Sunday, October 21, 2012

Schonbrunn Palace -- Photo Gallery

19 images from Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna. Took so many pictures here I figured I'd give it its own album.

Germany-Austria-Slovakia -2012 -- Vienna Schonbrunn Palace

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Vienna -- Photo Gallery Part 1

The album for Vienna is turning into quite a project, so I'm going to post it in sections as I complete them. This first part covers the Museum District, Hopfburg Palace, the royal treasury, and the Hapsburg family crypt.

Germany-Austria-Slovakia 2012 -- Vienna Part 1

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Salzburg -- Photo Gallery

Salzburg Photo Edits complete. Here's the link...
Germany-Austria-Slovakia 2012 -- Salzburg

Berlin -- Photo Gallery

I have finished editing the images from the Berlin part of our journey. Check them out at:
Germany-Austria-Slovakia 2012 -- Berlin

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Germany-Austria Trip 2K12 -- The Return Trip from Hell

   6:30 GST (Hour 0). We start off on the right food with a good breakfast in the hotel lobby, the height of which for me was a rolled pickled herring filet.
   7:30 GST (Hour 1). We travel by bus from the hotel to the airport, making a few stops, but getting there with relative ease. Tegel is a strange airport where the gates all have their own independent security lines. We checked in on one line, walked 10 meters, then waited to go through security directly into our departure gate. German security going through to the US is very strict -- much stricter than any security line I've ever been through in the US. We were patted down, all our luggage was upheaved and sorted and processed through the x-ray machine twice. The security agents had an impromptu conference about my camera monopod and decided it looked too much like something you could bludgeon the flight crew with, so I was forced to check my large bag.
   9:30 GST (Hour 3). On to the plane, only to wait on the runway for 45 minutes while the flight crew "refile their paperwork." Apparently the headwinds were going to be so bad that they were going to make a detour fuel stop in Canada, which they assured us would take 20 minutes. On the plane I have a particularly awful chicken breast thing that tasted like it had lived in a freezer for several months before gracing my dinner tray. I watch 3 movies on the trip, unable to sleep, as usual on plane trips.
   10:00 EST (Hour 10). We land in "Goose Bay" Canada, world reknowned destination for refueling airplanes and little else. The passengers remain on the plane of course, since it's just suppoed to be a short pit stop.
   11:00 EST (Hour 11). After more "paperwork" issues, we finally get off the ground and on our way to Newark. I have a scotch and soda and watch Casablanca.
   15:00 EST (Hour 15). We arrive in Newark, having already missed our connection to Tampa. We go through customs and then wait in line to get a new connection, now scheduled for 19:00 EST. My father buys me a Guinness and I have a corned beef sandwich. I note the irony of the fact that the first thing I eat in the US is a sandwich made with saurkraut.
   19:00 EST (Hour 19). We get on board the plane to Tampa, relieved to be on the last leg. We are 20th in line for take-off and wait 45 minutes on the taxiway.
   22:00 EST (Hour 22). In a flight stupor, we stumbled out of the plane and into the Tampa Airport, where Jeannie is blssedly waiting to pick us up.
   23:00 EST (Hour 23). We get back to the apartment, ironically a little more energized from telling stories on the drive back to Palm Harbor. We catch the end of Bill Clinton's address to the Democratic convention, and then I promptly pass out. There are no pictures of the day.

   Thanks for following our adventure through Germany, Austria and Slovakia. I hope you enjoyed my ramblings. It was a great trip despite the transitory issues and one both of us are unlikely to forget any time we have this blog as an archive to remember things! Once I sort through the 1800 exposures I took and adjust, weed, and polish, I will post a link to the gallery.

  So long and guten nacht!

Leipzig -- Day 1

   It threatened to be a jammed-packed day, as we not only had to see everything we wanted to see in Leipzig, but get to over to the hotel near Berlin-Tegel as well. Tegel is one of those airports like Gatwick. It's the old airport and it's "in the city" only in the loosest of definitions. But before any further talk of Berlin, we have to talk about Leipzig!
   First thing, we went to find a place to have breakfast. Originally we were planning on going to a famous coffee shop, but as it turns out, they're not open for breakfast, so we went to another place nearby called, rather unfortunately, Club Spizz.  There I had a traditional Leipzig breakfast, which includes a seven-minute egg, brown bread, some smoked ham, liverwurst and....wait for it....lard. Yes, that's right, apparently a big thing in Eastern Germany is bacon-infused lard on bread. I did eat it. It was ok, though it's hard to get past the fact that you're pretty much spooning lard directly into your face.
The main attraction, so to speak, in the city is the fact that it was the long-time home of J.S. Bach and his family. He was the cantor of Thomaskirch for several years as well as teaching at the adjoined school. St. Thomaskirch itself is a gothic Lutheran Church, partially rebuilt after allied bombing in WWII and oft-restored since sulphur and soot from a nearby mine did extensive damage to the statuary and paintings inside over time.
   Across the street from Thomaskirch, in his formal home, is a museum dedicated to Johann Sebastian Bach, his life and family and of course his music. We managed to go to the Bach museum on the only day of the month that admission is free, so we stepped through each room and listened to every audioguide snippet until our heads were packed full of Bach trivia. Here's a piece that's floated to the surface now -- Bach had 2 wives over the couse of his days, and between them fathered *20* children. As a result, there are several Bach relatives alive today. Sadly, none are in the music trade anymore.
   After the Bach museum, we headed to Zum Arabischen Cofe Baum (Of the Arabian Coffee Tree), which declares itself to be one of the oldest continually running coffee shops in Europe. Atop the old shop is a slightly tongue-in-cheek museum dedicated to the history of coffee in Europe generally and in Leipzig particularly. An interesting fact is that there used to be four dedicated members-only Masonic coffeehouses in Leipzig, where members of the Freemasonry performed their secret rites and...presumably drank coffee.
   I had a house specialty flavored coffee (I know, I know, I was reluctant even to put that in writing. I'll be thrown out of the coffee-snob club for sure for this one). This being one my last opportunities for trying food in Saxony, I also had a Leipziger Gose beer -- Brett, pay attention, because this one is really unique.
   Gose beer is a top-fermented regional speciality beer made with at least 50% malted wheat. In the brewing they add corriander and salt during the brewing and do a short malolactic fermentation at the end to give it a strong, sour character. It was *very* different, almost tasting like a cider.
   They also had a dessert on the menu that I couldn't stop myself from ordering, and I am sure glad I did because it was one of my favorites for the whole trip. Take whole, stoned plums, stuff them with Marzipan, add a little quark cheese, dip in a sweet batter, deep fry the whole thing, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, and add a sauce made with sloe plums. Serve with a bit of ice cream. Absolutely fantastic.
   Afterward we strolled around downtown, deciding not to go to any more museums with the hour and a half left to us. We walked through the downtown farmer's market, oogling the fresh end-of-summer fruits and veggies, the meat and seafood vendors, and the spice vendors. At a local dairy market we braved a bottle of fresh local milk, since we won't be able to get anything like that it in the states. It was really good, though I suffered a little for drinking all that dairy.
   We walked to a park on the Goethestrasse across the street from the train station to watch some ducks while we burned off some time before our train and then left Leipzig at 3pm for Berlin. By the time we got to Berlin it was about 5 and we took an S train to the canalfront, where we stopped at a restaurant right on the channel. It was a really nice final dinner in Germany -- we had a table next to the river and the weather was cool and bright and beautiful
  I had ox cheeks with a potatoe cake topped with chanterelles (in season and all over the place). The cheeks themselves were braised in a red wine sauce and topped with some kind of "foam". Foam is a big culinary trend right now, and I think it's kind of a rubbish trend to be honest. The meal looked great except for said foam, which sort of made it look like someone had spit on the food -- not a very appealing presentation. Still, it was delicious, spit and all.
   Dad had his *acutal* last Wiener shnitzel of the trip, and much to our surprises, it was actually the best shnitzel we'd had so far.
   We watched the sun go down over Berlin and said our silent farewells to the city, and essentially our trip and started our winding way to the hotel near the airport.
   And when they say "near the airport", they mean "in the approach lane". They also failed to mention the lack of AC in the room which required that we open the windows and allow the planes to swoop by. You could hear them coming practically off the runway. By the time the plane passed by, it had evolved into a brain-filling roar. Eventually we had to endure the warmth and close those windows to avoid feeling like the wrath of God was coming down on us every five minutes.
   The next day would start at 6:30 am, and since I am writing this entry a few days late, let me foreshadow and say that it would be a travel day for the recordbooks.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Leipzig -- Day 0

  Much of the day was given over to traveling to Leipzig. At the last moment I had doubts about the fact that our connection on the town of Lufta gave us only a 10 minute window to get from one train to the next, *assuming* everything was running on time. I decided that maybe the train service rep had jumped the gun a little when making our reservations, so I went to a self-service ticket machine and decided to give some new reservations a try. Well there was a train leaving an hour later, at 11 instead of 10, that got us to Leipzig at the same time as the other train, but had no connections to worry about. Stellar. I signed us up for that, but it meant that we were going to have a little longer wait in the train station.
   So be it. Luckily my initial estimate of how far it is between Leipzig and Berlin was flawed -- it's only an hour and a half train ride, so the trip tomorrow, our last of the journey, will be a blessedly short one compared to the beast of a commute that was Munich to Leipzig.
   Leipzig is a college town, and small at that. While it is technically the largest city in Saxony, the whole of the tourist section of town is less than 4 square miles and all emminently walkable. Our hotel is across the street from the train station and our room has a nice view of the next-door park.
   When we arrived in Leipzig, we walked right to the hotel, dropped off our bags, then headed to the #2 attraction in the city, which also happens to be a restaurant -- Auerbachs Keller. In his day, this was the writer Goethe's favorite hangout, a place that he immortalized in Faust. The restaurant has been playing up that angle ever since, with it's Faust themed wall murals and Mephistophelean graphics on the menu. It's actually a really nice-looking place in the heart of downtown, and its traditional Saxon menu has some really great stuff on it. I had a pork cutlet that came with a "farmer's pie" made from potatoes, sheeps cheese, cabbage, apples and pepper. It was a surprising and pleasant flavor combination -- the sweets, sours and savories coming together really nicely. I was pleasantly surprised.
   One of the most famous desserts in Leipzig is called quarkkeulchen, a pastry made with quark, a sort of cream cheese. The one at Auerbachs Keller was served with a scoop of cinammon ice cream and an apple cream. It was good, but not awesome.  The presentation was nice though.
   Tomorrow we're headed to the Bach museum, apparently the main event for any Leipzig trip. Our train leaves for Berlin at 3:50, but like I said, everything in this town is close by, so we're leaving our bags at the hotel lobby and touring around as much as we can before we catch the train. Even if we miss our reserved train, only being an hour and a half away, there are trains leaving to Berlin constantly, so I'm not worried.
   Sadly, the trip is nearly over. I think we could both use a break from rushing around Europe and navigating the labyrinth of transit lines, but I'm going to miss the adventure.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Munich -- Day 2

   Today we spent the better part of the day at the main palace in Munich, Nymphenburg Palace, the seat of the once great Bavarian royal family. Nymphenburg's grounds contain the palace itself, the royal carriage museum, an off-limits menagerie, a huge garden with its own forest, lake and two streams, as well as four smaller houses open to the public that were for guests and parties when the palace was just too tedious for the royal family to endure.
   The palace itself was as grand as we've come to expect from the Bavarians -- loaded with golden filligree, rich mosaics and enormous chandeliers. I feel like I'm starting to sound tedious about visiting royal villas, but I can assure you that each place we've visited has been a great, unique experience, despite my oft cynical tone.
   Next was the carriage museum, which is a lot more interesting than it sounds. The royal family liked to travel in style, and a vast majority of their carriages are wheeled sculptures -- art pieces in their own right, given as much care in craftsmanship as any palatial salon. The most opulent carriages of course belonged to Ludwig II, Bavaria's fairytale king. We lost track of how many carriages and sleds were actually his, but I believe the number was around nine. There was also mini-carriages for the princes and princesses, which must have been pulled by either very big dogs, very grumpy servants, or the tiniest horses in the world.
   Once on the palace grounds, it's easy to forget you're on a piece of walled property and not a wild, wooded glade. The grounds are vast. I don't have the numbers here, but I'd imagine they're at least a square kilometer, if not more. Speckled throughout are several houses that the royal family used for special events, guest quarters, or just for an afternoon getaway into their own private countryside.
  The first of these that we visited was Amalienburg, which was mostly done in an ornate silver Rococco style, with a kitchen covered entirely in handpainted dutch tiles.
   600 meters down the path from Amalienburg is Badenburg, which relies heavily on Chinese motifs that were popular at the time with Bavarian well-to-dos.
   Across the grounds on a symmetry with Badenburg is Pagodenburg, which as the name implies, which has an interior also in that same Chinese style, though Pagodenburg is the older and smaller of the two.
   The last, running parallel with Amalienburg on the other side of the grounds, is Magdalenenklause. At first blush, Magdalenenklause appears to be the oldest of the grounds houses, resembling an old church. But as it turns out, the building was *constructed* to look like a ruin, complete with fake grotto and crumbling exterior wall that isn't actually crumbling. Somehow that made me appreciate the absurdity all the more.
   It was 2pm by the time we finished strolling the dewy grounds and admiring the houses and the palace and the museum and we had one more stop on our list of sightseeing in Munich -- the Deutches Museum.
   The Deutches Museum is a technology museum with an enormous interior space, a large portion of which is dedicated to the aerospace industry, though there are large sections for all manner of technological wonders -- from the advancement of electricity, to musical instruments, to rail and tunnel tech. We could have easily spent an entire day there and not had time to appreciate everything. As it stood, we spent 3 or so hours there.
   I have to take the time to note a bit of irony, however, in the museum's "future technology" section. The whole section was dedicated to talking about nanotech, biomedical research and computer advancement -- it had no free public wifi and a good quarter of the high-tech touch-screen displays were offline due to "software issues." Yeah, I'm just saying.
   After the museum, we hunted down a nearby restaurant that the internet recommended, called Fraunhoffer. It's a typical Bavarian beer hall, and we called a little early and had to wait twenty minutes before they opened up. The benefit of this is that, as some of the first customers, our food was coming right out of the kitchen as they made it, and boy did we make it a good one this time.
   My father had wienerschnitzel again, lamenting that this was probably the last time he'd have the opportunity to have a good one -- who am I to deny him that, right? I had young venison medallions with spätzel and it was easily the best meal I've had in Munich, if not the whole trip. Bambi was delicious, sorry folks. I also split another Kaisershmarnn with my father, this one was served with a mix of plum preserves and applesauce, and it was lightyears beyond what we had at the Wildman in Salzburg. My favorite dessert of the trip for sure. All of this was of course washed down with a few local lagers. Then we waddled back to the U-bahn to catch the train home.
   Oh boy, transit trouble story time! This time caused by yours truly, not from a lack of directional prowess, but from an over-eagerness to get onto a train that was leaving just as we stepped off the escalator. The short story is that those doors on the subway lines don't get held open when you pull on them, and I managed to get on the train while my father did not.
   Keep in mind here that I am the only one of this party with a phone, and I'm also the one that navigated us to this station in the first place, so my father was...unfamiliar with the U-bahn layout thus far. Very calmly I got off at the next station and decided that he probably would just catch the next train and meet me here, since all the trains at that station ran through this station as well. When two trains and 15 minutes passed and he didn't step out, I decided I should probably take action. I don't know if I've told you, but I'm a fan of logic games, and what we have here in Game Theory is called a Nash Equilibrium. If both of us acted rationally, then we would both stay in our stations, waiting for the other one to make a move for eternity. If both of us acted irrationally, we would both try to find the other person and never the two shall meet. The real solution would have been to both find our way to our final destination, the hotel station. Well, in the end, I was the irrational one, father chose the rational path, and we ended up meeting back at the station where we had separated in the first place. Oh well, take that, Game Theory.
   Tomorrow we have what *should* have been a four hour train ride to Leipzig, but the train were directed to by the train company reps is taking us through a connection in the town of Fulda, and the trip is actually going to be six hours. We'll arrive there at 4pm, in time to eat and...knowing us, get lost and eventually retire to the hotel room exhausted.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Munich -- Day 1 (Bavaria Castle Tour)

   Today we woke up early and had breakfast at the hotel. It was a pretty typical spread and not noteworthy enough for further mention. We then waited in the hotel lobbhy for the tour bus to pick us up for our whirlwind tour of King Ludvig the Second's castles by way of the Bavarian countryside. It was the longest and most structured day of the trip so far.
   Organized tours are a mixed blessing for me. On one hand, you don't have to think and organize and plan how you're going to get around to certain places. You don't have to worry about when things will be open or wait in line for tickets or how much time to alot to this and that. They've done all that for you. On the other hand -- they've done all that for you, and the result is often a very canned experience where the tour company points you at where to shop, what to look at, and tries to squeeze as much "doing" in as little time as possible.
   Eg: this tour. The Bavarian countryside is gorgeous, with rolling hills, smoky mountains and quaint farmhouses, and we certainly got to see a lot of it as the drive to the first stop on the tour was nearly an hour and a half from Munich.
   The destination of the first tour stop was the second castle he lived in, and the only one to be completed in his lifetime -- Linderhof. Linderhof is the smallest of "Mad King" Ludwig's creations and is modeled extensively after Louis the XIV's Palace at Versailles. The castle is a homage to Louis the XIV's absolute monarchy and the divine right of kings and is a prime example of decadent Roccoco style. The most fascinating part of the tour for me was seeing the king's small dining table, which could be raised and lowered into his private dining hall so he wouldn't have to interact with his servants or be disturbed. Ludwig was a bit of a loner.
   The second stop was the cheery little tourist-trap village of Oberammergau, known for its every-ten-year passion play (that lasts 7 hours) and its traditional woodwork. We skipped both and chose to walk around the town for the 40 minutes the tour had designated for shopping at the suggested souvenir shops.
   The final stop on the tour was Neuschwanstein, Ludwig the Second's most famous castle. It is known for, among many things, being the inspiration for Disney's castle at the Magic Kingdom.
   But before that, lunch. We went to the tour's suggested restaurant at the base of the mountain where Neuschwanstein is located. My father had a small bowl of Gulash soup and I decided to be adventurous and try the whole fried river trout. While some people may find the idea of eating a fish with its face and fins still attached, such things have never bothered me. I think I might have weirded out the couple that was sharing a table with us, but to heck with them. It was delicious -- obviously very fresh, with a nice rivery taste and delicate, perfectly edible pinbones. Good, good, good.
   The tour guide on the bus had informed us that it was an "easy 40 minute walk" up the mountain to the castle entrance, and that taking a bus would probably mean waiting almost as long, since the bus schedule going up to Neuschwanstein is oddly intermittent. So we decided to brave it. The mountain scenery was very nice, but boy was that a brutal climb. It took only 30 minutes, but I was worried that I was going to have to put dad down by the side of the road at one point, poor fella. We did make it up, with plenty of time to spare for exterior photographs and landscape shots before the tour. Half the exterior of the castle is under extensive refurbishment and was covered in scaffolding, but I still managed to get some ok shots from certain angles.
   The tour of the interior of the castle begins with a torturous walk up one of the parapets, into the entrance hall and servants quarters. Then a small walk, and another brutal spiral climb into the king's throne room and personal chambers. All of the rooms in Neuschwanstein are themed after German myths that the composer Wagner turned into operas -- Sigfried, Tristan and Isolde and Parsifal are the prime targets. There may have been more tribute rooms planned, but the castle was never finished. Ludwig died mysteriously as a young man of 40 during its construction and all work on the castle immediately ceased.
   Within Neuschwanberg are several noteworthy constructions (and needless to say, the exterior is noteworthy as well.) The first is Ludwig's "throne room" which I put in quotes because a throne was never installed or constructed for it. It does house a cool chandalier, an impressive mosaic floor, and a wall mural of St. George slaying a dragon -- and who doesn't love that, right?
   The next rooms, his personal living quarters, are painted with murals from his favorite Wagner opera, Tristan and Isolde. Woodcarvers took four years to complete the work in this room, specifically the canopy of his four-post bed, which is an amalgam of the spires of great cathedrals throughout Europe.
  Connecting his living quarters to his study is a small room designed to look like the interior walls of a cavern. These were actually lit up with electric lights run on batteries, even during Ludwig's time here. It was made to look like the Grotto of Venus, which is a part of Wagner's opera Tännhauser.
   The last room of note was the Singer's Hall, painted based on scenes from Wagner's Percifal as he quested for the holy grail. Ludwig never actually heard a single performance in the Singer's hall, as he died after living just 160 days in the castle.
   After the tour we made the walk back down the mountain with our legs promising great horrors inflicted upon us come the morrow's sunrise. But made it we did, and returned to the bus for a 2 hour ride back to Munich in the light rain that followed us.
   When we got to Munich, I had developed a powerful hunger. Oh yes. Time for one of Munich's great traditions -- the beirhall. We went to a place called Augustiner-Keller just outside of the Haupftbahnhof, and sat down at a long table with a very drunk, very rowdy group of Brittons, who provided us with plenty of entertainment as we ate our Bavarian speciality foods and drank our Bavarian beers.
   Dad had a...well it was a plate of sausages, really. I don't how else to describe it. I had a sampler plate of Bavarian classics -- suckling pig, pork knuckle, roasted duck...there might have been some other meat in there. I really don't know. Overall it was passable food -- not the best we've had, but not bad, and the bierhall experience made it worthwhile anyway.
   And thus I successful kept my father out and and about past sundown for one day.
   Tomorrow we've got another palace to visit in Munich and some museums to hit up. I'm still trying to get my hands on an offal dish called Beuscherl, so I'l try to find a place that serves it tomorrow.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Munich -- Day 0

   Frankly not a lot to report today, so I'll keep it brief. We traveled from Vienna to Munich via railway, arriving in the city around 2pm. By the time we figured out how the city transit worked, got our outrageously expensive city passes (25 euro for 3 days), and navigated our way to the hotel, it was 3. We unpacked in our hotel room, which is a bit nicer than the room in Vienna, though still lacking in a kettle, much to my displeasure. (What's a guy gotta do for a cup of tea in the evening, huh?)
   Around 4:00 we left the hotel and figured out the way to the city center. Downtown Munich is pretty! I had pretty high standards set by Vienna, but the city center of Munich is quite charming, with the city hall and cathedral next to each other and all-mashed-together-building streets fanning out in all directions from there.
   We ate at the Spaten Guesthouse which is connected to the Munich Opera. Father had some veal sausages and I ordered the veal sweetbreads (which, I shall repeat to everyone, are *not* testicles. Look it up.) Unfortunately the kitchen or the waiter got my order wrong and I got...well to be honest I have no idea what they were aside from being ...patty shaped and made of what I think was minced veal. If they *were* sweetbreads, they did a miraculous job of disguising them as something entirely different.
   Tomorrow we have to be up bright and early to catch the tour we're taking of Ludwig's castles. It goes from 8:30am until 7:30pm that night -- an 11 hour tour, mostly because the castles aren't actually in Munich, they're in the Bavarian Alps. This tour will be the most expensive single thing we've done at 75 euro a piece, so I hope it's worth it.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Vienna -- Day 5

"Red Hair...Russian Fur Hat...quiet, reserved, attentive...always behind the scenes...'Of course, I'll throw you out if you don't pay'...'No saving seats!'...everybody's right hand man...dependability plus...future diplomat." That's the description next to the senior class picture of my father in the 1967 year book of the American International School in Vienna, and that was where we spent the first half of the day today -- visiting the campus of my dad's old high school. 
   We had hoped to have a walk around the campus and see the changes. What we got instead was a full private tour of the entire school from Denise, the alumni liason. She's a bright, cheerful, crazy-haired Turkish woman with a nice smile -- an alumni herself of the school from the 1980's. She and my father apparently shared the same German teacher, Herr Fischer, who is since retired but occasionally pops in for alumni reunions.
   Naturally, the school has changed quite a bit since 1967 -- there are no longer dorms, the gym has two levels, the theatre is being revamped. Because of a rather picky diplomat's demands, the school installed a perimeter fence and gates in the 1990s with barbed wire and everything (it *is* an American school, afterall.) The barbed-wire has since been removed, but the perimeter fence remains, and the gate guards are very snippity about taking pictures of the buildings. We still snuck a few in though. I wasn't about to drag my father halfway across the world to his old high-school and not get a few pictures in.
   All through the bus trip, the tour, and the return voyage, my dad would get glassy-eyed and disappear into his past with a wistful smile. That was, of course, the very reason I organized this part of the trip, so I'm glad for the pay-off.
   Next up, the classic tourist destination in the heart of Vienna, St. Stephan's Cathedral. It's massive, gothic to the hilt, beautiful, and dripping with Catholicism. We were even there for the midday mass, though we watched from a distance and only briefly. I took a few HDR shots that I sure hope come out well.
   I had it on the internets authority that a cafe near St. Stephan's has the best Apfelstrudel in the city, so we headed to the Café Hawelka to test the theory. This is the most authentic apfelstrudel experience we've had so far to be sure. It looked just like it does in all the wikipedia reference photos and tasted magnificent, so if you're ever in Vienna and want the real deal...Café Hawelka. Believe it.
   At this point, 5 days into Vienna, we'd extracted just about everything we had wanted from the city. We'd hit all the top tens, as it were. Still, it was only 2pm and I'd be damned if I was going to allow us to retire to the hotel room, so we did a little research and chose to hit up the Botanical Garden at Vienna University.
   It was a little tricky getting there, as there is no U-Bahn station nearby. I suppose I failed to mention this in earlier paragraphs, but the trip to and from dad's school went far more smoothly than any other transit experience to date. It figures, doesn't it? All this bloody technology and the written directions prevailed.
  Anyway, off the sidetrack. We did get to the botanical garden eventually. It's a big space with several sections dedicated to herbs, alpine plants, conifera, vegetables -- there's even a little bamboo patch that my father took a break to meditate near. (I got a totally bitchin' picture of it, too, but you'll have to settle for the crappy iphone pic I took for now.
  Alas, the garden seems like it had seen better days. Perhaps it's because the university has been out for the Summer and is only just now returning, coupled with the tremendous heat this year, but many of non-conifers were wilted and brown when we visited. The herb gardens still had some life in them, though even they had casualties. Still, it was a nice walk and a nice change of pace from the city. Boy was it hot, though -- 86 today, and air conditioning is *not* prevalent here, especially on the mass transit lines.
   After a few hours of not eating and lengthy connections between tram and subway, I was intent on a particular restaurant that was on the north side of town. It was a little out of the way, but known for its Viennese offal dishes. Boy do I loves me some offal. Unfortunately, after a good half hour journey to the restaurant, which the internet swore to me was open from noon until 11pm every day, we found the place completely closed. It seems that the restaurantier had gone on a summer holiday for a week.
   I was pretty broken up about it, I have to say. We found another restaurant nearby that seemed ok, and I had another non-German meal of housemade pasta with trout caviar, anchovies and lime in a light cream sauce. It was quite good, really. I was just really looking forward to some heart..or...brain...or...lungs. Don't judge me.
   Tomorrow we leave for Munich around 10am. The train ride takes about 4 hours which will put us in the city around 2pm. We're staying in an area called Harra, at a highly recommended hotel called the K+K. We'll probably just get a sense for the downtown area and find a place to eat. The next day we'll take a tour of the castles outside Munich -- those belonging to Mad King Ludwig.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Vienna -- Day 4

   Today was spent almost entirely in three locations -- the art history museum of Vienna, the Lower Belvedere Palace, and the Naschmarkt. We arrived at the museum a little too early, so we took a stroll through the grounds of Hopfburg again, stopping briefly at the National Library to have a look at the foyer. I got a pretty good hdr iphone shot of it, so I thought I'd share.
   The art history museum is a massive collection of paintings from French, Italian and Dutch masters including several Brügels and Dürer works as well as a very formitable collection of ancient artifacts from Egypt, Sumeria, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome. We went through 2 of the 3 branches of the museum. The third was closed for the installation of a new exhibition that begins in January.
   Lower Belvedere is the smaller of the two palaces on the Belvedere grounds, literally lower than its counterpart at the end of the gardens. Here is housed a large private garden, two collections of artwork, an orangerie, a marble hall, a marble gallery, a "grotesque" room. and a room that Maria Theresa renovated into a "golden cabinet." The two artwork collections currently on display are a showcase of Artwork from Austrian artists from across eastern Europe and Asia, and a comprehensive collection of the work of Carl Schuch, a little known but important artist that preempted modernism with his stylish brushwork and use of color in still life and landscape.
   The architectural contrasts in Lower Belvedere showed the jump from Neo-romanticism in the marble gallery and hall, to the vain Rococo of Maria Theresa's "golden cabinet" room.
    Lower Belvedere also apparently houses a Treasury with more regalia from the Hapsburg empire, but it is open from (and I kid you not) 10am to 12pm Wednesday through Sunday. Two hours a day. We missed the window by half an hour.
   Last on our list of locales today was the Naschtmarkt, an international food market of which my father has fond memories from the years in which he lived in Vienna. The market stretches across two city blocks just below the city centre, and houses a plethora of foodstalls, cafes, restaurants, butchers, vegetable and fruit vendors. We took the opportunity to eat something entirely *not* German or Austrian for a change and my father gave me carte-blanche to pick the restaurant. Unfortunately, with the amount of choices, I was decision-paralyzed for a good half an hour, walking through all the restaurants and snatching up menus trying to figure out what I wanted.
   In the end, I picked a Vietnamese restaurant. It was a welcomed change of pace from our food adventures thus far. I had a fish dish with tamarind sauce served with rice and a carrot salad. Dad had a chicken dish of some kind with sauteed veggies. The reason I picked the fish dish was because the fish was a name I had never seen before, but I'll be damned if I can remember what it was now, and I forgot to write it down. The meal finished with a warm coconut soup with bananas and tapica that was the surprise of the day. Really delicious. I hope I can find it again somewhere.
   After NaschtMarkt we detoured to the Westbahnhof train station to reserve our seats to Munich on Friday. We're scheduled for two days in Munich, which gives us three days afterward before we have to be back in Berlin. We were told by some restaurant buddies in Berlin that we should try to go to Leipzig, so we may do that or try to go to Heidelburg. The options are still open.
   Tomorrow we take a trip to my father's old high school located at the edge of the Vienna woods. Considering our penchant for getting lost on transit systems, I worry for us being able to get there, but dad has pretty detailed instructions and I am *not* going to try and adjust them with my google maps skills this time. We're in his hands.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Day Trip -- Bratislava

   Today was the day we scheduled to take a day trip to Bratislava, Slovakia, which is a mere hour east of Vienna just over the Danube. Since Slovakia joined the Eurozone, it has done rather well by Vienna's popularity as a tourist destination, and has started to become a bit of a destination in its own right, albeit not a *large* destination. What it lacks in size, it makes up for by being at once similar to Vienna, or the way Vienna was 20 years ago, and being different. Culinarily they have pushed their Hungarian heritage to the fore. Their signs are all in Slovak, with Austrian-German and English being secondary, if they used at all.
   Neither my father, nor I knew much about the history of Bratislava before we stepped off the train and into the city. The first thing we did was took a bus into the pedestrian district at the city center, which is loomed over by Bratislava's own castle-on-a-hill. Slovakia is another country who's history is fragmented by Soviet occupation, unification and division, and the whim of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It was a major coronation site during the Hapsburg dynasty, joined with the Czech republic in 1993, and only became its own soverign state again 18 years ago.
   Bratislava is a charming little city filled with the same sort of architectural diversity as old-town Vienna, along with a few Soviet architectural scars and a monstrosity of a 1960's neo-futurist bridge across the Danube. We started things off with an hour-long tour around the old town and the castle to familiarize ourselves with the area and history. Sites of interest included the state opera house, the president's house (still in use), the castle (created as a fortress but quickly convered by the Hapsburgs into a getaway castle), St. Martin's Cathedral (a coronation venue of Hugarian royalty) and Pálffy Palace.
   Afterward we spent a few hours wandering around the town center pedestrian district stopping at various plazas which, in Slovak, are called Námestie. Then we stopped in a cafe for our inevitable "Ryan eats his way through the city" stop. Here, my father had a bowl of a creamy garlic soup in a bread bowl and I had a local cabbage soup with bits of ham and *oodles* of Hungarian paprika. Then my father went for some potatoe dumplings loaded with smoked meat, and I had another local speciality called 'halusky s bryndzou' which are potatoe gnocchi with a sheeps milk cheese and bacon. The sheeps cheese was very salty, and coupled with the bacon, made this dish very full-bodied and a little too salty for my taste. Still, it was a unique experience and it was washed down with a pint of Zlaty Bazant, a Slovak beer.
   The other crucial thing I wanted to have a try of in Slovakia is a juniper brandy called Borovička, but it turned out the only way I was going to get a taste was to buy a bottle of it at a local corner market...and I mean a full 750ml bottle, not the airplane-sized portions. But it was only 9 euro, and if we can't manage to finish that bottle in the next 7 days, we'll probably make some Berlin hotel cleaning staff very happy by letting them finish the rest. On the flavor -- it's not gin. When you think juniper berries, I know that's where the mind wants to go, but this is a brandy flavored exclusively with juniper. It's slightly sweet and very herbal and not at all what I would describe gin to taste like.
   Around 5pm we took the hour-and-change train back to Vienna. No one, between Germany, Austria, and Slovakia, has ever asked to see our passports, by the way. I guess during the tourist season it's not worth the hassle, or there are border arrangements between all the countries to not bother, much like we used to have between Canada and the US.
   We closed off the day with some pastry from a bakery and a snifter (ok, a hotel water glass) of Borovička, and we'll be resting up for tomorrows adventures. Tomorrow it's the Art History museum, which we've read is far too large to actually complete in a day, so we'll just have to see. Then, we'll see the lower Belvedere Palace and the wander the Naschmarkt. Thanks for reading, everyone, and thanks for the concern about my health. I'm pretty much recovered now from the chest cold other than a few hacks every now and then. The knee is still acting up; I'll have that looked at when I get back to the States.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Vienna -- Day 3

   A packed schedule today. We started out with breakfast downstairs again at the hotel. It's free and they have enough good stuff to keep us energized until I make dad have lunch (he's never hungry by then for some reason.) We left the hotel and headed for the Westbahnhof train station to pick up our train tickets to Bratislava for tomorrow. The tickets are, get this, 15 euro per person, round trip. I sure am glad I didn't go for the 3-country Eurail pass, as this was a much cheaper option. 
   Next, we were headed to Hopfburg Palace, and I decided to trust google maps instead of my father's written instructions from the guidebook on how to get there -- silly me. The building it took us to was in no way a palace. It *did* however, have some very unique faces festooned on the exterior walls, so I took a few shots of those. I never did figure out what the hell that building was, but after walking the entire perimeter and finding no public entrance, we decided something was amiss and followed dad's instructions to the actual palace.
   The only thing we were really keen on visitng at Hapfburg was the Royal Treasury, which houses the crown jewels of the Hopsburg royal family. This is, dare I say, a priceless collection. Many millions of dollars worth of diamond and ruby encrusted crowns, solid gold serving trays and shimmer samite regalia are housed behind the modern vault doors that protect the treasury. The most impressive pieces to me were a huge Turkish Opal and a sword of which the hilt and the scabbard were bored from a narwhal tusk, but just about every piece was worthy of our attention.
   From a vault filled with precious, life-affirming treasure, we decided to get a little perspective by heading to the royal crypt down the road. On the way there, however, we ran into a bit of a food and beer festival and, as it was almost noon, figured a nice refreshing beer would be in order. We had that and bought a small bottle of apricot schnapps (a new personal favorite) for later.
   Then still further along the way to the crypt we happened to pass by the Hotel Sacher, home of the world-famous Sachertorte, a chocolate and apricot cake that was high on my list of "things I have to try" in Vienna. Dad didn't want lunch, but I wasn't going to let that stop me from trying this thing out, so we sat down and ordered up a slice (and then another, after my father saw one pass by), a coffee for me, and a still water for him. Yet again, the Viennese surprise me with their ability to take something that I would find too overpowering (a big hunk of chocolate cake covered in ganache) and make it into something sweet enough, but not *too* sweet to enjoy.
   Finally after an hour of distractions, we made it to the royal crypt. The caskets in the crypt range from the fairly humble (eg: Emperor Leopold I) to the madly decadent (eg: Maria Theresa), They are all similarly styled bronze, copper and alloys of each, some of which are ornately decorated with cherubs, veiled mourners, skulls, eagles and armor. There are 9 chambers housing the caskets, but the entire journey through the Hapsburg family line takes no more than an hour or so unless you're really pouring over the details.
   The last thing on the list for the day was Schönnbrunn Palace, a UNISECO site and probably the most famous landmark in Vienna. Schönnbrunn was a summer residence for the Hapsburg family, and though the interior is impressive, more impressive are the enormous gardens of the palace, which are home to: a formal english rose garden, a maze, a zoo, an alpine garden, 32 pieces of statuary, a palm house, an orange grove, a french garden and a bunch of other stuff I probably missed. The palace grounds are an all day, free of charge amble, and amble we did, through several of the gardens and up the tremendous hill to the gloriette.
   By the time we were done with our walk, it was 5:00 and we hadn't even found the maze or the orange grove. We were exhausted however, so it was back to town, where I did a little research to find "the best Wiener schnitzel in Vienna" which according to many reviews on Trip Advisor was at a guesthaus off of Stephansplatz called Guesthaus Pöschl. One thing was for certain, the schnitzel there is humongous, crisp and made from veal. I had all kinds of intentions of ordering a dessert that was also on my list, but after eating that thing, there was no way I was going to have dessert as well. 
   With all the trams and connections and station switches and walking, it was about 7:00 by the time we left the Guesthaus and we were feeling the walking and the sun from Schönbrunn, so we wound up the day. We have decided to stay a sixth night in Vienna though before we head to Munich on Friday. Tomorrow, after breakfast, we'll hop the train to Bratislava (they leave and return every hour until 7pm). Neither of us know much about the city, so the first thing we'll probably do is get a bus tour just to familiarize ourselves with the area. Then I plan to eat my way through the rest of the town before headed back to Vienna in the evening.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Vienna -- Day 2

   Sunday, the day for rest -- yeah right. We got up at 8:30 and went downstairs to the hotel breakfast...nook. We supped on coffees from the far east and yoghurts from presumably closer to town, speck bacon and bread and all that good stuff. We ended up passing out early yesterday and skipped dinner entirely (probably for the best considering how much we'd been stuffing our faces with pork products and potatoes). We were understandably voracious at breakfast.
   Immediately following our bacchanalian breaking of fast we took the tram to Karlzplatz in the center of town. Ok, first things first. Vienna is beautiful. Salzburg was nice and the fortress is different and intriguing, but Vienna is just a lovely town with exquisit architecture, statuary at every turn, museums every few blocks, palaces, art, history, and culture.
   The first stop we made was to the Museum quarter, which is a large block of the city dedicated to several art museums. There's the Modern Art Museum, the Leopold Gallery, the Art History museum and several other smaller outcroppings thereof. We had jumped the gun a little bit, as the museum quarter doesn't actually open until 10:00 and we arrived at 9:15, so we walked across the street to the Maria-Theresien Platz, which is flanked by the Natural History museum and the Art History Museum. Both of those twin-buildings are nice to look at but both are also half-scaffolded for construction. Still, you can sort of squint and pretend.
   At 10:00 we returned to the ticket office, got our 2-museum passes and went into the Modern Art Museum. My father has had a craving for viewing some more modern exhibits, so we decided to skip the art history museum (hey, sometimes you have to take one for the team.) I have to say, and I'm sure my father will read this some day...but I thought most of the modern art museum was disappointing. There are a few examples of modern art I find interesting, particularly a few works by Warhol that were fascinating to see in real life, but on the whole, I find modern art to be pretentious and self-serving, and this museum didn't help improve on that position.
   There were 3 exhibits -- the first was an exhibit on modern fashion which held a few moments of interest, including a clearly very recent piece with the words "Freedom to Pussy Riot" plastered over a dress. For the unitiated, the awkwardly named "Pussy Riot" is a Russian all-female punk band, several members of which were recently arrested by the Russian government for "hooliganism", which essentially means they were bad mouthing Putin and the Russian Orthodoxy. The story has brought up a lot of talk about freedom of speech in Europe and the former Soviet states.
   The second exhibit was a multimedia installation by David Ter-Oganyan on social issues. The installation consisted of several projectors cycling through extremely crude drawings that looked like they were made either on smart phones or in Microsoft Paint. There was an electronic music soundtrack playing over the flashing images. It...sorry, it just seemed like a bunch of crap to me. I could see the political commentary he was trying to make, but it was hard to look past the absolutely lack of subtlety or structure or style.
   The third exhibit was the most polarizing for me. It was an exhibit on 60's pop art, some of which I find interesting (there was a particularly good Lichtenstein, a fantastic Jaspar Johns, and a few Warhols that were great), and some of which I find to be total rubbish (anything that David Hockney ever touched.) I'm not disappointed that we went there for the few gems of the collection, but ugh...the rest.
  After we finished up there, we walked 500 meters south to the Leopold Museum. Here there are two permanent exhibitions and two transient exhibitions. The two permanent exhibitions are the metamorphosis of the artist Egon Schiele from his early work to immediately before his death, and a collection of Viennese art from the early 1900s. The Schiele exhibit is really good. He was a great artist, a typically tormented soul and a formitable student of Gustav Klimt.
   The Vienna in the 1900 exhibition was difficult to pin down, mostly because striding atop the exhibit currently is an absolutely splendid exhibition of the work of Gustav Kilmt, Vienna's most prodigious 20th century painter. This collection was breathtaking, particularly the large reproductions of his "Faculty Paintings" which were originally created for the ceiling of the University of Vienna (to many outraged cries of indecency and pornography.) The highlight of this particular exhibit was Klimt's masterpiece "Death and Life".
   After slaking our thirst for art museums, we decided to appease our appetites for palaces with a trip down the road to the Schloss Belvedere. Belvedere is acutally two palaces with a large lawn betwixt them -- The Upper Belvedere and the Lower Belvedere. We procured a ticket to both, but we only managed to see Upper Belvedere today. Lower Belvedere will have to wait until Wednesday, as the entire palace is closed to the public on Monday and Tuesday.
   Upper Belvedere has been turned almost entirely into a large art gallery. Each of its wings are dedicated to particular time period from Medieval to early 20th century. There is a large marble foyer and grand staircase leading up to an opulent dark marble hall. A lot of the accenture is heavily gilded in typically Hapsburgian fashion.
   Aside from the great examples of both Baroque and Romantic painting, my favorite exhibition in the Belvedere hides within a small atrium on the second floor -- it's a circle of busts by the sculptor Franz Xavier Messerschmidt depicting various comically posed faces in the throes of emotion. The animator in me finds them to be great examples of extreme facial posing. The eleven year old in me finds them amusing because it looks like a ring of old men trying desperately to use the toilet in the middle of an extravagant palace atrium.
   The other spectacular jewel in the crown of the Belvedere's collection is *its* collection of Klimt paintings, including his most famous work "The Kiss" and my personal favorite of his "Judith." Both are amazing in person. "The Kiss" practically glows with inner light and the true gold gilding on "Judith" can only be really experienced in the flesh. On top of the terrific collection of paintings at the palace, quite literally, are the ceiling frescos, one of which (the aptly-named "painted" room) is a great example of false perspective.
   By the time we finished Upper Belvedere we needed to stop and refuel. We took the tram back to the Opera House -- that is to say we would have taken the tram to the opera house, but the tram before us broke down on the tracks halfway there and we had to hoof it the rest of the way. We stopped at the Cafe Schwarzenberg and, lamenting the slow service, had a beer and food. Dad had a Wienerschnitzel and I had Tafelspitz. Tafelspitz is boiled beef, and as unappetizing as that sounds, it's really quite good. It has the texture and even the flavor of prime rib and was served with, as usual, a warm potatoe salad and some root veggies, along with a nice apple-horseradish sauce and a dill-cream sauce.
   Afterwards, just so I could check it off my 'list of things I have to eat' mind you, I had Bucht'ln -- a sweet yeast roll filled with apricot preserves and served with vanilla custard. So far, it's been my favorite dessert, though I'll grant you I haven't tried many desserts yet.
   By the time we finished dinner it was around 7:30 and Dad was feeling the walks. I must admit my knee had tricked out a few times today and I was feeling the walks too, though my chest cold has subsided quite a bit. That was an unexpected blessing as it has persisted on raining all day and I was worried that the inclimate weather would slow my recovery.
   So we returned to the hotel room and we'll rest up for tomorrow.  Tomorrow we're going to the famous Schoneburg Palace, the Hopfburg, the Vienna Treasury, St. Stefan's Cathedral, the archeological museum and the Hapsburg royal crypt, all of which lie within a block of each other. It should be a pretty full day.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Salzburg (and Vienna) -- Day 3

   I woke up this morning with much less of a cough and much more chest congestion. I really hope this isn't leading to something really crappy like a sinus and/or lung infection, not only because I'm not even half-way through this trip, but also because I don't want to have to deal with the rigamaroll of a doctor's visit and insurance claims from another country.
   At any rate, today was our last day in Salzburg and though we decided to forego a trip to the salt mine, we did visit the Mozart Birth House and the Mozart Family residence downtown, both of which were pretty good experiences. The Birth House probably had more information, while the family residence had a nice audio tour with lots of accompanying Mozart music. 
   We had lunch at the Mozart cafe across the street. Dad had a goulash soup and I had goulash as well, but mine was more traditional with the chunks of meat, knodel, a gherkin and a fried egg just for the hell of it.
   Afterward we strolled around a drizzly downtown Salzburg until about 3:30, then decided it was time to hop on a train to Vienna. The high-speed line from Salzburg to Vienna is a 3 hour trip and the train itself was really nice, with power outlets at the seats and all that good stuff.
   I'm starting to wonder if my ability to get completely bloody lost is some sort of magical power. When we arrived in Vienna Westbahnhof we proceeded to take the U-Bahn to Meidling station where I *thought* it would be a simple matter of getting on the tram and going three stations to our hotel. Well, sometimes they say that given enough time, you can talk yourself out of anything, and that's what I had done by the time we figured out where the tram station was even located in relation to the U-Bahn.
   We skipped the first tram headed towards our hotel because I wasn't convinced it was the right one, then when I finally deciphered the cryptic tram map and decided it *was* going in the right direction, one station in I was convinced the tram was headed too far north and that we clearly missed some sort of connection. Luckily a couple next to us overheard my frantic babbling and in English explained to me that we were, in fact, going the right way and that the next stop in fact was our station.
   They goodness for cool-headed people.
   The hotel we are staying at was a little bit of a risk on my part. For the 5 nights we are staying in Vienna, it came to a grand total of 350 Euros, which by Vienna standards is damn cheap. It's also very near the train station -- it's across the street in fact -- but I read a lot of reviews of this place and everyone said it was "nicer than it seemed to be" and the train station noise really wasn't bad...and that they had a good organic breakfast in the morning and free wifi.
   So far, they seem to be right on all accounts. The exterior of the hotel isn't much to look at, but the room is fine. It's clean, and pretty quiet, the hotel staff is amicable and there *is* free unlimited wifi. Since the tram station is right next door, everything is close by, too. It's only a few stops to the Opera House and subsequently the Ringstrasse, to where a lot of things worth checking out in Vienna are near.
  Tonight, however, is probably a wash. We'll find a place to eat nearby and take it easy. Dad's tired and I'm trying to fight off this chest thing. Tonight is one of those off-nights on the travel itenary. So be it. If I'm worse tomorrow, we'll probably be forced to go to a doctor and get me an antibiotic script, but we will cross that bridge if and when we come to it.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Salzburg -- Day 2

   Day 2. We wake to find it raining again. Luckily the hotel has spare umbrellas and let us borrow them for the day. The first thing we do is walk down to the river. On the way, we stop at a local cafe to get a little 
breakfast. Dad goes for the apfelstrudel; I decide on a croissant-like bread filled with ground hazelnuts and a little round donut. Of course, we both get coffees.
The first adventure of the day is a trip up the funicular to the large fortress at the center of Salzburg -- the Festung Hohenssalzburg.
   The funicular is jammed with people. Maximum load 50? Get 50 people on there, damn it.  As a result of the sardine treatment, it isn't the most relaxing ride ever.  The view from the fortress, however, is tremendous, and I won't ruin it with crappy pictures from my iphone. We did the audio tour, saw the sights, visited the multiple museums and the state rooms. I even decided to give in to the temptation to pay a euro to shoot 3 crossbow bolts at a target at 10 meters. I got 2 kill shots.  Take that, target. If you had been an invading french soldier...  you'd have been 10 meters away from me and chances are you wouldn't have been alone.
   It is about 1:00 when we leave the Hohensalzburg and start to head back to town. During the adventure in the fortress, I knelt to take a picture and twisted the hell out of my left knee. Perhaps the better word is *re-twisted* as it reawakened a very similar pain to the time when my car attacked me a few months ago by kicking off the intrusion alarm while I was getting out of the vehicle. Anyway, it's not a nice sort of pain. It's the kind of pain that startles you when you step incorrectly by how sharp it is...not the best thing to happen 4 days into a 15 day trip that consists of lots and lots of walking. I also contracted a pretty nasty cough at some point during the day, but I refuse to believe it had anything to do with walking in the rain the previous evening.
   We sto at a beerhall for lunch. There I have the first of the two dishes I wanted to try in Salzburg: Salzburg Nockerln. It is spaetzl with local cheese, covered in caramelized onions and herbs. It is savory and certainly filling, but I can't help but feel like it's glorified mac-and-cheese. I also have an herb bier, which was very nice and only available in the summer.
   Post-lunch we go to the Salzburg museum, "rated best museum in Europe for 2009", as it reminds us in the brochure. There are 2 permanent exhibits there: sacred art (a display of church artifacts  and paintings, mostly Catholic),  and exhibit entitled "the Myth of Salzburg" which, somewhat ironically, is a frank eexhibit about Salzburg's popularity as a tourist attraction since the Arch-bishops of the church decided to make it their playground. The exhibit feels a little bitter, actually. It makes clear the point that Salzburg was its own independant city-state before being claimed first by Bavaria, then by Austria, and how all the annexing has affected their economy quite negatively over the years. It then goes on to a pretty cool interactive exhibit that talks about how each Arch-bishop affected the city through two actors on LCD screens below paintings of each arch-bishop, arguing their individual influences.
   Next we return to the area around the cathedral where there is a huge romanesque fountain and several common squares. The Salzburg festival is just winding down here, so the public plazas are still filled with tourists, street performers, artists, et al. We go to another coffee shop. It's hot and I decided to have an iced coffee while dad goes for an apfelsoft, which is a sort of self-mixed soda with slightly fermented apple juice and fizzy water and sugar. We then walk around the shopping streets for a while, just looking at window displays, then head back to the hotel for a late afternoon break.
   After the heat has diminished a bit, its out again, this time to the north side of the river front, where we decide to have dinner. I have pike with butter sauce and a green salad (which believe it or not was my *second* salad in the same day, an amazing feat for Germano-Austria.) Pike is very flavorful. I had never tried it before and after doing so, I wish it were more readily available in the states.
  At this point there is only one thing left on my "things I have to eat"  list for Salzburg, and they have it here. It's called Salzburg Nockerln and you have to order it *before* your meal so the kitchens have time to prepare it. It's best described as a feather-light cream cheese souffle with a sour berry compote. It says it feeds 2 people, but I assume that means 2 people that haven't eaten anything else that day because it's monstrous. Oh, and also delicious.
    By now the sun is down and we're both exhausted, so back to the hotel to do some reading and write thiis blog post. Tomorrow we go to the Mozart House and possibly a few other attractions, then take a 3 hour train to Vienna where we will spend the next 5 days. Once more into the breach!

Salzburg -- Day 1

  It is not entirely fair to say that we've spent 2 days in Salzburg, when Day 1 was really almost entirely spent on trains and buses. The trip from Berlin to Salzburg started for us at 5:30 in the morning, when we woke up and took the S-Bahn to the Berlin Hauptbahnhof. We waited there for about half an hour for the high-speed train from Berlin to Munich. The train was fast, but the Shinkansen it was not. We made several local stops along the way, and rail delays made the trip that was *supposed* to be 6 hours, more like 7. It was a comfortable trip though, as we have first class train tickets thanks to yours truly. The biggest issue with being an hour late to Munich was that we summarily missed our connection to Salzburg. This was not a huge problem, as there are several trains from Munich to Salzburg leaving all the time. We had to wait an extra 20 minutes but the more noteworthy was that the local line that we ended up taking had a broken air conditioning unit and it is pretty damn hot in this part of Europe right now -- it gets up into the high 80's every day and most of the smaller venues like restaurants don't have air. Blessedly most of them also have outdoor seating so it's usually not a big deal unless it's very crowded.
   We did eventually arrive in Salzburg and decided to catch a bus to the hotel. This may be news to some people, but I am absolutely *horrendous* at directions, and I got that flaw from my father, who happens to be the only other person that's on this trip with me. We got the right bus...going the wrong way. Of course, we didn't realize that until about 15 minutes into the trip. (The buses also have no air conditioning, and these backpacks don't help with the sweat factor.) 
  We got off, waited 15 minutes for a bus going in the right direction, corrected course, and were on our way to the hotel when the bus, which runs along power-supplying cables over the road, managed to shake loose one of its power connections. The bus driver had to stop and use a big metal crook to get the connector back on. Good story, but we were totally destroyed at this point from the train ride and really wanted to get to the hotel.
  45 minutes after our initial snafu with the bus direction, we were back at the train station where we started, and then on to the hotel. Coincidentally, we are staying at another Holiday Inn. It was the cheapest, centrally located hotel I could find in Salzburg. It is definitely not as nice as the Berlin Holiday Inn, but still servicable. Total travel time to get here? Well if you count from 6:00 when we left the Berlin hotel, it was 12 hours door to door. Longer than the flight to get from New Jersey to Berlin by far and we have to do it *again* on the way back. Hopefully we won't hit as many snags...
   We rested up a little then headed to, translated, the "Wild Man Guest House" for dinner. Here we each dined on a "Farmer's Platter." Apparently farmers eat well, or at the very least eat a great deal of meat. Before this trip, the Executive Producer at my office said that when he went to Germany and Austria he thought he was going to die of gout -- ok, I get it now, Ben. 
   But I couldn't leave it at just the Farmer's platter. Oh no. One of the desserts I'd been dying to try is called Kaiserschmarnn which means the Kaiser's...schmarnn. 
I dunno. Anyway, it's a type of fluffy, pan-fried sweet dough torn into bits and served with powdered sugar and plum preserves. It was terrific. I may just have to get that one again before I go. I may just.     
   We walked back to the hotel, over the Salzach river, past the  Hohensalzburg Fortress...and then it started to rain. It was big, unreasonable rain, and naturally, we had left our rain gear in the hotel room when we left for dinner -- a sensible place to leave rain gear. But again, we were tired, and I wasn't about to sit under an awning and hope that the rain would stop, so we walked it. I don't think my father has experienced walking a mile in the rain in a while. I hadn't. It reminded me of hiking part of the Apalachian Trail when I was a kid, actually. Except with more...urbana.
   When we finally got back to the hotel, soaked to the bone, i wasn't going to go back to that hotel room without a stiff drink -- to warm the spirit, mind you. The hotel has a little bar, so I got us a pair of schnapps. It's a local area schnapps called marillenschnapps and it was pure heaven. Really great. I had always associated the word "schnapps" with the cloying, super-sweet cheap stuff you find in American liquor stores. This was nothing like that. It was mildly sweet, very strong, and with just a little fruit flavor. I think it is pear, but I haven't looked it up yet.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Berlin -- Day 2

We started off the day well. We woke up around 8:30, much to my surprise. I thought we were going to be up at some madly early time. The hotel was serving breakfast and it looked like a nice spread, so we had breakfast there. I got my first taste of quark, which is a mild spreadable cream cheese, and had a boiled egg, toast, some smoked salmon and other little things.

Then we took the S-Bahn to Hauptbahnhof and reserved our seats on the train. We've decided to go directly to Salzburg and we'll hit Munich on the way back. All good and well. After getting confused by the strange numbering system, we figured out how to take the U-Bahn to the Brandenburg Gate, which is a memorial of the division of East and West Berlin done in a neo-classical style. It's large and impressive, with golden statues annointing the top and freizes on the sides depicting various greek-heroic figures in struggle. There is a narrow brick outline on the ground on the west side of the gate that represents the previous location of the Berlin wall. People ride their bikes across it and otherwise pay it little mind while they pose for pictures with the gate itself. There were also several people on the west side of the gate dressed in the uniforms of British, American and German troops of the time.

We then turned to the west and set our sights on the Victory Tower, which is a huge memorial to the reunification that sits across the Tiergarden Park along the 'Strasse des 17th of June'. We decided to bravely stroll the perimeter and paths of the Tiergarden, which promised canopied walks, oak trees and statuary. All going good, so far. The walk was long, but we saw sculptures of Goethe and Wagner and Prince Wilhelm. 

   We then walked along the southern edge of the park and saw many of the global embassies. Particularly attractive was the new Turkish Embassy, and the Saudi Arabian building also impressed. After taking some photos of the enormous Victory tower, topped with the gold statue of the goddess Victoria, we hit our first snag of the day. The get-on-get-off tour bus we decided to use, though extremely popular with the tourists, has a small flaw -- there is no indication by the road where the bus is going to stop. And with a ring-road like the one surrounding the Victory Tower, trying to figure out how to get the drivers to stop to let you on is a challenge at best. 

   To cut the story short, after 3 busses passed us because we weren't standing in the right 5 feet of unmarked area, we decided to slough off the idea altogether and just take a city bus where we needed to go. We found a stop, located the line we needed, and promptly discovered that the line doesn't start operating until after 1:00 pm. It was 12:00. We weren't to wait that long. Father spotted a train going down a nearby cross street, so we decided to follow the beast to its lair. Eventually it took us to a U-Bahn station, but we would have to make 2 connections to get to our destionation. So be it. Oh. oops. No that wasn't the staircase we needed to go down. This staircase is for the train going to other way on this line. You need to go up the stairs, turn left, then go down another set of stairs to get to the train on that line leading east. Of course. Signs? Anyone? You put them on things and they help people know where to go.

   Connection made. Destination reached. Only about 2 hours later than we had initially expected, but there we were, the Jewish History Museum in Kreuzberg. Having walked quite a bit and consumed all my water by this point, we decided to stop in to the connected cafe for some jewish snacks. My father and I both had creme of zuchini soup, and i had a salad plate with olives, carrot salad, tomatoes, tuna caprese and so forth. I was pretty hungry, so I failed to take a picture of that one.  

     We then spent the next 2 or 3 hours wandering through the guided path of the Jewish Museum. The museum was constructed by architect Daniel Libeskind to be an unusually architectural space. Angles and lines do not line up properly, Corrodors shoot off with promise and end in nothing. There are sections of the floor that are designed at strange angles to give the onlooker and sense of disorientation. Within the museum space there are areas called "voids" that are purposefully empty spaces. One of the voids is walkable, but in order to enter it, you have to step through a sea of abstracted iron faces looking up at you.

The more traditional part of the museum is a maze of exhibits through which you follow a dotted line and use an ipod tuned to your language to find out information about certain exhibits. The whole museum talks about the jewish people from the very begginings,  focuses quite a lot on the time just before WWI and during WWII, and spends very little time talking about the actual atrocities of the holocost itself. The holocost exhibit is there, but it is more like an uncomfortable gap in a history lesson about the spirit of culture of the Ashkenazi. The museum is not small. The entrance building seems simple enough, but to reach the real museum, you have to tread down a dark flight of stairs into an underground passageway where the architect has created his "Arcs" piece. There are 3: The Arc of the Holocost, The Arc of Exile and the Arc of Unity. The Arc of Holocost leads to a dead end, and a heavy iron door. When you go into the room, it is a dark, unventilated stone tower, Triangular in form, with a single slit of light at the top as the only illumination. Very eerie.

The Arc of Exile leads the walker to the Garden of Exile, which is a series of columns filled with dirt and topped with chestnut trees. Observers are encouraged to walk between the tall towers and feel the disorientation and nausea of the space, walking at a slight sloped angle through perfectly symmetrical columns.

The arc of Unity brings you into the main exhibit hall, were one is innudated with thousands of artifacts, interactive installations, and datasheets talking about life in Judaism through the years.

It was an information overload for sure, and after our debaucle at the Victory Tower earlier, and the 3 hour walk through the museum, we had to take a break. We took a few exchanges on the U back to Alexanderplatz and went back to the hotel room for a powernap.

By the time we got up it was 6:30. Dinner was calling. I had found a place on the internet that people we saying good things about called Lebensmittel in Mitte. Indeed we had tried to go there the night before, but it was full so they couldn't take us. Today, we got in, and spent the first few minutes of our beer-drinking in the company a pair of italian cousins who were just back from a trip to Scandinavia. They loved it, said it was extremely expensive but beautiful and fun. She was a reporter, and he is a photographer, and they travel around for business and pleasure. I want that life.

They were finished their meal when we sat down, so quickly they said their goodbyes and another couple sat down next to us. What luck that we were getting people that spoke English so well. This couple was a fashion designer and her photographer boyfriend, and father talked and talked with them about just about everything. The differences between America and Germany from poitical, medical, cultural and social angles The lady, Paula, runs a fashion consulting company and travels a lot between New York and Berlin, so she gaves us a good comparative viewpoint. We talked for a little under 3 hours.

The food, which my father largely ignored for wont of conversation, was very nice. Done in a modern style. I had slices of venison with a red wine reduction and a mushroom ragout with oven baked dumplings, my father had pork cut from the shank with potatoes and kraut. He drank a Pilsner and I tried the heffeweissen.

I admit, we didn't get to see as much of Berlin's art museums as I had hoped to. There's a lot of good stuff here, but Berlin was never a priority city on this trip. It was an affordable access point to Germany, and another notch on the belt. But I do find Berlin to be fascinating. The people are young, they want their city to grow into something great and even though they've got some work to do, I have hope that they can pull it all together at the velocity they are going.

Tomorrow we have an early train (6:40) to Salzburg. First class tickets so hopefully that makes a difference. By coincidence, staying at *another* Holiday Inn there. It seemed like the nicest rooms for the best price. I wonder if the train will have wifi access....gotta have something to do besides look at the beautiful German countryside rolling by for 9 hours...or *do* I?