Jul 19, 2011

Prague, 16 July 2011

On my trip to Brussels I have a 10 hours stopover in Prague, so I used the opportunity to visit the town where I had never been before.

The historical centre of Prague is divided into five areas, spanning both banks of the Vltava River. Charles Bridge is the main pedestrian connection between the two.
On one side of the Vltava River is the Old Town (Stare Mesto), with the Old Town Square at its heart; the New Town (Nove Mesto), with Wenceslas Square at its heart; and the Jewish Quarter (Josefov).
On the other side of the river is the Lesser Town (Mala Strana), and the Castle District (Hradcany), with Prague Castle at its heart.

After 6 hours of walking (and very little sleep) I was rather tired when I arrived to Brussels, after the last leg in my travel.

The Old Town Square
I have heard so much about Prague totally crowded by tourists, but when I arrived it was totally empty apart from a few alcoholics. Maybe it was because of my early arrival, 7.30 in the morning.

The Old Town Square in the morning

And yes, there were many more tourists later at the day.

The Old Town Square in the morning

One of the Synagogues in the the Jewish Quarter (Josefov). It was closed when I was there – Saturday

The famous Jewish churchyard in Prague

View from Charles Bridge (Karluv Most) to Castle District (Hradcany)

Saint Vitus Cathedral - the most recognisable landmark in the city

On my way up to Castle District

The Prague pilgrim place Loreta, a former church of the Lobkowitz family. Since the foundation of Loreta, the Capuchin monks take care of Loreta and of the pilgrims.

A very angry fish with two tails - decoration on one of the houses in Castle District

Prague castle

St. George's Basilica is the oldest church building within the Prague Castle complex. St. George's Basilica was founded by Prince Vratislav (915-921).

Charles Bridge (Karluv Most) is a 14th century stone bridge. King Charles IV commissioned the bridge

There are no lack of restaurants serving traditional (heavy but good) Czech food and even better Czech beer.

The Vltava River

Wenceslas Square

Jul 11, 2011

Pankisi Valley, 9-10 July 2011

The Pankisi Valley is situated in the upper part of the Alazani River. Alazani River is the main river in Kakheti, the easternmost part of Georgia. Pankisi Valley is inhabited by Chechen Muslims.

During the war in Chechnya many it had allegedly often been used as a base for transit, training and shipments of arms and financing by Chechen rebels and Islamic militants. Most of these accusations were around 2002, but others allege that it is more peaceful now, although there are still many Chechen refugees living there.

Birthe and I went to Pankisi Valley inspired of a website advertising the valley as a tourist destination with description of the valley, trips to the mountains, home stays etc.

We lived in a nice house in Duisi, the main town in the Pankisi Valley at Keke’s house.

Our hostess with her granddaughter. Her husband was working in Russia, and she was taking care of the small girl (maybe her parent was working in Russia).

The houses of the Chechens, including that of our hostess, all have very impressive gardens. In the background you can the see the bathroom facilities.

The “shower”, only cold water, but a lot of it.

The toilet in the corner of the garden. No light so you could only use it in the day time. In the house there were a "European bathroom" but it was no water was connected and as our hostess explained it could not be fixed as her husband was not home.

The Pankisi Valley next to Duisi.

Free Pankisistan in Chechen language?

Look what a nice larva I have caught

On our second day our contact person Melsi had arranged a trip to the mountains on horseback

Melsi had hired two very nice guys, friends and both studying law, to take care of the horses and us on our trip to the mountains.
The one with the t-shirt with Chechnya in Russian (Melsi’s brother) was studying in Tbilisi, his friend was studying in Grosnij, and on holiday in Duisi.

The people in front of us were on their way to a schaslick birthday party at river.

The schaslick when it was still alive. On our way back we were invited to join the party, but we managed to say no.

On our way further up the valley.

When the road stopped at a small hydropower plant, only very steep mountains were in front of us.

A landslide had blocked the road so we had to wait for some time before it was cleared.

Honey production

Our Grosnij friend demonstrated how to handle a horse

Jul 8, 2011

The alcoholic bear, 3 July 2011

On our way back revisited the brown bear (last visit 21 November 2009) in a very small cage at a roadside restaurant.

It has probably been installed there as an attraction for visitors to nearby shop and a restaurant. It seemed that the main attraction was to feed it with beer. It could open the bottle and from it in a very human way. The fact that the brown bear is an endangered species strictly protected in Georgia did not seem to having gained understanding all over Georgia.

When Lisbeth and I were visiting Eagle Gorge; Dima, while waiting for us, made some ethnographic studies in the nearby village and found out that it formerly had been inhabited mainly by Russian, who now had left for Russia, so the town was more or less deserted. He also socialised with one of the remaining Russians, who was heavily alcoholised (2 bottles of vodka pr. day). Dima's comment regarding the bear was that it was similarly alcoholised as the Russian.

Since the early 1990s the illegal capturing and keeping of brown bears in cages or as pets is becoming a common occurrence in Georgia. Today one can see captive bears at roadside restaurants and petrol stations. In most cases the initial motivation for keeping a bear is to attract more visitors. In addition, bears are also kept as pets in private homes. Most often the bears are not receiving proper care or food. http://www.alertis.nl/index.php?id=142

Most of the captive bears have to live under harsh conditions that are truly deplorable and inhumane. Most are locked up in cages that fail to meet even minimum requirements. The cages are typically small, dirty and lack any shade at all. Most often the bears are not receiving proper care or food.

Their diet is often extremely poor and comprises restaurant leftovers, mostly consisting of bread products and cooked food scraps. Some of them have to live under a constant noise of busy roads and the threat of being teased by crowds. Most owners of the bears lack any knowledge as to how to take care of their captive bears. Owners do not observe even the most basic safety rules and visitors are often exposed to potential threats. http://www.alertis.nl/index.php?id=142

Eagle Gorge, 3 July 2011

On Sunday, after a couple of days recovery after our trip to Armenia, Dima drove us to Eagle Gorge, west of Tbilisi, near the town of Dedoplistskaro.

As all other river and streams in Georgia, the Eagle Gorge stream is a very popular place for the local population to throw their garbage – doesn’t make the country more attractive for tourists

We also brought an animal with us back to Tbilisi - it wasn’t welcome