Changes

Posted by admin on December 7th, 2016 filed in travel
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It’s been too long since my last post and I don’t know where to begin. Such a break in writing snowballs as each day it becomes harder to sit down and recapture the past.

But here we go.

It’s been a crazy few years. My mom, sister and I survived the remainder of the Germany trip, despite the sudden disappearance of posts. We accepted the invitation from swing dancing friends we met in Florida to visit their hometown, Frankfurt. They took us out on the town, showed us the architecture, the food, the night life and even brough us to a swing dance! The next day, they took us along the Rhine to a town (whose name I’ll have to look up), for wine tasting, a delicious dinner and a lovely stroll along the shops on the waterfront. We spent a couple more days in Germany then flew home safely.

Following the trip, life began to churn itself again.

First a big move, then an extra job. Lots of work, eat, work, sleep, get up, tend to the dog and the chickens, repeat.

Then came the feeling that something was up. Something was about to happen.

I had been working for a while as an assistant instructor at a big swing dance venue and had that sneaky suspicion magnified when friends and family, who don’t normally come dancing, all showed up one night. That night resulted in this beautiful proposal, all of which was planned, rehearsed, designed and built without anyone giving away the surprise!

This was in September of 2013. We eventually set the date for the end of December 2013, giving ourselves about three months to plan the wedding, and all I can say to that is that our moms are awesome. In the end, it was a huge, extended family effort, but the moms were at the center, pulling the whole thing together.

The day of the wedding we had our parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, a niece, a grandma, childhood friends, family friends, college friends, cycling friends, sailing friends and countless dance friends helping with set up, decorations (Oh, the decorations!), lighting, food preparation and dispersal. My sister-in-law made the cake (gluten-free purple velvet!). My aunt arranged the flowers (roses and basil and orchids!). My aunt-in-law donated the dress! A dance friend agreed to MC and DJ (Keith rocks!). My father-in-law performed the ceremony! The friend who introduced us to each other and another friend whose helped us so much along the way witnessed the wedding certificate (Thank you Ed and Evelyn!).

I couldn’t have hoped for a more cheerful, joyful, love-inspiring event. What an exuberant way to kick off a lifetime of love, respect and gratefulness to be in each others’ lives.

Will had made the solar-charged, battery-powered, magnet-operated, light-up LED ring for the engagement (as well as his ring to activate it), and we commissioned a local jeweler to cast one for the wedding.

We wanted a short ceremony and a big dance party, so we asked people to skip the gift and just bring food to share, which was awesome, not to mention self-sustaining! We had an entire table of gluten-free food as well as vegetarian dishes and some good-looking meaty ones. I made myself a plate, but didn’t get more than three bites into it! But when do you get to have a chance to be with that many loved ones at once?

A friend from college couldn’t make it for health reasons, so afterward we joked about a do-over wedding, complete with a do-over bachelorette party, all scaled down for six of us (me and my man, her and her’s, and our mutual friend and her hubby).

I wish I had taken the time to do a do-over celebration with her because she died about a month and a half after the wedding. She was nothing short of a super-woman, but over the years since college, she was in and out of the hospital for a new surgery every couple of weeks. Still, she juggled life as a physics PhD student, an MD student, a volunteer working with kids who faced her condition and an endless source of joy for those of us lucky enough to know her.

It’s tempting to take friends and family for granted, but almost every day I’m reminded, in some way, of how I need them and how they need me. It’s a big, sappy, tenuous bond I’m happy to have.

Now, coming up on our third anniversary, my husband and I are about to sail away on a boat. It’s a dream we’ve both been working toward, even before we met each other. Finding out that we shared the same dream just made the relationship that much more special, and the dream that much easier to attain.

We’ve gone about our departure in a very slow way (not entirely intentionally), which is easier on us and our families. The goodbyes get spread out over a few months, since we’re working our way down the coast and are still close enough for them to visit!

But we hope to be in the Keys by this January, and in the Bahamas shortly after that. I hope to continue posting our adventures (and continuing Batman’s!) here on the blog. But we also started a new blog, for our boat life. The website is sailingthoreauly.com, named for our boat Thoreauly (living as Thoreau might). Even if you don’t like sailing, check it out for the dog pictures. =)


A Dark Knight in the Sunken Gardens

Posted by admin on January 18th, 2015 filed in travel
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Been awhile since my last post, but had a fun day, so starting back up.  Why all the fun?  Batman finally visited the St Pete Sunken Gardens today!  As chaperones, Will and I tagged along, taking pictures of him, the landscaping and the various blooms, birds and bees.

We also saw a LARGE alligator snapping turtle chilling in a pond in the gardens:

Greens grew on its shell and fed most of the tiny fish in the pond. Here’s a pic of the head. The nose is out of the water and just below it is the mouth and beak.

And here’s the nose minus any visibility under the water:

Before leaving, we strolled around again, stopping to sit and enjoy the surroundings. The towering date palms precipitated tiny blossoms as the wind picked up. Trying to catch them as they dropped from forty/fifty feet felt like catching snowflakes as a kid. Probably the closest we’ll get to snow in central Florida. Anyway, the tiny flowers make great hair accessories for Batman.

The gift shop on the way out had some cool stuff, including stout, silicone pint and shot glasses, plus a nice little globe book-end:

So Batman, where to next?


Central Europe for Sexagenarians – Day 16

Posted by admin on July 16th, 2013 filed in batman, photography, travel
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Friday, July 12th, 2013
Freitag, 12. Juli 2013

We took our time getting reading in the morning. Had some instant coffee and what I am going to call camping crepes (gluten-free flour, sugar, eggs, water) with sweetened, steamed apple mash and hazelnut yogurt. We opened up the apartment to enjoy the morning’s fresh mountain air and the gentle clanging of cow bells from an approaching herd. The plan was to visit the Neuschwanstein castle near Füsser, then drive to Stuttgart where we had booked a hotel room near a swing dance.

After packing and cleaning, we returned the key and left the beautiful and quaint Heiterwang am See, running into construction traffic less than thirty seconds outside the edge of town. Thankfully, it cleared up after a few minutes (and was much worse going the other way) and we got to Füsser maybe thirty minutes later.

We parked at the foot of the castle hill, stood in line for half an hour for tickets, then killed time shopping for postcards, snacking in the car, taking photos and walking up to the castle in the time before our scheduled tour. As a teenager, I put together a large puzzle of one of the classic pictures of the Neuschwanstein castle and have wanted to see it in person every since, so today was a bit of a dream come true. The tickets were only 12€ per person and though the tour still wasn’t as cool as was free-roaming inside Albrechtsburg, it was well worth it.

The wiki page for Neuschwanstein gives some background about Ludwig II and the building of the castle. He died (“under mysterious circumstances” while being detained for the depth of his debt) before construction was completed, so I think 2/3 of the castle remains unfinished. Unfortunately, the tour doesn’t include the incomplete rooms. It would be amazing to see those, to see more of the bare bones of the castle, but the completed rooms are, of course, beautiful and fantastic. The bedroom is a flurry of detailed carving. the throne room is a dazzling Byzantine wonder, the kitchen is huge and state-of-the-art for its time (and even competes with some kitchens of today). In its uncompleted form, the castle’s opulence impresses so I can only imagine what the finished work would have been.

Aside from the castle itself, the highlight of our tour was our tour guide. He was slight and androgynous (without the Herr abbreviation on the name tag, I wouldn’t have know his gender) and was also handicapped in some way, but he obviously knew his castle history. What entertained us was his accent and the way in which he seemed to calmly, but barely, hold his patience. Our group was a noisy one, so he would stand stoically, nonspeaking until everyone quieted down, then coolly give his talk about the current room, then go silent and watch all of us return to our chatter before moving on to guide us to the next room. Occasionally he would pause mid-sentence to stare down an errant child or inattentive adult. Laura later described his accent and affectation best as that of an evil mastermind patiently awaiting the use of the tour group for his next experiment.

No pictures were allowed in the castle on the tour, but after we all left the tour guide and main floor, descending one of the tower staircases toward the kitchen, gift shop, cafe and exit, the cameras came out with a vengeance. In the proximity of such a unique castle I think everyone gets a bit of camera fever; you can take the same picture three different times and still feel like you need to get a better photo of that view, even though everyone in your group has taken that same photo and a more professional version is available on a postcard everywhere you turn. It was at least a small consolation that Batman could help set my photos apart. Probably no one in history had taken that particular picture angle with that particular figurine in frame…

After we exited the castle, we walked the path to a wooden-planked foot bridge that spans the adjacent gorge, overlooking several waterfalls and providing a view of the castle not available from the town. The bridge fit two rows of people and was almost completely packed with tourists photographing the castle, the town, the gorge, the mountain, each other, people down by the river, butterflies in the sky, gliders circling above. I joined the chaos, but Mom and Laura (probably prudently) chose to find a less crowded area off the bridge to sit and wait for me and read up on the bridge’s history. When I rejoined them, Mom caught me up on the fact that the bridge was built in Ludwig II’s time – impressive considering that bridge supports hundreds of tourists at a time and thousands over the each day for at least the last century or so.

We took a slightly different route to return to the parking lot, singing songs to enliven the descent, snacked on apples and peanut butter, then departed for Stuttgart.

I drove half the distance, but I was getting tired and on the #7 autobahn, there was the choice between the right lane, doing 60-100 kph, and the left lane doing 150+, with no safe option between. So I stopped at a gas station, we got some coffee & fries then Mom & I swapped so I could pass out in the back seat.

I awoke in Stuttgart, a short distance from our hotel. We took a wrong turn and got a little off course trying to turn around, ending up on an overlook that gave a great view of the city. On the map, several streets appear to intersect, but Stuttgart is built in a valley, so streets wind up and down, tunnel under, fly over, or turn into pedestrian paths but rarely simply intersect. Plus the signage is unclear and inadequate. We found Hotel Pflieger eventually though, claimed our room and freshened up before heading out again in search of a swing dance.

We got a little lost on the way to the dance (again, the highway signs are very poorly laid out), but found the correct neighborhood and parked in a hospital parking garage since all the street parking spaces, and all the spaces that could be made into a parking space, were taken. Since we hadn’t had lunch, we stopped at a German Vietnamese/Chinese/Thai restaurant for dinner, then hunted down the dance, which was on the second story of a four-story Tae Kwan Do building, located at the end of a short alley, behind the front line of the street’s main buildings. (We found the building on a hunch then walked up the stairwell, listening for the source of swing music.)

We had arrived late for the lesson and early for the dance so we went to check on the car and strolled to a nearby cathedral and park where an African festival was in full swing. A maze of vendors covered the church grounds with a live band stage tucked amongst them. The music was great, but had turned into a jam session and wasn’t easily danceable. So we returned to the swing place in time to join the social dance.

We were too shy to ask anyone to dance, so Laura and I practiced our leads on each other and on Mom mostly. One girl asked me to lead her and one guy asked me for a couple of dances which were a blast. The room was not air conditioned and someone had closed the windows, so after several fast dances, we were all too hot to stay much longer. So we thanked Frank – instructor and DJ for the night – and returned to the car.

Of course we got lost on the way back to the hotel, but that’s why we don’t leave home without Laura. Mom and I were completely turned around, but Laura got us back on track and home safely, even without a map. Yay, Laura!


Central Europe for Sexagenarians – Day 15

Posted by admin on July 15th, 2013 filed in batman, photography, travel
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Thursday, July 11th, 2013
Donnerstag, 11. Juli 2013

DAY OF REST!

I slept in, exhausted from the previous day’s drive, but eventually awoke for some coffee and fruit. Mom and Laura had opened the apartment and were enjoying the quiet morning on the porch and in the kitchen. They eventually went out to find a grocery store and returned with some eggs and other goodies for us to have a stouter breakfast.

We spent the morning reading, blogging and practicing our Foxtrot in the apartment’s living room, all to the sound of cowbells softly clanking nearby.

Eventually we headed out, looking to hike to the nearby lake, but ran into several forks in the path and – being unable to read the German signs – were unsure if we were venturing on private property. So we returned to the apartment and drove the car across town, which took less than two minutes. Then we walked around the lake and nearby campgrounds and even waded in the freezing water for a bit (which felt wonderful on the feet!), then returned to the car and drove to the grocery store for a few more dinner ingredients. The store had gluten-free flour, so we bought some, hoping to make bread or pancakes in the morning.

Back at the apartment, Mom cooked veggies for dinner and we watched the first half of a movie, then piled in the car to find some local nightlife. We returned to the restaurant where the guy helped us the previous night, but he was no where to be seen and we weren’t entirely sure the restaurant was actually still open for the day, so we drove to the next town, finding nothing open except the Oil! gas station. We topped off the tank, bought a bottle of Chilean wine, returned home and finished off the movie and the bottle.


Central Europe for Sexagenarians – Day 14

Posted by admin on July 15th, 2013 filed in batman, photography, travel
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Wednesday, July 10th, 2013
Mittwoch, 10. Juli 2013

Happy Birthday to Mom!

We woke up to perfect weather in the beautiful setting of sunny Alps and enjoyed coffee on the picnic table outside. We made breakfast and packed up before Marco (the cabin owner) came to see us off. When he showed up, he had brought Mom a sweet bread loaf with a single lit candle after having noticed her birth date on the rental paperwork. It was a very sweet gesture.

We thanked him and said our goodbyes to him and the neighbors, then headed deeper into the mountains, taking the back roads toward Salzburg. We passed through the Gesäuse National Park shortly after leaving the cabin, and got to see a helicopter towing a tree through the air! (see the gallery pictures below)

The scenery on the drive was beautiful and the weather could hardly have been nicer. But other than that, there’s not much to say about something that’s best experienced in person.

We eventually made it to Salzburg and it took us awhile to find exactly where we were going and where to park, but once we did, it was a short walk to the pedestrian bridge that connects the old downtown to the other side of the river. As with several other bridges in the neighboring countries, the bridge was spotted with love locks, and while walking through town, we saw a store that sells them (and probably engraves them, too).

The bridge was lined with multiple signs, each of which had a quotation in German and the translation in English. All of them were about Salzburg and several were pretty negative: “Salzburg: the town I’m from but wish I weren’t.”, “Worse than Munich.”, “Even a golden cage is a cage”, “If Disneyland isn’t kitsch enough, if Hollywood isn’t shallow enough, if London isn’t rainy enough: come to Salzburg!” Heading into the old town, it didn’t really make sense, but about a block in you can appreciate how they feel. Of all the places we went, old town Salzburg was the most commercialized. Everything was geared toward tourists and expensive and crowded.

We grabbed a bit of food to eat for lunch then walked by Mozart’s birthplace as well as a few of the town squares before deciding we had had enough. It’s a beautiful town, but the new town parts are probably much more realistic, interesting and fun.

Before leaving, we stopped at a Billa grocery store in the ground floor of one of the buildings of old town to satisfy an ice cream craving. The store had a very weird, cave-like layout, but we finally found the frozen goods and bought a box of mini ice cream bars. Walking back across the foot bridge, we were given some free Coke Zero samples to go with our frozen treats. So much sweetness!

We stopped by one more building where Mozart had lived, then gave our remaining ice cream to someone sitting on the bridge, returned to the car and left town.

We crossed into, then back out of Germany en route to our next residence in the Alps, and were eventually waylaid by construction which rerouted us through a town full of construction. Hungry and a little tired, we parked the car and walked around until we found a restaurant that looked decent. It turned out to have good food (I had some red lentil curry and Mom and Laura split a pizza-like dish), but charged almost 7 euro for a large bottle of water. ‘Twas a little steep. We enjoyed eating outside though and got to meet a very interesting man who was riding around on a bicycle with his dog: back paws balanced on the frame, front paws on the handle bars. He stopped to talk with us for awhile, sharing his experiences of living and wind surfing in Hawaii, growing up in Poland, meeting his dog in Greece, playing in a band locally. He was an interesting character to say the least. I think he was trying to invite us to dinner, but it wasn’t totally clear. And we were in the middle of eating dinner, so….

After finishing and paying the bill we returned to the car and got back on the road, landing in Heiterwang a little after 9pm. It took us about half an hour to locate our reserved residence in a town of less than 600 people. We had booked an apartment, but the online information had a generic address (there appeared to be 4+ streets of the same name scattered across the town) and after stopping a few times to ask for help, Mom and Laura found a man in a restaurant who was willing to help them look up and call the apartment company. He didn’t recognize the name from our reservation, but as soon as he talked to them on the phone, he knew who we were looking for and where we needed to go.

Despite all the trouble in finding the place, the apartment was beautiful and a welcome destination from a long, but fun day. Hopefully a wonderful and memorable one for Mom!


Central Europe for Sexagenarians – Day 13

Posted by admin on July 15th, 2013 filed in batman, photography, travel
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Tuesday, July 9th, 2013
Kedd, július 9, 2013 (again, according to Google Translate)

Though we were sad to leave the Budapest apartment, we had planned to stay in the Alps and were eager to get there. We awoke early enough to move the car then went to check out the market I missed seeing the day before, stopping to get another picture of the Paris, Texas Cafe on the way.

The market is a huge indoor area filled with stalls vending fruits and vegetables, meats, cheeses and myriad handicrafts. We bought some apples for the trip then Mom and Laura made one last trip to the grocery store to pick up a few final items while I perused the souvenirs.

We met back at the apartment, packed the car and waited for Gino to meet us for our checkout. He was running a bit late, but we got out of town before noon and were on our way to Austria, again driving through lovely fields of sunflowers and windmills (not turning for some reason).

Construction at our exit to leave the autobahn side-tracked us to an outlet mall where we decided to stop for lunch. We ate at “Sweet & Meats” where we were professionally ignored by a really surly waitress. The food was tasty though, so it wasn’t a total bust.

We continued into the Alps, passing through about 20 tunnels by the end of our trip, which brought us to a little ski resort area just outside Vordernburg. We weren’t sure we had the right place, but the neighbors were very kind and offered to call the owner, who showed up a short while later.

He drove up in a nice SUV, and looked like a pretty laid back, young guy, dressed in an old t-shirt. When he got out on the driver’s side and walked around the car to greet us, we saw that his t-shirt was almost all that he was wearing. Besides a pair of sneakers and his Speedo, the t-shirt was it. He was a very welcoming, animated guy, so Laura and I were trying to focus on his kind nature rather than his bare legs (they go all the way up, in case you were wondering). But he opened up the house for us and showed us how to get to the nearby lake and answered all our questions about the area and how to work the cappuccino machine included in the cabin. He turned out to be a wonderful, very helpful host so our culture shock gradually wore off.

We took a moment to explore the cabin: it had 1 1/2 baths, four rooms (each of which had beds for two people), an upstairs common area with a fold up twin bed and a crib, a downstairs dining area with a large L-shaped bench seat and a full kitchen. And did I mention the cappuccino machine? =D

After he left, we changed clothes and hiked toward the lake. There had been the constant sound of bells in the distance, and I assumed it was some kind of wind chime, but as we rounded a corner, there was a herd on cattle grazing on the hillside just above us. The bells were cow bells!

The herd stared at Laura for awhile then continued with their dinner. We walked on, stopping to take pictures of Batman with local slugs, of the fields of wildflowers and of the little lake. The skies had been thundering and threatening rain, so rather than trek down to the lake we returned to the cabin, fixed dinner, opened our Hungarian rosé and watched “Young at Heart”, an awesome documentary about a choir of seniors who perform rock songs, and “Reign Over Me” with Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle before heading to bed.


Central Europe for Sexagenarians – Day 12

Posted by admin on July 14th, 2013 filed in batman, photography, travel
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Monday, July 8th, 2013
Hétfő, július 8, 2013 (according to Google Translate)

We booked the apartment in Budapest for two nights, giving us one full day in the city. Back when the idea of side-trekking into Hungary began to form, it was originally intended to involve a day of rest. We had looked at some of the small hot springs towns on the Austrian-Hungarian border and had considered just taking a day to relax, soak and let our walking/biking/driving muscles unwind. But with Budapest so close, we gave into the temptation to go there. It’s a big, interesting city with lots to do, so the Day of Rest didn’t quite pan out as expected…

The one thing we didn’t like about the apartment we booked is that parking wasn’t included. Street parking is free between 8pm and 8am, but after that it gets a little expensive – around 20€ and up per day. So we intended to get up early to move our car off the street, but overslept the alarm. Laura awoke 15 min before 8 and immediately woke us up to throw on some clothes and go move the car. We ended up leaving it at a gas station that was using its every square inch of free space to draw in extra revenue through paid parking. They directed us to drive half the car up on the curb between a pillar and a van and park it there. We returned to the apartment and I fell back asleep while Mom and Laura worked on the computer. I awoke a couple hours later and decided to take the day off from sightseeing, so after fixing some breakfast, Mom and Laura went out to explore the town while I worked on the blog.

They returned several hours later, slightly overexposed, but having seen some wonderful things, including a market they wanted to show me. Laura agreed to take me to the market while Mom stayed in, but unfortunately, the market had closed for the day by the time we got there. So we crossed the river and walked up to the Victory statue on a hill, finding a fig tree, a cool hotel and some guys doing pullups beneath a cross along the way. There is an old cave church in the hill, but we weren’t sure we’d have time to fully tour it, so we just walked around the outside before heading back toward the apartment in search of an appealing restaurant for dinner.

Though we didn’t find anywhere we particularly wanted to eat, we eventually noticed there was a grocery store a block from our apartment, so we bought cheese, veggies and a bottle of rosé Merlot to take back to Mom for dinner. We fixed eggs, a salad and mashed potatoes for dinner but decided to turn in early and save the wine for another night.


Central Europe for Sexagenarians – Day 11

Posted by admin on July 14th, 2013 filed in batman, bicycles, photography, travel
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Sunday, July 7th, 2013
Sonntag, 7. Juli 2013

After staying up late last night with wine, tequila, Matthew Perry and Zac Efron, Laura and I slept in as long as possible. Check out was at 10AM, so we were up around 9:15, trying to get in gear. Thankfully Mom arose early and was kind enough to sneak us some coffee from the not-free-and-mostly-bread-anyway breakfast buffet. She even fixed us an omelet in the hostel kitchen while we stayed in the room showering, prepping and packing.

After checking out and loading up the car, we went in search of bikes. In the last post, I mentioned Vienna’s wonderful – mostly free – bike program (citybikewien.at) which we intended to make use of for our remaining hours in Vienna. The problem with mostly free bikes is that sometimes it’s hard to get them.  You can reserve one in advance, but we didn’t get around to that and the two rental stations each had one bike on hold for someone else. So we started walking toward our morning’s destination, knowing we’d pass other bike stations on the way.

Our walk to the Hapsburgs’ palace (the summer one, not the winter one) took us to the “other side of the tracks” of Vienna, literally and euphemistically. We finally arrived at the palace amidst a jumble of multinational tour buses and a few firetrucks and emergency vehicles as well (though we never found out why they were there).

Bypassing the palace entrance, cafe and carriage museum, our resident tour guide (Laura) headed straight for the gardens. I expected some well-manicured lawns, maybe with geraniums, morning glories and a fountain or two, but what we encountered was mind-boggling. My first thought, when I realized the extent of the palace grounds, was “This is ridiculous. Bleeping ridiculous.”

The palace is huge, as palaces tend to be, but it is DWARFED by the gardens. Here’s a link to a rough map of the palace and gardens, but it doesn’t do justice to the impact you feel when you realize just how big the grounds are. So many conflicting thoughts arise. “Wow, this is amazing/enchanting/wasteful/obscenely extravagant/a masterpiece!” You can’t help but imagine what it would have been like to grow up as a child (regal, noble or common) or to work or reside there. It’s crazy.

We tried to find the labyrinth, but (ironically?) couldn’t figure out how to get to it. We did, however, get to hear someone within the labyrinth playing “Happy Birthday” on a glockenspiel-type instrument. They were figuring it out, but couldn’t land the last note of the first phrase. It was driving us nuts, so it’s probably better that we didn’t find the maze entrance until later. Instead, we wandered around, passing the Neptune fountain and the fake Roman ruins, then we hiked up the hill to the Gloriette for an overlook of Vienna.

After that we decided we had had enough of the opulence and went to check out some bikes which we rode back to the hostel for a snack of peanut butter and stuffed grape leaves. Vienna has numerous roads with bike lanes, but thankfully the drivers are pretty courteous even when cyclists have to ride in the road. We headed downtown, passing by an area blocked off to vehicular traffic, where we stopped to watch a pack of bicycle racers round the corner at full speed. The support vehicles that followed were pretty cool, too. We cheered them on as the cyclists came around again on another lap, then picked our way through the road blocks heading for the canal and Danube. Descending into the canal area, we passed some beautiful, very colorful graffiti and several trees with colorful, comical, knitted/crocheted trunk warmers.

Exiting the canal we came to Prater park, the long park that parallels the Danube (and was the site of the World Expo in 1873). The park has a long, wide pedestrian & bike road with several adjacent attractions including a ferris wheel (from the late 1800s), a skate park, a BMX track and a children’s train.

We eventually made our way to the Danube (which was still moving very quickly, probably from the heavy June rains) and enjoyed a quick ride along its side before returning our bikes to the nearby U-bahn station and taking the train back to the hostel. After a quick bathroom and coffee break, we saddled up and drove out of town, stopping shortly for gas, fries and our Hungarian vignette.

The Hungarian plains are beautiful. Small rolling hills covered in fields, patched with large crops of sunflowers, faces all turned the same way. There were several giant windmill farms and we drove through a couple of storms. Though it wasn’t a long drive to Budapest, the radio stations got monotonous so we turned off the radio, Mom told us a little of the city’s history and we made up some songs to pass time and keep me awake. A favorite was a modified yodeling song she used to teach to her music students. It’s about an Austrian who’s yodeling in the mountains so high but keeps getting interrupted by various things. In the normal song, I think it’s by an avalanche, a Guernsey cow, a St Bernard, and a pretty girl. In our version – altered to match our surroundings – it was a Hungarian in a valley so wide and he encountered a yak, Spiderman, a radar gun, a rain storm, an alien and one or two other things.

When we finally made it to Budapest, thanks to our great navigator it was relatively easy to find the correct neighborhood, though traffic was a little crazy. We found the street for the apartment office, and found parking a few blocks after. The apartment looked very nice online, but we had to nervously laugh when the office was next door to a brightly, neon-lit sex shop. Gino, the owner, turned out to be wonderful though. He was very helpful and the apartment was beautiful, cozy and fully furnished (down to spices and coffee in the cabinets). We settled and cleaned up, then walked around the corner to a restaurant with some great live music. The waiters were cute and entertaining, the atmosphere was relaxing, and best of all, the food was amazing, leaving us very thankful we had made the side-track to Budapest.

 


Central Europe for Sexagenarians – Day 10

Posted by admin on July 11th, 2013 filed in batman, language, photography, travel
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Saturday, July 6th, 2013
Samstag, 6. Juli 2013

We awoke in the hostel around 9 and headed down for the 5€ breakfast. Unfortunately, it was mostly bread so I opted out and went to fix eggs and potatoes in the hostel kitchen. Mom and Laura are affected by wheat – though much less so than I – but most of the fresh breads here seem to affect them less than those in the U.S. (Before we left the States, my boyfriend brought it to my attention that the E.U. doesn’t allow the import or sale of genetically-modified foods, so maybe their reduced reaction is due to that?) Anyway, they were kind enough to sneak a cup of coffee for me from the breakfast buffet.

We then set out for the Ringstraße, which is the area downtown that encompasses several significant buildings, including the museum quarter, city hall, the parliament building and a large cathedral. Our hostel, The Red Carpet Inn, is located on Bürgerspitalgasse (pronounced… Burger-spittle-gassah?), about two blocks off Mariahilfer Straße which leads directly into downtown.

Once downtown, we walked around the Museum Quarter, dodging period-dressed Mozart-concert-pushers and admiring the Tai Chi approach that older Asian male tourists apply in their picture taking. We continued on toward Volksgarten park, stopping to admire some ducklings and photograph each other in the pretty settings. We passed the Parliament building and the Burgtheater before reaching City Hall. There was a film festival going on, so the front of City Hall was blocked by bleachers and a huge projector screen and several vendors were set up in the plaza, including a small three-wheeled gull-winged-door van serving coffee beverages!

Leaving City Hall, we moved toward the Votivkirche, but passed a large tour bus en route. It looked like most of the passengers were young seniors, but what warranted a double-take was the attached trailer packed with 20+ ebikes, charging stations and everything. It was very cool!

After side-tracking to use the bathroom and order a coffee in a nearby McDonalds, we returned to tour the Votivkirche and the adjacent Sigmund Freud Park (complete with red lawn chairs). We also noticed a station for rental bikes and consulted the touchscreen terminal for more information. The company is City Bike (this link has an English option in the upper left area if you don’t read German) and there is a one-time 1€ charge for registration which is then credited toward a bike rental. Every first hour is free, then the price goes up for consecutive hours (1€ for the 2nd hour, 2€ for the 3rd, 4€ for the 4th and so on). If you use a bike for an hour, take a 15 min break, then check it out again you get it free for another hour.  It’s an awesome idea, and they have enough rental stations throughout the city to make it a feasible, relatively reliable substitute for other forms of public or private transportation. (To see the station map, click on “Stations” on the left-side menu then “Station map”. They provide the interactive map available at the rental station terminals as well as a downloadable map for personal reference.)

After much debate, we decided to save the bike rentals for the following day and instead continued our Vienna walking tour. We came upon an Italian Catholic church (Laura waited outside while Mom and I toured it), then we walked to Michaelerplatz, stopping to watch a couple of penny-farthing cyclists (see gallery below) and the line of horse-drawn carriages, called “fiacres” in English and “Fiakers” in German. (On a slight tangent, a “Fiakerunfall”, according to Google Translate, refers to a horse-drawn carriage accident, which, in the tradition of many other German compound nouns, makes me giggle.)

We toured the Michaelerkirche and stood in awe of the alabaster altar sculpture, then found two other churches to view before realizing we were getting tired. Heading home along Mariahilfer Straße, we passed an odd parade with some great drum music and dancers balancing bottles on their heads.

Walking all morning and afternoon readied us for a long nap, but that evening Laura and I wanted to go dancing. Laura found a listing for a disco/funk dance club several metro stops away, but they charged a 10€ entrance fee, so we elected to stay close, and wandered out along Mariahilfer Straße and its side streets. Lamentably, we could only find a handful of bars, restaurants and bistros, and none of them involved dancing. Only a couple of places were even playing music and in all of the establishments, the patrons were seated and conversing. So civilized, so foreign…

We even walked to the Museum Quarter and found whole courtyards filled with 20- to 30-year-olds, all sitting and talking. No music, no dancing. A city internationally and historically known for its contributions to the world of music with nothing to dance to on a Saturday night. Odd, but maybe we were just on the wrong side of town. Anyway, we gave up, walked back to the hostel, opened a bottle of wine, watched “17 Again” and topped the night off with a shot of cheap tequila (from the hostel bar) instead. Take that, Wien!


Central Europe for Sexagenarians – Day 9

Posted by admin on July 8th, 2013 filed in batman, bicycles, photography, travel
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Friday, July 5th, 2013
Pátek 5. červenec, 2013 (approximate Google translation)

We had spent three nights in Prague in a comfortable apartment, so leaving was hard. But we packed up early and were out before 10. Martin was a wonderful host and helped me retrieve the car from the tiny parking lot with it’s narrow dual-door entrance. Can’t recommend his apartments enough!

He informed me that it was a national holiday – which explained the nearly empty streets. On the way to get the car, a big pack of mountain bikers passed us, climbing up to the park, but that was the most traffic we saw.

Laura navigated us out of the city and set us on a course toward Hrad Karlštejn, the city with a castle of the same name. One route took us to a closed road, so we had to back track but eventually found our way there.

The town is composed of a few streets lined on either side with a single layer of buildings (homes and shops) that meander up a few narrow valleys before arriving at the castle grounds. A ticket for a self-guided tour is offered for about $2 per person, but we think it’s only for the external grounds – not anything inside the castle, so we bought the short tour which got us into the first building, but not the second (the taller tower).

While waiting for the tour to start, we viewed the Well Tower – the first part of the castle built. I’ve included a picture of what the inside of the well looks like, but the picture just looks like my hand in front of a grate with a pinhole of light in the center. In real life, it’s daunting. The sign above the well states that it’s 78 meters deep, but I guess that’s what happens when you build on a mountainside.

While waiting for the tour, we also saw a really cute Boston-mix puppy. After taking several pictures from afar, I walked up and asked if I could take a picture and though the girl tried to get the dog to face the camera and pose respectably, all the dog could do was seek her attention and scratch an itch. All very cute. =)

No pictures were permitted on the tour (inside the castle buildings) and each room is locked between tours (guide unlocks door, tourists pass through, guide locks door and moves on to unlock next). Again, after Albrechtsburg, this was a very restricted tour and not nearly as informative. There is no written/posted information; only that which the guide imparts.

After the tour, we descended back into town and stopped for lunch (sausage for Mom and Laura, fries and coffee for me!) then walked back to the car, passing several mountain bikers (soloists, groups and obvious families making their way up). The whole area appears to have numerous bike trails and would make a very cool bike trip, itself.

We drove on to the highlight of the day: Český Krumlov! – a world heritage site, bohemian, medieval and VERY active.

The town is built into the bend of the river Vltava and the castle, as usual, takes the high ground. Driving into town, we saw lots of rafters, kayakers and canoers in the river, and upon leaving the town later, we saw a riverside campground PACKED with tents, so it appears to be a neat destination for outdoor adventures.

We found parking down by the river at the foot of the town and castle hill, and, more importantly, found that the parking lot offered FREE BATHROOMS! We checked out the gate house, then walked up toward the castle courtyard (passing a Renault vehicle named “Trafic” on the way). Just before the courtyard, we saw two women with three French bulldogs (we ran into the five-some several times along our tour and I took pictures of the dogs each time – I think the ladies may have been getting annoyed with me by the end of our stay). There was also a bridge crossing a bear pit. It’s an odd choice for a moat, but effective, nonetheless.

We didn’t go into the castle, but walked all around the grounds and gardens, taking tons of pictures along the way (again, Mom and Laura were very patient with me). I even got pictures of some kids sticking their face in a cannon (Corey can appreciate that. They were figuring it out.) There was a neat underground exhibit that we peeked into but didn’t tour, a cute bridge, several beautiful look-out points (from which we saw a guy in a Speedo dragging himself behind his canoe), a looooooong covered walkway connecting the bedrooms directly to the gardens. And ooooh, the gardens – they are cool.

They extend quite a ways back in a long rectangle southwest of the castle area, ending in a square lake. We were too tired to go all the way back, so we hung out in the manicured area with the hedges and fountains, just before the big revolving theater. We snacked and took some pictures of each other and with Batman, then began our return to the castle, passing some deliciously fragrant, multicolored honeysuckle (covered in BIG bumble bees) on the way.

From the castle, we crossed a little wooden bridge where two guys playing a guitar and a clarinet performed several great swingable tunes. Mom agreed to do a little triple stepping with me, which I really enjoyed. =D

In town, I stopped to buy postcards and stamps, and while I filled them out to be mailed, Mom and Laura grabbed some ice cream, then we returned to the castle and eventually the car – after stopping at the free restrooms once again.

Then it was on to Vienna through the VERY narrow, VERY windy roads leading toward the border.

We blew the rest of our koruna (Czech currency) at a gas station near the border, then stopped on the other side to buy a vignette for Austrian highways (…and to use the bathroom – gotta use the free ones whenever you can!)

It was obvious we had crossed the border when the lanes widened and the two-lane road suddenly had markings on it (in the CR there was no middle stripe – dotted or solid – and in the mountains with cars coming at you on a narrow, shoulderless road, it’s amazing how much a little visual guide eases the mind. Also, the Czech Republic is purported to be very strict about their speed limits, but Austria is a little more lenient, so once we hit the Autobahn, I finally got the car up to 160kph. My guy friends who regularly drive over 100mph will laugh at that, but it was a benchmark for me! =D

On the way to Vienna, we hit rain and the storm clouds brought the darkness sooner than I would have liked, which all made the Autobahn much less fun, but we eventually arrived in Vienna and Laura and Mom checked into the hostel – the Red Carpet Inn – while I snoozed and kept the car running in a no parking zone (it had been a very long day). Luckily, Mom & Laura found out that street parking is free during the weekend, so we parked in the first spot we found, then hauled everything up to our room.

I was ready to sleep, but still hungry – we hadn’t eaten in a while. Luckily, the front desk guys knew of a 24hr convenience market in the nearby underground station. We found it, bought some potatoes, zucchini and eggs and returned to the hostel. I passed out, but Mom was kind enough to cook me some food in the hostel’s kitchen and bring it up to me to eat before passing out again. Thanks Ma. =)

 


Central Europe for Sexagenarians – Day 8

Posted by admin on July 8th, 2013 filed in batman, photography, travel
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Thursday, July 4th, 2013
Čtvrtek 4. červenec, 2013 (approximate Google translation)

We went straight for the TV tower the next day, passing a neat church on the way (first photo of the gallery below). The second most obvious thing (other than the tower itself) is the herd of bronze babies crawling all over it. These are another of David Černý’s creations, and pretty entertaining. After wandering around for a bit to see the nearby Jewish cemetery, we caught the metro back toward downtown to connect with a tram up to the castle (before our 24hr transportation passes ran out) to view the rest of what our tickets would allow: the Old Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica, and the Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower.

The Old Royal Palace had a beautiful hall, and at one point housed the land records. I’ll get the details mixed up, but the palace/castle complex caught fire several times over the centuries (a plot theme that is more common to palaces across Europe than I had expected) and during one of these fires, most of the land records were destroyed. They were the documents used to settle all of the land disputes in the region, so it must have been a chaotic era for quite awhile after the fire died. The palace also included the room with the window from which Prague’s second historical defenestration occurred.

The basilica was beautiful and had a neat underground section (probably previously the crypt, excavated and re-purposed), and the Daliborka Tower had an extensive exhibit of armor and weapons, mostly from the 14-1600s, with some dating back much further. The lighting was horrible in the exhibit – both for picture-taking and picture-viewing on a camera screen, so less than five of the tons of pictures that I took turned out ok. The armor collection was pretty neat though. They had probably 50 complete suits of armor and over 100 different helmets (one of which looks like a luchador mask) as well as tons of spears, maces, knives, swords and guns. It would be heaven for a certain high school friend of mine (you know who you are).

The Golden Lane of the castle complex was a makeshift neighborhood of apartments built into the arches of a castle wall. The arch homes were originally for the castle guards, I think, but several of them ended up selling the spaces. At one time, Kafka lived in #22, which belonged to his sister. Mom read that after WWII, people started squatting in the apartments, and eventually everyone was kicked out, the apartments were nationalized, and now they house exhibits or souvenir shops. They look tiny (Google “Prague Golden Lane images”, but several had cellars and/or attics, which makes the square footage bigger than the efficiency I recently moved out of…

We left the complex (passing the sunglassed guards again) through the east gate and took a path parallel to the staircase, leading through a tiny vineyard on the hillside. We passed a little pond (with a single waterlily), surrounded by lavender busy with bees and a TINY hummingbird. Look at the pictures of lavender in the gallery below and see if you can spot the hummingbird.

We also spotted a weird wall down in the town. We weren’t able to find it on our walk, but I found out later (online) that it’s the Dripstone Wall and it’s tucked into one of the gardens at the foot of the castle hill.  Continuing our descent, we saw a hot air balloon ride and Mom and Laura were very patient in waiting for me while I played around with the camera, taking pictures of the balloon and the view, in general.

We went in search of another church & square, found them, but then needed to pee, so we stopped at a McDonald’s. They had pay toilets, but would put the cost of using the toilet toward any purchase. We weren’t able to decode the menu above the cashiers, but were able to purchase some fries at the regular counter, then an espresso at the McCafe counter. After sitting down, we spotted the regular menu (posted around the corner of a pillar, facing a side wall, not at all visible to those walking in – only to those headed to the back porch & designated smoking area). From the regular menu, we learned that you can order an espresso from the main counter at about 2/3 the cost of the same espresso at the McCafe counter. This is true of the other coffees they offer. Just FYI.

We left McDonald’s but decided we were still hungry, so stopped at a restaurant alongside the church and eventually ordered from a bored, disgruntled waitress. But the food was good even if the service was bad, and we got to spend our lunch sitting near a gold Porsche (see gallery below). Watching people interact with a parked, unmonitored golden Porsche is pretty entertaining.

At our sister/daughter-in-law’s behest, we were to visit the church of the infant baby Jesus. Erin stated it was one of her “non-negotiables” for her trip to Prague with my brother. The whole thing is a bit of a joke to us, so those of you who may be offended may want to skip the next paragraph and instead read some history of the statue and about what it means to others.

We entered the church quietly, but Mom was the only one of us who could take a respectful picture with the infant Jesus (see gallery below). I tried to take closeups of him, but he wouldn’t hold still, so we continued on to the museum which holds about 10-12 of the statue’s outfits (and three sets of lace undergarments) on displayed. I was trying to be mindful of my settings, so didn’t take any pictures of the vestments, but suffice it to say they are very ornate and very expensive. Most of them have been donated over the centuries by wealthy, prominent families or by various countries or churches. There are multiple resources online for purchasing pre-made vestments, purchasing a vesment sewing pattern, or creating your own vestments for personal copies of the infant baby Jesus statue, and oward the bottom of the page of this “Prague Wiki” link they decoded the infant Jesus’ dress code. A postcard we purchased from the church gift shop for Erin stated that the infant Jesus wears green on weekdays and this Prague Wiki page seems to support that. We had trouble exiting the church – the interior is being renovated – so we ended up a hall with exhibits on the church’s current missions, so we donated to that in an attempt to balance our Karma, then left the church to cross the Charles Bridge. For Laura and I, this has been our second encounter with an internationally famous tiny Jesus.

[On a side note, if you know about Laura & Corey’s 3D Jesus game, you can imagine the jackpot posed by the souvenir shops around the infant Jesus church. Laura is much better at this game than I am (though she has a half-decade of practice on me), so after visiting that street she was ahead of me by several hundred points.]

We started across the Charles Bridge, then took the stairs down to the river to see where Laura stayed when they first arrived in Prague. She showed us a cute island park and a sample of the TV tower babies available to public interaction. We walked past the river cruise boats and saw the hot air balloon ride again, stopping to take some pictures with Batman.

Returning to the Charles bridge, we realized we all needed to pee again, and since the McDonald’s was only about a block back (we had done lots of meandering for sights, but hadn’t made much linear distance), we returned for a pee break and more coffee, enjoying our drinks on the back patio (see gallery picture of Laura playing with Mom’s hair).

Eventually we returned to the bridge (lined with kiosks of souvenir jewelry, photographs, paintings and caricature artists as well as some amazing sculptures original to the bridge) and happened upon a neat, very talented little band playing a Czech-accented version of A Wonderful World. The band included a banjo player, an upright bassist (well, at least a person playing an upright bass), a trumpet player, a clarinet player and a lead singer playing the washboard. The trumpet and clarinet players stationed on either end of the group had the second duty to hold up CDs for sale when they weren’t actively making music. They traded back and forth on this job seamlessly throughout the song, which became a bit comical. We listened, without dancing (where is my Will?!), then tipped them before moving on. But I wish we had bought a CD – they had a neat sound.

We wandered around a bit more – heading back to the Týn church, in hopes of taking a quick tour, but we had missed closing by about an hour. (oops) We also looked into going to a concert, but found them to be tourist-priced. So instead, we stopped at a grocery store near the train station and caught a tram back to the apartment where we took it easy the rest of the night (and spent several hours on blogging).


Central Europe for Sexagenarians – Day 7

Posted by admin on July 8th, 2013 filed in batman, photography, travel
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Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013
Středa 3. července 2013 (approximate Google translation)

I’m running way behind on the blog (sharing one computer between three people is surprisingly challenging!), so this is written from memory after a week of whirlwind travel.

What I remember best is that I like Prague. Take a moment to look at a birdseye view of Prague. Google map “Prag 1” or “Prag 1, Tschechische Republik” and look at the  ‎jumble that is downtown/oldtown Prague.

It a convoluted maze of 4-6 story buildings (high enough to block landmarks, but not high enough to be landmarks) crowded along winding streets with foreign names that can change within a block or jump down a block, without discernible reason.

Travel sites warn you about pickpockets, but otherwise it feels moderately safe. The biggest threat is getting lost and not being able to correctly pronounce your hotel or street name. And that was our greatest fear. Laura, the incomparable navigator, lived here for several months and SHE wouldn’t leave the room without a map, so Mom and I stuck to her almost our entire time in Prague. At several points, she would just have to take us by the arm and guide us along because we were either in awe of the chaos of buildings and architecture or busy snapping photos.

So we set out Wednesday morning, intending to see the big castle – Pražský hrad (the Czech Wiki page has better pictures) – but got side-tracked looking for an ATM. I forgot/didn’t bring my camera for the first half of the day, so will have to steal photos off Mom’s camera when it’s available. But Laura took us by the Tančící dům, aka “Fred & Ginger” and by a convent and several sculptures and parks and the old New Town Hall, the site of Prague’s first historical defenestration. Eventually we found an ATM in one of the underground stations, bought 24 hour public transportation passes and caught a tram up to the castle. As with Germany, you have to validate your public transportation tickets in the yellow machines on the tram (semi-honor system though Laura had been subject to random ticket checks when she lived there).

Walking up to the castle we passed several beautiful look-out spots and an exhibit of birds of prey of Prague. A lady had several owls, hawks, eagles, etc. out for viewing and one for touching/photographing with. The gate to the palace is guarded by two men in blue uniforms. In Berlin, we passed a group of three glaringly handsome construction workers (we’re still not sure there wasn’t a candid camera or paid photographer doing a magazine shoot close at hand) and joked at the difference between the stereotypical American construction worker (saggy pants, saggy belly, saggy face) and those men. So, after passing through the hrad gate, we decided that Prague must employ the majority of its handsome men as castle guards.

We’re used to traveling in Central America, South America and Southeast Asia where brown eyes 99% common, so coming up against sky blue eyes is shocking and a little bit eerie. The guards were standing very still, staring straight ahead, and we were very tempted to get a much closer look at the eyes, but Laura wasn’t sure that they followed the same rules as the London guards, so we (including Batman) kept our distance.

The castle complex is amazing and tickets are understandably a little pricey. Fortunately, most of the ticket packages are good for two days; unfortunately, you’re only allowed to enter each building once per ticket (can’t go one day and visit it again the next; can’t leave for a minute and re-enter) and they charge for a picture-taking permit (but don’t appear to enforce it rigorously).

It was almost 1pm by the time we had our tickets, and by then we were getting tired (and probably hungry and thirsty and needing to pee), so we decided to visit the cathedral and return for the rest the following day.

Katedrála svatého Víta is the most elaborate we have seen on the trip. The ceilings are vaulted and everything is made of precious metals or leaved in gold. It gets numbing after a point, and painful to think of what must have been sacrificed to create such an architectural and artistic wonder that has lasted so long. Another sad point of the cathedral is that has been streamlined for tourism. There is a guarded entrance, a velvet-roped corral, and a guarded exit. The pews are blocked off, the side chapels are inaccessible; you can walk the perimeter of the nave as far as the transept, but no where else (unless you pay more, probably).

We were spoiled by Albrechtsburg, which was largely open for self-guided exploration. Granted, Albrechtsburg didn’t house as many valuable, removable pieces of history, but a little freedom to explore and discover for oneself is a nice amenity to any tourist destination.

After the chapel, we were all ready for a break. We exited the castle complex via the long east staircase (passing more handsome guards at the east gate – these wore sunglasses though, so no idea on the eye color), caught the #18 tram back toward our apartment and headed up to our room for lunch and a break.

We started out again later in the afternoon, taking a tram to the old town area. From there, Laura walked us to her former neighborhood and to the apartment they rented in the blue building on Husova street. She pointed out several strange statues which show up in random places throughout Prague. Many are by the same artist – David Černý – and this potentially offensive link covers ten of his works (some are permanent installations, others have been removed for what will be obvious reasons). Here’s a link to an entertaining interview with him. The one of a man (Freud?) hanging from one hand over a street is near Laura’s former residence, but if you’re not looking for it, it’s easy to miss.

She also showed us the Staroměstské náměstí with the Pražský orloj, aka the Astronomical Clock, and Týnský chrám or Týn Church, which was closed for the day by that time.

We continued toward Josefov (the Jewish Quarter), passing a statue in tribute to Kafka, the Philharmonic building, the Jewish town hall, the old Jewish cemetery and several interesting buildings, stopping for a bit to talk with a few young guys from New York, asking directions to the cemetery.

Laura then took us by the National Museum and along the big street, lined with shops, that leads down the hill from there. She took us through a mall with another Černý statue – this one of St Wenceslas riding an upside-down dead horse (yup) and by a large, beautiful stained glass window reading “Tesla Radio”.

Heading into one of the metro stations in search of an abnormally long escalator, we passed a club called Jazz Republic, which advertised a big band group that evening, so I made a note to check it out online and hopefully come back.

We eventually returned home to the apartment and Laura and I walked up to the park with a “take away” (to-go) coffee cup of leftover wine which we shared while sitting on a bench on the wall overlooking the city. We had a nice sister-sister talk and enjoyed people- and dog-watching, then walked back after sunset to have dinner with Mom.

We eventually riled up enough energy to go back to the club downtown. The band was great, but no one was dancing. Laura and I eventually danced one song (back by the bar) and Mom said the band noticed. The musicians finished up a bit before midnight – the same time the regular public transportation schedule rolls up for the day, so we had to wait awhile for a return tram, but made up songs and made fun of passing Americans to kill time.


Central Europe for Sexagenarians – Day 6

Posted by admin on July 4th, 2013 filed in batman, food, photography, travel
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Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013
Dienstag, 2. Juli 2013

We snacked in-room for breakfast then packed and checked out of the hotel, returning to a street near the Herbage to park for the morning. We trekked downtown one last time to see inside Frauenkirch and one other church and to see if we could get into the Fortress near the Albertinium (it was closed for some unspecified reason – flooding maybe?). Then we grabbed coffee and walked to the Volkswagon transparent factory or Die Gläsernen Manufaktur where they show the final assembly that goes into several of their models. The grounds, building and interior and impressive, but no pictures are allowed above the first floor (where the lobby, restrooms and restaurant are). We arrived too late and had to leave after a short while, but if you have the time it’s seems worthwhile to take the tour – the only English ones are at 10am daily though.

Since our meter was due to run out, we hurried back to the car and headed out of Dresden. Some construction got us sidetracked, but shortly, Laura was able to get us out of the mess and as a bonus, we learned what the sign with a partially red “T” means!

On the way out of Dresden, we passed several beautiful homes along the bank of the Elbe and stopped to tour the Pillnitz Castle (the royal consort’s quarters for some amount of time). After a makeshift picnic lunch in the car, involving stuffed grape leaves, apples, honey and Nutella, we continued to the castle (which was included in the Saxony castle pass).

The architecture – or at least that of the exteriors – is Chinese influenced, and like many of the other local landmarks, the castle has burnt down and been rebuilt many many times. We toured the buildings then strolled the grounds and ended up doing a faux creepy photoshoot with Laura the Strange and the garden’s large hedges.

The self-guided walking tour ends by the bank of the Elbe where stairs descend from a main building into the river. Batman stopped here for a moment of contemplation. Leaving the riverside, you can see a wall with markings of the water height from previous flood.

From there, Laura found our way back to the highway and we headed for the Czech Republic, stopping at the border to purchase our vignette.

We arrived in Prague during rush hour, and I don’t think I’ve ever met a city like Prague. …I’m not sure I want to again.

I hadn’t had anything to drink on this trip, but after rush hour in Prague, I wanted a bottle of wine.

We eventually found the apartment/room-with-kitchenette we reserved, but only after some close calls and a foray in a park. We parked as soon as we can, but when the proprietor greeted us at the door, he let us know the spot we were in was meant only for local residents. So he helped Mom and Laura move the bags to the room while I stayed with the car, then he came back to lead me to the parking lot which was a couple of one-way streets away and through a VERY narrow set of double doors (we had to turn the mirrors in). We walked me back to the building and returned me to Mom and Laura, then made sure we knew all we’d need to know about nearby transportation and local food stores.

The building backs up to the road by the big wall for Vyšehrad park (here’s the English Wiki and the more textually and pictorially extensive German Wiki) – which houses one of the oldest settlements in the area. We ran to the nearby Lidl – which had peanut butter!! Woohoo! – and stocked up on food for dinner and breakfast. We walked back and as mom began cooking dinner, Laura and I went back for wine and ice cream. (It had been a bit of a stressful afternoon).

After a delicious, and much-needed veggie-dense dinner, we filled our water bottle with wine and strolled up to Vyšehrad. Laura lived in Prague for a few months, so she was to be our tour guide for the duration of our stay, and the chapel, graveyard and scenic view from the hill were all an excellent start!

In the gallery below, downtown Dresden is first, followed by the Volkswagon factory, then the Pillnitz castle, some peanut butter (hooray!!!) and the chapel and view from Vyšehrad:

 

 


Central Europe for Sexagenarians – Day 5

Posted by admin on July 4th, 2013 filed in batman, photography, travel
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Monday, July 1st, 2013
Montag, 1. Juli 2013

We awoke, dressed and went for our delicious breakfast (they offered cheeses, meats, yogurt, fruits, grains, breads, jams, teas & coffee, among other things), then packed our bags in the car, left it parked at the Herbage and headed across the street to downtown.

Dresden is a collection of amazing buildings – many of which burned or burned down multiple times before WWII or were bombed or leveled during the war and rebuilt over time. We walked by the Police HQ and the Albertinium, then along the Elbe, through Schlossplatz and up the tower at the Dresden Castle. We walked through Hofkirche by the castle, through Theaterplatz by the opera house, through the Zwiger, by a giant mural and the pieced-together Frauenkirche. I’ll post an unlabeled gallery for now (see below) and will have to edit it at a later date. There was so much to see.

Sometime amidst all this, I started to get hungry so we ended up in the basement food court of a nearby mall at a Greek-ish salad shop with a tall, dark and handsome salad maker who had his eye on Laura and her red pants. He pulled a trick on her while giving her the change, made a funny face at her when we had finished and were about to leave, then watched her ride the escalator into the sky and out of his life. It was an entertaining interlude to the day. =)

We eventually returned to the car and drove out to see Moritzburg Castle, the royal hunting lodge outside of Dresden. We made a stop at a local Lidl on the way and picked up some apples and a GIANT jar of Nutella. The Moritzburg pictures start after the Nutella closeup (yes, that’s 80g free – 880g total!):

Moritzburg castle didn’t allow free picture-taking either, but (being a hunting lodge) had lots of mounted deer heads, lots f porcelain and what looked like lots of mounted porcelain deer heads, along with an very unique Feather Room, a billiards table from the 1700s and several rooms with embossed-and-gold-leaf leather wallpaper.

Here are some links for views of the bed cover, bed spread and tapestries in the Feather Room. The colors in the fabric are all dyed feathers woven into a thread grid. Amazing original work, and perhaps more amazing, a successful restoration.

http://www.schloss-moritzburg.de/en/moritzburg_castle/castle_in_summer/
http://www.monumente-online.de/07/02/streiflicht/07_Federzimmer.php
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Federzimmer-Detail.jpg

We finished touring the castle and grounds, then returned to Dresden to find our new hotel (Herbage didn’t have room for us to stay another night). I’ll have to look up the name on the receipt because I don’t remember it off the top of my head, but it was a great deal for a cute, comfortable room with a private bath (and TUB!) and a private terrace overlooking the street.  A warning for the guys though, I’m not sure about the lobby and other floors, but our floor had purple carpet, purple bedspreads, purple in the drapes, etc. Heaven for us three women, though!

We napped and freshened up, then, since our parking pass for City Herbage was good til midnight, we returned to park at the Herbage and walk downtown for an evening meal. We ended up at a tapas restaurant near the Frauenkirche, and though the food was unimpressive, the company was great! We retired to our new hotel and had a great night’s sleep.

 


Central Europe for Sexagenarians – Day 4

Posted by admin on July 4th, 2013 filed in batman, photography, travel
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Sunday, June 30th, 2013
Sonntag, 30. Juni 2013

We awoke early and dressed, excited about our free hotel breakfast. They served meats and cheeses, yogurt, grains, boiled eggs, coffee and juice, fruit, jams and breads. I stuck with the yogurt, cheese, eggs, fruit and coffee, but enjoyed it a lot! Knowing our rental car pickup time wouldn’t allow us to return before checkout time, we packed our bags and left them with the hotel staff, promising to return by noon.

We rode the U-bahn back toward the zoo station, found the rental car office and were told we could come in about half an hour early for the car. To kill time, we walked toward the Tiergarten, enjoying the beautiful morning, the uncrowded Sunday-morning sidewalks, and the comedy inevitable in each others’ company. We caught Mom up on some pop culture references and explained the concept of “That’s what she said”, which she started utilizing pretty quickly. (Yay Mom!)

We stopped for coffee and a bathroom break in a bar that smelled like it had yet to close from Saturday evening, and while moving to our table, saw a Boxer (dog) sleeping hidden away in a window sill. For those of you who know us, you’ll recognize that this pretty much made our day. =)

We continued on to pick up the rental car, inspect it and double check that it included all the safety equipment required in Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria (emergency triangle, reflective vest, first aid kit, etc.). Finally we all got in and buckled up; I turned the key and we pulled out of the driveway, starting our adventure!

Then the car stalled.

Most of the European rentals are manual transmission and due to a convergence of multiple criteria, cost and convenience, I became the designated driver for the trip. Though I’ve had several years of experience driving stick shifts, I bought an automatic recently and am out of practice. It took me a few mid-road stalls to get the hang of a clutch again, but with relatively minimal cursing and no bodily or chassis damage, I drove back to our hotel on the other side of downtown Berlin.

Thankfully we have Laura to navigate. She’s got a knack for the job and she’s already visited most of the places we want to travel. With multiple maps, her largely infallible sense of direction and her own familiarity with our destinations, we have yet to get lost.

We did take an impromptu side trip though.

Along the highway, nearby cities each get a big brown sign with their name and a simplistic illustration of their attractions. Most look uninteresting. One had a small sail boat, one had a factory and a rose, several have outlines of steeples. We were looking for a place to take a break and, based on an interesting looking sign, Laura picked a town none of us had heard or read about.

We exited and followed the roundabout road signs that guided us the long way around to Meissen. Approaching the town, a castle and church are immediately visible, rising out of a hill in downtown.  We parked in the city center, put an hour’s worth in the parking meter, and hiked up the hill:

The castle and cathedral are above the rest of the city, and after winding around a number of zigzagged roads, we ended up in the castle square. Apparently, if you know the way, you can just drive up there:

But the walk was fun and well worth it. The view is beautiful and bucolic and the castle and cathedral are impressive:

The castle size is deceptive. We went in the lobby and didn’t expect that paying the entrance fee for the castle would be worthwhile. I think it was maybe 12 euro per person. But they offer a 10-day pass for free or discounted entry to many of the Saxony castles for 20 euro per person, and offered a spontaneous additional 10 euro off and three free audio guides if we bought three passes, so we figured “what the hell” and bought in, still not expecting much.  We had less than 45 min left on our parking meter, so we planned to rush through. It didn’t look that big anyway.

The front desk clerks set up our audio guides and directed us to the door for entry to the castle.

Two or three steps in, we were hooked.  The staircase is a spiral one, which was one-of-a-kind for it’s time (and today!).

I took a couple pictures (including the ones above) but they didn’t really come out and after-the-fact I found out you’re supposed to pay extra for picture-taking privileges. We should have done so – it would have been MORE than worth the cost (3 euros?) – but I’m glad we didn’t because I’d never be able to upload them all. But there are several websites with much better pictures of the castle than I could ever take:

Google images search “Albrechtsburg castle”:  https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-a&hs=b2B&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&channel=fflb&q=albrechtsburg+castle&bav=on.2,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.48705608,d.Yms&biw=1366&bih=596&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=de&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=KtfVUenDCYjOtAbOhYCgBw

Some other pictures and info: http://www.sights-and-culture.com/Germany/meissen.html

Article on new exhibits there: https://archrecord.construction.com/projects/recordinteriors/2011/albrechtsburg-meissen.asp
with short, but colorful slide show: https://archrecord.construction.com/projects/recordinteriors/2011/Albrechtsburg-Meissen-slideshow.asp

The slideshow in the link immediately above includes drawings of the floor plan of the castle, which may or may not help explain why the castle is such a maze.  We had access to four floors (I think), but the layout is not intuitive and several changes during the castle’s existence led to multiple paths throughout and between each floor. Felt like a castle that a kid would dream up. Very fantastic! =D

I hope to write more about it later, but besides the BEAUTIFUL and innovative architectural craftsmanship, impressive parquet work, lovely paintings, and majestic windows, the castle also served as a porcelain-making factory to match the porcelain craze of the time. Almost every castle we’ve seen since has an extensive porcelain collection (with some pretty absurd and gaudy pieces) and each collection has works from the Meissen factory. While in Dresden, we passed a shop with the name Meissen that sells jewelry and porcelain pieces, so I guess they’re still at it to some extent. The top floor of the castle, I think, was dedicated to exhibits about the porcelain making years in the castle and had several interactive exhibits for kids and well as amazing displays for kids and adults.

One other interesting thing is that many of the rooms in the Meissen and other Saxony castles were heated by large porcelain tile stoves (if you search Google Images for “German tile stove”, several examples come up). They vary in size from the size of a person to gigantic heaters. Have never seen anything like them before. Here is an informative link: http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2008/12/tile-stoves.html

Anyway, after one and a half floors, our paid parking interval was due to run out, so we walked back down to the car to feed meter. Here are some pictures of the town during our descent:

…and our return to the castle after feeding the meter (I wasn’t confident we could survive the drive up to the castle, so we left the car downtown):

We picked up where we left off in the castle and spent almost another two hours roaming around, reading the informative plaques (available in German & English) and listening to the audio guide. Laura got separated from us and Mom and I kept an eye out for her, but began to worry when we didn’t run across her on the second floor or the next. We checked the third floor together, then split up to check the second and first separately. With two separate staircases servicing each floor and multiple entrances/exits to each room, it’s nearly impossible to “sweep” the castle. You’d need a lot more people for that task. So Mom and I went out to check the cathedral grounds, then waited outside, around the exit almost until closing, figuring she’d have to come out eventually.

Eventually she did and we continued on to the cathedral. You’re supposed to pay a separate fee for entrance there (the castles pass doesn’t cover it), but since it was nearly closing time, the cashier let us in for a few minutes to look around and take some hasty pictures.

After the cathedral closed, we returned to the car, stopped to for a coffee-and-bathroom break at the local McDonald’s, then continued our journey to Dresden (which was very difficult on a Sunday evening, with most stores closed and no good map of Dresden). We eventually stopped at a gas station and bought a Dresden to get us the last few miles to the hostel Mom had booked.

We arrived at City Herbage in Dresden – a very soviet-looking building that is completely modernized inside – and settled into our beautiful room. The price included breakfast (which turned out to be delicious), but didn’t include a private bath. The shared bathrooms are also newly renovated, clean, relatively large and quite comfortable.

We freshened up then walked downtown for dinner, passed up a lively Mexican restaurant (that got several great European reviews and one very bad review from someone who sounds like they know what TexMex really tastes like) and settled on a large Indian restaurant with alluring smells and delicious dishes (but only one waitress working, poor girl). The meal was tasty end to a long, wonderful day.


Central Europe for Sexagenarians – Day 3

Posted by admin on July 2nd, 2013 filed in batman, photography, travel
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Saturday, June 29th, 2013
Samstag, 29. Juni 2013

Staying up past 2am after dancing resulted in a late start for us the next morning. We had set an alarm, but shut it off and slept in until around 10. We had to check out by 11, so we packed, snacked and moved out bags to our next locale where they let us settle into our room early. The new hotel, Hotel Messe am Funkturm, was rather unique. It was situated next to the S-bahn station on the floor above an authentic Berlin Mexican restaurant that was probably run by Russians. The Messe was in an older, very smoky building that had been converted and reconverted several times, probably for slightly different functions on each occasion. I should have taken pictures of the hallways, but there were at least three different door heights, probably more. It felt like a scene from Alice in Wonderland or Being John Malkovich. Ours was a small door, but the room was comfortable. We left the windows open to air the room out while we toured Berlin for the day.

We had mapped out our intended S-bahn route, but part of it was closed for construction, so we were diverted to a bus that finished the trip, dropping us off near the Topography of Terror, a museum built on the former location of the Gestapo/SS headquarters near a large remaining section of the Berlin Wall. The exhibits in the Topography of Terror building are amazing. Through pictures, personal documents, newspapers and other records, they construct a very vivid picture of life in Berlin and Germany before and during the Nazi regime. I didn’t feel comfortable taking any photos and had to leave the building twice to stop crying, but several things, which hadn’t reached me through the textbooks, stuck out.

The first was a mention of one of the major laws that helped erode (if not totally evaporate) personal rights. I remembered it was called something about “the protection of people and state”. Looking online, it was probably what is nicknamed the Reichstag Fire Decree. Click on the link and read the pink box halfway down the page. I think the wording of the translation in the museum also provided a list of the crimes declared now-punishable by death, including treason, arson and others.

A photo on the next row left a strong mental imprint: a sea of people in salute stance, with one person in the crowd standing arms crossed. It brought to mind a student in one of my elementary school classes whose family were Jehovah’s Witnesses. While all of us stood, hand-over-heart reciting the pledge each morning, he either sat or stood silently. I didn’t understand it at the time.

A few rows down from there was a poster meant to build support of a euthanasia program. It’s of a healthy man standing behind a seated handicapped man with text broadcasting an estimate of what it costs to keep him alive. I have heard similar arguments, though thankfully not as extreme, from contemporary politicians. I forget who, on the national level, pointed out that being what everyone calls “pro-life” is really just being pro-birth. Being truly pro-life would involve valuing and supporting a life throughout its course, not just in the womb.

The standing remnants of the Wall lined the edge of the museum grounds. Most of the immediate surface of the Wall has been chipped away by people removing the graffiti, either to erase offensive material or to sell it piecemeal to tourists (You can find postcards everywhere with tiny colorful chunks of the wall embedded in plastic portholes of postcards: “Own a piece of the wall!”). New graffiti has begun to emerge to replace the blank (but textured) gray surface. Most of it is personal (“X was here”) or hopeful (“Save the world”).

A few blocks from the Topography of Terrors site is the intersection where the checkpoint between Soviet East Berlin and the American sector of West Berlin was located (Checkpoint Charlie). On the blocks North, East and South of this intersection are construction facades covered with museum-quality displays about Germany’s history during and after WWII, contributing political factors to the creation of the Wall, policy changes relating to crossing the East/West Berlin border, successful and unsuccessful attempts to illegally cross the border, the names of those who died as a direct or indirect result of those illegal border crossings, and the events that contributed to the eventual teardown.

Before surmounting all of this information, we passed into what was West Berlin for lunch. We found a Mediterranean grocery market about two blocks in and gathered canned dolmas, canned olives, a jar of cooked eggplant, and a bag of sugar-coated chickpeas. Unfortunately, the deli there didn’t have any plasticware, so we walked to the McDonald’s adjacent to Checkpoint Charlie, ordered a coffee and some fries and obtained a couple of forks and spoons.

If you were wondering, here’s a closeup of the grape leaves can:

After lunch we returned to the Mediterranean market for several more cans of the stuffed grape leaves (which we’ve been eating every day since), then walked back to the displays on the history of the Wall.

While reading up on how the war affected the Polish, Czech and Hungary people, we noticed a familiar sweater standing nearby. Phillip (from the previous evening’s dance) greeted us and gave a rundown of his own whirlwind tour of Berlin thus far. Then the four of us spent the next hour or so talking about our respective countries and cultures and of our memories of how the wars affected us, our parents or our grandparents.

After parting ways again, we walked to Potsdamer Platz in search of a post office.

We ended up in a dazzling mall where the information station lady informed us that the post office was closed but that we could buy stamps from a store at the mall entrance (which I originally thought was going to be a mall kiosk, but was actually called “Kiosk”) and drop the mail in an adjacent mail box. At least that’s what we think she said. What information we could garner panned out, and a similar situation played out with the clerk at Kiosk. She and I pantomimed questions and answers, peppered with a few simple German and English words for supplement, about postage to send cards to the US. I ended up with the stamps I asked for and sent some postcards on their way, so we’ll see if they make it to their destinations.

It started to drizzle after that, so we headed for the nearest U-bahn station and rode back to the Messe where we turned in early, in hopes of waking early to sight-see a little more before picking up our rental car for the drive to Dresden.


Central Europe for Sexagenarians – Day 2

Posted by admin on July 2nd, 2013 filed in batman, language, photography, travel
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Friday, June 28th, 2013
Freitag, 28. Juni 2013

After switching to a new hotel (a beautiful room at the Hotel Gates Novum near Ernst-Reuter-Platz from the Hotel Berolina near the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church by the Zoo), we spent our second day in Berlin viewing the Schloss Charlottenburg and grounds and a nearby canal.

While crossing the low bridge over the canal, a large tourist ship motored up, stopped and started turning around in the very limited space of the canal. The only boats I usually get to ride are sailboats, so seeing a huge boat turn in place took me by surprise:

We then took the bus back to Kurfürstendamm street and strolled toward the Kaiser Wilhelm church, intending to attend a concert there around 6:30. We got distracted when, while looking for a bathroom, we found a fresh food market in the basement of a large department store. It took us awhile to narrow our choices, so by the time we made our purchase and ate, it was too late to attend the concert. Instead we returned to the hotel for an inevitable nap.

We awoke around nine and got dressed to go dancing. The Berlin Swing Calendar keeps a long list of Berlin’s available swing dance options and we ended up at the Strandbar near the museum island. After a trip on the subway and the train we walked the rest of the way to the bar and found an open-air space carved out of a hillside next to a canal. Two steep, wide staircases led down to a raised plywood dance floor sprinkled with sand. The dance floor, tucked into the corner of the cutout, was accompanied on the remaining two sides by tables with umbrellas.

I wore my suede-bottom Converse expecting a stickier dance surface, but shouldn’t have with the sandy floor. I spent the entire dance mostly trying not to slip and fall. I had a blast though. Most of the leads were dancing Lindy Hop, or some gradient of it and there were three or four particularly talented, fun guys to dance with. I worried the language barrier would make things awkward, but several of them spoke some English and with the others, the dance was enough.

Through several dances I noticed someone sitting on the sidelines, watching everything going on. He hadn’t danced as far as I knew, so I went over and asked if he’d like to. He got up, but paused and gave no verbal response so I apologized that I didn’t speak any German, hoping he was familiar with that English phrase. He replied in articulate English that he’d love to (dance), but hadn’t in a very long time. I was so delighted he spoke clear English that I didn’t care if he could dance, so I pulled him onto the floor for a song then introduced him to Mom and Laura who were sitting at a table by themselves and they conversed while I continued to dance.

I think Laura danced a song or two, but Mom was asked several times by an older-looking gentleman with a crush on her. Despite the obvious (and then verbally stated) fact that she is married, he continued to try to lay on the charm, telling her about his career as an Egyptologist, his publications and how he’s in trouble with his colleagues (for some unclear reason). Laura and I enjoyed watching the interaction because a similar scene usually unfolds when we take her out on the town, no matter what country we’re in. We laugh it up because, genetics-wise, it’s good for us that Mom is a sexy sexagenarian!

When the dance ended and Mom finally convinced her suitor that we didn’t need a ride home, he left the three of us to chat with Phillip. He was visiting Berlin for his first time, though a native German. He told us about the business he works for and about his travels to the States, plus he cleared up some of our cultural questions and gave several tips for driving in Germany, which turned out very helpful! When the conversation turned to dance, he even got up to show us the basic steps to discofox, a social dance we had yet to encounter. Apparently it’s pretty popular in Europe. (Thanks Phillip!)

Noting that it was almost 1AM, I gave him my email address and we parted ways after a lovely evening.

We walked back to the S-bahn (train) station, then while boarding our train, noticed a large group of young men on the opposite platform, stripping to their underwear.  As our train took off, one-by-one, some of them began running the length of the platform. We’re not sure what was going on and couldn’t hang around to figure it out, but we certainly enjoyed the oddness of the situation and were pretty sure it involved alcohol to some degree.


Central Europe for Sexagenarians – Day 1

Posted by admin on June 29th, 2013 filed in batman, language, travel
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Ok, so Mom isn’t 60 yet, but this trip is in honor of her upcoming birthday.

Thursday, June 27th, 2013
Donnerstag, 27. Juni 2013

We begin in Berlin (after a layover in JFK and Heathrow – see pictures from previous post).

Fighting jet lag over a six-hour time difference, we didn’t stay intend to stay out late, but since the sun sets after nine here, we didn’t get back to the hotel until well after dark. But we got a lot of exercise and had a great time strolling around Mitte Berlin – Alexanderplatz, the museum island area, Unter den Liden and the Tiergarten.

We intended to see the museums since several of them are free to the public on Thursdays, but we arrived too late and so settled for walking around the Fernsehturm and Neptunbrunnen, the Berliner Dom, the Atlas and Egyptian museums (where we stopped to dance to some lovely piano playing by a lady on a portable keyboard), the buildings and monuments along Unter den Liden, culminating in the Brandenburger Tor where we saw a lady walking a very cute, very ugly brindle boxer!

Rather than catch a cab back to the hotel, we decided to walk back, but had to go around the border of the Tiergarten because I was too creeped out to walk through it in the dark and the rain.

But just outside the Brandenburger gate, there is a Holocaust Memorial, which is a unique, unmatched experience in itself. It appears to be a simple array of unmarked concrete slabs on flat ground, but as you enter it the floor descends and undulates through the orderly-but-disorienting arrangement. It’s just a grid of blocks, but you still get the lost-in-a-labyrinth feel of panic rising the deeper and deeper you go. That an installation of such simple materials and concept can evoke such unsuspected emotional responses is a credit to the designer. Pictures don’t do it justice.

Apparently it tends to drizzle and mist quite a bit on Berlin evenings in the summer, but we did get several hours of beautiful walking (and picture-taking) weather:

Next: Schloss Charlottenberg and swing dancing!


Batman Abroad, Again

Posted by admin on June 27th, 2013 filed in batman, photography, travel
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Too tired to write, but here’s a preview of what’s to come:

More to adventures tomorrow!


Adventure on the Oregon Coast

Posted by admin on June 27th, 2013 filed in batman, photography, travel
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Will’s grandfather turned 98 this past month and all the family was invited out to the Oregon coast for the celebration. His parents and brother flew out for a month, but Will and I could only go for a few days, flying out on a Friday and returning on a Tuesday.

Our initial flight from Florida was delayed, causing us to miss our connecting flight – the last Portland-bound one of the evening. Thankfully, the airline provided the affected passengers with hotel vouchers, so we found ourselves in the airport Hilton in Phoenix for a quick four hours in which we refreshed, napped and breakfasted.

Will’s mom, Terry, and his brother, Adam, collected us Saturday afternoon from PDX, but with my brother (Erick) and sister-in-law (Erin) newly relocated to Portland, I requested a quick stop to visit them before leaving for the coast.

I would see them back in Florida in the coming weeks for a cousin’s wedding, but really wanted to see their new place. Erick always finds the most amazing, unique things on the local Craigslist no matter where he ends up settling down (cool places to rent, great appliances for cheap, good deals on recreational gear and he even found his awesome wife!) They began their life in Portland subletting a room from a couple (which meant a total of four adults and two neurotic cats in a two bedroom apartment), then liked the area and building enough to claim the next available unit for themselves. So now they have an adorable apartment in a small, close-knit complex with a cheerful, grass-and-blossoms courtyard and a mélange of free-range pets eager to greet visitors. Maybe we just showed up on a lucky day of sunshine and spring for Portland in May, but what a stunning first impression that nook of the city made.

We strolled to a nearby restaurant and ate tasty, fresh tacos out in the clear air, under big umbrellas. Forgetting the rain and cold typical of the region, I’m jealous of the beauty, simplicity, kindness and care immediately apparent in that community. I could have happily stayed there for weeks, but my brother had to study for finals and his wife had work and the rest of us had a two hour drive to the coast, so after lunch, goodbyes, and a to-be-expected longer-than-intended stop at Costco, we were on our way. I fell asleep a few blocks outside the city, but I had time to notice the abundance of tiny drive-thru coffee shacks available in and around Portland.

Waking up near Siletz Bay, I saw the trend continued and proposed a drinking game centered on spotting coffee shacks. The caffeine adds up pretty quickly though.

Heading south through town, along the 101, Will’s mom gave us a quick verbal tour of the main attractions and how different shops or spots relate to the family. We stopped to check out our hotel as well – the bay and ocean view from the room delighted us significantly more than the tsunami risk area and evacuation route signs did:

After dropping off our bags, we drove on to Grandpa’s!

Darrell, Will’s grandpa is, as mentioned earlier, 98. I cared for my mother’s father, my Grandpa Walt, in the last year of his life. He died at 98, bed-ridden, tube-fed, catheterized and with multiple lung problems, but jovial almost to the end, for which I still admire him.  So I nearly dropped my jaw when I saw how active Darrell is at 98. He walks, talks, eats, jokes, and even performs playing the bones. (Will’s dad has uploaded YouTube videos of this, but I need to ask him for the link.)

We spent the weekend with Darrell and other family members present at various times, mostly visiting and eating meals, but made a few wonderful side trips in between, beginning with a walk to the beach by Darrell’s house with Batman and the parents:

After being dropped by at our hotel, Will and I went out in search of dance music and came across the Strange Tones playing at Roadhouse 101.

Since the band is based in Portland, we hope to see them again on our next visit – they put on a great show. Aside from a few cute couples and a drunken, gender-ambivalent spirit dancer, the floor was mostly empty so we enjoyed ourselves dancing and photographing Batman, both to the amusement of the locals.

Saturday (or was it Sunday?) after brunch, we headed east of town to hike a forest trail (the Drift Creek Trail, I think) which culminated in a beautiful suspended foot bridge overlooking a river and waterfall:

The next morning, we enjoyed another great side trip on a whale-watching tour that left from the world’s smallest harbor: Depoe Bay. I didn’t take my camera (it’s not water-proof), and though we didn’t see any whales, Will still got some great photos with his.

Threading the short entrance to the harbor, in itself was impressive, even on calm days:

We saw some adorable harbor seals and he photographed several lumbering sea lions hanging out on a big whistle buoy:

And after returning to harbor, we spent the next 15-20 minutes talking with Captain Kevin about his adventures as a life-long sailor, crewing and captaining motor- and sailboats up and down the Pacific coast, in Hawaii and in parts of the Atlantic (if I remember correctly). He was delightful to talk to and he told us about weekly sailboat races out of the Newport area which we’ll definitely be crewing in during our next visit!

We later enjoyed lunch with Will’s parents, aunt and grandpa:

Then we visited the Yaquina Bay park and lighthouse and parts of the Newport harbor-front – more pictures of that to come!


End of a Mini Era

Posted by admin on December 25th, 2012 filed in travel
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I sold my Mini recently.

After a year and a half of adventure and mishaps it’s a sad occasion to see her go, but I’m thankful to send her off to a better home. The buyer restores classic minis, so she’ll be in good hands and with good company:

For my own sake as much as for any who are interested, here are several pictures – roughly in reverse order of date taken – to commemorate her:

and our first picture together:

Merry Christmas, Mini.


More on the Costa Rica Trip! Again!

Posted by admin on October 3rd, 2012 filed in travel
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Day 7 and Day 8 of the Costa Rica Trip are up. Only one more day to go (but it’s a doozy)!


More on the Costa Rica Trip

Posted by admin on September 11th, 2012 filed in travel
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Day 5 and Day 6 of the Costa Rica Trip are posted!


The Costa Rica Trip Has Moved!

Posted by admin on August 27th, 2012 filed in travel
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My wise man suggested I move all of the Costa Rica/Samasati posts to their own page, since they are pretty long, so now you can follow the individual day’s posts (as I complete them) by clicking here or on the “costa rica trip” link in the mid right part of the page (by the “home”, “contact”, “floride” and “bike-about texas” links) and selecting whichever day ignites your curiosity. Woohoo!


Day 1, Team Bacchetta, RAAM 2012

Posted by admin on June 17th, 2012 filed in batman, bicycles, travel
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We didn’t have much to do in our RV, The Chateau, for the first half of the first day. With a large portion of the course closed to RVs, we planned to rendezvous with the riders at the recommend spot – Christmas Circle – in Borrego Springs (CA). So we left our Oceanside (not ocean-side, unfortunately) hotel sometime between 10 and 11 in the morning and made our way to the meeting spot, with one stop along the way.

Based on the recommendation by the Chateau’s head navigator, Kristy, we made a quick stop in Julian for their famous apple pie, along with a bathroom break and a quick perusal of the tiny town.

A quick rundown on our crew:

Kristy (front left) – The Navigator

Jim (front right) – Main driver

Todd (back left) – Temp Techie (he was hitching a ride and had to switch back to his assigned vehicle in Borrego Springs

Judy/Mom (back right) – All-around Provider (food, fluids, massages, any other assistance needed)

We met a group of people raising funds for the local petting zoo and took the chance at a photo op:

Then we found a wonderful little ballroom in the Chamber of Commerce building across the street (which warranted, for me, a quick dance to music kindly supplied by Mom)

Then while they hunted down pie, I visited a shop for postcards and found a candy mine!

Finally, pie in hand, we headed back to the RV where Mom fixed everyone a tasty lunch. trucked on to Borrego Springs, where we stopped for gas and met Hershel:

Lots of petting and baby cooing later, we parked on Christmas Circle to wait for the first glimpse of our riders since before the start of the race.

Of course, we passed time with our little friend:

All four riders were rotating through the We saw John Schlitter coming down off the “Glass Elevator” and crowded roadside to cheer him on as he blew through town. We heard the plan was to have John and Jacquie take a shift, but when plans changed, Larry zoomed out on his bike to start off a great shift. He and Dad traded off, well into the night.

According to Dad, Larry got all the smooth roads and downhill stretches (but he didn’t bother to mention that he had his own private masseuse).