Europe 2014 Summary

It’s been a month of glorious travel in Europe. Budapest, Vienna, and Prague (with special guest appearances by Moosbrun, Bratislava, Telč, and Kutná Hora). Our previously posted trio of journals (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) is a lot to wade through (we know, we lived it!), so we post this captioned pictorial summing up in hopes that those of you who don’t want the minutiae might enjoy it:

Amazing view from Hotel Gellert along the Danube.

1b Up early because of jetlag; plus side is beautiful sunrises.

2Spa day at the Gellert Baths!

3Hike to the castle early in the morning. Beautiful views.

4Some behind the scenes repairs being done early in the morning.

5Another spa day. We just couldn’t get enough of the beauty and hot water.

3cTraveled from Hungary to Austria.

Stopped at friend Kathi’s family’s farmhouse in Moosbrunn.

1Stayed with Kathi in her beautiful apartment in Vienna.

2Day trip to Slovakia. Explored the ruined Castle Devin.

4Were greeted in Bratislava by the carnival!

5More views of Bratislava.

6Trip out to see Kathi’s brother Philipp.

Left: the Golden Plum.

Right: Philipp’s store front for classic Viennese tiles.

7 Walk along the Danube.

8Vineyard overlooking Vienna.

10Delicious sushi dinner!

11Exploring Vienna: the Belvedere and environs.

13The most memorable painting for us in the Belvedere.

13bSt. Marx Cemetery, resting place to Mozart and many others.

Currently in beautiful decay but ongoing repairs may change that.

14Ferris Wheel view of Vienna at sunset.

15General frolicking.

16Leaving Austria for the Czech Republic one must drive by… Excalibur City!!!


A rainy day in Telč.

2 The Sedlec Ossuary at Kutná Hora.

4a“When life gives you plague victims, build bone sculptures.”

4bLovely apartment in Prague.

Krampus sighting at the local “farmer’s” market.

5Our group enjoying a delicious luncheon.

9Up to the castle on the hill (there’s always a castle on the hill.)

10 St. Vitus’ Cathedral.

11A detour on the way back leads to hijinx and purloined fruit.

12No comment. Or better yet, “caption this”.

13 The Grail of the trip: Mucha’s Slav Epic.

No we aren’t going to post lots of pictures, you need to go see it yourself!

No really, please do go see it.

14Dinner and after-dinner art.

16 Prague has a cherub problem.

17Miscellaneous beauties seen in Prague.

18Castle on the hill, Kafka, and a synagogue.

20It can be a good idea to go inside buildings.

You never know when you will find an upside down horse.

7Peacock paradise. And the forbidden gardening shed.

22Mucha’s stained glass window at St Vitus’ Cathedral.

24Various treats of the day.

25Sculpted wall  – part nouveau fever dream and part concrete folly.

26And finally the culmination of our trip, Della and Kevin’s wedding!

28Thank you for sharing our trip with us!

Europe 2014 Part 3: Czech Republic – Telč , Kutná Hora, and Prague

We had originally intended to go straight to Prague from Vienna via train but our fantastic hostess suggested she drive us all and that we take a few days in the Czech Republic to explore. The morning of our travels was the first rainy day we had seen thus far on our trip. We had a real vacation-lazy morning, hang about the apartment, taking long baths, and generally meandering. Kathi and I headed back to the market (where at least one of us spoke the language and could read ingredients) before heading north. The trip was slow and rain soaked, but lovely. The landscape was beautiful – and sometimes surprising as we discovered when we crossed the border and discovered Excalibur City! – It seems that Excalibur City is what happens when a DMZ at the edge twixt Empires decides to go all Las Vegas with amusement park rides and the sex trade. Who knew?

1A sampler of the sights in the parking lot of Excalibur City

Kathi had suggested we spend our first night in Telč so that was our first destination. After trying to help a trio of Rom with a petrolless car that was impeding the road, we finally found our way to Telč and a lovely little inn. We fell asleep to the sound of the pounding rain outside.

The next day we awoke to find the torrential rain had more or less ended and was now merely drizzling. We ate breakfast, read a bit of the delightful Fool on the Hill aloud (before we had to return it to our hostess), sought Kathi out in the square and found her with coffee and cigarettes. We sat for a moment enjoying the square and then were off. First a trip to the west. We could not venture into the castle, as they were using it to shoot a film. But we wandered out the western gates and shot photos among the rainy parkland – the ponds and trees and flowers. We circled out, returned through the gate and meandered in that touristy way for an hour or so. Happily the windbreaker I’d borrowed from Kathi was all I needed. It seemed it was a magic charm for there was only one additional day of rain after I returned it.

2From central Telč, the only escape via car was a looping circular route, and we found ourselves making loops outside those we’d already made on foot. A few dodgy signs and directions were no match for the high-tech wizardry of the modern iPad though, and Kathi and Venetia’s combined cleverness got us through so that we were soon en route to Kutná Hora, though we’d not even heard of it before yesterday. After posting the minimal connect-the-dots of this ongoing journey on the internet, both Janine Ashbless and Travis Webb strongly recommended a visit to the Sedlec Ossuary and we were game.

We enjoyed stops in tiny Filipov and bustling Havlickuv Brod, where we adored the architecture (though we couldn’t really translate what the Grim Reaper atop town hall had written in gold on his scythe) and stopped for a fine luncheon of “kabob”. Seeing every pepper in the farmer’s market labeled “paprika” was the most sensible thing I have read here – mostly the signs form only accidental collisions with English (“Darky Gifts” leaps to mind), and resemble nothing so much as that nightmare rack of Scrabble tiles where too many Ys fight the Z and an insufficiency of vowels. But oh the lovely people and architecture!

3The Ossuary was glorious in its “When life gives you bones, make bone sculpture” sort of way.

4bGorgeous and macabre in the extreme!

4aFrom there we travelled into the old mining city of Kutná Hora, marveling at its ancient Gothic cistern, sculptures and painted facades before finding some cinnamon-spiced pear juice in a restaurant overlooking the lower park and the cathedral.

Properly refreshed, we began a sunset trip into Prague from the east. I stayed up past midnight talking with Kathi and saying a long goodbye. It’s was so wonderful having her as travel companion and guide – from Bratislava to Wein to Praha. There really is no comparison between the limited movement most travelers enjoy and a proper anything-goes tour guide.

Our first full day in Prague, Kathi left for a meeting with her sweetheart and we dined in the Bar adjacent to the hotel. As the other guests mingled over dubious canned pâté and stake corn flakes, we were entranced by the ancient Czech music video channel – ancient black and white footage of a man who’d made a local hit of Waltzing Matilda, of a group of young men and women wandering down hallways in outfits that Venetia thought better used in Austin Powers movies, and of a local Abba-esque group who made their 80s dream video for what could have been no more than 100 krona.

We paid up and headed to the train on foot, squeaking just enough coinage from our pockets for the trip to Pavlova. A short few blocks later we arrived at the apartment, were let in, and had an an hour or two before Jacob and Henni and Talia arrived from Berlin. After the hugging, some gift-giving and general settling in, we headed out for currency, and to check out what would prove to be the least agricultural “farmer’s” market ever. Our prize? A piece of locally made “malachite glass”. I didn’t even know it existed before, but having done a little research, we ended up on the lookout for some “lapis glass” too!

5Window Seat and Krampus

From there a gander into the Anonymous Coffee Bar (with its V for Vendetta trappings), the massive comics store, and the Tesco – where a great deal of foods were compared, examined and eventually purchased for our week here in Prague. A sublime dinner of gluten-free pasta, sauce and salad followed later after the snacking (on rice cakes and Nutella, among other treats). Life in Prague is good.

After dinner we wandered west, down to the river. Lots of walking and talking. Crossing and crossing back. Coming home and falling into deep sleep.

We awoke to our last rainy day of the trip and headed out after breakfast. After carefully sampling the wares of delicious raw food dessert shop around the corner, we surveyed the pointy dark church at the center of the square a couple blocks up. We then wandered about, shooting reference of the nearby fin de siècle buildings and glorious architecture for an hour or two. When the rain got too heavy, we bid our friends goodbye and they ventured off toward the glorious city center. After a brief stop into the nearer comic store (surreal to see all that pulp printed in Czech), we came back to the apartment and spent the day writing postcards and doing a little drawing. When the trio returned triumphant at 10 pm they made a marvelous late dinner.

6On Monday we were out of the apartment at noon and spent a full day meandering through old town: being told that one shall not shoot photos of the sgraffito murals inside the Post Office (really?) finding the Mucha Museum in passing, photographing many motifs and details of incredible buildings, nipping into the astonishing Opera House (while our colleagues ate fortifying sandwiches on the front steps of the fortified Bank building), into shops, down alleys, past the famous Prague clock, across the pedestrian bridge (lined with ancient sculptures and happy generations of spiders), and slowly up the hill to the Castle.

7While our friends popped into a lovely little book store, we shot photos of on the building across the street on the Romanian Embassy – two chained slaves below, Day and Night above.

8We stopped a little more than halfway for a splendid meal of crepes, galettes, banana milkshakes, and the local speciality – cinnamon rolls put on rollers and served as tasty cylinders. So delicious!

9We topped the hill as the sun began to set, walking through the metal gates (featuring a sculptural stabbing on one side and a clubbing on the other) and around the ancient cathedral – so many mismatched textures, glorious windows and flying buttresses.

10We quickly figured out that the cathedral was a favorite place for couples to take engagement and wedding photos as we saw no fewer than three well dressed couples taking pictures. While we quite like the bright red gown we saw the first day, later we also saw a frothy pink gown which was a bit overblown.

11We explored the area around the Castle a bit more, admiring the views of the city below from the restaurants whose windows we could see through. From there, a short trip down into the orchard where Henni showed us what it means to be in the EU – freely poached fruit! And when none of us was tall enough to reach, Jacob put his years of circus training to use and Henni picked apples from his back.

12After passing through the orchard and back onto cobblestone streets, we passed the Embassies of Germany and the US. I was more than a little sad that the central crest (a crown topped by a gold cross) seemed so accurate a representation of the US. We continued downhill to the river, where we saw a line of lit yellow penguins and some of the bizarre black metal babies that climb the giant telecoms tower. Baffling, but hilarious.

13We crossed the bridge which I misread as “Most Legit” (let’s face it, I need all the help I can get). Sadly, no further legitimacy was conveyed as the bridge is really “Most Legii” which apparently means “Bridge of Legions”. Returning to our apartment along the Moldaur and up a long street, we were treated to gluten-free spaghetti pomodoro with sunflower seeds (Henni’s secret recipe).

Tuesday started slowly but beautifully, but we got out of the apartment a little before noon for some shopping under a cloudless sky. While Henni and Jacob worked the Farmer’s Market, Talia and I went to Tesco. After we returned, and had a sort of luncheon, we found ourselves out en masse – onto the subway and north – back to the northern peninsula where we’d stayed on our first night in Prague. This time, the reason was Alfons Mucha’s Slav Epic. I’d heard tell of it for years of course, but aside from the very occasional, and far too small photo, I’d never seen it. When artist Jesper Ejsing visited it last year, his glowing reportage (in tandem with Jacob & Henni’s desire to meet up in Prague and with the city and Mucha heirs’ indecision about the Epic’s future) convinced me that the time was right. It was.

14The Epic is that – epic. Huge canvases, massive mythologizing, and incredible skill. And so worth the trip! I found some (largely those that interpose reality with spirituality and fantasy) better than others, but having surveyed the entirety of the Belvedere’ collection in Vienna, even the most prosaic and documentary pieces were extraordinary. While the Epic rewarded our hours of scrutiny in countless ways, the museum featured none of the photographic reference, thumbnails, cartoons or other studies Mucha made. Further, no mention was made of Mr. Crane, the American who financed this extravaganza of nationalism and, eventually, state-building. The exhibit ends with an almost fantastically slanted film telling the viewers about the ongoing dispute with the Moravian town that had held the Epic safe for so many years. As lawyers circle, money is raised and squandered, and no progress is made toward putting this masterpiece in a proper setting, the irony of Mucha’s efforts intensifies. His massive efforts of love and pride, of hope and union, reduced to a slap fight between incompetent bureaucrats and greedy heirs worried for the loss of copyright licensing. And the Czech book about the epic? A collection of shoddy photographs, massive inaccurate color and tone, loads of words (in Czech only, natch) and plenty of white space (the designer must have been so proud!), it’s an unworthy disaster. Strangely, the postcards of the paintings seem the most accurate to the colors Mucha really employed but are, perforce, the size of postcards.

We had planned to do a full Mucha day but after five hours at the Slav Epic, we were quite worn out. Our friends stopped at the V for Vendetta/Guy Fawkes decorated Anonymous Cafe for coffee on the way back while Venetia and I returned to the apartment. I drew while Venetia slept, and eventually our colleagues returned with presents – slabs of goat cheese so delicious that they barely lasted the night (don’t worry, we went shopping for more on Thursday!) Eventually, the kitchen horrors were vanquished by Jacob and Henni, and a splendid meal of rice patties and beet/zucchini compote was served. As we finished the meal, Henni’s friend Weibke arrived from Germany and Jacob entertained us with wax painting.

16As a side note, Prague has a cherub problem. Excepting Mucha’s glorious cherubim (haloed, with neither wings nor incipient diaper rash), Prague is positively infested with the wee bairns, getting up to all manner of theoretically-lovable mischief. The ones across from our apartment were especially noteworthy, as it is not every day that you see anatomically correct chubby cherubs of both sexes cavorting about.

17Wednesday, the theory was early-to-rise. The practice? Well, out-of-the-house-by-noon is good enough. A walk to the Mucha Museum proved less direct that planned, but we tacked well enough and got to our destination in time – crossing over several routes we’d enjoyed the previous day.

18Jacob and I both wore Mucha-inspired  mermaid shirts we’d designed to the Mucha Museum. The museum itself was far smaller and less extensive than one would wish. Some posters, a few paintings and possibly 20 drawings. That’s it. No wall paper designs, no reproductions of the other sites in Prague and elsewhere throughout Europe and the US. Little discussion of his seemingly idyllic home life (given his spectacular output, it seems he did little but paint and attend parties – supported by wife and children. Did he have staff? Apprentices? Assistants?) And, for that matter, why Gaugin wasn’t wearing trousers in that photo. The notion that Mucha’s works have until recently been protected by copyright, and that the estate must have made a fortune, makes their treatment of Mucha all the shabbier. Largely shoddy poorly-printed and inaccurate products, no reproductions of Mucha’s photography, his rare “le Pater”, or any of his illustration work for that matter.  Sad that such glorious work should be so poorly respected.

Having learned that Mucha designed Prague’s Municipal house, we went back to that building but were disappointed that the Mucha room was only viewable by tour ($$) and not for another hour. We did take a few more pictures around the edges, but missed the main attraction.

19After Mucha our party split into several groups. Venetia and I wandered, without any particular destination, towards the Moldaur, passing the Kafka statue and a stunning Synagogue.

20We walked by the first north facing (and park facing) bridge, crossed the second, and found ourselves in “Peacock Paradise”. The Peacock was a heraldic symbol of the Slavs, as seen on several helmets in Mucha’s Slav Epic, and they roamed the grounds freely. We came across a peculiar building – small, weirdly textured, and made of a dark concrete. No idea at all what it was or why it should occupy this spot. Is it a tool shed? With a might heraldic crest on its face? Bizarre.

22Though we could have walked over a different bridge each trip over the river, only four were central to the area we were walking so on our way back we walked back across the bridge of sculptures. This time we were startled to see a mob of Hari Krishnas blocking the far end. It seems forever since I’ve seen them in the states. Funny world.

22xAfter a long trip home and a few hours to rest, we were overcome with hunger and traveled about the neighborhood – first stopping at the kabob house for travel provisions, and then moving on to the Blue Wagon, where a fantastic deer sirloin with a coffee demiglace (accompanied by Parmesan polenta with asparagus) made us very happy indeed.

Our last full day in Prague started with breakfast, some runaround with the landlord about checking out and other arrangements kept us in the apartment until…. Noon. Apparently that’s just how we roll here in Prague. Of course we had to go get more delicious goat cheese (a marvelous variety with herbs and an aged slab piquant and salty).

23Cheese above is not the amazing cheese we ate but a different store with amusing cheese flavors

Because our first trip to the palace and cathedral had been too late in the day for entrance, we returned on our last day to view the inside of the cathedral and the stained glass window Mucha designed. We headed to the station north of the Castle and St Vitus’ Cathedral, happy to let the massive escalator (not our aching feet) get us to the top. What we didn’t expect was a sealed-off street detour and a ravine twixt park (with its stylish modern oragerie) and the Castle hill. And while we were, accordingly, 20 minutes late to our destination, we were pleased to find our colleagues 30 minutes late. Punctuality is not this vacation’s hallmark.

There was no way to pay one’s way into the Cathedral (to better view the Mucha window) without paying to see a bunch of other things that would have kept us indoors on this glorious day. So we did our best to shoot what was visible and moved on.

24Wandering straight down the steep eastern stairs involved a stop at the overlook and, more crucially to our survival, a spiral-cut potato on a stick (essentially one long bag of conjoined potato chips) and a paprika-seasoned sausage which we ate in the park at the bottom of the hill. When our friends caught up to us, we wandered past the couple blowing enormous bubbles, and west into the Czech Senate.

25We consulted a map and wandered a bit before finding the doorway to their courtyard to find the peculiar dark wall we’d seen from the Castle above – a dark wall that seemed related to the bizarre potting shed we’d seen in Peacock Paradise the previous day. The first part of the curious wall is an astonishing aviary holding 9 owls. The sculpted wall then ran on for a great distance – part nouveau fever dream and part concrete folly.

26Clearly related the garden shed, but just as bizarre. I look forward to learning more when I have a moment to do the research.

26bWhile our friends (and the handsome German Goth couple that had been mirroring our touristy viewings through the afternoon) ate their lunch on the benches, Venetia and I did a little yoga on the well-manicured lawn. Until the guard shooed us off, of course.

27Afterwards, our party split up again, with our friends going to the “Meat Factory”, a modern “art” gallery/museum, and us going home via a gorgeous woolen shop and the Tesco. I cooked up dinner in the form of a beet, carrot and mushroom sauce over the last of the gluten-free pasta we’d brought from Austria. Fortunately friends were timely, and dinner was served at 7 – in part that Henni and Wiebke could head out to a Czech punk club thereafter. While they gallivanting about, Venetia and I greatly enjoyed our visit with the Leftons left behind. And when I saw the message from a bellydancer we’d met months back (when she joined our friends from Winnipeg in Rachel Brice’s masters class) and who is moving to Portland and seeking a place to land, I mentioned it to Venetia as she’s continued packing in the other room. Imagine our surprise when Talia asked if it was her friend from Mass Arts. It was.

An aside amid the discursions: I have to wonder at the sheer bloodymindedness of the foreigners who cannot seem to call Praha by its name. It’s not rocket science after all, so why Prag, Praga, and Prague? Ah well, humans will be humans I suppose…. Though the corporate spelling of “Segway” (instead of Segue) is a mercy in Prague (which is overrun with them as a tourist conveyances), lest all pronunciation enter a black hole from which there is no return….

Leaving Prague, we were up at 8am, a speedy breakfast, some final raiding of the kitchen, and quick goodbyes followed. Talia stirred and got hugged even as Wiebke slept through some mighty alarms, but Henni (also out until 1am) and Jacob rose and helped us out. The first two will be off to Vienna while Jacob and Henni get a ride back to Berlin. We took a cab to the airport, and found it worth every penny. What a relief not to be schlepping bags from street to subway to rail to bus to airport!

We were first in line at the Brussels Air kiosk, and our two hour wait went speedily. The trip to Brussels as a short hop, and the layover seemed scarce a blink as we transferred to Iceland Air. Whereas sharing films wasn’t really possible en route to Europe, I chose the modern silent film ‘The Artist’ this time around and found we could both enjoy it (though only one of us got the musical soundtrack at a time). After our brief stopover for customs (and sushi) at Keflavik, Venetia followed the silent movie theme with ‘Singin’ in the Rain’. And while I could not hear it, there was no shortage of goodness in it – from the period pastiches in Technicolor France, to Cyd Charisse’s turn in green (Starstruck’s Verloona come to cinematic life). Glorious. The views over the Atlantic were nothing but clouds, so as Venetia enjoys the X-Men on film, I’m typing this final dispatch of our trip to Europe. What a long remarkable trip it has been!

Addendum: Upon arriving in DC we discovered that Iceland Air had lost our bags. This turned out to be a bit of a blessing (especially as our bags were returned a few days later) because we were in DC for a wedding and therefore spent the afternoon before the wedding running about visiting friends and stores assembling items that were wedding appropriate. I borrowed a suit from Mark Barker which fit admirably, was gifted a colorful shirt from my dear friend Helen, and Venetia bought stripped heels that were an absolute hit at the wedding. We were thrilled to see my beloved friend Della marry Kevin and while we don’t know the groom well, we got to know his family at the reception and they were so absolutely splendid that we believe the groom must be a quality person himself.

28Center pictures from Kevin Donnell

We are now safely home in Portland until our next trip to DC in November. And it only took us an additional two weeks to get these blogs up!

Europe 2014 Part 2: Austria (with a wee jaunt to Slovakia)

We woke early the morning of our journey to Austria, took leisurely baths in the giant tub in our apartment and packed. A quick Sunday morning subway ride took us back to the scene of rail bureaucracy, and we got not only our seats, but those of the kind woman across from us. She realized we preferred to sit together and face forward to see the country, and moved to read her book facing backwards. Having experienced some motion-sickness on the first leg of the trip, her kindness was especially appreciated! We had two changes of trains, first at the Hungarian Border and again close to Vienna. And when we arrived at our destination, there was my old friend Kathi and her adorable new car. After many hugs it was only a quick hop to her family farm in Moosbrunn (“Mossy Well”).

1We had a delightful afternoon of relaxation, snacks, walking the adorable golden retriever down country streams, inspecting the many improvements since last I was there, and seeing her family. Brother Philipp has been using the barn for his architectural renovation business: the piles of ancient building parts (from massive doors to abandoned altars) crowd the old car body he’s working on, and the classic Viennese tiles he’s matching and remaking. Given my own father’s workshops and my uncle’s saw mill, I felt thoroughly at home.

We shared a dinner of chili and polenta with the whole clan, including paterfamilias Wolfgang (now 87), mother Monika (now my Facebook friend) and Philipp’s wonderful wife Connie and son Kajetan. Afterwards, goodbyes were said, and Kathi drove us to her marvelous Vienna apartment. Some of it looked the same but many other bits have been radically improved in the decades since last I’d seen them. Fascinating how few people I know who’ve remained in the same home for so long a time….

2The next morning, Kathi led us a few blocks from home to the Westbahnhoff. Much changed since I arrived there unannounced some 26 years ago, it is now part-shopping plaza. Soon it will no longer be the stopping point for all trains from the west; they will instead travel to the Hauptbahnhoff, where travelers will easily be able to transfer to eastern and southern lines. In our case, it was shopping for local foodstuffs (sheep yogurt? Incredible ricotta-like texture that will no doubt make a fine gluten-free ravioli or cheesecake!) then home for our transportation this day was to by car. After a little hanging out we set out to Slovakia by way of Castle Devin.

3While the ruined castle was lovely, we were most astonished by the local sheep who were in full possession of their tails!

4We continued to Bratislava on a picture perfect day. A taste of impeccably festooned Mardi Gras dancers and drummers greeted us as we emerged up from the Carlton car park – hardly the Balkan folk dancing one might have expected!

5Bratislava was as beautiful as we’d heard, but sporting more graffiti that any classical city should. The central cathedral’s green metal tower roof was inlaid with gold and looked up to the castle on the hill (the better to ignore the highway at its base). The statuary, clocks and design were gorgeous and somewhat obscure – sleepy dragons lay near solicitous guardsmen as a starry lunar clock turned slowly in the tower above. There were many charming and surprising statues, one silver fellow startled Venetia not because he moved but because of his failure to do so!

6After some failure to escape the Slovakian countryside, we finally found a road that allowed a western crossing back into Austria and drove home into the glorious setting sun through fields of windmills. We shared buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes before the dinner Kathi made of gluten-free pasta, 2 kinds of mushrooms, truffle oil and pork loin. A little musical conversation (and the inevitable YouTube sharing) followed, before we all collapsed for the evening.

The next morning we headed back to shop, this time for chocolate as we had already devoured our stash. After looking at the supermarket selection we stalked up on both our favorite Lindt orange, as well as new and unexpected flavors: pistachio, chili, and various nuts. Our adventure of the day was off in the Northern reaches of Wein, to Nussdorf, via the Hunderwasser-designed incinerator called “the Golden Plum”.

7We arrived too late to see Connie, but in time to wake young Kajetan from his nap and get a tour of Philipp’s remarkable old house and a few of it’s more extraordinary fixtures.

9The five of us took an evening walk along the Danube and over a glorious bridge across the channel. After taking the requisite reference pictures (there’s a Michael Parkes Painting waiting to happen), we picked up Ice Cream from Kajetan, chips for us, and climbed the back streets up into the rolling vineyards.

8As we hiked, the gorgeous weather gave way to a splendid sunset over the city as it spread out below us to the south. We came down via the grapevine rows and through the graveyard until we reached the walled creek channel.

10We followed that down to a restaurant called 21 dots, where the sushi (and related delicacies) flowed. We chatted with Kathi and Philipp, and tormented Katetan in our sly way, as we enjoyed Spicy Duck Sushi. We opted to avoid the Hello Kitty Roll, no matter how much we admired the notion of devouring her (and the use of beet juice to stain the sushi rice).

11On our second full day in Vienna, we headed into the city proper by way of the subway at the Westbahnhoff. We exited on the other side of the city, and headed southward through the park – documenting textures and vistas as we went. We eventually turned down the grand boulevard, past equestrian statues and memorial fountains to Russian soldiers, past Nouveau building, and a few embassies, to the gate of the Belvedere. After a quick view of the grounds, we bought our tickets and headed into the old palace.

12The usual suspects (Klimt, Schiele, Rodin, Monet et al) were as gorgeous as I remembered from my journey here 26 years ago. But the big surprise was seeing Giovanni Segantini’s ‘The Evil Mothers’ in person. Seeing it life-size and uncropped was a revelation (and really – Such a peculiar painting!), and so were ‘The Senses’ and the enormous court scene painted by Makart.

13bThe Habitrail contraption of flashing lights that purported to be a psych experiment certainly came as a surprise too, as did the funballs with slip covers that lay about the place. It was like something from an old Ken Russell film….

13After looking through the entirety of the palace (and at the views therefrom) we headed further south, toward the new Hauptbahnhoff. From there via tram to St. Marx Cemetery, more for the beauty of the ancient stones than to visit Mozart’s remains (though of course we paid those respects as well). Countless ancient worn and vandalized markers lie everywhere, with vines and trees and sometime fallen stones occluding them. However it was heartening to see the care and work put into restoring the old graveyard, even though it means losing some of the decaying beauty.

14We had energy left for only a few hours in the graveyard before we took our weary feet back to the tram line, and a straightforward trip back to Kathi’s. Thank heavens for simple and effective public transport! After dinner, Kathi took us out to the Ferris Wheel made famous by that old style gangster Harry Lime. The small park beneath has changed a lot since last I was there last, including the ability to have a $500 meal while gracefully spinning on the wheel. A Basilisk-themed toy store, a tall column of swings and a hall of scale-model mirrors were among the other new-to-me attractions. The sun set as we were leaving, casting luscious colors over the gaudy ones already there. Perfect timing.

15And of course we had to exit via the gift shop!

16From there via subway we headed into the heart of the old city at twilight. Old steps, alleys, back ways and, of course, St. Stephens Cathedral – all the more inscrutable and powerful in silhouette. After a quick circuit there, we headed back and fell into a deep sleep.


Europe 2014 Part 1: Budapest

We began this journey as we seem to begin them all: by settling as much hash on the home front as humanly possible. We know too well the avalanche of unattended emails and many tasks unfulfillable from the road that are inevitable….

So we cleaned house and freezer; sent mails, packages and contracts; wrote bios and tidied web sites; cooked up plum coffee cakes, packed up snacks, cleaned out the refrigerator, and attended the neighborhood soirée; did small jobs, finished larger ones, and where overwhelmingly large, left them in as elegant a place as possible. We also had guests and talked long-range planning.

Then finally, after a few hours’ sleep, were driven to the airport by my mom. Though without the battery recharger for the camera. C’est la travail….

A few hours on Alaska Air brought us to LAX, where we waited in the squalid old terminal for the people of Air New Zealand to report for duty (their days start at 1:30 pm). A few last minute phone calls later, it was time to take our bags (small carry-ons only which is what made up all our luggage) up the funny stairs.

Strange how the security kabuki inside the US differs from that when one is bound for the UK. It’s almost as though it’s completely arbitrary. But still, how nice to go through a screening gate more or less unmolested. Even then, I cannot help but be amazed at the vasty variety of commerce on offer and the virtual impossibility of preventing mischief, if someone wanted to create some. And to be appalled at the wastefulness of “security”, whether the emptying of water bottles during a drought clearly visible from the air, or the small “security”-sized liquid containers in their own grocery aisle….

We love Air New Zealand though. Good people, kind service, and a degree of comfort pretty much unheard of in the US. Also? Really good movies. Venetia spent much of our trip to London watching ‘The Other Woman’, ‘Frozen’ and ‘Veronica Mars’. For myself, it was ‘The City of Ember’, the second Hobbit confabulation, and parts of several other films. Strange to see Bill Murray’s ‘Caddyshack’ Carl on one screen and his corpulent Mayor of Ember on the next, and a little sad not to be able to share films with Venetia en route.

But it was not all movie banquet and good gluten-free food. There was also air-sickness, and it hit Venetia hard. When we arrived at Heathrow, we asked for some help, and rode a mad beeping cart through the endless terminal to the bus stop, whereupon the infamous bus ride to Terminal 3 made the rest of our trip seem normal and calm. From there, we made it as far as the next security scan before Venetia collapsed. And rather than assuming it would just be alright if she sat for a while, we asked for the airport paramedic. Even as our request was being processed, an unspeakably handsome Dallas doctor appeared with the anti-emitics Venetia needed so badly. When the paramedic arrived a few minutes later (by snazzy yellow bicycle), Venetia was already recovering admirably. We popped her into a handy wheelchair, got the tickets for this part of our journey from the BA counter and headed for the bus and the ramp. Safely ensconced at last, we were asleep almost the moment we were airborne.

We awoke to see Budapest from the air, and a half hour later our shuttle deposited us at the Hotel Gellert. Venetia was quite taken with our room – upgraded to overlook the Danube. She spent much of her time not sleeping but sitting and writing overlooking the river.

1I thought we’d sleep a dozen hours – from 7 to 7. And we did. However because of our jetlag we enjoyed several glorious sunrises in Budapest, which we usually miss in the states.

2That first morning, after fulsome hotel breakfast, we fell back into a deep sleep, arising only when our last chance to use the Gellert Spa was nearly gone. We hastened downstairs in bathing suits, and sampled every pool and tub we could. It was glorious.

3The next day we rose, ate the hotel breakfast again (this time avoiding most of the curiously unsatisfying fruit and juice), and hastened through the spa and up the promontory across the street. A steep climb through a very shabbily kept park followed. We encountered a few joggers, and countless overgrown scenic views, bottles and detritus. It reminded me of the bad old days in Central Park…. But the views were lovely where they could be taken.

4Heroic statues, some religious, were on offer, but we hadn’t time for the abandoned fortress atop the hill. Instead we descended to the north and toward the amazing castle complex of museums and culture which ran counter to most everything we’d seen on the hill. Loads of new street and stone works were underway, blocking access to some of the refurbished (and likely new) buildings. As glorious as that area is, it is going to be even more astonishing by years’ end. The museums were closed (it was too early) but the walk and the views were amazing. It was nice to see a different view than most tourists get, all the behind-the-scenes of people waking up and starting work.

5We returned to the Hotel for the end of breakfast, gobbled up more corn flakes, bacon and water, and checked out. After which we wandered to the AirB&B apartment we’d rented in Pest. Or so we would have done had we been provided the correct address. The free wi-fi at the Starbucks allowed communication with our landlords, and after 40 minutes or so we’d walked back much of the distance we’d traveled. We met the landlords briefly, got settled in, and… passed right out. For the rest of the day.

(Though there were some glorious moments of consciousness filled with Julian May’s The Many Colored Land and a very comfortable bathtub.)

6The next day involved a comical journey to the train station. We ‘d tried to make all our travel plans in advance, but had been baffled by the Hungarian Rail system – Why couldn’t we book a trip online? Why would they need to mail us a ticket (for an additional fee)? It just didn’t make sense. Until we spent our hours in the train station of course. Only then did the bureaucratic horror of the thing really start to congeal. Hours of waiting in a curiously undifferentiated tripartite line for our number to be called “111, 703, 410, 704, 705, 412, 411, 112, 706” finally got us to the window of a lovely woman who riffled wrinkled time-tables printed on onion-skin. She messed up the first hand-written and carboned form but finally seemed to get the writing (and the proper stamps, natch) in order before telling us something utterly unintelligible through her teller’s window. When we suggested that we couldn’t hear a word over the racket of her adjacent tellers (one of whom made the Middleman’s Ida look a mere cuddly wannabe), she walked out to the man directing lines past the broken pick-a-number machine, and he in turn told us that our hours of standing in line were all well and good, but while we’d purchased international tickets, we now had to go stand in the Internal ticket line to purchase a ticket to the border itself. Time consuming madness, made all the more curious by the efficiency and excellent of their subway system. Old bureaucracies die hard….

7After our letters of transit were finally secure, we walked through the nearby Embassy Row, around the large 70’s sports arenas, back over the tracks and to the mall, that we might shop at Tesco and find a battery charger. On a day of transit foolishness, we were happy to put something in the Win column. Venetia was very taken by the ironwork she saw in doors and gates and mostly took pictures of those, although there are a few doors she regrets not taking pictures of!

8The next day saw us back on the underground, and moving to the northwest end of the most scenic tram line. Soon we were getting an excellent view of the city’s varied and beautiful architecture (a hotel called the “New York”, Gaudi one moment and Bauhaus the next, Baths and island waterparks). We hopped off when we crossed the Danube again and found ourselves back in Buda. A short walk on the waterfront brought us to the Gellert once more, and a long delightful day of spa pools.

3cSure, we missed the dozen other major spas in town, but victory is victory.  :D

3bThus we spent our last day in Budapest. The humidity of the two cities came as a surprise, but the spas, the architecture, and the bathing lived up to its promise.