What was the highlight?

“What was the highlight?” I’m frequently asked this question about my recent trip to Europe with my daughter C.

A good question, and a completely reasonable one too, even its built-in hint for the Coles Notes version, please, not the Complete Works Of… And I do love to answer it. But honestly, it’s difficult, because once again I realized–more forcibly than ever this time–that travel accrues intensely and steadily in a long series of experiences, moments not huge in and of themselves perhaps, but memorable in their combination.

In this case it’s the combination of the beautiful cities of Prague and Nuremberg and the Bohemian Switzerland hinterland and the person I was with (intrepid and quite like-minded in terms of how we “do tourist”) and the fine weather and all the obvious parts (museums, architecture, history, churches) and also the anxious moments (complete with “angels” who helped, for example, when we had no idea how to reach Krasna Lipa from Litomerice or how we were going to get to that hike we were determined to do when the buses that the internet said are always circling around the National Park do not in fact circle until July). Delicious and not-so-delicious meals. The insider jokes that develop between people together 24-7 (such as BBC television news and Albrecht Durer’s rabbit which I liked and C. found grotesque). Stopping and listening to Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluja” sung by K.D. Lang on C.’s I-Phone in the middle of cathedral-like forest. The stunning stained glass windows of the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, lilac bushes and chestnut trees in fulsome bloom, walking and walking like crazies to find another of David Cerny’s sculptures which was supposed to be right here on the map. Four days taken up with going to and being in and coming from the Ceske Svycarsko (Bohemian Switzerland area) with its rocks and gorgeous green and picturesque villages, and a full day’s sober immersion in the Nazi Docu Centre and the Nuremberg Trials.

It’s the whole unique bunching-together of possible factors that elevates as highlight a pocket of time like travel, lifts it out of proportion against regular or ordinary time.

So I’ve mentioned some of the items in the series, but I was also struck on this trip with how powerful, and interesting, public sculpture or memorial can be. Here, a few photos about some of those.

FullSizeRender_2Left, the Memorial to the Victims of Communism by Olbram Zoubek in Prague. We saw this, perhaps appropriately, in the only drizzle weather of the two weeks, so the photo may reflect that, but this is wrenching– a “whole man” deteriorating step by step backwards under totalitarianism.

IMG_5092Right, the religious reformer John Huss towering over Old Town Prague, with the reminder how much of Czech history concerns the see-saw wars between Catholics and Protestants. (My lovely travelling companion in matching tones in front.)

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We had a lot of fun looking for David Cerny sculptures and managed to score six. He’s a famous, witty, and controversial Czech artist. This one, “Hanging Out” (left), hangs over the street, supposedly the likeness of Freud. IMG_1633Right is “Quo Vadis” which we viewed through the fence around the German embassy, a tribute to East German asylum seekers in 1989, granted asylum into (West) Germany but leaving their Trabants behind.

IMG_1680Tourists to Prague always view the dignified St. Wenceslas on his horse overlooking Wenceslas Square, and Cerny has had his fun with that too: here the venerable saint rides a dead horse. (According to legend, Wenceslas and his knights are sleeping beneath the mountain Blanik, but will wake and come to the nation’s rescue in its darkest hour. Apparently Czech citizens, having gone through decades of occupation by the Germans and then by the Soviets, joke in a grumble about how much worse it has to get before they finally wake up. Perhaps this is Cerny’s version of that joke?)

More seriously, the statue (right) called “Nameless” by Ladislav Chochole, at the Fortress Terezin, near the Terezin Ghetto, an emotional reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust. IMG_5140The long row of marble pillars (below) in Nuremberg, commemorating the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights, with specific statements chiselled into them in various languages, speaks strongly of commitments made post the terrible time of the Second World War. (IMG_5227Below, right, I’m standing under the “Equality before the law” pillar.IMG_5229)

And one more piece I want to share with you. It’s a side door at the St. Sebaldus Church (Nuremberg). I wish I knew more about it. In the next photo, please look closely at the handle. One often sees the Death figure in old art, but here’s a contemporary rendering, one that visitors and parishioners have to grab to enter the truths inside. Memento Mori.

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But I can’t leave it quite that grim. A reminder of hope and green, from the Bohemian Switzerland.IMG_5166

13 thoughts on “What was the highlight?

  1. So rich and meaningful at so many different levels, this trip will be fodder for your writing in the days to come. It’s obvious that the bond between you and your daughter was strengthened. As you illustrated with your photos, history supplies us with so many grim reminders of what we do to each other when we forget our common humanity and focus on our differences negatively. So the emphasis on your relationship with your daughter, and the basket of greenery at the end took away some of the heaviness and reminded me again of the importance of fostering our relationships with one another.

  2. I loved seeing pictures with your descriptions of sites in Prague that inspired, moved, and amused you. Plus, you taught me some of the background to sites I’d enjoyed, but knew little about. Thanks.

  3. I can imagine how overwhelming it all is. So much history/humanity to absorb in such a short time. Long live the chestnut trees and spring. I hope to read more about this in your always interesting work.

  4. Fabulous travel writing. It made me want to go back and see all that we missed. I am glad you did not succumb to telling us what the superlative highlight was … quite right that it is the accumulation of so many experiences.

  5. Thanks all — Anonymous, Gabe, Al, Byron… I appreciate your taking the time to read, and to comment. —
    Oh, and I might have added into the list the fast fast fast drive between Nuremberg and Frankfurt. Our flight from Nuremberg was cancelled, but since we had a connection to make, the airline put us into a taxi. The driver decided to get us there in about an hour and a half instead of two and a half! It was C. who had a view of the speedometer and not me, good thing.🙂 At any rate, we made our Frankfurt to Toronto flight with time to spare.

  6. So glad you had such a good time with C.! I can identify, as that’s how I felt when T. and I spent 3 1/2 weeks together hiking in England last June. Such a special time! I concur with one of your earlier commentators: your narrative makes me want to go visit that part of the world… Love the sculptures, especially the Memorial to the Victims of Communism, and Freud hanging in the air.

  7. Finely written, dear friend. I especially liked your opening comments about how moments not huge in and of themselves, become memorable in combinations. … I need to reflect on that further in the light of our recent road trip which took us from Winnipeg to Waterloo, then on to Indiana, PA and was filled to over-flowing with wonderful times with all our kids & grandkids, plus visits with good friends.

    Somehow, these warm family celebrations caused me to respond more deeply to other families/friends we encountered along the way. E.g. On a brilliant Saturday afternoon, it was amazing to see “brother fox” run by right next to our St. Ignace hotel window chased by “sister gulls” who seemed to be protecting another sister nesting on a rock just off the shoreline of Lake Huron. That sighting, along with other signs of familial love in the animal world, made me feel so connected and thankful to be part of the whole and made the journey memorable.

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