One of the main things to see near the Old Town Square in Prague is the special clock.
It is currently being repaired and was covered with a sheet that only showed the picture of the clock.
This is a pic off the internet to show the real thing – when it is not covered by a sheet.
It is an astronomical clock first installed in 1410, so I guess it is due for an overhaul. The 12 apostles pop out on the hour.
I’m ashamed to admit I have no idea what this building is, but I like the architecture. I popped the signage into Google translate and it told me it’s the Law School.
HISTORY – ISABELLA OF SPAIN
Now there were quite a few important and powerful people who didn’t want Isabella to marry Ferdinand but despite that, the two young people sign their agreement on February 7th 1469. Now all that remains is for them to meet and do the marrying thing.
The princess sneaks off but someone tells on her and Henry’s soldiers are sent to arrest her. (Told you this was an exciting story).
Just in time the Archbishop of Toledo rescues her and takes her to Valladolid where she is safe.
Isabella summons Ferdinand from Zaragossa 200 miles to the east to come at once and marry her. Will he? Find out next time!
We were filming in a deep rural school and the teacher had prepared a Q & A session for the cameras. The question was “Who is the greatest man in South Africa?”
Rows of eager little faces were desperate to answer. “My Chief – Mr Magwane (the Headmaster) – Mr Sonenze (a teacher) – a famous footballer.”
After each ‘wrong’ answer, the teacher became more and more frantic. She gave them hints – such as prison on Robben Island – where is that? they wanted to know. Nobel prize winner – what is that? they asked.
Finally, she gave up. “Mr Nelson Mandela,” she told them brightly.
“Who?” they asked.
She gave up.
We wanted to laugh, but as an ex-teacher I felt for her.
Close to the Charles Bridge is the Old Town Square – the focal point of the city.
Old vintage Hollywood era cars were popular as tourist transport, though I suspect most were only a couple of years old if that.
The square is lined with high end shops – DH had a very firm grip on my arm –
The weather when went – beginning of June – was overcast and threatened rain, so many of the pictures are quite gloomy.
They have a Christmas market in this square and even at the end of June, it was buzzing
HISTORY – ISABELLA OF SPAIN
Isabella decides she’d hung around long enough over all this marriage nonsense and all these men queuing up to wed her (a medieval form of all those unwanted friend requests on Facebook). It’s time to take action and she sends a letter – the postal service was much better in those days – to Ferdinand, telling him that it’s about time they got hitched and he better be quick about it.
There is something our heroine doesn’t know – her being all good and simple and praying a lot – but her intended is no angel. He does like the ladies and he already has a son by one of them and he’s only 16. I can only think she forgot to take the pill.
Isabella has one condition though. Once married Ferdinand must come to her to get married not leave Castile without her permission. There were a whole lot more things he had to agree to but seems it was worth getting at least a foot into Castile which was so much bigger than Aragon his home country.
It’s very frustrating when politicians or even tourists take a whirlwind trip and then come back with all the facts. For example, I don’t know what it’s like to live in Prague after a few days there. Most guests are carefully shown handpicked projects, on routes that avoid the scruffy side of town and all the hosts are carefully coached beforehand.
It’s too easy to judge one culture by another. Take a squatter house for example. Built of wooden car-part packing cases, with tin roofs held down with old car tyres and draft-proofed with mud. Then you notice the satellite dish on top and gasp at the size of the television inside.
Many happy residents were presented with newly built brick houses with indoor water connection and electric lights. It wasn’t long after the officials drove off that these new houses were up for rent while the ‘deserving’ families moved back into their makeshift house in the informal settlement. The money earned from letting was more important than the comfort of the modern conveniences.
Time for this weeks advert – just what you have been waiting for!
Most of the statues first put up on the Charles Bridge between 1600 and 1800 have met a sorry end due to wind and weather, but they are being restored.
One statue in particular is of St John of Nepomuk. There are all kinds of stories about him – and it is rumoured the tales surrounding his being thrown off the bridge for one reason or another was to make him important enough to become the first Bohemian Catholic saint.
It’s said if you rub the brass cross at the bottom of his statue you will either a) return to Prague or b) have your wish granted.
Personally, I think they are hedging their bets and I don’t think I rubbed the right bit! There was quite a queue. (DH walked right on past) but us writers take no chances – you never know!
HISTORY – ISABELLA OF SPAIN
Next to arrive with a marriage proposal was the brother of the King of France.
Hot on his heels is Alphonso V of Portugal giving it another try.
He really doesn’t look that exciting does he?
Isabella turns them all down. She is still determined to marry Ferdinand of Aragon and they haven’t even met!
OK, you have to admit Ferdinand on the right looks better than Alphonso and they are roughly the same age. A bit sulky – but maybe the painter was on a go slow?
But King Henry sends her a letter (or something similar) telling her she must marry the King of Portugal or he’s going to lock her up.
She hides out in a town called Ocana where the local people like her.
Will this girl get any peace?
Like many who grew up in Europe or America I had most of the perks growing up – a telephone, car, a roof that didn’t leak, indoor bathroom and food on the table. We were not wealthy by any means but basic needs were met.
I also learned a little about the world from newspapers, magazines and much later the television.
So, when I first arrived in Africa – Kenya – it was such a shock. The poverty, the shanty towns, the beggars, the half-clothed children. There was also the sharp contrast with the suited business men, the fashionable ladies – the wealth gap was enormous. I reacted as many a tourist would – at first though, I did learn not to give to the beggars – do it once and in milliseconds there is a crowd with their hands out. I also learned to pay the protection money each time I left the car – refuse and risk four flat tyres, or scratched paintwork.
The day my attitudes changed was when I saw a wee scrap of a child holding a brush, tin of polish and a piece of cardboard. He offered me a shoe shine for cents.
I agreed and every time I went into town I paid him to clean my shoes. Now, I had less respect for the beggars, I could harden my heart to those who wanted something for nothing. It’s something most expats learn sooner rather than later.
Have you read any of my books yet? Want to take a peep? Why not click on this button.
That first morning we made for the Charles Bridge – it was a focal point for most of the tours and I had booked plenty of them (I didn’t have the courage to admit to DH just how many)
There are many bridges over the Vitava River, but you can’t miss the Charles Bridge as it is I think the only pedestrian bridge.
It was built in the 14th century and, later, lined with statues and today there are street musicians, postcard sellers, portrait painters, musicians and lots of tourists.
I felt very stupid when I learned that Prague was the capital seat of the kings of Bohemia. (Yes, a real place and not just a description for people wearing Laura Ashley outfits and flowers in their hair while setting fire to incense sticks). The city only became one in 1784 when Hradcany, Lesser Town, Old town and New Town were all combined into one.
HISTORY ISABELLA OF SPAIN
All those important people come and ask Isabella to be queen of Castile now that her brother has been poisoned – but she tells them not a chance – Henry is still king and it would be a bit tactless of her, not to mention just a tad dangerous. There is another war as those top guys fight it out, but I won’t bother you with all that just skip to the end when Isabella and King Henry sign an agreement.
Brilliant, it says Isabella can chose her own husband (Hate to tell you but Henry has no intention of keeping his word).
Now the hoards flock to ask for her hand in marriage. Richard of Gloucester is one – later Richard III of England.
(Remember that little rumour about princes in the tower? – yes that one). Probably a lucky escape.
I know this next bit to be true, as several kind people who have left reviews have mentioned experiencing this as well.
So, you are home on leave and people ask you lots of questions about what it’s like and you tell them an amazing story or two. There are two reactions. Either eyes glaze over and you realise they are not listening or, they don’t believe you.
You shut up.
Or, they are fascinated and then say how much they wish they were living abroad as well. “But you can,” we say – (in those days o’seas contracts were much easier to get). Then come the reasons – mortgage payments, family, current job, too big a risk, education, free medical care – the list is endless.
Yes, we had an amazing life full of highs and lows but as with everything there is a price to pay.
A few pics of people and places, both have crept into my books in one disguise or another.
While I had booked several trips in Prague, having lost my notes, I’ll have to stretch my brain here! But that’s fine, there isn’t a lot left to stretch.
We went for a walk to orientate ourselves.
I noticed that much of the architecture is what I call European.
Prague lies on either side of the Vitava river and is called the City of a Hundred Spires. I suspect this might be because there are a lot of buildings with spires on them.
HISTORY – ISABELLA OF SPAIN
Isabella now takes time out to do a bit of travelling round Castile with her brother, then pops into a convent for a bit of R & R. While there she gets the news that her bother has been poisoned.
She rushes off to see him, but he’s fine. She goes back to the convent but the next day he is dead. The assassins got the date muddled.
Isabella stays in the convent of Santa Clara and prays a lot she is very upset – well you would be, wouldn’t you?
Another observation about coming home on leave when you’ve been working abroad.
All of the places we lived in before we moved further south to South Africa were not very first world. For example, in Libya it was impossible to buy fresh milk, so we purchased powdered milk in tins. We had one choice of cheese, one of butter and most other products – no ready meals, not a lot that was familiar or hygienic. I only ever bought whole beef fillets – which I then had minced by the butcher, or cut into chunks. Goat, camel and chicken carcasses lying on the butchers’ floor looked so unappetising.
Back in England in the supermarket I stood rooted to the floor. Firstly, the sights, sounds, bright lights and piped music overwhelmed my senses. Secondly, I couldn’t cope with the range of produce. Butter: salted, unsalted, English, Dutch, French, Irish. Large sized, small sized, foil wrapped, paper wrapped. It was all too much for me. Kind people stopped to ask me if I was feeling ill?
We desperately missed our pork products and often on landing would rush to the airport cafeteria and order bacon sandwiches and a glass of real milk. Usually we were feeling very sick by the time we climbed into the hired car! Makes you wonder doesn’t it?
Lots more information about living abroad in any of my books wrapped up in exciting, fast moving stories.
Earlier This year DH and I went to Prague for a few nights. Another venue to tick off the bucket list. There are so many places I want to see and time is running out – not to mention that the money has already run out.
I’d been fantasising about spending a week there as so many people had told us it was so pretty, but DH found a ridiculously cheap four-day trip which included flights and hotel. I honestly don’t know how they can offer so much for comparatively little money.
Having quickly checked there was no revolution brewing, or recent invasion, I rushed off to pack my suitcase.
Considering I’m a dummy when it comes to techie stuff, I’m an expert on organising. I have a file of lists on my laptop – equipment to pack for hot, cold, warm and in-between weather. It cross checks with lists for a weekend, four to five days and longer trips.
What is more, it’s colour coded too. (Yes, I can hear your gasps of admiration from here)
Orange donates what I will carry in my handbag, pockets etc.
Blue donates what goes into the big suitcase
Green is for the contents in the carry- on bag.
And there is a sub total in purple for all the things that need to go into that little plastic zip-lock bag I will waggle at the customs men.
On our last few trips I’ve been pulled over every time for extra surveillance. I’ve no idea why and I could get paranoid about it. I’ve stared very hard into the mirror and honestly I don’t think I look like a drug dealer or any kind of criminal come to that.
As I pack, I cross off each item on the list only highlighting stuff that gets put in last minute.
In the meantime, DH casually throws a few things into his case and gives me one of ‘those’ looks and he’s ready to go.
So, next Monday we will set off for Prague.
Isabella of Spain
There is a lot of fuss about who should be the next king, with everyone taking sides. The next marriage proposal for Isabella is Don Pedro Giron – he would be politically perfect for one faction. He is old, and revolting and once slobbered all over Isabella’s mother – that is conveniently forgotten.
There could still be a small problem, as Don Pedro is the Grand Master of the Order of Calatrava and sworn to celibacy, but everyone knows he’s a notorious lecher. He’s also considered vindictive and vain. It will require a dispensation from the Pope too. But that arrives just in time as the marriage is organised with indecent haste. How is poor Isabella going to get out of this one?
Pic above is the order of Calatrava and the one on the right the pope at that time.
When we started traveling and living overseas in the 1970’s things were very different.
There was no internet – so no Skype, no FaceTime, no WhatsApp and no emails. Communication was by mail – real old fashioned letters composed on real paper with a real pen and folded into envelopes – followed by a trip to the post office, to buy stamps and pop the envelope in the box. Then you had to wait.
Sometimes the letters would not be delivered, or take 3 – 4 weeks in each direction. Questions asking how you were recovering from the flu were so out of date you’d forgotten having had the flu.
Phone calls were astronomically expensive and you had to book them in advance. To make sure the family were at home to take the call, you needed to write weeks in advance and wait for the return letter to arrange the time.
Few of us had phones in the house. So, that often meant a trip to the office to make the call.
This map might give you some idea of distances.
It was difficult for family at home to see how big the grandchildren had grown and often birthday and Christmas gifts were aimed at a lower age group.
Most of us got to go home for a couple of weeks every year, others only got leave every two years. While it was great to see friends and family it didn’t take long to realise you were no longer on the same page – as Amie found out on her trip back home. (to be continued)
In the Moors and Christians parades there are groups or filaes either Christian or Moor and they fundraise throughout the year to pay for the costumes and bands and props for the battles they fight. Some towns put up mock castles and use boats to arrive and for the parades there are often camels, fire eaters, elephants and dancing girls as well.
Possibly the most impressive are the horses. The Spanish Riding School you can now see in Vienna and Johannesburg with the Lipizzaner horses came from Spain. During the parade they perform amazing dressage steps dancing on their back legs – which is something not every horse can do. They take your breath away. (I always wear a good pair of shoes when I go to watch, as they come awfully close to my toes).
Isabella of Spain
Isabella’s plan to get out of marrying the very elderly Portuguese King Alfonso aged 32, is to say she can’t agree unless the Cortes (sort of parliament) agrees. This is unlikely to happen as they don’t like the Queen and Alfonso is her brother
There follows lots of wrangling and bargaining from opposing sides, which I won’t bore you with except that Henry tries to make the marriage happen by offering his daughter to his half brother. Yet again, for the moment, Isabella escapes marriage as the kingdoms are about to go to war over all this marriage nonsense.
I was dismayed when we returned to England for a couple of months to discover that my youngest was telling her new friends that we had lions and tigers walking down the paths outside the mud hut we lived in. (They might have noticed the inconsistencies in this as there are no tigers in Africa). Thing is, they believed her and she thought this hilarious.
Africa is still a dangerous place the heat encourages bacteria and other diseases to grow quickly. The smaller creatures are the most deadly of all.
Durban had eradicated the anopheles mosquito that carries malaria – though a new strain now attacks the brain and there is a very low recovery rate if you contract that.
We filmed in a laboratory where they bred mosquitoes and I was curious to know how they fed them. Simple. They keep them in old plastic tubs covered with netting.
They also keep guinea pigs, shave their tummies, and then place them on the netting where they sit happily chewing lettuce leaves as the mozzies dine at the same time below. It doesn’t affect the guinea pigs apparently as they are used in rotation in a perfect symbiotic relationship. As long as they don’t try to shave my tummy!
This and other stories in the Truth, Lies and Propaganda series.
While I am between countries I thought I would share some pictures of one of the local fiestas.
Each year many of the towns on the east coast (and I think along the south coast as well) have a 3 day festival celebrating the Moors and Christians. Now, in case you didn’t know Spain was invaded in 711 AD from North Africa by the Moors. They conquered most of it, except for the far north around Santiago de Compostela. Being a mainly Christian country that was not viewed too kindly by the Iberians and they battled to take back the conquered land. This was not accomplished until 1492 almost 800 years later.
The term Moors refers primarily to the Muslim inhabitants of the Maghreb, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, and Malta during the Middle Ages. The Moors initially were the indigenous Maghrebine Berbers.
On day 1 at festival time, the Moors invade and take control of the town. On day 2 the Christians fight back and on day 3 they all march together in a big parade, usually lasting at least 3 hours.
The costumes take your breath away. In a few towns they make or buy them, but mostly they are hired from huge centres for the festivities so they are different every year.
I found this utterly fascinating as in South Africa they are working so hard to bury their history, changing road names, re-branding to Africanisms and using the past only as a vehicle for blaming the state of the present.
Here in Spain they celebrate the diversity and most places you can see remnants of Moorish architecture and culture.
Isabella of Spain
Since last week I’ve discovered Alfonso was only 32 when he wanted to marry the 13 year old Isabella, but to her that was like, ancient!! The Queen can’t wait to get her married off and out of the way, while Dowager Mummy bleats her daughter is already betrothed to Ferdinand of Aragon. Isabella agrees with this, she’s madly in love with the dashing Ferdinand of Aragon and she’s not above throwing a real tantrum if she can’t marry him. Now that his brother was bumped off he’s the heir to the Aragon throne and quite a good catch.
To get out of this new betrothal to Alfonso of Portugal, Isabella turns to Don Frederick Admiral of Castile, father of Queen Joan of Aragon who is a man of great experience. She feels that she can trust him. And he comes up with a plan.
It’s a mistake to think that Africa is warm all the time. The summers are hot but it can get quite cold in winter. Of course, nothing like as cold as many places. Durban on the east coast is a subtropical climate and the temperature rarely drops below 9 degrees Centigrade. I never needed a coat there but I had several jerseys. The contrast between a hot day and a cooler night can feel so much more and it’s possible to shiver at 10 degrees Centigrade.
Johannesburg is 1,753 metres (5,751 ft) above sea level and Nairobi is pretty much the same at 1,795 metres. Even towns in Botswana are over 1,000 metres above sea level. As a child I always thought that the higher up you are the hotter it would be – closer to the sun aren’t you? Apparently, this is not the case as Mount Everest at 8,848 metres proves.
Visitors to Nairobi and Johannesburg will notice the oxygen levels are lower at these heights and will need to take things easy for the first few days.
Since I have little fashion sense, I don’t need to worry too much what Amie wears – usually cargo pants and t-shirt and good, sturdy boots. In book 4 these became more dangerous than she could ever have imagined.
Everywhere we went in Vienna we were offered tickets to concerts. Now both DH and I love classical music, but we hadn’t packed evening dresses or a tux so we declined many of these historically dressed ticket touts. However, one particularly eager young man explained that the audience didn’t have to dress up for any of the smaller venues.
The programme was very much to my taste, Strauss x 2, Mozart and light opera – no rap or jazz and that suited me fine.
It was held in one of the minor palaces and sadly they didn’t allow pictures, though I did sneak this one before it started. My biggest fear was the tiny red velvet covered seats with very spindly legs, and DH is a large guy and my over active imagination could just see his chair collapsing – I mentally read the headlines, only I wouldn’t be able to understand them as they would be written in German.
The new princess born to King Henry and his Queen Joan is christened Joanna, but everyone whispers the name La Beltraneja. Court gossip is “The Queen is a harlot, the King is a fool and the child is a bastard.”
Please note this picture was painted a little time after her birth.
Many say that Beltran de la Cueva (remember, he was the cool, skinny guy who was the Queen’s bit on the side) does everything for his king! – even produce a bastard heir.
For this, he is promoted and given the title Count of Ledesma. Here’s his pic to remind you.
AFRICAN FACTS SANGOMAS PART 3
I heard many stories while I lived in Africa about spells being put on westerners. I was told my horses had been poisoned for muti (medicine) as a way of making me move the stables when we first moved to Francistown.
My head stable boy told me we were on sacred ground, although I’m sure the lady who owned the farm was unaware of this. She had allowed us to use the land in return for looking after her two horses which were barely fit for the knacker’s yard.
I was solemnly informed that I had been warned when two of the horses had their manes and tails cut off. However, I’d no idea it was anything more than wanton vandalism and came to the conclusion the hair was wanted for fly whisks. If only I had listened to them sooner.
You can read the whole story of the riding school for free here
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We had a guide while touring the Parliament building in Vienna.
I noticed there was not a lot of furniture around – but maybe there isn’t an IKEA in Vienna?
This is where the 183 members of the National Council meet – I thought it great that we were even encouraged to take photographs. It’s really difficult to get inside the Houses of Parliament in London.
The Federal Parliamentary assembly has naked ladies propping up the pillars. I do hope that the members, while sitting listening to long boring speeches, don’t let their minds wander to other more enjoyable pastimes.
Now life becomes exciting for Isabella. She is no longer under Mummy’s control but that of the king, and she will finish her education at court. Alfonso is put under the care of a tutor and Isabella becomes part of the Queen’s household.
The princess has plenty to eat, lives in a castle adorned with gold and silver and has lessons in reading, writing, spelling, grammar, maths, art, chess, dancing, embroidery and music. She lives a relaxed lifestyle, except for the fact that Henry will not allow her to leave Segovia. However, she is astute enough to have full knowledge of what is going on in the kingdom, the court is a hotbed of intrigue.
SANGOMAS PART 2
A lot depends on the financial status of the family of a sangoma (witch doctor) and how long they have been practising their craft, but many have ordinary, everyday jobs as well. I met them in the health department, working in shops and even road sweeping. Generally, they are treated with a lot of respect by the community, and are partially feared for the powers they have.
It may surprise many to learn that even professionals such as medical doctors (even those trained overseas), teachers, politicians, just about anyone, will consult sangomas for potions to make someone fall in love with them, put spells on those they don’t like, to protect them against enemies or for good crops or successful business deals.
I named my witch doctor in the Amie series as Ouma Adede – Ouma is a respectful term used by Afrikaners which literally means grandmother but is often used as a respectful address to the elderly.
The Amie series has been translated into Spanish and other languages are in production.