Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hruba Skala, Czech Republic for my Friends' Wedding

About a month ago, my good friends, Ida and Eric, got hitched. Ida is Macedonian (that's near Greece) and Eric is an American who has lived abroad for many, many years. I met Ida first because she was in my Master's program at Leiden University and I obviously met Eric through her. Arno has also become good friends with them so we were very happy to attend their wedding in the Czech Republic (sadly, I have missed several other good friends' weddings in the U.S. in the years I have been overseas...).

The wedding weekend had a medieval theme - we stayed in a lovely castle, called Hruba Skala, for the entire weekend in the Czech countryside about 1.5 hours from Prague. It's a beautiful countryside, too. The rock formations in the area of the castle have been wonderfully sculptured by the water over the years (check the photos - they don't capture how cool they are). The area has a Narnia or Robin Hood kind of aura.

Needless to say the weekend was splendid. In true Balkan style, there was a wonderful feast and party the night before the wedding. Festivities included: roasting a lamb on a spit; music from a medieval trio; flame breathing and juggling; belly dancing (see above - I am in the top right, my betrothed friend is in the middle); general wild dancing, and drinking some strong spirits, of course...great fun.

The wedding night was a BIT tamer. The highlight - aside from the very interesting Czech wedding ceremony which was translated into English for everyone - was the gorgeous fireworks set off from one of the castle terraces. It was a perfect setting, reminiscent of Romeo & Juliet, the version with Leonardo de Caprio and Clare Danes - anyone remember that one?

So, congratulations once again to my friends, Ida and Eric, and I wish you well in this new chapter of your life :) Thanks for keeping us in it! :)

Please enjoy my photos by clicking here - the first few are in Prague and the rest are from Hruba Skala castle and the forested surroundings.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Our trip in July to the Cote d' Azur in France

Well, it's officially September and the end of summer, at least here in Europe where the skies turned cloudy precisely as August came to an end on Sunday. The last weekend in August was great, though - some of the best weather we've had here in the Netherlands all summer! Imagine living somewhere where it rains, drizzles or is cloudy the majority of the year, no exaggeration. We probably have 50 sunny days a year here! Anyhow, I digress...

My point was, it's officially September and I have yet to post photos from our July trip to the south of France. We drove from Amsterdam which took approx. 14-16 hours. We stopped in the middle somewhere in the middle of France in a very cute village (these are the dark, rainy photos in the beginning of the slide show). Fortunately the bad weather only lasted that one day, while we were still enroute...

We rented a place from one of my colleagues in a lovely mountain village called Sainte Agnes. It's apparently been rated by some French tourist/gov't board as one of the most beautiful villages in France (it is very close to the Italian border and at the base of the Alps overlooking the Med. sea). I must say, it is indeed one of the most beautiful villages I have ever seen in Europe. Moreover, this lovely and difficult to reach village (narrow road with treacherous curves) has some history as it was one of the main defense points on the Maginot line during WWII. There is a huge bunker built into the cliffside which was really cool to explore...before that it was established in the Middle Ages (there are still some ruins).

From Sainte-Agnes, we took short trips down the mountain to Menton, Cannes, Monaco or Monte Carlo and Grasse (the perfume capital).

It was very nice and relaxing to say the least! I wasn't very impressed with Cannes or Monaco, so if you ever head to the south of France, I highly recommend trying to see some less touristy towns or villages. Better yet, take a sailboat out and enjoy it from a distance :) Next time we head that way, I will be sure to avoid them...they were gritty and trashy (save of course the strand with the expensive, top-brand stores, which are also not very appealing to me)! Picture the Ocean City boardwalk....not the image I had in mind for Cannes.

The three photos on this page are from Sainte-Agnes. The bottom one is the view from the backyard of the house where we stayed.

Anyhow, don't take my word for it. Explore for yourself if ever in the neighborhood!

Here are some more photos for you to enjoy!