EuroTour: Prague, Czech Republic, and Munich, Germany
After a great time in Berlin (a city I will be visiting again, if not living in), Dad and I hopped on a train for a quick, one-night stop in Prague, Czech Republic, while en route to Munich, Germany.
We were now in the country that we both knew the least about. We knew zero Czech words and we had none of their currency either; they aren’t on the euro. As we were pulling into Praha (Czech name of Prague), there was a noticeable difference in the language and writing on the signs. There were also relatively a lot of regular people walking around and across the train tracks. It also looked rather run down. Maybe that’s just what the old communist states look like.
After figuring out the exchange rate of euros (and, in the back of our heads, dollars to euros) to crowns, we were off on the metro in search of our hostel that we got for 12 euros per person! At the time, 1 USD was about 20 crowns. It was cloudy but not too cold, and, knowing we were there for only one evening and were departing to Munich in the late morning, we had to get out and explore. We had dinner at a local restaurant of goulash and some beef with cranberries and drank Budweiser Budvar. Yes Budweiser, but it’s not the American kind. Google ‘Budweiser in the Czech Republic,’ and you can learn about it. With filled stomachs, we went off on foot in search of the Prague Castle which I have been wanting to see for years.
I would have loved to have taken a tour or caught the castle at sunrise too, but this will have to do for my first visit there. We kept walking and wandering around the city as we tried to absorb all the sights and sounds we could.
The next morning, we had a big breakfast at the restaurant at the hostel and were off for a few more hours of exploring before we had to grab our bags and head to the next train.
Our stay in Prague was nice, but just too short. There was so much I just didn’t get to see. If I were doing it again, I’d cut out the city completely and spend another quality day in another city instead of hours on the train and just a few hours exploring. Quality over quantity.
A number of hours and a couple of trains later, we were in Munich. I was really surprised at how happy I was to be back in a German-speaking country. I’ve only ever taken about 4 classes of the it in 6th grade, but I remember it quite well. Maybe it’s my German heritage trying to call me back. We had a tasty dinner of sausage and Augustiner at a beer garden and were in for the night.
We caught up with a guided tour of Munich for a brief intro to the city and spent the rest of the day walking and hopping on the metro.
A tasty kebab from an all-hours restaurant near the train station later and we were in for the night. I performed a quick, YouTube-guided surgery* (Hi, Dad), and we figured out logistics for our visit to Dachau in the morning.
Our guided tour of Dachau was an important goal of mine. I wanted to get a better feeling for the horror of World War II and what my grandfather was fighting to end. The stories and history we heard were interesting, but I was surprised at how unemotional the tour was for me. It was challenging to think of the terrible things that happened there and across Europe, even through the pictures and a few of the buildings that were still around. It was hard to imagine something so awful happening from my modern day perspective, but I’m very glad we went and experienced it.
We made our way back to Munich, a 30 minute train ride, and checked out some of the department stores near Marienplatz. When I go to Germany again, I’m buying authentic lederhosen.
A couple days of drinking Augustiner, eating sausage at every meal and hearing some funny maypole stories in Munich were over, and we were off to spend a few in Rome!
For more of my traveling adventures and to see the previous EuroTrip posts, click here.
© 2013 Ethan Klosterman
I went to the El Rastro, the weekly flea market and walked around a bit. Here’s what I saw.
Vendors set up tables and racks all along this tree-lined street in addition to a couple surrounding ones. I wasn’t going for the shopping, but there were a few thousand roaming among the hundreds of tents.
What!? He’s reading a newspa-what? Newspaper? Is that one of those things that come from trees and have yesterday’s news? How’d he find one of those? That’s definitely worthy of tossing a few coins in his cup.
The following frames are from various outings from previous weeks, not El Rastro.
I was taking a break in front of the Prado museum during a walk and noticed some pretty tame, hungry birds hopping around. I set up my camera with a MF 55mm f/3.5 macro lens and attached a cable release. While on continuous high speed, I lined my hand up with where I had the focus set. Once one of my feathered friends slipped into the sliver of in-focus area and came in to grab the food from my fingers, I hammered down on the release. This is the result.
Snap from my grocery store, Alcampo, in Madrid.
This is Comillas Pontifical University’s most recognized architectural feature. It’s equivalent to UD’s Immaculate Conception Chapel.
Semana Santa (Part 4 of 4)
Easter Sunday Mass at the world’s largest Gothic cathedral? OK, I guess so.
After staying up late with my friends (coincidentally ran into them at the hostel), we were out the door before the sun was even through its last REM cycle. The mission objective: (good) seats. Our recon reported that Mass started around 9. We figured we’d need lead time of maybe an hour to beat the crowd on the most important day of the year at the third-largest church in the world within a very Catholic country. We wound our way through the streets of Sevilla and made it to the cathedral with plenty of time. By this time, the maintenance man was still doing his last-minute power washing of the side entrance.
By 8:05 a.m., our side entrance finally opens. We’re there in plenty of time. We walk in and boom. This place is huge! While I haven’t seen the other biggest churches in the world, this one was certainly not your grandmother’s church.
It even is the home to Christopher Columbus’ tomb? Not too shabby.
After a few minutes of ohh-ing and ahh-ing at the tall, vaulted ceilings and seeing the processions pass through the church (see below), we started to think something was up. Why haven’t any priests been seen? There are only 40 people coming to Mass? It is Easter, right? After some murmurs move through the small congregation, we finally get word that our Internet-recon was bad. God gave us bad intel!? Mass starts at 11?! You mean we didn’t have to wake up at 5 a.m.? Awesome.
After blowing some time by filling our grumbling bellies with food and coffee at a restaurant around the corner, the time had finally come.
This time around, a familiar incense fragrance floated throughout the church as people were packing in and the organ began to bellow.
This time the two girls (two of our friends bailed after breakfast for naps back at the hostel) and I got seats in the second row on one of the wings. Not too shabby.
After songs- some familiar, some not- a few bows, a handful of handshakes, and a few faintly muttered Spanish phrases, I made it. First Spanish Mass= mission accomplished. Bonus points for it being on Easter… even if it does perpetuate the “Christmas and Easter Catholic” stereotype. If only Fr. Gene was still leading Sunday Mass at UD…
After some lunch and relaxing, I decided I had to find a place called Plaza de España that everyone was raving about. (I had hoped to stumble upon it the day prior.)
I could have spent hours there watching the light and shadows change. So many great lines, colors, and architecture. You might have recognized it from Star Wars Episode II.
After sweating it out in the Plaza, my friends and I had reservations for a flamenco show at a museum. Yes, the purists out there will scream and shout about that not being real flamenco, but hey, finding the authentic stuff was harder than it seems. While it probably wasn’t the world’s greatest, it was still an enjoyable way to finish up our last evening in Sevilla.
After a pleasant dinner at an Italian restaurant near the cathedral, we ended up walking to Plaza de España again. I was only able to squeeze off maybe a couple dozen frames while trying to cradle my camera on the curved, colored, ceramic railing before a security guard scooted us out of the park due to closing time. I would have really liked to have had time to run to the hostel for my tripod and spend some quality time playing with the lights and water reflections. Next time, perhaps.
With that, it was back to the hostel for some sleep, packing up and riding the high-speed AVE through the beautiful southern countryside to Madrid.
Spain = superb.
Semana Santa (Part 3 of 4)
On the heels of a nice day trip to Cadiz, I found myself on another beautiful day in Andalusia with plenty of time. Excellent. Let’s shoot, shall we?
While this may not look like much food, this is my impression of an average Spanish breakfast. That’s a cup of café con leche (coffee) and bocadillo de jamón (Iberian ham on bread).
Before coming to Spain, I had only ever purchased/tried to drink a cup of coffee once before. It was a terrible experience, and needless to say, I didn’t finish the cup. When I got to Spain, I saw everyone always drinking café con leche. Hey, I came abroad to see how people do it over here. One day at school a few weeks back, I mustered up my courage and got myself a cup. After the first sip, my face cringed like a baby that just poohed his diaper. “How can you all drink this stuff?” In a spirit of penance, I finished the cup.
Right before the rain came in Cadiz yesterday, I ordered another cup hoping my mom’s assertion that ‘taste buds change over time’ would ring true. It did! And who knew, sugar helps! So on this morning, I ordered it again. I’m learning to like this tasty way of jump-starting the morning.
These floats aren’t driven by machine power; it’s all man power. As the floats wind their way through the brick streets, new groups of men trade places with the sweat-soaked ones that have been giving the float its feet.
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Semana Santa: Cadiz (Part 2 of 4)
If you missed part one, it’s here. I made a friend on the bus coming back from Granada. Mar lives in Madrid, but she’s originally from Cadiz. She offered to show me around Cadiz if I was in Cadiz the same day she was in the area. Personal tour guide? Yes, please! So on the second day in Sevilla, I was off to Cadiz.
I thought I woke up early, but after speaking with the front desk folks at the hostel, they said I’d have no chance of making it to Santa Justa station by foot in time. With many of the roads blocked for the Good Friday procession routes, my choices were take a cab or miss my train. Cool. Although the ticket wasn’t expensive, I didn’t to miss the train. As I was running to the cab corral a few blocks away, I grabbed this frame as the sun was throwing out some amazing light as it was streaming through the streets of Sevilla downtown.
After a cab ride that seemed to take forever with all the traffic and road closures causing more than enough congestion around the city, I made it to the station, and all-out sprinted to my train. Made it. Whew.
Once I got to Cadiz, within my second cup of café con leche, the ominous clouds that had been rolling in finally exploded. It rained, and it rained hard. Luckily within an hour or two, it cleared up and gave way to some beautiful light and a bright blue sky for me to play with all day.
Deep blue skies courtesy of the Nikon 77mm circular polarizer.
After a solid day of picture making and walking around, I was headed back to Sevilla on the last train from Cadiz. It was definitely worth a day trip, but it’s by no means big. One day was enough for me.
After a two hour train ride, I was back at Santa Justa station. I finally took time to work with all its symmetry and lines.
On my way back to my hostel, I ran into a paso (procession). This is what Sevilla is famous for. I’ll let Wikipedia do the talking here. What they don’t tell you on Wikipedia is that if you get caught in one of these processions, you better not have to go to the bathroom or have anywhere to be. A tour guide said he was trapped for hours during one of the pasos. They happen all week in Sevilla, but also to a lesser extent in other cities around Spain.
After a long day of shooting and walking (that seems to be the theme with my trips around Spain), I was beat and ready to hit the hay.
Next up will be from my second day in Sevilla.
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Weather forecast: sunny and dry. School/work: none. Three day weekend: of course. Perfect recipe for a weekend out of Madrid.
My friend from Comillas, Avery, and I decided late on a Thursday night last month that we should get out of Madrid. Just a few hours later, we were sitting on a bus headed for Granada in the southern autonomous community of Andalusia for the weekend. The trip only took four and a half hours of actual driving and took us through scenic mountains and pretty countryside. Regarding the transportation, this bus wasn’t your average American Greyhound. In fact, this cruiser put all Greyhounds to shame. It was on time, very clean, had TVs throughout, had no unusual stench, no mystery stickiness on the floor, and had comfortable seats. Pretty great for around 25€ round trip. OK, I’ll let some pictures do the story-telling.
I asked the front desk at the hostel (White Nest Hostel– highly recommended. Clean, extremely friendly, good location, free Wi-Fi, reasonable price, hot water.) where the best photo spots were, and she recommended a few streets north of the main drag that had some nice graffiti.
The hostel also recommended we hike up the hill across from Alhambra (Granada’s main attraction) to watch the sunset. Avery and I took some shots of each other that are in my Facebook album.
The locals hang out and drink, while the artisans sell their trinkets and jewelry to the other tourists that hear about this great spot (and have the endurance for the hike up the hilly, rough streets).
We booked the ~14€ tour tickets for Alhambra. It was definitely worth the $18.75. If you’re planning a visit, book the tickets one day in advance and have a solid 3 hours to see everything. We bought tickets for the 2 p.m. slot, could see everything, and the light was great throughout.
I took a peek through the Granada postcards and a coffee table book of photographs when we were downtown. They gave me some solid ideas on where to shoot.
This kind of detail was everywhere. Whatever you’re imagining as “everywhere,” triple it. The intricate designs were amazing.
It’s amazing to be walking through and shooting a 14th century castle.
After Alhambra, there’s also the Generalife Palace that is included with the ticket. We had to zip through this area to catch our bus back to Madrid, but I still managed a few frames.
There are rows and rows of olive trees much of the way to Madrid.
We had a great sky and sunset as we were riding through the mountains back home.
It was a fun weekend of picture-making and exploring.
A few comments on street shooting. It ain’t easy. There seem to be infinite options. Props to folks that shoot it and shoot it well. It’s an ongoing challenge for me. Street shooting makes me miss my sport shooting days at UD.
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Retiro in February
I finally visited Parque del Retiro in downtown Madrid in late February. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Let’s just say the park exceeded my expectations. It’s April now, and I’ve gone back a couple of times. More frames from those times coming in a later post.
There were some rollerbladers skating in the street in the park. They were doing some fun stunts, like the limbo, for a small crowd of park-goers that were watching.I threw out a couple Speedlights and tried to make some frames. It seems that many college-age Spaniards know a little English. It’s convenient and helpful. They were fun to shoot and watch.
I don’t know if I have ever found a BMX-er, rollerblader, skateboarder, etc. who wasn’t cool with me taking pictures of them doing his/her stuff. Cool folks.
Thanks to the skaters for letting me shoot y’all. I’ll see y’all around.
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Trip to Toledo
A few friends and I took a day trip to Toledo, a quick 48 minute bus ride from Madrid, a number of weeks ago. We just stayed a few hours. This is what I saw.
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I got out of class last week and saw some light I couldn’t resist. Peter, my roommate, must have already left our downtown school so I figured I’d go out and get some sightseeing done. The temperature was pleasant, and I (of course) had my camera and a 17-35 with me. Winning combination. After asking a few of my classmates where they recommended, I got on the Metro a block or two away from school and headed toward the Puerta del Sol station.
Having no guide except for my offline map app on my iPhone, which is less than great aside from looking up Metro stops, I walked and wandered and chased the light. No time-consuming extra-currics to go to. No homework thanks to syllabus week. Freedom.
Since I was just walking wherever I saw things that looked interesting (and the light was right), I don’t know the name most of the things I saw. Feel free to help me out by leaving a comment at the bottom, and I’ll add them in.
Why did I go black and white? I’m not sure. The light was changing a bit and B&W made things a bit more unified. Now that I think of it, it was probably the other way around. I put one shot in B&W and it only looked good that way, therefore everything needed to go B&W. I don’t hate it.
I’m always carrying at least one camera with me. More shots and stories to come.
Welcome to España
Just one week ago, I had just gotten my visa approved, picked it up from Chicago, packed my life into three suitcases weighing a grand total of 121 lbs, said goodbye to my friends and family, and made the jump across the Atlantic. After a long flight through the night, I safely arrived in Madrid, España. The last time I posted, I was still needing to pack and waiting for my visa to be returned to the States. A lot has happened since then. Not only have I changed zip codes, but I’ve moved into a new country with an unfamiliar language with new friends. Here’s what I’ve been seeing and doing.
I’ve lived in Madrid for a week, and this is what I’ve been doing and seeing. I’ve gone through both the main campus downtown and my campus in Cantoblanco. I’ve survived a week of intensive Spanish classes. I’ve met people from all around the world like Ethiopia, Iran, Italy, Greece, France, Canada, Germany, Sweden, and more. Talking with people from so many different backgrounds and lifestyles is incredible. This is already a fantastic experience. I get to be here for five more months? Awesome!
I’ll have more photos and stories to share in the days and weeks to come. My apologies for this post’s length. I want to get y’all caught up about Madrid things.