Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Leaving for Home


Ron went down presumably for breakfast, before I was ready. When I went down, he was not in the breakfast room. I knew he was our wandering, so I had an enjoyable breakfast alone. When he returned and had his, we spent an hour walking the village for the last time. I swear I will not miss the cobblestones at all.

The shuttle was there promptly at 11:00 am. There were three others in in already, picked up at different hotels. We added yet another couple after us making 7 total. The single
passenger in the front seat was from Iowa; the couple behind us was from Pennsylvania. They were really talkative and the wife kept the conversation going steadily when she found that we lived in Budapest. They was their stop off after Vienna. They picked our brains.

Once in Linz, we enjoyed the breads and coffees in the snack shops before boarding our train. This go around, we did not have a seat in a compartment, but regular seating. It was fine and we had all four seats 2 by 2 facing each other to ourself.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Cesky Krumlov


Breakfast was served in a little coach house across the courtyard from our room. They had a fire going in the old stove making it cozy. On three of the tables, there were platters of ham, cheeses, and salami. On the counter, three types of cereal, coffee, hot water for tea, juice, and three types of rolls. Definitely not Austrian type rolls, but plain unadorned rolls that could easily have been overlooked.

We walked down to the brewery to find the
hours of the tours. The one and only would be in an hour, so we walked to the castle and decided to forgo the tour. As you cross over the moat to the castle, there were people gawking at something. It was the castle bear, though the signs asking not to feed the bears implied there were others not visible. The bear was having a grand time playing in the water, obviously enjoying the show he or she was providing for the tourists. Then s(he) climbed out for a good back scratch on the tree putting an orgasmic look on his or her face.
We toured all around the castle and the grounds, but did not take the tour. If you are interested in the castle's specs, here you are. The gardens were lovely, but void of flowers due to the change of seasons is my guess. The shrubbery is expertly maintained. The various views from the hike up and around are breathtaking.

How does one change this clock for daylight savings time, I wonder?
I must say that as lovely and picture perfect as this village is, I don't understand how people manage or managed to walk on these cobblestone streets. I wore my most comfortable shoes, my Crocs, and my feet were killing me. Some of the young women residents, they had to be residents, were running around in high heels. On these stones, it is like being a stilt walker maintaining your balance. The stones are not flat, but full of surprise bumps, hills, valleys, and stumbling blocks along the way. In winter time or even in the rain, it must be treacherous.

For as many restaurants and hotels as there are, what is painfully absent are bakeries. We found a couple of cafes that had meager offerings and went to one by the river for an apple strudel and coffee, but compared to Austria, this is where they are deficient. This was the only moment, I wished I could transport back to Linz, but hurry back with pastry in hand.

We were favored with the weather, having clear skies and sunny days. We spent the whole day walking around and around, and around again. We covered the same streets, alleys, and coves multiple times in our day and a half. We found a lovely park and sat watching the teens sneaking their cigarettes and booze, like the world over, teens are the same. The street surface was making the village painfully beautiful and I was ready to return to the room to read. After finishing "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" by Kim Edwards, I started the other book I took along "The Last Testament" by Sam Bourne.

The Czech Republic is still using their old currency the Koruna and not the Euro. We were running short on Koruna and did not want to exchange more Euros than needed, so we strategically planned where we would dine, the cost and exchanged that amount. We chose a restaurant associated with a youth hostel based on the menu. When we returned later this evening, a fire was blazing in the fireplace and the one room held three tables similar to our last night's dining experience. The room was a converted stable with horse artifacts, collars, and such decorating the walls. The food was excellent and the place was definitely atmospheric.

For a last hurrah, we went to the somewhat tacky Horror Bar for a drink. As can be expected, the downstairs bar was decorated like a permanent Halloween exhibit with skeletons, cobwebs, mummies, and bats complementing the decor. We were amongst the oldest patrons with a few young Goth enthusiasts rounding out the crowd. There was one older woman also who was either the owner or some weird groupie, not sure which, but she acted like a regular.

Tomorrow, back to Linz and then home again, home again, lickety split or not so.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Spring Forward and Fall Back


This was the morning after our second night in Linz and it has only felt like we have been here a month already. How time does fly. Ron went off to church seeking a mass in a language he would not understand anyway, but it is the thought that counts, right God? I journeyed over to the train station for my breakfast and sat reading my book. When I glanced up at the clock it was strange that they had the wrong time; it was an hour earlier than it should be. Then the light went on, this is the weekend Europe changes the clocks and we had forgotten about it. The 10:00 mass Ron was headed for will be a possible 9:00 mass if there is one scheduled at all.

I was in the hotel sitting area when he returned and he greeted me with "When did you realize it?" After 14 years, w
e have an abbreviated way of speaking to each other, not quite a cryptic as the Da Vinci Code, but our nevertheless. Now the conundrum was the shuttle we had booked to transport us from here to Cesky Krumlov. Would they come at the old or new time? Did the Czech Republic change clocks at the same time or at all? Why did we have an extra hour in a city we were not enjoying when we would have loved to have it banked for some fabulous city in the future?

After checking out of the hotel, we went to our designated meeting point for the shuttle, the train station parking lot. We waited for 10 minutes around the 'old' time and no one showed up, so we went to the bakery for one last sumptuous carbo loading experience.

At 12:30 on the dot in the new time zone, the shuttle pulled up and discharged those who had just left the Czech town. It was only Ron and I going back with the driver who only spoke 5 words o
f English. Once we left Linz, the scenery was spectacular. The trees were covered in garnet, amethyst, topaz, sapphire, and emeralds that were gliding to the ground, but before they did, created a mosaic of color. Exactly what I had hoped for; I miss seeing the colors change.

Our Pension Lob
o shuttle took us to Pension Lobo where we were staying two nights. Clean, tasteful, and budget, it was exactly what we wanted. They do run the shuttle service for anyone, not just guests. The room was spacious and freshly painted in a bright yellow. We dropped our things and took off for the... Tourist Information Center. Now if you are a regular reader of this blog, you should have guessed that before it was even mentioned.

This village is larger than I anticipated, but the historic old center is still small enough to
walk around it about 20 times in a day. As can be expected of any village, town, city, or burg that has made the big time as a travel destination, the place is riddled with hotels, albeit small ones not franchises, pensions and bed and breakfasts. In every nook and cranny they are not occupying you will find hostels. Then there are the range of stores hawking their wares to the tourists with the famous "Czech" glassware and marionettes that range from real quality to the schlock probably made in China variety. Ron kept me on a short lease this afternoon, so I had to do my best window shopping scanning, without stopping. Even so, I had the feeling I would not be dragging home treasures that we could not live without having. Nothing was calling my name as we passed by. Cesky Krumlov sits by the river Vltava in South Bohemia. The city has two main districts: Latran (around the Castle) and the district on the slope between two bends of the river Vltava. The castle placed it in the UNESCO register of monuments of world significance in 1992.

The village has a long complicated history, one that I read and then quickly dismissed as nothing I will ever be tested on and if I am, I will cheat at finding the answer. We were here to soak up the atmosphere and since the castle was never for any important royalty beyond three centuries of the Lords of Rozmberk. Though they were supposedly remarkably democratic royals for their time, citizens were obliged to give contributions when there was a wedding in the Lord’s family and Jews were forbidden to reside in the town. The Rozmberk coat of arms carried a red rose, and that symbol may still be seen everywhere. When they died out, the town when to a different branch of the family tree and so on.

Within the hours of our arrival at 2:00 until 5:00 pm, we basically covered the town from the looks of the map above. The only area we did not cover was the castle, but we had a full day the next day, so save something for then. The walks along the river were beyond picturesque, they were postcard quality non-reality beautiful. It is like looking at a postcard and saying that is so beautiful, but it cannot really be that pristine. Well, here it is.

One museum caught our attention since we just had a guest who spoke about the artist Egon Schiele and they had an exhibit of his work. Some incredible painting and drawings, a most prolific artist who died at the age of 28 with the Spanish flu. They also had a special exhibit just about to end called "Five Young Artists from New York City". There was no explanation as to why they were there working or creating, but it seems they only had 3-6 weeks to produce and leave. Some captivating pieces.

We stopped at a pub recommended by the young woman at the pension. It was typically old fashioned in an authentic way, not contrived. After a beer, we dropped off unnecessary things in the room and went to the Two Marys for dinner. Once you open the door, immediately facing you is a stairwell that has many stories to tell if it could speak. Looking to be hundreds of years old, the sign pointed us upward to the restaurant. At the top, behind another humongous wood door were four over sized heavy picnic type tables with benches. Although the custom would be to join others at their table, two of the tables were occupied with a family of four (speaking Hungarian) and another with a young cutesy couple, speaking North American English. We took the third rustic table. Our waitress recommended a sampler platter with choices of meat. Ron ordered the pheasant and I had chicken. The rest was shared potato cake, potato balls, cabbage salad, and other heavy on the carbs delights. It was delectable, but weighty.

When Ron was in the tourist office, he bought tickets to a performance for this evening. The young woman assured us that it would not be language dependent; it was music and movement. The performance was held on the stage itself, with the stadium seating behind us and left unused. We had the second row, but a bear of a man with a head the size of Goliath sat in front of me blocking 85% of my view. There were still five rows behind us and being seated on a flat surface, their visibility was that of flying through clouds on a foggy day. Most of the production took place on the floor with 90% of it being spoken in Czech of course. There was no way to follow the movement and the music was interesting, but minimal in aiding our understanding of what was happening. People were speaking, throwing themselves on the floor, and at times, they all had plain unclothed wooden puppets with similar faces, who were the 'actors' of the moment. All very confusing. At the end, we had the distinct impression that the audience was made up of friends and relatives of the ensemble and not idle theater attendees. They clapped enough to require 4 curtain calls and with each more and more of the audience was up hugging those in the performance. A cultural experience for sure and an exercise in trying to see past the mountain of a man.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

One Full Day is Fine, Thank You


After an incredible 12 hours of sleep, a record for me, we ventured over the train station for breakfast. Ibis charges 9 Euros for it, but the station has a plethora of choices and the Austrian breads are a carbo loaders dream come true. My fave is the roll with melted cheese plastered all over it mixed with pumpkin seeds. That and a coffee is all I needed to start the day.

We had saved our transport ticket for today (6.50
Euros savings with the Linz card), but our first stop was the Lentos Museum of Modern Art, so we walked there. The city was alive after the deathly quiet of yesterday's holiday. Linz is not an attractive city; there is no architecture to feast your eyes on. It is the plain Jane of cities, so it has to work extra hard with the make-up to be appealing in any way.

The Lentos is heralded as a magnificent piece of architecture that was specially designed to be the hallmark of modern art. From the bridge crossing the Danube, it looks like a glass box with a chunk carved out of it. Modern art is not a turn on for me, but Ron wanted to go. I was actually surprised at how many pieces I found enticing, though the permanent exhibits were cast aside for the special exhibit that would end at the end of this month. There were more appealing to me than Andy Warhol. Admission, normally 6.50 Euros was free with our card. Yesterday, was bright and sunny, but today is overcast and foggy, a perfect day for being indoors.

Intriguing, but we did not indulge were the nut vendors on the streets. They sell different types of hot roasted nuts as well as chestnuts for 2 Euros a bag and from the looks of things, they do a booming business. After a coffee, we went to the Ars Electronic Center. This is the "Museum of the Future" where everything is interactive. We were able to waive the 6 Euro entrance with our Linz card, so we explored and played with different exhibits. Though the explanations were in English, there were few that really made sense or did what they were supposed to do. At 1:30, we were part of a group that went into 'the cave'. Of course, the whole thing was in German only, so we made our escape. Just in time too, a group of school children had just arrived and swarmed the place.

We had heard about an old fashioned cable car that goes up the mountain. This was the next stop. Our pass did not cover the cable car ride, but there were plans to modernize it in 2008 ruining its appeal, so we were told. The tickets were 4 Euro each with a return. Up we chugged through the forest, past private homes for a ride that seemed to last for much longer than what I had timed on the return. The scenery was lovely and the trees were crispy colors. At the top, we found a walking trail leading us to the entrance of the 'Grotto Railway'. This statue should have been a clue, but...what the heck, it was free with our card.
The railway is a dragon shaped
'train' more of a kiddie adventure than one for overage adults, but we saw other adults enter, so we followed like sheep. Picture the Disney "It's a Small World After All" done in fairytale gnomes, animals, and insects. The ride circles three times, the first lighting all displays on the left, then on the right, and for the grand finale, the whole thing with colored lights blaring from the ceiling. Yea, okay, got it. Did it. Been there, done that, time to go.

The ride down the mountain only took 17 minutes not going any faster than going up
, surprising us as to why it seemed so much longer ascending. It was now 4:30 and we wanted to go to the Castle Museum, not for the history, but for the special exhibit on chocolate. We rushed over there to find that it closes at 5pm, not 6pm. We did not make it. We also missed out on the Dentistry Museum, the Collection of Military Lore, and Collection of historic data of customs and taxes. Wow, who cannot deny that this should be the European City of Culture with these offerings making up their list of 12 museums in the city? We thought we could take in the city tour that was part of our card and transported by the little yellow train. However, it stops running at 5pm also, after September 30th. Another missed opportunity.

Every block has at least one church, which we dutifully entered, not so much out of interest as to have something to do. Even with the stores open, I was not diverted into succumbing into my favorite hobby of shopping. There was nothing that screamed 'come look at me'.

Without the mobs of demonstrators, the central square was what, interesting? What more is there to say about it. The plantings were lovely? I was really at a loss to find superlatives to describe this city and even with a thesaurus, I would have come up short. The best I could do was to say it is a stopping off point to other more interesting places.

Along the main street, we found a place for dinner, a typical pub/restaurant that was crowded with locals, a good sign. The food was good, the beer was fine, the atmosphere was lively. After dinner, Ron wanted to see one of the gay bars that opens at 8pm. I thought for sure we were in for another dud experience, but to my surprise, it was jammed, standing room only. This could be due to the fact that it probably could only hold 100 people at the max and that is if everyone agreed to keep their arms at their sides and drink their drinks with long straws. Being no bigger than our living room and kitchen combined, it was enthralling to see the mix of men there. The only woman was the bartender. One quick drink was all we needed to satisfy our curiosity.

On the way back to the hotel, we discussed whether we really wanted to spend another night here on the way back from Cesky Krumlov and the answer was a resounding definitely not, more museum tickets and vouchers left untouched be damned. We had already recovered our 20 Euro investment for each of our Linz cards, so like gambling, quit while you are ahead of the game. We went to the train station and changed our reservations to return home on the 30th, then called the hotel we were booked at for the last night and canceled the reservation. Feeling at peace, we went back to the room and read.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Off to Linz, Austria


Today, we are traveling to Linz, Austria as a stop off point on route to Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. We had heard so many wonderful things about this Czech town, we finally gave and decided to see for ourselves if it is as fabulous as we have been led to believe. Getting there is not easy from here, but the easiest way is to go to Linz first and then to Cesky. Many go there after having first been to Prague.

We will spend two nights in Linz, then two more in Cesky, with one final night in Linz on the way back to break up the trip and return on Halloween. As I was getting my toiletries together, I had concerns about the saline solution for my contacts thinking of restrictions of liquids, then it dawned on me, we were taking the train. No restrictions, no hassles, no bother. The station we leave from is only one metro stop from us or one stop on the express bus. Keleti station, here we come.

We had a full compartment all to ourselves. We were the only reservation until after we made it to our destination. Six seats to sprawl out on was a luxury and no budget airlines to fiddle with. There are none that go this route anyway. Tickets with
reservations cost us $180. round trip. The trip was five hours going through Vienna, but with books in hand, it was not a hardship. I was reading "The Memory Keeper's Daughter", so engrossing the miles flew by with little uninterrupted naps along the way.

Linz is the capital of the Austrian federal state "Upper Austria", and located on the Danube river in the Eastern part of the province. Having a population of 190,000 people as well as the reputation for being an industrial city, in the last few years Linz has tried to rid itself of that image. The city improved its cultural and tourist attractions to add to its tourist base so more people would choose Linz as a destination for a short city trip or during their holiday time in Austria. In 2009, it will be a "European Capital of Culture" together with the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

The Linz train station is a modern affair with lots of shops and bakeries galore. As soon as we arrived, the Tourism office is our first stop. We purchase 2 Linz cards for 20 Euros each. This turned out to be a good bet. It entitles you to:

  • entrance to all 12 museums in the city
  • a one day transportation pass
  • 10 Euro discount at 40 different participating restaurants
  • a trip on the Linz "City Express"
  • a free postcard
  • a free Postlingberg adventure ticket
  • entrance to the zoo
  • entrance to the Grotto Railroad
  • free entry to the botanical gardens
  • other vouchers for discounts
They are smart in not making time limited like many cities do. The discounts are all good until the end of the year. Now it was up to us to make this a value deal by getting our 20 Euros worth for each of us.

We booked the Ibis Hotel for 70 Euros a night, which was conveniently across the
street from the station. After dumping our things in the room, we headed out to explore the city. Strangely though, it was only 3pm by this point, but all of the stores were closed. The signs on the doors showed they were to be open until 5 or 6pm, but yet they were shut tight and dark. When all else fails, go for a coffee. We found the 'Original' home of the Linzer torte, making an early rest stop a necessity. Not a Sacher torte by a long shot, we could not figure out why this torte ever gained in popularity. It was like eating cake sand with the jam between layers getting overruled by the rest of the confection's blandness.

The afternoon was spent walking and looking at the s
ights from the outside. Most of the city was dead still. In the main square, there was a demonstration, which by judging from the crowd, was mostly Islamic. We found a second tour office and discovered that today was a national holiday celebrating the day the last troops left Austria in 1955 after having been occupied since WWII.

There is no denying this is a Catholic country. Religious monuments are all over the city.

For our dining pleasure, we came across a fun pub/restaurant called Josef (www.josef.co.at). They took our voucher for 10 Euros each. We were convinced by the waiter to try the Austrian sampler platter, which was typical Upper Austrian food dishes. The pork slices were the size of my hand, the doughy balls had bacon cracklings inside them, the bread balls were not very flavorful, and I passed on the blood sausage completely. With a large beer, it was 9 Euro for both of us after our coupon.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Yesterday and Today


I received e-mails yesterday from students who did not intend to return to Budapest yesterday for fear of the news on TV. We stayed in all day to avoid problems. Today, half of my classes were missing in action or lack thereof. On a different, but interesting note, I just read today that the Hungarian government is doing away with the 1 and 2 forint coins as of March 2008. Anyone harboring a bag of those coins can bring them to the National bank for redemption, but to save time you should count them yourself. There is a going to be a long line at the one counting machine. This will have a minor impact on exchange rates too.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

1956 Revolution in 2007


This is a second post for today. You should read down to the first of the day to fully appreciated this one. Yesterday, I received e-mails from students who live outside of Budapest when not in school. They wrote to tell me that they would not return to the city today for fear of dangers from protesters and rioters; therefore, they will not make it to class on Wednesday. We have been advised by more than one person not to go out so no one hears us speak English. Quite accidentally, I came across this Hungarian blogger's post for today and his feelings about today are quite interesting. http://ycrazymind.blogspot.com/2007/10/1956.html

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Today is a Holiday


Today is a national holiday here. It is the Memorial Day remembrance of the 1956 Uprising

This national holiday commemorates the outbreak of the people's uprising against Soviet domination in 1956. The new prime Minister, Imre Nagy withdrew from the Warsaw Pact of “communist” countries. Soviet troops invaded. Hungary appealed for UN assistance against Soviet invasion, but only received verbal help. Holland & Spain withdrew from Olympics, to protest Soviets in Hungary. UN demanded USSR leave Hungary. In November, after lots of bloodshed, the Hungarian revolution was put down by the powerful Red Army of the Soviet Union. Imre Nagy and many other leaders and participants were executed by the soviet regime. Soviet troops stayed in Hungary until 1991. The country also celebrates Hungary's new constitutional status in 1989

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Language Issues and a Good-Bye


I am having language issues with Google and the blog. Each time I start a search in Google or any other search engine, it defaults to Hungarian. The same with this blog. This started happening about a month ago and I don't know why. I checked my language preferences in Google every time I open it and change it to English. Firefox is in English in the tools section and has not changed. Internet Explorer is in English and that has not changed either. This is maddening, having to change each time I use it. I have cleaned the caches more than once and then did the changes yet again. There don't seem to be any new solutions that I can find when searching, so if anyone has any ideas, PLEASE... As we get closer to the end of October, we are coming to the end of SkyEurope airline's visibility in Hungary. As of November 1st, they will no longer fly into or out of Budapest. It is disheartening when an airline stops flying from your local airport, reducing the number of destination options. They flew to 23 cities from here and though some of those routes may be picked up by the force that drove them out, Wizz Airlines, not all of them will be covered. We had used SkyEurope often to go to Paris and Amsterdam. The fares were usually a bit lower than the competition. They will be missed. On the bright side, in October and then in November, Ryanair has started service from Budapest to Dublin and then Glasgow. Two places we cannot afford to visit often due to the state of the dollar. Of course when we went to Edinburgh in August, there were no budget airlines flying from here to there and to combine flights would have cost more than we spent on KLM. Maybe next summer.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Open Skies


This was reported on the US government website from April and it is worth keeping an eye on for transatlantic flights to and from the U.S and any EU country. Some are expecting this to reduce the cost of airline travel to and from the States. Others are staying it will not happen. Only time will tell.

Valuable Open Skies Benefits: The Agreement will authorize every U.S. and every EU airline to:

· fly between every city in the European Union and every city in the United States;

· operate without restriction on the number of flights, aircraft, and routes;

· set fares according to market demand; and

· enter into cooperative arrangements, including codesharing, franchising, and leasing.

In addition, the Agreement will foster enhanced regulatory cooperation in areas as diverse as competition law, government subsidies, the environment, consumer protection, and security. It establishes a consultative Joint Committee through which the U.S. and the EU can resolve questions and further develop areas of cooperation.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007



I did not realize how many things there were to catch up on while I spent the summer writing. I am still playing catch up. We are planning on going to Linz, Austria for a few days over my Fall break and then on to a small medieval town in the Czech Republic. I can never remember the town's name, but it sounds like Chesty-krumbli. Should be fun, but I will know the name for sure after we go. We have also booked tickets to Malaysia in December. Ron went ahead and booked tickets to Viet Nam and Cambodia from there. We will have four weeks to explore the region.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Mother Memory


My mother loved butterflies; she had them all over. One day in April, she was on my mind quite often during the day and this appeared on a pillow in our living room.

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This was a poster on a bus stop for a Mapplethorpe exhibit. I love the reflections in the glass.

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Assorted Edinburgh Snaps


Some of these are general sites, but a couple are of the Military Tattoo.

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Signs of the Times


These Edinburgh signs tickled me.

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