Stavropoleos church

24 hours in Bucharest

“Stroll through more than 500 years of history from the times of Vlad the Impaler aka Dracula to the “golden era” of communism and the ’89 Revolution and unravel the stories of old and new Bucharest”. – Walkabout Tours, Bucharest

I must confess. I’ve had a hard time grasping how I would write about Bucharest. This  fascinating yet often conflicting city has left me utterly dumbfounded on how to best present it. With its tiny treasure trove of charming streets, churches and parks tucked away from huge swaths of historic neighborhoods that were depressingly torn down under Communist rule, I found Bucharest intriguing in its own right as long as I forgot what was once there. An eclectic mix of historic charm, Parisian flair juxtaposed with block after block of notoriously ugly, characterless and stark 80s-style Communist concrete apartments contributed to Bucharest’s confusing feel.

Although Bucharest pales in comparison to the beauty and magic of Prague and some of her eastern neighbors, this city of two million inhabitants has its own unique charm and character particularly if you do not spend a lot of time in the city’s unattractive and somewhat grimy remnants of Communism’s past.  However, if you skip this part of town and try to view Bucharest with rose-colored glasses, you will miss a big part of what makes this city so incredibly interesting and will also not understand a big part of Communist Bucharest’s past. A full day or two in Bucharest is enough to give you a sense of the city before heading off to Romania’s beautiful, magical countryside of spectacular villages, castles and of course the mountains.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We arrived in Bucharest early evening after traveling for over 24 hours from the US. We  left home on a Saturday morning and didn’t check into our hotel until half past seven on Sunday night. We instantly realized that we would not have a lot of time to explore Bucharest before setting off into the countryside. Given the long distance to get to Romania, we would only have five full days on the ground and we both preferred to spend it in the countryside.

Adventure Travel Romania TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Walking tours
St. Vitus Cathedral Prague

Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral

Perched magnificently above the River Vltava in Prague lies the spectacular St. Vitus Cathedral, a spellbinding masterpiece of French Gothic architecture whose dramatic spires dominate Prague’s fairytale skyline. The St. Vitus Cathedral is the largest and most important church in the Czech Republic and its chapels, frescos, tombstones and sensational stained glass make it one of the most incredible churches I have ever seen. Its construction took over a thousand years and its origins date back to the end of the 9th century during the formation of the Prague Castle, one of the largest ancient castle complexes in the world.

The first stones of the foundation were laid in 1344 upon an earlier 9th century altar that had been dedicated to St. Vitus. Emperor Charles IV who inspired many of the great buildings and beautification of Prague wanted to make a grand medieval cathedral within the palace grounds and hired architect Peter Parler to work on the church.  Parler worked on it for 46 years until his death in 1399. Unfortunately not much work occurred for several centuries after Parler’s death, leaving the cathedral half-finished until a resurgence in the desire to complete it consumed the national psyche of the re-emerging nation. For the next several decades, a mix of architects, artists and sculptures worked on the church giving it a rather asymmetrical, piecemeal appearance. An opening ceremony for the church was held in 1929 to commemorate the millenium of St Wenceslas. Yet it still took until after WWII for the cathedral to be fully completed. Despite its chaotic past and building, St. Vitus Cathedral is a magical place and a must-see for any visitor to Prague.

As you walk through the castle gates, you will quickly realize that it is impossible to get a sense of how large the St. Vitus Cathedral is given it’s location. It is literally smushed within the buildings of the third courtyard of the Prague Castle and it takes numerous photos to get an appreciation for its sheer dominating size and grandeur.

St. Vitus Cathedral Prague

St. Vitus Cathedral

Adventure Travel CULTURE Czech Republic TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Walking tours
Prague Castle

A Walking Tour of Prague: The Prague Castle

Soaring majestically atop the hillside overlooking the glorious city of Prague, lies the Prague Castle (Pražský hrad) in the district of Hradčany. It’s stunning mass of spires, towers and palaces dominate Prague like a magical, fairy-tale fortress. Known as the largest ancient castle complex in the world, covering an area close to the size of seven football fields (70,000 square meters in length and 130 meters wide) this network of towers, churches, museums, halls, gardens and palaces is like a city in itself and is a must-see for anyone visiting Prague.

Scholars estimate that the Prague Castle was founded around 880 by Prince Bořivoj of the Premyslid Dynasty. It was also around this time that merchants from surrounding lands began trading in the area and formed a marketplace that would eventually become Old Town Square in the heart of Prague. The first building to be constructed in the Prague Castle was the church of the Virgin Mary which only has a few stones remaining today. Over the next couple of centuries, the immense complex of palaces and ecclesiastical buildings were constructed and modified in various kinds of architectural style, beginning with the 10th century St. George’s Basilica, the St. George Convent, the impressive St. Vitus Cathedral, and the glorious palaces and gardens.

Since its founding, the Prague Castle has held an important role in history as the seat of power for the kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia. Today, it is the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic and has been opened up to the public since 1989.

You can reach the castle a number of different ways however we preferred to take the long hike up from Lesser Town on foot. Leaving Nerudova Street, we walked up the picturesque Malostranské náměstí to the top of the hill and the main entrance to the Castle. The views along the way were stunning and definitely worth the steep walk up.

Prague Castle

Leaving Lesser Town and heading up to the Prague Castle.

Prague Castle

Prague Castle

Adventure Travel Czech Republic TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Walking tours
Charles Bridge, Prague

Prague: A Walk across The Charles Bridge to Lesser Town

There is no bridge in Prague that is more symbolic than the sensational Charles Bridge (Karlův most). Completed in 1402 by court architect, Peter Parler, the iconic Charles Bridge is a feat of medieval engineering that was the only link connecting Old Town and the Prague Castle across the River Vltava, for over 400 years. Lined with a never-ending collection of magnificent baroque statues against the awe-inspiring backdrop of the Prague Castle and terra-cotta rooftops of Malá Strana (Czech for “Little Quarter” or “Lesser Town”, the Charles Bridge is a must-see for any visitor to the city.

The Charles Bridge and Old Town Square are the two places I remembered vividly in my head from my visit to Prague over 20 years ago in 1993. Visiting them again in detail did not disappoint. My only regret was not making the walk down to Charles Bridge at night to see the city ablaze with shimmering lights. That will have to be for another visit.

Prague at sunset on the Charles Bridge.

Prague at sunset on the Charles Bridge.

Czech Republic TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Walking tours
High Line NYC

Urban Walks: NYC’s High Line to Chelsea Market

A few months ago, my husband and I spent a wonderful weekend without the kids in New York City. Although it had just snowed there and the weather was colder than at home in Minneapolis, we had a fantastic time exploring the amazing different neighborhoods, restaurants and culture of the Big Apple.

One place I’d heard about that I desperately wanted to see was the High Line. I’d read about it in a travel magazine on an airplane months ago and thought it sounded like a really interesting concept. The High Line is a 1.45 mile-long elevated park built on an old railroad line called the West Side Line. Jetting high above the city, beginning in Hell’s Kitchen and traversing through Chelsea Market and other neighborhoods, this tree-lined urban walkway is rather amazing.

Street Art NYC