Category Archives: Photography

These posts are meant to display photographs I’ve taken.

Exploring Prague – Castle and Cathedral

July 1 was our last full day in Europe.  Could we sleep in?  No way – the bus to the Prague Castle, where we had guided walking tours set up, left at 8:30 AM.  And yes, I’m willing to get up early to tour a medieval castle dating back to the 9th century (rebuilt multiple times, of course)!  In fact, we didn’t get into the Castle at all; we spent most the tour of the hilltop in St. Vitus’ Cathedral, a Gothic building.  The first interesting thing I saw was this wall:

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Yes, it’s an optical illusion – no matter how it looks, that wall is flat.  It’s etched in a technique called sgraffito, to give the impression of a wall decorated with diamond-shaped plaques.  It’s flat.  I put my hand on it. 

Here’s our first view of St. Vitus Cathedral.  I don’t know why cathedrals in east central Europe have those checkered tile patterns on the roof, but I saw it in Budapest and Vienna, and here in Prague – but not in Cologne (which we visited in 2012).

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Like most medieval buildings, especially on European rivers, the cathedral and castle are on top of a hill.  Military defense aside, when the Vltava River floods, everybody can scramble up the hill and take shelter in the cathedral, the castle, or both, until the water goes down.  The brown slanted surface you see below the cathedral is the roof of a building in the sort of dry moat area below the cathedral.  The guide didn’t mention it.

Our route into the cathedral took us first into this courtyard. The round white building is the Treasury of St. Vitus Cathedral, one of the most extensive church treasuries in Europe.  If I’d known that  I would have tried to go in, but our tour didn’t give us much time there.

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You may recall from earlier posts that I like gargoyles, and collect them; here are the gargoyles from St. Vitus Cathedral.  Remember, these things are downspouts.  In the rain, they spit out water draining off the roof.

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I got one good photo down the nave, the classic cathedral shot.  Click on any of these photos and it’ll take you to the full gallery, where you can see photos of some of the stained glass windows, and a detail of an odd interior stairway.

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Here’s the full exterior view of the Cathedral, both towers, and the “Golden Gate”:

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The Golden Gate is worth a closer look; the west door, which is in the gallery, is classic Gothic, with pointed arches and detailed relief carvings.  The Golden Gate is a gilded mosaic of the Last Judgment, looking more like a Russian icon than like a medieval cathedral entrance.   It dates from the 14th century; the mosaics were restored in the 1970s by the Getty Conservation Institute.  The Golden Gate was the royal entrance to the cathedral, immediately facing the old Royal Palace across the plaza.

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Look again at the photo of the entire cathedral and you’ll see that the portion to the right of the Golden Gate is almost black, the whole building exterior.  That’s part of the original building – the black represents centuries of smoke from the entire city of Prague.  The mosaics on the Golden Gate probably looked like that before the Getty Institute took them on.

I did like the statue of St. George and the dragon, in the castle courtyard.  I normally associate St. George with England, but I guess he traveled more than I realized.

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Leaving the castle area, you encounter Prague Castle’s main gate, the Mathias Gate, which actually faces the other way; we came out through them.  Here’s what you see from the rear:

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These statues are described as “sculptures of Titans, made by I. F. Platzer in 1770.”  There are better views of the individual statues in the gallery.  Here’s the view of Prague, from the castle plaza.  Notice the haze, which wasn’t that bad at ground level.

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I think I’ll stop here and start another post on the next part of the tour.

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Prague Performances

On this stay we performed the day after we arrived – twice, in fact.  Our scheduled concert was at 6:30 PM, in the Church of the Holy Saviour, near the Old Town Square in Prague; but we had an appointment around 1 PM at the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence (the address is Ronalda Reagana, Prague 6), to perform at his Independence Day Celebration and attend the following reception.  This was on June 30, in case you’ve been counting, and I still don’t know if  he had the celebration early because we were in town or not.

On the 29th, we went out for our usual tour dinner at the cafe of the Municipal House, which was within long walking distance of the hotel; the walk took us through main downtown Prague.  The restaurant was an absolute Art Deco classic; I remember the restaurant as very noisy and the pork schnitzel as tough, but my was the room gorgeous.  In fact, it was gorgeous enough that we went back and had a much quieter lunch on the last day, during our exploration of Prague.

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Driving to Prague

We all packed up again, piled into the now familiar black bus, and hit the road for Prague.  I was surprised to find that, once we got out of Vienna, we were largely traveling on secondary roads – well paved and all that, but not freeways.  This gave us a better look at the countryside, and the countryside between Vienna and Prague is gorgeous. It’s some of the most beautiful, immaculately maintained farmland you could imagine, and almost all rural.  The photo below is just across the Czech border. (As always now, clicking on a photo will take you to the full Smugmug gallery.)

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Czechia (the new name for the Czech Republic) had more woodsy areas interspersed with the farms.  But I kept wondering about the road, until someone reminded me that, until the Soviet Union fell, Czechoslovakia (as it was then) was behind the old Iron Curtain, so you can drive from Vienna to Bratislava on a highway (Slovakia was not Soviet), but to Prague, you take back roads because nobody’s built the highway.

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Eisenstadt and Esterhazy

The date stamps on my photos suggest that the last photo I took at the Schönbrunn Palace was time-stamped 10:53 AM, and the first photo I took at Eisenstadt was time-stamped 2:19 PM.  We didn’t spend 3 hours on the road to Eisenstadt, as I remember grabbing a sandwich at the cafe in the palace courtyard and eating it outdoors; but we may well have spent 2 hours, including collecting, loading, and unloading all 70-odd of us.  Google Maps says Eisenstadt is either 62 or 68 miles from Vienna depending on which road you take.

Music historians will already know why we went to Eisenstadt, but for the less informed (didn’t know this before the tour), Joseph Haydn is buried in the Bergkirche (which means “mountain church”), in the town of Eisenstadt, which was the family seat of the Princes of Esterházy, whom he served most of his life.  He lies there now, along with both of “his” skulls, and if you’ve never heard that story (I hadn’t), you really must read the Wikipedia article on Haydn’s head.

Our first stop in Eisenstadt, after we found the Bergkirche, was – the restrooms, which were out at the back of the church, and not very large.  Here is the line for the ladies’ room.  All of these women are on the tour.

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Christmas Day Walk

Yes, I know it’s May.  2016 has been an extremely weird year, and one of these days I’ll blog it.  But I recently got the photos sorted, processed and uploaded from the walk I took around Lake Temescal, in the Oakland hills, on Christmas Day 2015. In a sense, this was the calm before the storm, because 3 days later, I came down with an awful cold (took 3 weeks to get rid of), which was the start of all the things that have gone wrong so far this year.

But back to the lake.  Here it is.  Click on this or any other photo to go to my Smugmug account and see the whole collection.

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Vienna and the Schönbrunn Palace

The day after the Stephansdom concert, we had a bus tour of the Ring, followed by an organized group tour of the Schönbrunn Palace, then a drive into the countryside to visit Eisenstadt, where Haydn is buried, and Esterhazy Palace, where he lived and worked.  Jim and I toured Schönbrunn Palace in 2012 with the Viking River Cruise, and we considered skipping it; but after a little thought, we realized there would be no way to catch up with the bus to take the rest of the tour.  So we got on the bus with everyone else.

If you want to see more photos on any subject, just click on one that interests you; you’ll be redirected to the photo on either my Smugmug site or Jim’s, depending on the photo, then you can move back and forth in a slideshow to see others.  In every case, there are more photos there than I show here.

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Performing in Budapest

On our second full day in Budapest, we had the morning off, then an afternoon rehearsal with orchestra, then 2 hours off for dinner, and then a performance.  The rehearsal and the performance were all in Matthias Church, on Buda Castle Hill, where the bus can’t go, so when we set out, we had to have our performance clothing with us, and carry it up the hill from where the bus dropped us off.  I mentioned in yesterday’s post that the bus was too big to fit in the medieval streets on Buda Castle Hill.  This also meant that we had to eat dinner on the hill.

Photos for this post are in the gallery More BudapestIf you’d like to enlarge any of the photos please go look at them there.

But about that morning off:  the Lion’s Garden Hotel was about a mile from Heroes’ Gate, and in the same area there’s Budapest City Park (with lake), the Vajdahunyad Castle (in the park), a huge mineral water bath (which we didn’t visit, sigh), and the Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden.  We bought transit passes from the hotel and walked over to the main tram line to pick up a car. As we walked, I got the idea that the Lion’s Garden Hotel isn’t in the best neighborhood; the buildings were shabby, with some graffiti.  I remember passing one dingy little door with an inscription in Hungarian of which I only understood the English word “striptease”!

Here’s a view of the park and its lake.  We didn’t really explore the park much, as we wanted to see the Castle.

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The Blue Angels, 2014

Fleet Week 2015 just came and went.  Oops – that means I never posted my photos from Fleet Week last year, when on October 12, 2014 I saw the Blue Angels perform from the Golden Gate Yacht Club, courtesy of our host, retired Air Force Colonel Conway Jones.  It was quite a day.  The weather was perfect although, as the photos show, the air quality kind of varied depending on how many jets had flown by.  This photo is before any of the jets arrived.

Alcatraz Island and San Francisco Bay, Fleet Week, 2014

Alcatraz Island and San Francisco Bay, Fleet Week, 2014

All the photos for this day are in my gallery Blue Angels 2014on my SmugMug site, including more shots of all the planes, plus some pictures of the bay.  If you want to see any of these photos blown up, you should go look at them in the gallery.  The links I post here won’t enlarge if you click them.

As you can see, we were right at water level, looking across to Alcatraz.

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Last Stop Budapest

We left Bratislava in mid-afternoon, a deliberate choice so we could enter Budapest after sundown.  Our first stop was the last of the 79 locks on the trip, at the Gabčíkovo Dam, in Slovakia.  This was part of a huge joint flood control project between Hungary and Slovakia, over which both countries are suing in the International Court of Justice.  Meanwhile, there is this dam, and its lock, with probably the biggest rise of the trip.  I suspect it was more than 100 feet.  Below you can see the Embla in the lock, with quite a distance left to rise.

Lock in the Gabčíkovo Dam, Slovakia

Lock in the Gabčíkovo Dam, Slovakia

Unusually, the lock was wide enough for at least 2 riverboats abreast.  I’m not sure it would have taken 3 abreast.

Multiple boats in the Gabčíkovo Dam lock - Embla is on the right

Multiple boats in the Gabčíkovo Dam lock – Embla is on the right

We finally floated out onto the lake behind the dam, and on down the Danube.

All the photos in this post, and more, are in this photogallery on my SmugMug site.

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Bratislava

Our next stop after Vienna was Bratislava, capital of Slovakia. Frankly, I found Bratislava intimidating, because it was the first time I’d ever been in a country where the written language (on signs and so on) made no sense to me.  I understand enough German and French to get by; in Amsterdam the language was close enough to German for me to guess at meaning (don’t tell the Dutch that!); anybody who lives in California has some idea of Spanish.  But the Slavic languages are a mystery to me.  Fortunately everyone I really needed to talk to spoke English.

The earliest recorded town in this location was founded by Celtic tribes around 200 B.C.; when the Roman Empire expanded this far north, the town became part of the Limes Romanus, or the border of the Empire. The town has had at least four names over its history; the country has only been independent since the Velvet Divorce in 1993.

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