Warsaw – Aug 31, 2006

One of the things that I was most unsure of before going to Europe, turned out to be one of the best and simplest aspects of my time there. I’d never really ridden trains before. As a very young child, there was a day-liner that ran from our small town to Calgary that I rode occasionally with my mother, but that was it. I’d heard from many places how convenient the trains in Europe were, but my Prague to Warsaw overnight trip really sealed the deal. For less than the cost of a hotel room, I arrived in Warsaw reasonably well rested. I got a semi-private sleeping car, with 6 beds, and ended up in a partially full one. Had a VERY good nights sleep, considering I was on a moving train.

Warsaw train station is a huge complex in downtown Warsaw, a labyrinth of underground passages connecting subway, train, bus and streetcar for all of Warsaw. In a week of wandering through downtown Warsaw, I still didn’t master the underground maze. On the day I left, I felt I was just beginning to finally grasp the layout, and yet I still spent 30 minutes wandering aimlessly trying to find the specific Internet cafe I was looking for. One the day i arrived, I tried to avoid the complexity of it all together … I knew the hotel I was going to, but I had no idea where it was. So I found the closest stairway to street level, flagged down a taxi, and said “Hotel Felix.”

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It’s not a luxury hotel … the decor is very much 1970’s Soviet-chic, with the kind of manual door elevator we only see in movies these days. Still, the staff was friendly, the room was comfortable, and the view, as you see above, was reasonable. The food in the restaurant was very nice, and the fellow who runs the convenience store was a wealth of local information ;-). Its located a few km outside the city center, but the transit system was so good it hardly mattered. A quick streetcar ride later that day had me back downtown, and after the roughly $.20 fare I was a bit embarrassed about the $20 cab ride I’d taken earlier. Oh well … knowledge is valuable ;-).

One of the first buildings you notice in downtown Warsaw is the Palac Kultury, not least because it towers over most everything else. There are several museums and theatres on the site, but the only one I spent any time in was the museum of science and technology. I loved the architecture though. I was still pretty tired after the trip from Prague, so I headed back pretty early and explored closer to the hotel. I specifically wanted to find the church I’d seen from my balcony, and ended up finding a lovely little park nearby as well.

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Prague – Aug 30, 2005

August 30th was my day to catch the interesting stuff I’d seen all over town that I still didn’t have pictures of. I new I was leaving that night, and wasn’t yet sure how I was getting back to Munich on the 6th, so I was trying to be sure I had a picture of everything I wanted. I ended up doing a LOT of walking, lol, since mostly, I was interested in some different perspectives on things.

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The other thing I’d been seeing all week that I needed pictures of was the public art on Wenceslas Square and the pedestrian mall. There was a dozen or more fascinating pieces of modern sculpture, and you can see all of them at flickr … I’ll post my 3 favorite ones here now.

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Prague – 29 Aug, 2006

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I had 2 main objectives on Aug 29, 2005 … the first was to check out the Tower on Charles Bridge, and the second was to get some shots from the Strana Hill after dark. Though it wasn’t quite as many steps as the St. Nicholas Church tower from the previous day, it was still quite a climb up the tower. Half way up was an information room, where you could stop and watch a short informational video on the tower and bridge. They also have a couple of amazing stained glass windows, and above-right is a nice example of one of them. The other two shots give you a good idea how busy the bridge is on an average day … along the edges, the bridge is lined with merchants selling a variety of touristy-type stuff.

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In my last travel post, I included several shots from the Strana Hill during the day time. It offers some of the nicest overviews of Prague, and I was dying to try out my tripod after dark for some shots of the lights of Prague. The area itself was a bit dodgy … not sure I’d recommend wandering the area at night by yourself to anyone else … but as you can see above I was able to get some amazing shots. I particularly liked the reflections in the river on the second pic above, but there is something about long-exposure night shots that has always appealed to me. On the way back down the hill, I noticed the metal guys on the stairs were all lit up, and had to snap a pic as well.

My next travel post, tomorrow, will be for my final day in Prague. After that, its on to Warsaw 🙂

Prague – 28 Aug, 2006

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My colleague Susan had to leave early, and by the morning of the 28th, she was back in Munich awaiting her flight back to San Diego. I decided to spend a few more days before heading on to Warsaw, as there were a few things I still wanted to see. One of the best views in Prague is from the Strana … a large hill across the river from Old Town. The view above on the left is from Strana, overlooking most of New Town directly below, and Old Town across the river. On top of the Strana are public parks, including some amazing rose beds … this was a beautiful example of one of the blooms.

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One of Prague’s more famous scientific landmarks is the Stefanik Observatory, also located atop the Strana. On the left above, a statue stands in front of a sundial in front of the observatory. On the right is a series of statues that stand at the bottom of the hill … its hard to make out from my picture, but as you go up the stairs, the statues become less and less ‘complete’ … ie, the higher statues all have missing bits. Very interesting, but no real idea what it means, lol.

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Just a few more of the interesting buildings.  On the left is one of the older church buildings in Prague, and on the right is probably one of the most photographed buildings in the city.  Truly fascinating architecture …

Pluto’s demotion to Dwarf Planet

Last week, I wrote some comments about the IAU discussions to expand the definition of planet to include not only Pluto, but its moon Charon, and other, smaller bodies. The actual vote has occurred, and rather than expanding the definition, they’ve chosen to restrict it further by creating a new term, dwarf planet. Pluto, Charon, Ceres, the newly discovered Xena … all qualify for the new designation.

Leaving aside the human rights issues about the use of the term dwarf, it seems an excellent way to solve the controversy, though not everyone seems happy with the new designation. ““Pluto gets no respect, man,” John Neal, 23, said. “I mean, I took an astronomy class in college, and I still don’t know anything about it.” The fact remains that Pluto has never had the same properties as the other planets, being the smallest of the bunch. If it were hanging out down here by the sun, in a roughly circular orbit, like the rest of the small, rocky planets, then we could be forgiven for thinking of it as a smaller version of our own planets. But out at the edge of the system, its brothers are the massive gas giants … it never seemed to fit into the natural order of things.

So this change is probably a long time coming. I’m not sure dwarf planet is precisely right … as I said in the other post about Pluto, I’m not convinced Pluto formed at the same time as, or the same way as, the other planets, for a number of reasons … but IMO, Pluto has always looked different from the rest of the solar system. Now, with Pluto downgraded, time to get rolling with my “Titan for Planet” campaign.

Prague – 26-27 Aug, 2006

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The 26th and 27th kind of ran together for us … we did a LOT of walking around, trying to see what there was to see.  Most of my day on the 26th was spent taking pics of flowers … not sure why, but that day the flowers were really grabbing me.  The colours were truly stunning.  We also climbed the tower of St. Nicholas Church, which gave us a stunning overview of the Prague New Town.

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The night of the 26th, we had to find a different room, as the Ramada was full.  We went a couple of doors up the street to a wonderful place called the Jalta.  While the room price was a bit higher than we wanted to pay, the hotel is immaculate, the buffet breakfast was the best breakfast I found in Prague, and the staff is very friendly.  Even the fact I had to pay for Internet (very common in Prague … had to pay for net in all hotels I stayed in) didn’t sully the experience, as they had excellent wifi access to the whole hotel, guestrooms included.  The balcony of the room overlooked Wenceslas Square.  All in all, as long as you aren’t looking for budget accommodations, I’d recommend the Jalta to anyone looking for a worry-free experience in Prague.

The final picture I’m posting today is of the busy street leading up to Charles Bridge (Karlov Most) and the bridge itself.  Simply as a stone bridge thats over 6 centuries old, and still in daily use, Karlov Most is worth checking out.  But there’s also an interesting story that goes with its creation.  Built in 1357, it was dedicated at 5:31 AM on Sept 7th of that year, specifically to create the odd number sequence 1-3-5-7-9-7-5-3-1 (1357, Sept (9) 7th, at 5:31 AM).  Today, some 6 and a half centuries later, the bridge is still in heavy daily use, as you can see from this shot.  Its a testament to the engineering prowess of the day, IMO … its hard to imagine much of what we build today lasting more than 6 centuries in such good repair.

10,000 Reasons Civilization is Doomed

10,000 Reasons Civilization is Doomed

Many thanx to my friend Edb from New-Continuum for sending me this link. Some of the reasons are funny, some are silly, some are serious, and some are insightful … every one I’ve read has made me think though :). For the record, you knew I had to add my own …

Reason #2308: We think in terms of minutes and hours … months and years at most. The world operates in terms of decades and centuries … or millenia and epochs. We are out of step with the world we live in.
By Elron Steele on August 26, 2006

Its an interesting list … go have a read for yourself. I think there are a few at least that everyone can agree on, but if nothing else, its good for a bit of fun 🙂