Staying Put

Mike and I are home after a lovely week in Belgium. We went to visit Annelies and Yves, who moved into their newly renovated house after a three-year renovation. It’s not completely finished — they are doing most of the work themselves — but it is fabulous.

I didn’t take a bunch of pics of their house to share because there are still a lot of finishing touches needed. I’ll do that on our next visit.

For now, just a few pics. I hope to share more in future posts.

Final Dinner in Belgium
Final Dinner in Belgium (Chinese takeaway!)

The trip was all about visiting with our friends and seeing the new house, so we didn’t do much touristy stuff. And it was actually a really fun visit. We explored the local area a bit, helped do little things around the house, got to meet some of their family, which was awesome, and basically just hung out.

On Saturday morning, I accompanied Annelies to the nearby town of Lokeren, where she had a two-hour band practice followed by a one-hour private music lesson (she plays bass guitar and sings). The music school is on the outskirts of town near a nature preserve called The Molsbroak (Het Moelsbroek on the map), so I roamed around there for a couple of hours and then drove around a bit until she was finished.

molsbroek

I was really surprised to discover a large community of expats from Canada living there.

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Canadian Expats

I saw several Great Blue Herons, too.

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Great Blue Heron

There were other birds, too, but I have to figure out what they were before I can share more pics.

And here’s a picture captured near the center of their town, Dendermonde, on Friday afternoon.

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Dendermonde, Belgium

I’ll share more pics from the trip in future posts. For now, it’s time to get to work.

Walking Tour of Prague

Now that we’ve been home from vacation for several MONTHS, I figured it was about time I get some more pics posted.

I took a LOT of pics. But there was so much to see! Prague really is a colorful city, full of old, new, and just-plain-interesting architecture, art works of all shapes and sizes, people, fabulous views, cheap beer, yummy food, etc. Some of the architecture is famous, some not so much.

I could go on and on. Instead, I’ll sum it up briefly by saying…I loved Prague. The pretty weather helped, though it could have been a tad cooler. The fact that the beer is basically cheaper than water in all of the restaurants didn’t hurt either.

Random Art
Random Art

I really did take lots of pics. I shared about 50 of my favorites here.

Rather than include a bunch of explanatory text, I’ll just say that we basically roamed the city on foot for about two and a half days. It was exhausting, but so worth it. I’m already ready to return to the Czech Republic.

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Pink Bear in front of the Dancing House

HELP… this is my first post using a Mac. If the following image or any other image in this post appears sideways to you, please let me know. It appears correctly on the Mac and on the Windows PC, but not on my iPhone. Let me know what device you are using, too. Thanks!

The Dancing House

 

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Riverfront View

 

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Random Interestingness

 

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Prague Castle

 

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Pretty View

 

Random Interestingness

 

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Painted Facade (those are not blocks)

 

I love European signage.

 

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View from my seat at lunch.

Not a bad spot for a lunch break, eh? Yes, we lingered.

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View in the other direction.

I forgot to mention that lunch was within the walls of the Prague Castle.

Prague Castle Guard

 

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Another view from the hilltop.

Also inside of the castle is The Metropolitan Cathedral of Saints Vitus, Wenceslaus and Adalbert, a Roman Catholic cathedral, which is the seat of the Archbishop of Prague. It’s huge. I never did get a good shot of the whole thing because it’s just so darn big. I did capture lots of shots of its stunning architectural elements.

Stained Glass Close-up

The sun was streaming in through the windows, resulting in some pretty amazing light inside the building.

Unusual Light

 

One “small” piece of the building.

 

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Tile Roof

 

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The place is stunning, inside and out.

 

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Exterior of the building.

 

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A few of the cathedral’s MANY spires.

 

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Silly Hubby

 

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Random Visual Interestingness

I guess the city could be drab-looking on cloudy days, and I’m sure the hills and cobblestones are a bitch in the winter, but Prague was shining in all of its colorful glory while we were there.

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Red Roofs

 

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Our Favorite Czech beer.

I did say Prague was artsy, right? These are some of David Cerny’s famous crawling baby statues.

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Annelies’ “WTF” look.

I’d only told Annelies we were looking for some of Cerny’s baby statues. I didn’t warn her that Cerny’s art is a bit unique. (He is most famous for these giant space-age babies that crawl up the Zizkov TV tower a hundred meters or so above Prague, which we didn’t visit.)

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I couldn’t resist capturing this shot!

 

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Oh, baby!

I’m glad were we able to find the babies on our way back from the castle. I would have been so disappointed if I hadn’t gotten to see them in person.

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Yet another pretty streetscape.

 

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Great mural!

 

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Pretty Building

 

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Interesting architectural detail.

 

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Chandelier inside of a church.

 

Pretty Stained Glass

 

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Square in Old Town

 

Astronomical Clock

One of the highlights of Day Two in Prague was seeing the astronomical clock. It’s the third-oldest in the world — first installed in 1410 — and the oldest one that is still operating. I even captured a video, which you should be able to watch by clicking here (make sure your speakers are on, but set at low volume).

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Not bad for a 600+ year old clock!

 

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Random herd of school children, all clad in high-vis vests.

 

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Beautiful building.

 

Random Interestingness

The highlight of our third and final day in Prague was visiting the remains of the Jewish ghetto.

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Jewish Cemetery (dates back to the 15th century!)

According to one Czech tourism website…

Even the mere fraction remaining of the Prague ghetto is amongst the most valuable Jewish monument in Europe. One of the most admired places, apart from the Old Jewish Cemetery from the beginning of the 15th century, the Jewish Museum and several synagogues is the Old-New Synagogue…

I don’t think any of us knew what to expect of the synagogues. We only went into one, the Spanish synagogue, which looks rather plain on the outside. The newest of the six historic Prague synagogues, it was built in the Spanish Moorish style in the second half of the 19th century. The inside was anything BUT plain.

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Inside the Spanish Synagogue

 

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Ceiling of the Spanish Synagogue

 

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Inside the Spanish Synagogue

 

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Inside the Spanish Synagogue

 

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Inside the Spanish Synagogue

After that, we meandered through Old Town, making our way back to the hotel.

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Random Interestingness

 

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Random Interestingness

 

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Random Interestingness

 

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Random Interestingness

Prague really is a great city to visit. As are other parts of the CR, which you’ll see in my next post.

If you’d like to see all of the pics from Prague, you’ll either have to visit my photo sharing site or look at smaller versions of the images embedded in the slideshow below.

Prague CR 2016

In Absentia

It’s been an interesting year. One during which I’ve largely been absent. You know, here but not HERE.

Great new-to-me home decor. If I wanted a gold man mannequin.

A photo posted by Kathy Kirkpatrick (@vatoadmama) on

I’ve given up trying to understand why. Truth is, I just don’t know.

One thing I do know is that I am thankful for each and every one of my followers. Folks like you. Blog friends who haven’t given up on me. Even though I’ve been noticeably absent from your blogs, too. If you follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram, you know I’m still alive. Still getting out and about in the world, more on four wheels than two.

I’m going to make a real concerted effort to be more present for all of you. Both writing more posts here and reading what you all have to say.  You folks “get” parts of me that other friends and loved ones don’t understand.

So, thanks for sticking with me. You may never know just how grateful I am for each and every one of you.

The Prague Gestapo Police Prison

img_0202When Annelies and I are planning our trips, we have to take a bunch of stuff into consideration. How much time we have, where we want to go, who do we want to visit, what we want to see/do, etc. We start with a broader view then narrow it down by thinking about cost, transportation logistics, whether or not there’s anything specific any of us want to see, etc.

It was Hubby Mike who expressed the desire to see a concentration camp. Annelies and I were both of the opinion that wanting to see a concentration camp felt sort of wrong. But then I read something that basically said Holocaust survivors want people to see the sites, read the books, etc. It is important to remember the atrocities.

The Holocaust should always serve as a brutal reminder of what can happen when one group of individuals stops seeing another group as human beings. Perhaps the most important reason to remember is so that the millions who suffered during this bleak time in world history did not die or suffer in vain.

I actually left it up to Hubby to choose a site or two in Germany, the Czech Republic, or Austria of interest so that Annelies and I could work one or more into our plan. We chose  Terezin (Theresienstadt), a camp-ghetto established in the town of Terezin, northwest of Prague. (Terezin was originally built in 1780 to serve as a fortress to protect Prague from invaders to the north.)

Terezin isn’t a typical concentration camp. It wasn’t equipped or used to exterminate massive numbers of Jews. It first served as a transit camp/distribution facility. Later it was used as a ghetto/labor camp and prison to hide deportees in order to help conceal their actual fate.

Jews were typically gathered in the adjacent ghetto and the ones who tried to escape or were involved in the resistance were sent to the small fortress for brutal punishment.

As you can see on this map, Terezin consisted of a ghetto in the town and a small fortress just outside of town that housed the Prague Gestapo Police Prison.

The Small Fortress was not a happy place to see, as the pics in this post will show, but it was an important place to see. The various links explain stuff better, for those who want to know more.

Star of David at The National Cemetery
Star of David at The National Cemetery

This is an artificial cemetery, created after liberation in 1945. There are 2,386 graves, containing the remains of about 10,000 souls (only 1,133 of the bodies buried here could be identified).

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Yves and Mike looking at The National Cemetery

 

One of the few who were identified.
One of the few who were identified.

The stones placed on the headstone are not disrespectful as they may appear. According to Shiva.com…

Within the Jewish faith, it is customary to leave a small stone on the grave. The visitor positions the stone on the grave using his or her left hand. Placing a stone on the grave serves as a sign to others that someone has visited the grave. It also enables visitors to partake in the mitzvah tradition of commemorating the burial and the deceased.

Pile of Stones beneath Star of David
Pile of Stones beneath Star of David (part of memorial) and tributes

The sky was fittingly somber during our visit.

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Entrance Gate

 

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Work Makes You Free

Apparently that sign was common at the concentration camps, which were supposed to be labor camps, not places to facilitate the murder of hundreds upon thousands of Jews and other insurgents. It was unusual for a Gestapo prison.

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Maybe the office of the Commander of the First Yard.

The First Yard is divided into Blocks A and B, housing 17 mass cells and 20 solitary cells. Up to 1,500 inmates lived in The First Yard at any one time.

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The First Yard

 

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Block A

As explained in a Prague Blog I came across while preparing this post:

In the first courtyard for men, roll call took place in the morning and evening. Visitors can see 17 cells. Prisoners were separated by nationality with often 60 to 90 people per cell. Wooden planks made up bunk beds that were three tiers high. Narrow shelves held personal belongings. There was one toilet and one sink, and water had to be reused. The prisoners were not allowed to use light. There was rarely any heating, and humidity tormented the inmates during the summer. Lice and insects contributed to the bad hygiene.

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One of the cells.

Picture yourself and 59 to 89 others crammed into and living in that small space with one toilet and one sink (remember water often had to be re-used).

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Central Shower Room & Delousing Station

According to that Prague Blog I found:

During 1943 a central shower room was installed with a delousing station for clothes, where two vats or cylinders that worked on hot steam were set up. During the 10 to 12 minutes that the machines killed the insects on the clothes, up to 100 inmates were allowed to shower together. Women sometimes had hot water, but men always had cold water. Then they had to wear the wet clothes, sometimes going straight to work. The longest break between showers was four months.

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Washroom the the Nazis built just for show.

This washroom was one of many tricks the Nazis used to fool the Red Cross into thinking detainees were being treated humanely.

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The Hospital Ward

 

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Mortuary

The Mortuary is where the bodies of prisoners tortured to death  were stored.

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Statue honoring those who died at Terezin.

 

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Where the prison commander and some of the guards with their families lived.

 

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The Death Gate through which prisoners were taken to the execution ground.

There’s a swimming pool to the right of The Death Gate, which was built to hold water for fighting fires, but was also used by the guards and their families for bathing.

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Memorial Sculpture

 

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The Fourth Courtyard

Thanks to the Prague Blog I mentioned previously for this horrific bit of info I hadn’t known before…

The fourth courtyard was built in 1943. Prisoners living there were forced to watch executions. The huge cells held from 400 to 600 people, who slept on the floors or in beds. There were two toilets in each cell and a glass roof added some light but made it hotter during the summer. During 1945 there were no showers in this courtyard, and typhus broke out.

Up to 20 people were held in each of the 125 solitary confinement cells, which did not have toilets or seating.

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Group Cell in The Fourth Courtyard

 

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Doors of the solitary cells.

 

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Inside one of the solitary cells.

I wouldn’t want to be alone in that cell much less share it with up to 19 others.

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Execution Ground

 

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Outer Wall

I did say it wasn’t a happy place to see, right?

I am glad we did see it, though. It really IS important to remember.

As Seen in Kassel, Germany

img_0175I am not a typical traveler. Neither are my friends and Hubby, apparently. We don’t all go in for seeing all of the must-see sights at a particular place. We’re more amble around, take-it-all-in, see-what-you-can-see types. We travel together because we like each others’ company. We have fun together. We laugh a lot. We all like good food and drinks, too, so we tend to eat well and drink more than we probably should. Seeing cool stuff along the way is more of a bonus than the ultimate goal.

That being said, Kassel wasn’t a complete disappointment (see my previous post), it was just okay. The park and fountain were cool, but the city itself didn’t really excite us. Of course, it’s being compared to other places we visited during this particular tour, like Prague, Vienna, and Salzburg. Compared to Detroit, Kassel is awesome!

Hubby and I really enjoy seeing the old buildings in European cities. There weren’t a whole lot of old buildings in Kassel’s downtown because it was 90% destroyed by bombs in WWII. The place wasn’t as picturesque as it might have been, but there was still some interestingness to behold.

Like the Man Walking to the Sky sculpture.

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Yves and Mike enjoying a bit of art.

 

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Random Graffiti

 

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Church Steeple across from our hotel.

 

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Rathaus (town hall), which was rebuilt after the war.

There was nothing else particularly notable, just some things that caught my eye. Like these interesting buildings…

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Drug Store

 

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Hotel (maybe a rent-by-the-hour sort)

 

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Caricatura (museum? school of cartoons? not sure…)

 

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I like the façade of the building on the right.

 

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No idea what is housed here.

Oh, and a couple of nice shots from the park that I should have shared in yesterday’s post.

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Weeping Evergreen?

I found this weeping-type evergreen tree fascinating both for the type of tree and the amount of moss and lichen growing on the trunk and branches.

I guess Kassel is a wet place. There was lots of moss, lichen, ferns, and other shady forest-loving growths on many trees, stone walls, buildings, etc.

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See the face? Just left of the center of the image.

You may need to click on the image above for a closer look. The face jumped right out at me when I saw those rocks.

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Vintage Way-Finding Sign

And that’s it for Kassel. Next up, the Czech Republic.

A Less-Than-Exciting Start

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Pretty Sunrise

Annelies and I work together when planning joint trips like the one we just completed. She selected our first overnight destination and I approved it. We both thought it would be cooler than it actually was.

We’d both agreed that the bergpark, which was recently designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, would be a nice, relaxing place to visit. I’d assumed “bergpark” meant something like “large city park.”

I should have read more closely AND translated that particular word from German to English. As it turns out, a bergpark is a MOUNTAIN park. Mountain parks aren’t relaxing. A stroll up and down the hills of a mountain park could — and did! — make for an exhausting first day.

When I opened my eyes on Sunday, I was greeted by the scene pictured at right. We’d slept with our hotel windows wide open since there was no A/C, which is the norm at hotels in older buildings throughout Europe. It sure looked like it might be a pretty day, despite the forecast for clouds and rain.

By the time we’d finished breakfast, however, the clouds had moved in. The rain started right around the time we reached the park. We had umbrellas, rain gear, and an “it’s all part of the adventure” outlook, so we pressed on.

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Annelies and I, happily optimistic as we waited for the bus.
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Map and Explanation

In the park, is a big-ass fountain — aka water feature — which dates back to the 17th century. If you’d like more details, click the image on the right.

It really is very big. Since we’d arrived early — about 40 minutes before the buses started running — we decided to start walking up the hill instead of waiting for the bus.

The hill was pretty steep. It wasn’t long before we wisely decided to descend back to the bus stop where we’d started and wait for a bus to take us to the top.

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You can barely see the Hercules statue atop the hill.

The first part of the water feature is situated at the base of the Hercules statue, which you can barely see through the clouds in the image shared above. You can see it a little better in the next shot.

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Annelies admiring the view.

There’s a palace building behind where Annelies is standing, which wasn’t all that impressive, in my opinion. But I did like the lion.

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Lion statue in need of power washing.

There was lots of moss and lichen throughout the park. I’ll share some pics of that in a later post.

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Guys reading about the fountain at the Visitors’ Center.

There was a Visitors’ Center in or near the base of the Hercules statue. I never did figure out why Hercules was the figure selected to adorn the top of the mountain, but then I didn’t try very hard.

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Hercules

You can see that palace building I mentioned earlier in the next image.

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View obscured by low-hanging clouds.

The water feature, which I will just call a fountain from here on because it’s easier, really is quite big.

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One of several tiers/levels of the cascade.

I tried to capture images that would show the scale.

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Looking down from top to where Annelies (wearing a white jacket) stood on the next level.

Behind Annelies, toward the upper left of the image above, is where the tiered cascades start.

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A close-up look at one of the tiers.

 

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The view cleared as I descended.

You know it’s a big hill when you get below the clouds as you descend!

I wasn’t impressed by the statues, which I found to be more like yard art (they are!) than museum-quality sculptures.

Fountain Statues
Fountain Statues

The water in the pools was sort of dirty, too. But then, it is recirculated through 300-year-old pipes twice every week, May through September.

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Nice Reflection

Notice that the statue in the image above is a trumpeter? Remember that, okay?

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One of MANY goofy group selfies.

 

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Yves, descending the stairs beside the cascade.

We reached the pool at the bottom of the cascade, which is supposedly the best viewing spot, at least an hour, maybe more, before the water was scheduled to be released. So we decided to have lunch and/or drinks while we waited.

It was really starting to cloud-up by that point, which is why the next image is so dark and grainy.

Grainy Group Selfie
Grainy Group Selfie

 

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Hubby and me, enjoying a German wheat (weizen) beer.

It may have rained a bit while we enjoyed our refreshments, but we were seated under an umbrella and didn’t care. Afterward, we headed back to the pool.

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Skies appeared to be clearing again.

We were all amazed to see how many people had shown up since we’d left the pool earlier. And there was still about 30 minutes left to wait!

Unfortunately, while we waited, rain started to pour. There may have even been some thunder. Our happy outlook was definitely starting to wane.

Looking a bit miserable, weren't they?
Looking a bit miserable, weren’t they?

But we toughed it out.

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The water was finally released!

Look how many people were lining the sides of the cascade. As the water started to flow, it sounded like there was an air-raid siren going off in the distance. Remember the trumpeter statue? There were at least two, and the flowing water caused their trumpets to sound!

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We waited in the rain until the water reached the pool.

From there, we hurried the half mile or so to the next feature, and waited through still more pouring rain for the water to flow over that waterfall.

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Steinhofer Waterfall without water.

 

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Steinhofer Waterfall with water.

 

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Devil’s Bridge

 

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Water flowing over the Aqueduct.

We were all wet and not so happy by that point. But, since we’d seen everything to that point, we couldn’t very well miss the finale at the lowest pool. So, on we trudged.

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View of lowest pool from just below the Aqueduct.

 

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Lowest pool before the water arrived.

We waited there at the bottom for what felt like a very long time. By that point, we were all tired, damp, thirsty, and ready to leave.

Once the water did reach the lowest pool, the sun had come back out, and the finale WAS fun to see.

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The Finale

You can appreciate the height of the gravity-and-water-powered fountain in the next shot, which was captured from the lawn of the palace.

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Tall Fountain

It was interesting. It’s certainly the biggest yard fountain I have ever seen.

That’s how we spent the majority of our first full day of the road trip.

It could be that the gray and rainy weather dictated the mood. Or it could be that we didn’t focus on the right attractions. Maybe it’s because we were all exhausted by the end of the day from all the walking we’d done. Whatever the case, it was unanimous… Kassel Germany was our least favorite destination.

I’ll share a few more pics tomorrow. But first, below is one of my favorite photos captured during our adventure at the park.

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I caught Annelies taking a picture of me.