunderkammer shop!! If I could have had another life, one of the things I would have liked to be was a scientist in the 19th century – working in the laboratories, surrounded by plants and animals and various scientific instruments. What a fascinating time in history it would must have been – so much discovery happening.

The photos that I take could not do this place justice (plus they charge you a fee to take photos) so I bought the postcards of the rooms instead – they are much better shots! Though I never understand the people who walk in, take a few photos of everything and then walk out, not taking the time to look at what is around them with their own eyes.

Anyway, after a few hours being at the monastery I was feeling quite ill again so I called it a day and went back to the hostel. The walk back was much easier – the walk up to the monastery is quite steep and the snow on the ground makes it like you are walking on slippery sand. A hard feat at the best of times but it was not very nice to have to stop every few minutes and hack up your lungs. Yeah, not really very cultured at all unfortunately.

Today I slept in again. I feel terribly guilty about it. I am the worst person at being sick – I just cannot give myself a break. If I have to rest I feel guilty because I feel lazy – it's completely ridiculous of course because I need to rest but I feel strange sleeping-in in another country. It just doesn't feel right.

Anyhoo, today was my last day in Prague and I still hadn't seen its jewel – the Prague Castle. This place looks like all those castles you see in fairy-tales, and the hopeless romantic in me just loves the idea of being a princess in one of them (didn't every 6 year old girl?!)

Today, much to my surprise, the sky was blue! It's the first time I've seen blue sky since I got to Europe and it was very nice – reminded me of home! A few hours later it was snowy again but hey, it was nice while it lasted. I made the trek up the mountain again to where the castle is and bought my ticket which allowed me to see most things. One of the most magnificent parts of the castle (it really is an entire complex) is the St Vitus Cathedral – this is what really makes the castle grand. Going inside, I was immediately struck by the stained glass windows – I haven't seen any like them. They are like mosaics of glass, not just one pane for each colour or panel. IT had such a beautiful effect, but it was impossible to get a good photo as there was just too much detail for my little camera. In the end I gave up and bought a guide book to the castle at the book shop that had much better pictures. Plus I don't want to have my face behind the camera the entire time.

Once again this cathedral was a prime example of how layers have been added each century. Some of it was amazingly old – over 1000 years. It's amazing to think that during every last little thing that's happened in the past 1000 years, certain parts of the cathedral have been there. Mind-bending stuff.

The various parts of the palace surround the giant court-year where the cathedral is. Some of them are open to the public and many are not. A lot of archaeological work has needed to be done to restore it to be safe for the public to go in and I believe work still continues. Certainly today the tradies were busy just trying to clear all the snow away so people wouldn't slip.

There was a great exhibition that showed how people lived during the various ages from the 10th century and through the middle ages – with clothes and items from the bedrooms and houses. I always wonder if people were much shorter back then – all the clothes certainly give that impression and the doorways are often much lower than we have today.

Of course, there was a lot in the palace that I'm sure wasn't there in the Middle-Ages. The many restaurants for starters and heaters in all the rooms. But they did have soldiers patrolling in their russian-style hats and fuzzy jackets and the ground is all cobble-stone, so the feel of the place is still quite regal and medieval.

While I was there, a new bride and her husband were having photos taken. Quite a backdrop for your wedding photos! And I had to laugh at one point when, in front of me a little brother and sister were squabbling (I'd seen them a few times during the day and they were always poking and teasing each other). Anyway, the exasperated parents separated them, at which they both, on ether side of their parents, made a snowball from the piles of snow on the ground. I walked passed them at this point and heard a thud as the snowballs obviously hit each other and the kids started squealing again. It's quite nice to know that wherever you go in the world, some things are always the same!

3 hours of exploring the castle and being outside in the wind was enough for me. It was an amazing place – I really wish I had someone I could have gone with as I am worried I will forget the many different things I saw. I wish I could take photos with my eyes!

I also needed to buy my train ticket for the trip to Vienna tomorrow so I made my way to the main train station (honestly we are getting totally screwed by the Victorian government when it comes to the train system in Melbourne when you compare it to cities in Europe) and bought my ticket.

On the way back the weather turned really nasty – there was no snow but the wind picked up and the temperature dropped significantly, so I sought refuge in a coffee shop where you can get a coffee and beautiful apple strudel for $6 AUS. Can't say no to a bargain! What I don't really get is most of the restaurants and cafes are empty, except for Starbucks and McDonalds. Thanks America. But why on earth would one go for those cultureless and far more expensive places when you can get proper food for so much cheaper? I really don't understand. And I finally had a good coffee at this place – yay!! About time!

Back again now in my lovely hostel room – I am not looking forward to leaving it and going back to the shared hostel room experience in Vienna. I love the company of people, but sometimes sharing a room with total strangers is a bit too close for comfort for me. What can I say? I love being around people, but I like my privacy.

Jokes aside, travelling alone has its advantages – you can go on your own timetable and see what you want to see - but it also has its disadvantages. One of the main ones is not being able to share what you see and experience with someone. Another is not being able to just laugh and joke around with someone. Talking to yourself can become lonely quite quickly! I made the mistake of thinking that because I feel totally comfortable spending time by myself in my own city (where I understand how things work and go home to people I love spending time with) I would be totally fine spending time alone in other cities. For the most part I am, but I would not be giving a totally honest picture if I said that travelling alone isn't lonely. And I want this blog to be about honest experiences. I found the first week particularly difficult but it has gotten better. Sometimes I wonder if I will lose my nerve though and jump on a plane back home. But you've got to learn to be on your own sometime, right? And I have never been one to back down from a challenge. It's completely in my character to do the dramatic thing and learn all this halfway across the world!

Lastly, I'll just say I have a number of friends who left their own country and made Australia a home for short and long periods of time. I can't express how much respect I have for them.

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