Archive for June, 2013

Around third, headed for home

June 30, 2013

We took the overnight train from Venice and headed to Vienna, Austria ─ Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss and The Blue Danube, where it is impossible not to hear the Blue Danube song once during the day walking around the city. As a matter of fact, in the Metro there is a “Classical Music” WC, really, that plays music so you can conduct while you, uh, you know.

(BTW the Danube is not blue but a slate gray in color) This was the first time we had been out of a Mediterranean country since the beginning of 2013 and olive oil was not a part of every meal; however the selections of sausages in stores and sold on the street for lunch skyrocketed in number.

One thing remarkable about the Vienna Metro is it is on the honor system, there are no guards standing around making sure you have a ticket. People come and go and it is assume they have purchased a Metro pass.

Vienna is clean and the Metro and buses run on time. Because of the predominance of classical music the street performers are the best in the world, no gypsy fiddle music. As with all the cities on this blog we spent lots of time in museums since rain and cold were constant in Europe this past winter/spring. Vienna had some lovely art museums both old and modern. One 20th Century artist to check out and I predict he will be one of the last century’s great ones is Egon Schiele. Schiele’s mentor was Gustav Klimt and his work is well known. Also in Vienna is the Hunderwasser house. Again words are inadequate to explain the curiosity and uniqueness of this man and his art.

Buda and Pest. Budapest. We stayed on the Pest side of the city divided by a river. The city is quite lovely with clean streets and many older buildings of the 18th and 19th Century. The Metro was the cleanest of any in Europe to my surprise. The people of this country are not the happy-go-lucky smiling types and their eyes never meet yours on the street. Service people in the shops are coolly efficient— A behavior left over from the Communist era no doubt. We did see a fantastic dance production of The Taming of the Shrew done by the state ballet at the gorgeous opera house. The Hungarian goulash, an international dish, is more soup than stew, but good. This was the first none EU monetary country and we did notice prices were on the whole a lot less for food and consequently we ate like savages. While we were there we went to a large spa complex, one of many in this thermal city and “took the waters.” The same day we went to the permanent city circus and had a great time. Budapest has a restored great synagogue that is the largest in Europe and second largest in the world. It is very impressive.

Krakow, Poland. This is the home of the late John Paul II, who is without doubt going to be a saint in our lifetime. In Poland he is already a saint. We an interesting salt mine outside of the city and there was a large statute of John Paul II carved out of salt in one of the deep salt rooms. We also visited Auschwitz, about an hour drive outside of Krakow. The location is actually quite pretty and serene. It was a rainy and cold day and we were in a small group lead by a guide explaining what life was like and viewing all the horrors of the death camps. No words can describe the emotions one feels nor is any logic applicable to understanding this infamous place.

After another overnight train ride we rolled into Prague. We liked Prague. It is as beautiful as Paris, with most of the buildings in the inner city restored and newly painted. Again we noticed right away the prices were sure a lot less for food and other goods. This is a country and city with a young population and the use of smart phones was second only to Israel. The young women dress sharply and trendy and blond was the preferred hair coloring. Like the Poles the Czechs are Slavic people and fair skinned and blue eyes for the most part. While we were there we saw an art exhibit of Alphonse Mucha, who literally was the poster boy for art deco. You might not know the name but when you see his illustrations and art it will be instantly recognizable. A visit to the exquisite Municipal House in the center of Prague and a tour is a must. Small charge, get there early for tickets as the lines are long. Prague is a four star stop on any travels through Europe. We took a two day side trip to the village of Cesky Krumlov in the south of the Czech Republic. This is World Heritage city and towns do not come more picturesque than this one.

From Prague we were around third base and headed for our final destination—Berlin, or to be more specific East Berlin. The Eastern part of the city is now the “Hot Spot” for Germany and all of Europe. All the museums, places of art and culture and history are in East Berlin. The skyline is filled with more construction cranes than any city in the world. There is an energy there and the population is young, hip and living the good life. Sunday brunch is a national event. After the fall of Communism and the reunification of the Germanys and Berlin, money moved into East Berlin and bought every other old apartment building and fixed it up. Mandatory tourist stops are Check Point Charlie, The Memorial to the Murdered Jew of Europe and a train ride to beautiful Potsdam. The Metro is a vast network of trains and lines and I am embarrassed to say after traveling on dozens of Metros around Europe we got lost. But there is a good reason—-it is the German language. In most countries of the world it takes six letters to make a word, the Germans use 14 letters. Try pronouncing a Germanic word with 23 letters in it. We also visited the Brandenburg Gate, the most visited site in Berlin — the first commercial store nearest the landmark is a Starbucks and two more doors down is a Dunkin’ Donuts and the Pergamon Museum where a entire Roman temple stolen from Turkey is on display. Yes, Berlin is happening. Unfortunately it was cold and rainy much of the time in Berlin. It was June and we are still bundled up in whatever warm clothes we had. Just our luck, this has been the coldest winter/spring in Europe since 1960. The Germans have confronted their Nazi past and no one can say Germany has candy coasted or marginalized what happened. There were plenty of reminders of their past throughout the city in posters, statues and memorials. There is one mystery about Berliners and it is called Currywurst. It is a sausage, covered with regular ketchup and dusted with curry power. The Berliners glorify this creation and fight over who made it first. It tastes like you would think—-sweet ketchup with a little tang of curry. This concoction has killed any sausage flavor. The Germans have never been culinary snobs and this proves it. There is a Currywurst museum and stands all over the city selling this treat. Why?  BTW Walking through one of the main plazas we pass some friends from Ajijic. We all looked at each other and screamed. What a coincidence to see Rodolfo and Cristina in Berlin.

From Berlin we flew to Dusseldorf and then nonstop to Cancun. Ah sunny Mexico! We brought the rain with us. It rained most of the time in Cancun. We did have an excellent Mexican dinner and there was a Mariachi band. Ah, the real Mexico. Unfortunately Cancun is not the real Mexico. The first two songs the Mariachi band played was “Volare” an Italian pop song from 1958 and then a Tijuana Brass, Herb Alpert song. They came to our table and I paid them 50 pesos to play “Guadalajara.” We were home. 11 months on the road. Two days later we arrive back in Paradise on the shores of Lake Chapala and have spent the past three week trying to find a rental, any suggestions welcomed.

Photos can be seen at:

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