Monday, June 4, 2012

Church of Bones...Incredible

OMG...The Sedlec Ossuary is a basement of a Roman Catholic church in Kutna Hata, Czech Republic (about one hour east of Prague). It contains the bones of at least 40,000 people who died of the plague in mid 14th century. As people were dying, the survivors would place bodies near the door to the church and they were subsequently buried. But they ran out of room. According to Wikipedia, in 1511 the bones were exhumed by a monk and piled in the basement. Then in 1870 a woodcarver organized them into 4 pyramids in the corners of the church basement( skull image with coins below) and then did the unthinkable:  used bones to decorate the basement. 
Many were arranged artistically to form a chandelier and this coat of arms (see the skull to get an idea of the scale of this). Sad, fascinating, interesting and I felt the energy. Brings up all kinds of thoughts about whether this is an ethical use of human remains. My perspective --- YES. I'd rather have my bones displayed in an interesting way that provokes thought and emotion then be stuck in the ground forever. Why not? 
WOW. This place is not to be missed.

John Lennon Graffiti Wall

Here I am at the John Lennon Graffiti Wall. It was a blank wall and then in the 1980s people started drawing and writing graffiti that was inspired by Beatles' tunes. During the communist era, authorities would paint over the wall and make it plain and boring again but then immediately hippies would paint love, poetry and peace signs again. According to Malia, it looks very different from the last time she saw it...a work of art in progress.

I added my 2 cents while there...At age 65 is it soooooo much fun to be in the 60's again!!

Fantastic Castle Door

Here I am at a fantastic door in the Prague Castle. This is an example of the ornate and beautiful Prague architecture. My cousin thinks I look like a Catholic school girl in this image...NOT :=D.

Prague Astronomical Clock

This 24 hour clock, in the Old Town Square, was installed in 1410, and according to some it is the only astronomical clock in the world that is still working. It has dials representing the movement of 1) the sun, 2) the earth, and 3) the moon. Figures on the clock represent each month of the year and also the Christian apostles. You can read more about it on Wikipedia and here is an image that explains the dials:

Many tourists line up to hear it strike the hour -- charming figures emerge from the upper windows and a skeleton hits a bell, sounding the top of the hour. Very interesting but I can't say I totally get how it works....gotta study astrology a bit more :-).

Prague, Czech Republic!

Praha (the local city name is about the only word I can say in the complex Czech language)! What an amazing and beautiful city - home to over 1 million residents and beginning in about 200BC. The architecture is incredible because it was not destroyed during the second world war and rebuilt with communist-style cement boxes, like many other European cities (Warsaw in particular). There are plentiful museums, art, theater, castles and so much more. I'm here with daughter Malia enjoying the vibes. Below is an image of the old town square, bustling with tourists - who seem to have dressed in colors to match the buildings!

Check out the rooftops of Prague  - this taken from the Prague castle. Charming, indeed. We visited a fascinating inner castle with lots of old artifacts and art. The family occupying the castle lost everything, first in 1941 during the war and then again when the communists took over. They were able to locate the art and furniture in over 100 places in Prague and reconstruct the interior. We also went to a toy museum with a full floor of Barbie history.
This view overlooks the famous Charles Bridge on the Vltava river, running through the center of the city. The bridge was full of artists with very interesting jewelry, paintings and more.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Adios to Panama!

A wonderful country! I visited Panama 20 years ago but never saw it like this. First, it was wonderful to be with my siblings and niece, and second we got to discover many incredible critters.
Here I am giving gifts to the Embera children, in a canoe on the way to see them, watching sister Janet connect with an Embera child, and me, the gringo, enjoying a local Panamanian family fair.

Embera-Wounaan tribe Dances

This wonderful tribe greeted us with music and a dance.

Embera-Wounaan Pets

The Embera found a River otter and made it a pet. While niece Clara was swimming, it brushed against her leg -- scary! The otter doesn't bite, though, and just goes swimming then makes its way back home for loving and food. The other image is another type of pet but I have no clue what it is...any guesses?

Embera-Wounaan Scenes

These are scenes from the Embera and their village/daily lives: Cooking plantains, serving them with fish, and the village itself, including the gift shop with their baskets, carving and jewelry.

Embera-Wounaan of Panama

The Embera-Wounaans are one of 7 indigenous groups living in Panama. This tribe numbers close to 35,000 and mostly live in the Darien region, near Columbia. They live in small villages of several families and continue traditional living habits. They use plants for medicinal purposes, including to keep body hair from growing on male and female children - this is partially so that they can use other plants for temporary tattoos to keep insects away. We visited a village of 113 that is closer to Panama City - a great trip on a canoe up the river. Here the are the beautiful women, one on the river and the other demonstrating basket making. They use plants for dying shredded leaves - gorgeous work.

Panamanian Jungle

Here are some views of this beautiful countryside.

Turkey Vulture Looking for Tasty Bite

This is a Turkey Vulture hunting above the canopy in the Panamanian forrest. So graceful and such a beautiful vista from the top of the Canopy Tower Hotel.

Howler Monkeys in Panama

These are Howler Monkeys. See the baby leaning on the papa? What a cute family, but they make a really amazing sound. At night and in early morning you can hear the howling, sounding like dogs howling at the moon. Very loud. You can hear them howl on Wikipedia - who maintains that their howls can be heard for 20 miles! They hang out and run around the tree tops, using their tails to grab onto branches.

Capuchin Monkeys

These cute little monkeys are Capuchins - name so because they look like cappuchino coffee. We saw them on  a boat trip on Lake Gatun, the man made lake supporting the Panama Canal. We parked our little boat and they became quite curious - eventually finding a peanut on our boat. At one point I reached up to touch one and it slapped my hand hard. We were told NOT to smile because it appears as an agressive teeth baring gesture the monkeys use to fend off each other and predators. Cute AND wild.

Leafcutter ants

These Leafcutter ants are fascinating. Here I caught them climbing up a tree, then cutting off a piece of the leaf, and hauling it back down to the nest. Fungus grows on the leaves and fungi are what the ants love to eat. According to Wikipedia, "Next to humans, leafcutter ants form the largest and most complex animal societies on Earth." Their nests can grow to 98 feet across and contain 8 million of these insects.

Little critters

Our first wild animal sighting was at Santa Clara beach. Four wild kitties. Of course, we couldn't resist buying them a can of fish to eat. They became quite used to us and even cuddled some.

From Sea to Shining Sea

THE Panama Canal is amazing. 51 miles from Pacific to Carribean, it carries much commercial product distribution AND people. The tolls range based on weight and such, varying from $331,000 to $0.36 (for a skinny swimmer). It was a thrill to see how the ships go into the Miraflores lock from Lake Gatun (manmade by flooding the valleys, making mountains into islands). The ship hangs out for about 10 minutes while the lock drains to the level of the next lock (or sea) and then the gate opens, as in the image. The canal was built by USA  in 1914 after a failed attempt and turned over to Panama management in December 1999. The Panamanians are doing a great job and are now building a new set of locks for 2014 opening to accommocate larger/longer ships than the current "Panamax" size. Incredible engineering feat.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Groceries in Panama

Interesting how food is packaged in different countries. In the Panama grocery store I found laundry detergent in plastic wrap instead of cardboard boxes....and the chocolate SHOULD be repackaged to handle this heat and humidity. Check out the melted Hershey's :-)...good thing cuz I certainly don't need more chocolate...

This looks like a Panamanian favorite: EIGHT different flavors of SPAM (how creative). You can get with Cheese, Garlic, Pavo, black Pepper, two kinds of chopped, and for the health conscious: 25% less sodium or 50% less fat (yeah, right). If you aren't into Spam, you can get vienna sausages (on the left) or Pork Luncheon meat (on the right). Just what this vegetarian was seeking!! NOT.... 

To the Beach in Panama!

How wonderful to visit Santa Clara Beach on Panama's pacific coast...warm, beautiful and relaxing. Just what a hard working girl needs! It is a sibling trip and we are staying at the lovely Las Sirenas cottages (below). The temperature ranges from 75 to 93 degrees F. NICE...The island in this picture is called "Noriega's Island" because he allegedly used it to torture victims. His compound was just across the water on shore and was totally bombed out.