Saturday, February 28, 2009

Czeching the Jewish ghetto: Old Jewish Cemetery

While in Josefov, I went to see the Old Jewish Cemetery.

The most important person they said buried in this cemetery is ‘Rabbi Loew’. I didn’t have enough time to read about him but legend says he once had a 9-foot tall golem (like a robot creation) made from clay. Golem was made to protect the Jews in the district but one day he went into a wild rampage and Rabbi Low had to destroy him by writing the name of God in a wafer and putting it inside his mouth. The golem’s remains were said to be in the attic of the Altneuschul (Old-New Synagogue).

I spent a large time in the cemetery as I find the place really interesting. Not spooky at all. The 15th century cemetery has grave stones that look like a kaleidoscope of old world tombstone art. Because the Jews were forbidden to bury their dead outside the quarters, they had to make do with the burial ground available to them. It is estimated there are about 12 layers of tombs on top of each other in this cemetery.

You can also find small folded notes and letters squeezed into the cracks of many tombstones. These are said to be prayers left by the visitors. I can only guess, Jewish visitors.

Of course, the visit is not complete without taking a foto of me in the cemetery. While getting ready to smile in front of my camera, two older British ladies passed by and whispered to me, ‘You can not take fotos here.’ Then, all of a sudden they broke out in giggles, just like little girls.

I joined in the giggling and laughter. They told me how ridiculously expensive the tickets were. They felt they were ripped off big time. One of the women said in a hushed tone, her hand partly covering her mouth while squinting her eye and her lip half-apart, ‘It’s because they are Jews...’

They asked if I was from America and I told them my standard line when asked this sort of question, ‘I am from the Philippines but I now live in Holland.’

The encounter with the two older British ladies left me hanging a bit. It was as if I was in the middle of some English-style female gossiping sitting but somehow done with taste. Eeeek.

Moi, finally with a souvenir foto.

Written prayers rolled in tiny sheets of paper inserted into the cracks of the tombs.

Can you imagine that there are 12 layers of graves here piled on top of each other?

Travel Period: December 2008

Friday, February 27, 2009

Czeching the Jewish ghetto: Pinkas synagogue

My last day in Prague was spent revisiting Mala Strana and checking out Josefov, the Jewish Quarters of Prague. I walked from my hotel in Stare Mesto (Old Town) to Nove Mesto (New Town) crossing the bridge to Mala Strana and going back to Stare Mesto via Charles Bridge then taking a left turn towards Josefov. I like walking a lot when I am travelling.

Entering Josefov district and I saw this little figure sitting on the wall.

This is the Old-New Synagogue. I visited this as well but quickly.

In this trip I’ve learned that the Jews have been discriminated in Bohemia and Moravia as early as the 10th century. They settled in Prague in the Josefov district and they were not allowed to engage in commercial activities outside the quarters. They were also not permitted to leave the place without wearing a yellow marker on their clothes so people would know they were Jewish. Later on in history, we all know that this yellow marker was improvised and became the Yellow Star of David badge issued by the Nazis during the WWII.

The first thing on my agenda to check out was the Pinkas synagogue that houses, “The Memorial to the Jewish Victims of the Holocaust from Bohemia and Moravia”. It is a museum now.

When I entered the building, I felt the eerie character of the room. I looked around and noticed that everyone inside the room seemed to be tiptoeing as if they were mesmerized and walking on glass floors. The lights were low, the vaulted ceilings high, and on the walls of the interior are letters inscribed on it. A closer look reveals them to be names – names of the 80,000 Jews from Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic and Slovakia) who died during the Holocaust. The names were written with the order of their last name first in red, followed by the first name, then their date of birth and date of death, if known.

I’ll have to say that standing there reading some of the names is a bit overwhelming. I can’t help but imagine the reality behind this; trying to turn back the clock, 60 years ago when the Holocaust happened in Europe. These names, these people died not because of their beliefs but because of hate.

Above the synagogue was a more perplexing exhibit, “The Children’s Drawings from Terezin 1942-1944”. Terezin is a shy away from being a concentration camp. It’s a village created by Hitler where the evicted Jews in Czechoslovakia were sent to temporarily while awaiting for their finally destination, usually to the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau to be annihilated. Many Jews died in Terezin due to malnutrition. It was so sad to see the drawings of the children. They are a poignant reminder of how they lived during the Nazi occupation. Only a few of the children survived, about 100+ from the 15,000+.

I did not take photos inside the synagogue. Well, it was not as well allowed, but even if it was, I just couldn’t. I was so moved, I even forgot to take a photo of the building outside.

Travel Period: December 2008
Destination: Prague, Czech Republic

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Thatched Roof Airport: Punta Cana International Airport

The Punta Cana International Airport is one of the most unique airports in the world. It is made of indigenous materials in traditional Dominican Republic style: palm wood and thatched roof. Cool airport.

punta cana airport

What else is there to see in Punta Cana International Airport?

Well, I saw many moneyed Russians. It seems this is a new place to go for them. There were lots of girls clinging on to men who are twice their age. For real. Mostly American holidaymakers of course. And unbelievably overpriced shops.

The open-air thatched roof baggage carrousel/retrieval area.

The lobby, shops and restaurants.

When you arrive in Punta Cana they take a picture of you (just like those cheesy places where you go on a tourist tour and they take photos and you pay for them after) so this lady is pointing visitors where they can collect their pictures. I could not find mine.

We flew with Martin Air and while taxiing on the runway, I had a good view of the thatched roof airport. Really cool.

martin air
punta cana airport

Very cool thatched roof.

Goodbye Punta Cana. Goodbye Dominican Republic. Not sure if I will ever come back again? We shall see. Never say never...

Travel Period: January 2009
Destination: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Karluv Most aka Charles Bridge

One must enter Mala Strana through the gothic bridge Charles Bridge that dates back to the early 11th century. The stone bridge is guarded with 30 statues of saints, primarily Baroque from the 17th and 18th centuries.

The oldest statue on the bridge is the martyr saint John of Nepomuk who was executed following the orders of Wenceslaus, King of the Romans and Bohemia. The saint was first tortured and then thrown off-drowned in the Vtalva River. St. John of Nepomuk was accused of being the confessor of the Queen, wife of Wenceslaus and refusing to divulge the secrets of the confessional.

It’s very easy to spot this statue because there is always a group of people waiting in line to rub the base that portrays the life of St. John. The plaque has been polished to a shine by scores of people stroking it over the centuries with the belief that this will bring them good luck and ensuring their return to Prague. Honestly, I find it quite amusing and not being a believer of these things, I decided to take a souvenir foto. I waited until I had the opportunity to get a good shot of a woman, her arms spread out like an eagle touching both shiny plaques. Just perfect.

On the bridge are many street vendors selling crafts, souvenir items and what-nots. Part of the bridge is also currently under renovation (Dec 2008). It feels like there is a festival on this bridge =)

The most popular statue on the bridge:

St. John of Nepomuk. The woman has an incredible pose haha.

Travel Period: December 2008

Thursday, February 19, 2009

iFly Magazine of KLM

Just want to share this really, really cool digital travel and culture magazine from KLM. I am very impressed! This is their second issue.

CLICK ON THE FOTO ABOVE of Industrial Dutch designer Marcel Wanders on the cover of the second iFly issue and this will launch the digital (and interactive) magazine. Apologies for the crap foto and undecipherable scribbles. Open it and be inspired and travel away digitally ;-)

The cover on the first iFly issue was Carice van Houten from the WW2 Nazi film, Zwartboek in 2006.

Language choices: Dutch and English and do not forget to turn on your sound - they have cool lounge music too.

Enjoy! Genieten van!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Views to Mala Strana and Hradcany, Prague

To those who have been to Prague, I am sure you will quite agree with me that the most picturesque part of the city is the view of Hradcany, also known as the Castle District, Mala Strana, or Lesser Town. It is on the foothills of the Prague Castle with the mystical looking Karluv Most (Charles Bridge).

The view in front of me was so breathtaking that I stalled setting foot on Mala Strana and just watched her from the distance.

The view of Mala Strana (Lesser Town) and Hradcany (Castle District) across the Vtalva River from Stare Mesto (Old Town).

Travel Period: December 2008

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Spying on couples during Valentines Day and Madurodam in Den Haag

This is nothing really new but thought it’s good to remind those hordes of google searchers landing on this blog about what they are looking for today.

The typical Dutch man in my opinion has an aversion to Valentines Day (I am not talking about the Dutch man I live with even!) because this typical unromantic, logical and cheap Dutch man finds the practice of celebrating what he deems to be of silly and emotional substance turned into commercialization madness, objectionable. Many other typical unromantic, logical and cheap Dutch men do not even know that Valentines Day exists! SIGH, so so sooo typically Dutch.

Anywho, I told Dutchman, whether he likes it or not, we are going out for dinner on Saturday evening, on Valentines night. He-he, a bit cheesy but I’ve been meaning to go somewhere. My feet are itching to go to places other than my usual Amsterdam or Utrecht route, like Rotterdam for example, but got discouraged with the long drive. Forty minutes drive is a bit long when we have the option to walk to Utrecht Center in twenty minutes or take the tram in five minutes, or get on the bike and be there in ten.

So we stayed in Utrecht and had drinks in our favorite hang out café at the Neude plein where we spied on a couple having a date. Now, that was fun. With the questions they were firing at each other, they were obviously in the getting to know each other phase; he, somewhat 40ish and she in her late 20’s or early 30ish were talking about their beloved mothers (yawn), their friends having one-night stands (hello! hinting?), and work related stuff.

Dutchman and I can’t really help but eavesdrop into their conversation as both were talking not only in high pitched tones but with their hands! They seem to have gotten along quite fine which was good, and when it was time to bring the date to the next level, girl naively asked guy, “Where do you want to eat tonight?” (she meant: restaurant somewhere around the corner) whilst guy cockily replied, “I’ll cook something for you at my place.” (hmm... he had something else in mind!)

Ten points to the guy for making the assertive move, lol.

Later, we left the café and surveyed the restaurants in the Center and decided to go Italian. We noticed some familiarity with the interior and had a quick déjà vu thing. Well, looks like we were indeed here before, years back. We didn’t get to spy on other couples as we were seated far to the corner of the restaurant but we noticed that the place was full. Dutchman said the restaurant is full because it’s Saturday night and not because it’s Valentines. Yeah, right.

Tonight, we are invited for some mussels treat at the schoonouders. Dutchman will be getting pizza I think. He hates seafood.

Anyway, I got some late Madurodam fotos here. Took me some time to work and upload them! We were at the Madurodam park end December after Christmas.

Here is miniature Amsterdam and the VOC ship during the Golden Age (Verenigde Oost-Indie Compagnie).

Madurodam is an entertainment miniature (very touristy) park in The Hague on a scale of 1:25 and is considered to be the smallest city in the Netherlands. It’s actually a very popular tourist attraction and destination as I seem to only find tourists there (lots of Asians), if not Dutch families with little kids. We went there with the Omniversum combi ticket which is highly recommended. Another combi ticket is with Sea Life.

More fotos here: Madurodam - Den Haag, The Netherlands

On the left foto is me with miniature Utrecht and the Dom Toren, and next foto is the beautiful Waterport in Sneek, Friesland up north.

The visit was a huge disappointment though.

Firstly, it was freezing! Brrr, it was soooo cold, it was -8C and I have to stand outside and pretend I don’t feel the chill and the wisps of brittle wind blowing sharply on my cheeks and neck. My ears have turned red and have iced over! It was bad timing to go to an open-air park that day with below zero freezing temperatures. Because of this, I was not able to take a lot of fotos. I wanted to hide my frozen butt in the cafe with a warm cup of tea.

The miniature Muiderslot (Muider Castle) in Muiden, North Holland.

Secondly, the Madurodam by Light show scheduled in the evening, which is a special additional attraction, did not push through because of the darn weather. Laser technology and -8C degree temperatures doesn’t seem to work together, unfortunately.

Thirdly, the park is a disgrace in itself. With the many visitors the park receives daily, ergo good revenue I would assume (€14,50 entrance fee for adults and €10,50 for kids), they seriously need to up their maintenance, and clean and renovate some of the miniature buildings. We saw paint fading and falling off, corrosion, moulds all over the place, and just dirt. The park and its subjects looked so outdated that the restaurant, toilet and souvenir shop were waaaay better in comparison and maintenance.

Such a shame really... the park need to get their act together and urgently do something!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Punta Cana Resort Holiday: Paradisus Palma Real

Staying inside the resort for a holiday is not really my thing. I would prefer to go out and discover the place but this is one holiday that I cannot complain because the company I work for is paying =)

We get to stay in a 5 star resort: The Paradisus Palma Real Resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

In the resort there is a delectable and excellent array of restaurants offering a variety of haute cuisine from contemporary Asian fusion to Mediterranean a la carte. They also offer great evening entertainments. Yeah, from salsa dancing to circus extravanganza. There is even a casino.

One evening, I watched the circus and aerial acrobatics show which was quite cool. I also checked out the casino and placed my gratis $5 bet that I received during check-in on a poker game, and well, what do you expect, I lost. Because I am cheap, I am not going to bet another $ after that.

What else did I do? I laid down on a bali beach bed on the beach bar and watched the stars while chatting with colleagues. That was really nice. I also danced the night away in a discotheque until my feet were begging me to stop. That is what you get when wearing high heels the whole night. Oh yeah, I can remember there was booze everywhere as well, literally (free) booze everywhere.

I really had a great time! I guess you can stay, American-style luxurious kind of holiday =)

Here are the resort photos:

From the lobby of the Paradisus Palma Real Resort.

They have pink flamingos in captive here.

The beach area with nice beds.

The circus and acrobatics show.

Booze at the bar. The resort has so many bars and cafes and restaurants.

Going to the Spa area here.

The resort has several pools and this is the biggest which lazes through a big area of the resort and just several metres from the beach.

The pool bar and those jacuzzis in the pool surrounded with columns.

I am here at the spa relaxing.

This pool area has several cabanas and they are quickly reserved. You have to wake up early in order to get one.

Travel Period: January 2009
Destination: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

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