Thursday, January 19, 2012

On my way, again

Heading to the airport in a little while.  In the meantime, a song for the day:

Lincoln Park: Numb

Sadly, in Germany, lots of US music videos are blocked, so I just listed to this copy. So, bir dahaki sefere kadar. (Until next time!)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Next leg of my trip: TURKEY!

I didn't realize Istanbul was so large.  Fortunately, I was able to find a shuttle and am almost over my cold, I hope.  Maybe another day in the sauna?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Monday, January 9, 2012

Elisabeth and the Hapsburgs

Since I haven't been spending regular time posting & I'm afraid of forgetting parts when I tell Kevin:

Yesterday in summary:
-  Vienna Boys Choir/High Mass
-  Royal Treasury
* Cafe Griensteidl
-  Imperial Apartments
-  Sissi Museum
* Ritter Cafe

Today in Summary:
* Cafe Demel
train to Budapest!

Budapest so far is rather overwhelming.  I finally found the hostel and got settled in here.  The people in the room are a lot more chatty and outgoing than those in Vienna.  I may try going out in the evening tomorrow, if I'm not too tired.  I had a wonderful morning in Cafe Demel.  Everyone was so polite and friendly and the food was just superb.  I took a lot of photos and will post them when I get back.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Bad Dreams

I've had bad dreams for the last two nights.  I'm tired and am pushing back my bedtime in hopes of being too tired to dream tonight...

Gestern in Wien

I spent a great day in Vienna yesterday.  I went to see the Lipizzaner Stallions morning exercises at the Spanish Riding School in the Hofburg.  It was 10 Euros for 2 hours and was really nifty watching their riders put them through the paces.  I felt sort of ignorant though, not being an equestrian myself, of their steps and how they differed from other horses.  I did just watch a YouTube video of the stallions (see above) and was able to identify some of these steps in hindsight. 

I went to visit Cafe Central after the performance and took several pictures with the life-sized Peter Altenberg, sitting in the entryway.  Cafe Central is the Viennese coffeehouse that Altenberg liked and visited so often, that he had his mail delivered there.  I did not think he was that well-known during his life time though, so I'm not sure how much the cafe would have appreciated that kind of familiarity at the time.  The food was good though and I tried my second apple strudel.  The dough really is very similar to phyllo, just not cooked to the same extent as it is when making baklava.  The dough is still soft and sprinkled with powdered sugar on top.  This one was more flavorful than the first one I tried and contained raisins and nuts that either were not present or just not apparent in the first version.  What I noticed in particular though was the strong flavor of lemon juice that contrasted with the sweetness of the apples.  I'm not really sure what the "ideal" apple strudel tastes like (what balance of flavors) but I've decided to scrap that effort.  I'm wasting so many desert opportunities on something that hasn't been super impressive.

After lunch, I went on an extensive trip around town and bought two historical fiction books on my way.  I was really thrilled to have found such a great bookstore.  I finished White Queen, by Phillipa Gregory, and had resigned myself to not finding the sequel, but there it was!  Absolute joy.  The persistent disappointment I have in traveling alone are the mealtimes.  What is the point in going out to dinner if there is nothing or no one to distract you from the eating?  I suppose I focus more on the food, but I find myself lonely and finishing my food quickly, just in my haste to get out and do something else.  I had some trouble signaling the waiter but eventually got it down.  Austrian restaurants seem to prefer the "Seat Yourself' rule but without signs, that too wasn't readily apparent to me upon my arrival.  I find myself missing some American traditions, particularly the "service with a smile" approach in restaurants.  Several times in the last few days, I have needed some additional something after the food was brought and not once do the waiters think to come over and ask if the food is alright! Different cultures, I know, but I think we got that one right.  Just tonight, I ordered a Cafe Melange and a small meal and the waiter did not bring silverware! So I sat there, trying to catch his eye, and finally gave up as my food was getting cold and walked over to ask for some.

I walked along the Danube and while it wasn't "blue", it was pleasant.  By that point in the afternoon though, the rain picked up and the temperature started to drop.  I had mapped out a route around the historical city center I wanted to take and was reluctant to give up on it.  I walked to Stephansplatz and all around the cathedral.  Austria has strong catholic roots and the cathedral was especially beautiful at night.  I decided to go on a tour of the catacombs, which was definitely worth it.  The tour guide had impeccable English but his accent was terrible!  He is one of the first Austrians I have met or listened to, where the accent was such that it was almost hard to understand.  Still, his tour of the catacombs was fascinating.  Did you know the dead Hapsburgs are separated after death?  The catacombs of St. Stephans are only the location for the burial of their inner organs (except heart).  Their hearts go to another church and their hollowed out bodies to another.  Very strange. 

After the catacomb tour, I saw the memorial to Mozart (who's funeral was conducted in St. Stephan's) and walked the rest of the way home.  By the time I got back to the hostel, I was soaking wet and freezing.  I changed and got into bed and stayed there, with my new books and Viennese wafer cookies, for a while.  It was great!  I'm not sure how much I like the main character of my new book though.  What is interesting though, is contrasting the historical characters and how they are viewed in the two books (White Queen and Red Queen) by the different main characters, considering that both books are by the same author.  

My Tenets of Traveling Cheap

1.  Walk everywhere you can.  It may take longer, but it gives you a much better feel for the city and lets you see things, even if you don't have time to go in them all.
2.  You don't always have to eat out.  Bring/buy snacks (clementines, energy bars, etc.) for when you're on the move.  When you do eat out though, do it properly and make sure you try the local cuisine.  Eating in restaurants beyond the main drag is usually less expensive and more authentic.
3.  You don't need to stay in 5 star hotels.  Hostels are good and can be much more affordable.  Just check location, amenities, safety and price when making your decision.
4.  Do spend money on guided trips and tours, especially walking ones, they are worth it!
5.  Travel guides are important, but getting older versions (1-3 years) allows you to get key information and then just look up the specifics (hours) that might have changed.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Vienna, Austria

Vienna is a really nice city.  It reminds me of Germany's younger cousin.  It embodies a lot of southern German tradition and language (or perhaps it is Germany that has adopted Austrian culture?). 

The common greeting is "Grüß Gott," which while initially unfamiliar, is a rather pleasant way of acknowledging religion in daily life.  It is similar to our "God bless you", something that is both familiar and comforting while also honoring our beliefs.  Sadly, at least in the United States, God has become shunned in our blessings, appearing rather in our curses and swears. 

The city was rather quiet today, as most people were busy celebrating Three Kings Day, either at church or with family, or both.  I passed a family herding their children, dressed as the three kings, off towards church.  One of the children was carrying a star attached to a stick and as I passed them, I smelled their incense. 

I picked up my ticket to the Vienna Boys Choir and had a nice chat with the ticket sellers in the center of town.  They were very pleasant and had a charming cat, who was too shy to be pet but yet curious enough to poke her head out when I came in.  The building where I picket up the ticket, I found out, is built on the location of Mozart's garden house where the famous composer worked on Die Zauberflöte.  That's one thing I really like about traveling in Europe -- so many places have historical or cultural significance.  The United States, being as large and as young as it is, has fewer of those and a different all-in-all feel than Europe. 

I decided to take the train from the ticket office to Schönbrunn.  It was a really nice day, bright and clear, and the palace is very beautiful.  The color yellow seems prevalent in many buildings in Vienna and this palace was no exception.  I definitely see the resemblance between it and Versailles.  I really enjoyed the audio guide and think the ticket was well worth the cost.  I wish I knew more about the Hapsburgs though.  I know bits and pieces of the various emperors and empresses, but only those that really shaped European politics and none of their connections to one another.  I was fascinated by the story of Elizabeth, or Sissi, who was married to her cousin at the age of 16.  Her story (at least as was explained in the audioguide) is bittersweet.  Although she had beauty and power and the love of her husband, the Emperor, she detested her mother-in-law, lost several children young, may not have even liked her husband, and was assassinated when she was in her early 60s.  She sounds like a feminist, in the way she did not bow down to traditional roles but she also sounds like she was unhappy. 

I ate dinner in a Viennese tavern and had roast (beef?) with onions and cooked potatoes, a salad, a cappuccino and some apple strudel.  A little extravagant certainly, but I want to try the traditional cuisine and I didn't really eat breakfast or lunch and was pretty hungry.  I'm not sure what I was expected of apple strudel, but it was rather underwhelming in my eyes.  The dough was a sort of cross between pie dough and phyllo, more thin and light in color, filled with diced apples, baked in cinnamon and nutmeg.  I would like to try it somewhere else and see how it compares with tonight's experience.  The one downside to my dining experience was that I foolishly sat in the smokers section, because I didn't know that there was an alternative.  The smell was offensive and while I gradually got used to it, it really detracted from my dining experience.  Next time though, I'll know to ask and in the event there is no alternative, I will find another place to eat.

Vienna is lacking in guided walking tours and there are none I could find that occur in the wintertime.  I'm rather disappointed, because I think that would be a lot of fun.  Viennese history is rich and the city has some incredible sights to be seen, all primarily located in the historical district.  A business opportunity for someone, I hope.

Anyway, tomorrow is going to be busy.  Hopefully I will sleep better than I did last night.  I had a horrible dream and it was sad to wake up and know I couldn't call or hug Kevin.  Oh well, another couple weeks and I will be back in Seattle with him!  In the meantime, it's bed for me.  Gute Nacht!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


I just booked my ticket to see the Vienna Boys Choir!! And tomorrow, I'm off!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Yesterday was great.  I went to an American bookstore (Books in Berlin) and found two great travel books for Austria and Turkey.  The bookstore owner was friendly, albeit a little disheveled, and gave me a good price for both.  I was/am a little anxious about not having travel books for Hungary and Slovakia because I won't understand the language at all.  Elena recommended one other bookstore and I think I will try to visit it tomorrow.  Today, my goals are: bank & train tickets.

Yesterday, I went to Aldi and got some batteries for my camera and I went on the "Red Berlin" walking tour.  It was really fun and I got to see a lot of places that I didn't know about and got a better understanding of some of the difficulties/benefits of living in the GDR (DDR).  The travel guide's name was David and he showed us around a lot of East Berlin.  We ended up at the East Side Gallery, which I particularly enjoyed.  The commissioned artwork is great and has some powerful messages against fascism.

Jane arrived this morning and we had a nice breakfast.  I'm starting out a little later today because I want to book my hostels for Budapest and Bratislava.  Having never been to eastern Europe (except Prague), I'm very curious about what it will be like.  In my mind, I have a great big map only the edges are white and hazy.  With each travel experience, I am trying to fill in a little more of that map with knowledge of a city, of the people, of the cuisine, of the culture, and of the language.  This trip to Europe will be very exciting and productive, I think, so long as I don't lose my nerve, in filling in some key spots in Europe.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Berlin on New Year's

I now have a good idea of what the bombing of Berlin at the end of World War II sounded like.  It sounded like last night.

Fireworks were going off right and left.  We didn't actually get to see too much of the "real" fireworks (the ones officially set off over the Brandenburg Gate) but we saw everyone and their brother setting off their own.  The streets were filled with throngs of people, of all ages, each drinking and setting off their own explosions. The sight of the 17. Juni street with fireworks all over was really beautiful.  Dagmar, Andrea and I toasted the New Year in great style.  2011 was a great year for me and I really did a lot that I am proud of.  I am excited and happy to see what 2012 has in store.

The sky was completely gray with smoke and all you could hear were the pops and cracks of fires and the sound of fireworks exploding all around you.  Everyone was celebrating the start of the new year and we did it in traditional Berlin style with French champagne and good cheer.  It was so exciting and festive, but I was very surprised at how sheltered I felt.  I am disappointed with the fact that setting off fireworks in Maryland is illegal and I have always held to that law when in Maryland, but I really felt like I had a sheltered upbringing when I saw Germans celebrate New Year's in Berlin.  They seemed to have no fear.  People were throwing fireworks towards others, some were daring each other to approach the lit ones, and I was anxious about the dangers they were in that they all seemed to handle so carelessly. 

Driving back from downtown definitely gave me some gray hairs.  Fireworks were being lit right and left and some of them were either being kicked towards us or just happened to be laying feet from where we drove.  People were crossing the streets intoxicated and in dark clothing, without paying attention to oncoming cars, traffic signals or crosswalks.  Dagmar seemed to handle everything very calmly, but there were definitely times I had to close my eyes and just keep my mouth shut for fear of distracting her.  Poor Eastwood was a mess.  He was trembling and panting terribly.  Each explosion only increased his anxiety and it wasn't until we let him out in Wannsee that he finally relaxed. 

Back in Wannsee, we finished our glasses of champagne and even set off our own fireworks (in a safer fashion than most of the people we saw downtown).  Dagmar had three rocket fireworks and I (who am used to sparklers and the little tiny ones) was really impressed.  They were beautiful!  We sat around and had a late night snack before going to bed.  I did watch a short film that Dagmar had recommended.  It's apparently a big deal in Germany around New Year's and is called "Dinner for One."  While it was funny (I could see the humor), it didn't really do much for me.  I talked to Kevin for a little bit before going to bed, but did set my alarm for 5:45, so that I could get up and blow Kevin a kiss for New Year's over Skype. 

He really is such a sweetie.  I am only so sorry that he isn't here in Wannsee with me.  I think he would have really liked it and I miss him.  I had more to drink for New Year's than I think I've ever had in one sitting.  I was definitely finishing off my 3rd or 4th glass of champagne before we went to sleep, but maybe the glasses weren't full ones because I thought at least Dagmar was drinking as much as I was (she kept filling the glasses...).

The Skype connection in the morning wasn't the best, but I still got to see my sweetheart, who was celebrating New Year's with his mother.  I am always touched to see how good Kevin is to his mother.  Not that he is not always generous and kind, but he really looks out for her in a loving way. 

After that, I just went to sleep.  And I slept.  And I slept.  And I slept.  I woke up around 2pm and completely undid all the progress I had made in overcoming jet-lag.  Ah well, early to bed tonight.  Uwe came over for our 4pm "brunch" of pancakes, smoked salmon, herring salad and fresh bread.  It was all very nice and Uwe was very charming.  I feel rather prejudiced against him because of his extra-marital affair, but in general, he has always been friendly and rather thoughtful.  I suppose that is why Dagmar married him in the first place, all things aside.  It was a very nice afternoon brunch and we finished off a second bottle of champagne (I only had one glass this time).

Tonight is Sunday, which means Tatort.  Lotta has already set the TV up to record it, just in case we're too tired, but I don't think we will be.  I've been looking forward to watching Tatort with Dagmar since I left.  Next Sunday I will be in Vienna!  I'm excited but also a little nervous because I do not have any travel books yet.  Fortunately they speak German but Hungary and Slovakia will be a whole different story.  My plan is to carry every important document in a travel belt, tucked safely next to my body, with only $20-50 in the actual purse I carry.  That way, if the purse gets stolen, I'm not SOL and can recover.  Fingers crossed.

Tomorrow, I want to go downtown again, but also to Aldi and to some English bookstores that Elena recommended and to the train station, to make sure my tickets are in order.  Again, fingers crossed that it all works.