A Travellerspoint blog

In the immortal words of Jim Morrison ...

... this is the end.

The hotel worked out pretty well. We didn't hear a bit of noise during the night, and we were able to go down an elevator and an escalator to get breakfast at Starbucks. We checked out around 10:00 and then walked over to the airport to check in for our Lufthansa flight.

Frankfurt airport doesn’t have half the duty-free shops that Heathrow does, so I wasn’t tempted to buy a bunch of last-minute stuff. Probably a good thing. We had to take a bus from the gate to our plane, which was a full flight. Lufthansa’s pretty good. They see that we’re well-hydrated and fed, and they also hand out hot towels two times during the flight. The flight crew were pleasant too.

I’d never been on a plane where the restrooms were down a small staircase. I liked it that way because then there weren’t a million people crowding the aisles.

The flight was uneventful. I watched "Brave," and John watched “Men in Black III.” We landed in Vancouver on time but we had less than two hours to get to our Air Canada/Jazz flight. We had to enter Canada, which meant standing in a long line in a hot arrivals hall to show our passports. Then we had to retrieve our bags (which Frankfurt had been able to tag through to Seattle) and hand over our Canadian Customs Declaration. By the time we found the check-in counter for our flight, we had about one minute to go till we would have been considered late. As it was, the agent had to ask a supervisor to open the flight so that our bags would get on. And then we had to show our passports again and go through U.S. Customs and security. It’s nice that you can clear U.S. Customs in Canada because that treats your flight as a domestic flight, so when you land in the U.S. you can just deplane and claim your bag and be on your way. On the other hand, it’s a pain to have to do all that in Canada if you’re in a hurry to catch an onward flight.

The Air Canada/Jazz plane had 12 rows and propellers, and when we took off it sounded like someone had attached wings to a Volkswagen Beetle. At least it was a short flight and the scenery was nice.

So we got our bags at SeaTac and then got the light rail into town, then hopped a bus to Lake City, where we waited for 20 minutes for another bus to take us closer to home. In that time, we could have walked, but we were both so tired and the last thing I wanted to do was parade down Lake City Way with my suitcase.

Anyway, it’s good to be home. The only thing missing is Chloe, and we won’t be able to pick her up till Monday.

So that’s the end. We had a great time and experienced some things we would likely never get to try here in Seattle. Of course, I hope we get to keep traveling, but I’ll be perfectly happy not having to be anywhere near an airplane in the near future.

Auf wiedersehen!

Posted by londonpenguin 17:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Harry Lime and Chocolate

The street the hotel is on was so noisy. I woke up several times because of people coming in late and not caring about making noise, and then the construction down the block started very early.

The tour was technically over after breakfast, so John and I went to the Prater this morning. The Prater is Vienna's old amusement park, and it reminds me a lot of the Fun Forest at the Seattle Center, only bigger. I wanted to go because I wanted to ride the Riesenrad, the old Ferris wheel used in Orson Welles’s "The Third Man." Even though the park technically opens at 9:00, when we got there shortly afterwards there didn’t appear to be anything running at all. But the Riesenrad was, indeed, running; it just runs very slowly. We were the first people on, but then the guy running the thing held us at the bottom for a few minutes till a French family of four turned up, and the guy put them in the same cabin with us. Not that I really minded, but really? There’s no one in the park, there’s no line for the wheel, why not give each group its own cabin? Anyway, the view from the top was pretty good, and I had my Harry Lime moment.

We walked around the Prater a bit more, but still not many things were open and it began to feel a little creepy. So we took the U-Bahn back down to the main square in town (Stephansplatz) with the intention of going to the Haus der Musik. But then we decided that it was really too expensive, so we went in search of a British bookstore that Rick Steves lists in the Vienna book. We found it. The store was completely empty. Drag. So we decided to go to Demel, the fancy pastry shop that we missed going back to yesterday.

Demel was crowded, and there didn’t appear to be any seating either, except for some outdoor tables that were already full. Sigh … So far, not the most productive of mornings. Since it was getting close to lunchtime, we decided to go to the Palmenhouse, which we passed yesterday during our tour with Gerhard. It used to be the palace’s greenhouse, and it does still have some pretty vines and other greenery growing inside. I had pappardelle and John had salmon.

Fortified, we went back to the fancy grocery store that Gerhard said has a good chocolate selection … and do they! All kinds of chocolate, with each tag sporting a flag to show what country the chocolate comes from. I managed to only buy a couple of bars. :)

We then walked into St. Peter's church to have a quick look. It’s small and crammed with religion, but there was a nice statue of St. Teresa and a painting of St. Therese, so I liked it.

We decided we just couldn’t go on anymore, so we went back to the hotel to retrieve our bags and take the Vienna Airport Lines bus to (get this!) the airport. Vienna airport turns out to be pretty confusing, though signed well enough that we didn’t get lost. We flew NIKI (related to Air Berlin) back to Frankfurt, and we are staying the night at the Hilton Garden Inn at the airport. It’s pretty nice, although the printer in the business center didn’t work when we went to print our boarding passes. When we told the front desk, the response was, “We know.” If you know, why aren’t you putting an Out of Order sign on it? Otherwise, if I ever found myself needing to lay over at Frankfurt Airport again, I would stay here.

We had dinner in the train station (sandwiches) and are now tired and a little cranky and I have a cramp in my thigh, so I think it’s time for bed. At least the pillows look good!

The Riesenrad

The Riesenrad


Voldemort?

Voldemort?


St. Peter's Church

St. Peter's Church


A Lipizzaner

A Lipizzaner

Posted by londonpenguin 17:00 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Kunsthistorisches (Say that 10 times fast!)

It was much colder today than it has been, with a brisk wind as well. Our walking tour with Gerhard started in Stephansplatz by the cathedral. Unfortunately, nearly the entire thing is under scaffolding for restoration of the limestone walls, so I couldn't really get a good photo of it. The roof, however, was mostly visible, and it’s really lovely. All colored tiles depicting a double-headed eagle, the family symbol of the Habsburgs; it reminds me of the roofs in Beaune.

I can’t remember the order in which we saw stuff, but here’s what we saw. The plague column was put up by one or other of the Habsburg emperors after he begged God to save the city from the bubonic plague in the late 17th century. The "plague" itself is depicted as a hideously ugly and decrepit woman, and there’s also a statue of the emperor himself on the column that shows his distinctive underbite. Due to marriage between first cousins, the Habsburgs were so hopelessly inbred that their jaws were distorted. The joke was that this particular emperor had to hold his hand flat below his nose when it rained so that he wouldn’t drown.

We walked by Demel, a famous patisserie. And I just realized that I totally meant to get us back there to have some pastry but I forgot. Dang.

We stopped for a quick coffee/bathroom break, then had a look at the anti-fascism monument. It’s not much to look at really. Initially, there was a plan to put up a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, but all the political parties were against it because it would only commemorate the Jews who were killed by the Nazi regime and not any other groups. So this monument against war and fascism was erected instead. Gerhard offered the interesting tidbit that when he was at school (he’s around 50), World War II simply wasn’t taught. It was simply unthinkable to teach that Austrians collaborated with the Nazis and were partially responsible for what happened. Today, the Holocaust is taught to students, but WWII is still a touchy subject. On the rare occasion that Austria’s role in the war is taught, headmasters end up with angry parents demanding to know why their kids are being taught that their grandparents did these terrible things.

We walked through the Hofburg Palace complex and stopped for a moment to see the Vienna Opera building. The Opera puts on a different show every night, often with world-famous singers, and the set builders work 24/7. We walked by the stables of the Spanish Riding School and caught a glimpse of one of the Lipizzaner stallions being brushed. Well, mostly we saw its rump … from a distance.

And then we ended up at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, where Gerhard took us on a whirlwind tour of some of the more famous pieces. We saw Canaletto, Bruegel, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Velazquez and Raphael, including Madonna of the Meadow (Raphael), Ecce Homo (Titian), David with the Head of Goliath (Caravaggio), and The Tower of Babel (Bruegel). Once the tour was over, John and I found Hans Holbein’s portrait of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife. We found the portrait of Anne of Cleves in the Musee d’Orsay in 2008, so I was pleased to find her predecessor today.

We got a couple of ham-and-cheese croissants for lunch, and then we took the U-Bahn to Schoenbrunn Palace on the outskirts of the city. This was intended to be the Habsburgs’ hunting lodge, and it’s modeled on Versailles. We only planned to see the gardens, not the palace itself. It was raining pretty persistently though, and we nearly did decide to pay to go into the palace. In the end, though, we walked around the gardens and up to the Gloriette, an imposing structure at the end of the gardens that sits on a hill overlooking the whole complex. Then we found the maze and labyrinth, so we spent an hour or so getting lost and playing the games. And then we made our way out and took the U-Bahn back to the plaza near our hotel. We’ve been resting and packing up a little bit before our final dinner tonight.

LATER: Dinner was a block away at one of the oldest restaurants in Vienna. The building was three or four stories and consisted of a series of dining rooms. We had a room on the third level decorated like a library. We had boiled beef with two sauces: a yogurt-chive sauce, and an apple-horseradish sauce. They were both good, but for me they really couldn’t disguise just how bland boiled beef is. Dessert was a sort of layered crepe, and Daniela had ordered bottles of Austrian wine for us.

Afterward, Daniela made a little speech about how wonderful the group has been, and she gave us all cookie hearts that are traditionally worn during Oktoberfest. Mine says “Suesse” (sweet) and John’s says “Schatz” (treasure). And then we all crammed into one end of the room and got the waiter to take our group photo.

The tour officially ends after breakfast tomorrow, but Daniela has a super-early flight to Avignon so we won’t see her. We all waited in the hotel lobby to say goodbye. Hugs all 'round! You get so used to these people and then suddenly they’re not a part of your life anymore. It’s always a bit sad, but I think John and I will both be glad to get home to our own pillows, our shower (water pressure!), and our kitty (even though she’s usually a pain in the wotsit).

Office building door

Office building door


Gerhard and the Plague Column

Gerhard and the Plague Column


Caution: 1950s Man Crossing

Caution: 1950s Man Crossing


Jane and me

Jane and me


The maze and labyrinth at Schoenbrunn

The maze and labyrinth at Schoenbrunn


The group

The group

Posted by londonpenguin 17:00 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Mauthausen

The lake and mountains were shrouded in mist and low-lying clouds this morning, and it was raining off and on. Felt like home! At least it wasn't boiling hot again. We had to be on the bus at 8:15, which meant a 15-minute walk back through the town. I think we could have used one more day in Hallstatt, because as we walked along I noticed all sorts of little shops that I really hadn’t seen yesterday. Also, I saw one more kitty sitting outside the fish shop, anxiously checking to see if the door was about to open.

On the way to Vienna we went to Mauthausen, one of the major concentration camps. It functioned as a death camp, but not really as an extermination camp. Roughly 100,000 men died there between 1938 and 1945, but mainly from the starvation diet and hard labor. And, of course, the occasional sadistic SS guard, or prisoner-on-prisoner violence. It’s a pretty imposing camp, sitting up on a hill above the (very attractive) town of Mauthausen. It also sits on a granite quarry; mining the granite provided work for the prisoners and building material for the Nazis to sell. A steep, uneven staircase leads down into the quarry, and prisoners had to go up and down it multiple times a day carrying heavy loads of stone. A prisoner who could no longer manage the task – and it didn’t take long on 1200 calories a day – would be shot or pushed back down the stairs. Mauthausen was the last camp to be liberated by the Allies.

At the entrance of the camp today is a large field. Aerial photos taken from a U.S. spy plane show that part of the field was the sick bay – from which very, very few sick prisoners ever returned – and the other end was a soccer field. Our guide, Casimir (who was wonderful), told us that the guards had formed a professional soccer team, and they played teams from other parts of Austria. The townspeople would go on a Sunday to watch the games, all while fresh transports of prisoners were being marched up the hill from the train station. Casimir’s point was that ordinary Austrians saw what was going on; nearly everything happened right in front of their noses. How could they miss it? Also at the entrance to the camp, a swimming pool for the guards’ recreation.

Part of the grounds is now given over to memorials to the various groups who were imprisoned at Mauthausen. Some are artistic, and the whole thing reminded me of a section of Père-Lachaise in Paris. While Casimir talked, there was a small group holding a ceremony in front of the Spanish memorial.

Inside the walls are some surviving barracks, as well as a shower room and the gas chamber and ovens. It’s eerie and horrid, of course, but somehow I didn’t find Mauthausen as affecting as Dachau. Perhaps it was because Dachau was my first visit to a camp … I don’t know. I just remember that after Dachau, I was struggling on the bus to not break down sobbing. This time, I just didn’t feel much. But when I realized that, I ended up feeling guilty and angry with myself. I suppose it’s just that a visit to a concentration camp is a hard thing to process.

Prior to our visit, Daniela talked on the bus about the years between WWI and WWII and how Hitler and the Nazi party came to power. She said that she is part of a generation that doesn’t feel guilt about the war and what the German people did, but that feels a great deal of responsibility to keep something like that from happening again. She also said that WWII affected the national psyche so much that it wasn’t until just a few years ago that people began to proudly display the German flag again. She also has no idea what national pride feels like or what its use is. Whereas in the USA, we tend to feel pride when our athletes do well at the Olympics, in Germany the thinking would be more like, "Well, good for him; he won a medal." But there would be no sense of nationalistic pride on the athlete’s behalf. I guess what this means is that while it takes 1.2 seconds to get a crowd to start chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!,” you wouldn’t catch a crowd of Germans chanting “Deutsch-land! Deutsch-land!”

After the camp, we stopped for lunch at a … well, it was sort of a rest stop. We had salad bar (which doesn’t just mean a bunch of lettuce) and a chocolate roulade for dessert. John also had a Kaiser beer in a Kaiser beer glass, but my camera was back on the bus! Then it was another two hours or so to Vienna, during part of which Daniela showed us some of the movie “Sissi,” about Empress Elisabeth.

Driving into Vienna reminded me of Paris: wide streets and beautiful 19th-century and early 20th-century buildings. We are staying at the Hotel Post (so-called because it is across from the post office), and our room is again quite large. Rick is really spoiling us this time! We rested for an hour or so and then went back out again with Daniela for a short orientation walk. She dropped us in Stephansplatz and we were on our own for dinner. John wanted to find the Haus der Musik, so we got lost for a little bit trying to find it. When we got there and found it was 11 euros, we decided to go back tomorrow because we still hadn’t had dinner and we were running low on cash. We ended up having dinner at Dai Fratelli, an Italian restaurant run by Italians. We each had a delizioso pizza, and John had a Zipfer beer. Zipfer?! We finished with gelato at Zanoni & Zanoni. Very yum.

Oh, and it rained all day. I’m glad the sun isn’t blazing anymore, but I do wish the rain would go away. It’s no fun being introduced to a damp city.

Leaving Hallstatt

Leaving Hallstatt


Mauthausen

Mauthausen


Mauthausen barracks

Mauthausen barracks


Casimir, our guide

Casimir, our guide

Posted by londonpenguin 17:00 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

The Emperor's Crumbs

LAST NIGHT: The concert was very nice and about a dozen of us went. We were seated toward the rear of the room, but I guess that doesn't matter when you’re really there to listen. The room itself used to be part of the prince-archbishop’s palace, so it’s rather grand and pleasingly baroque. There were five or six musicians dressed in 18th century costume, and two singers, a tenor and a soprano. Personally, I thought the tenor was good but the soprano got a little breathy in her mid-range.

First, we were given a selection from Don Giovanni and then were served (this is verbatim from the menu, which I didn’t take with me because there was a very stern notice stating that the menu was not free but could be purchased for two euros) a white lemon soup with curd cheese-rosemary dumpling and cream topping. It sounds weird but it was very good. Then we heard Le Nozze di Figaro, followed up with breast of capon on a glaze of red wine and herbs with pumpkin dumplings, semolina strudel, and vegetables from Padre Prior’s garden. My capon was a little dry, but otherwise it was all good (though I didn’t eat the nasty little bits of zucchini). To finish, we had a little bit of The Magic Flute (I’ve forgotten the German title … Die Zauberfloete or something like that) and had a dessert of semi-frozen parfait of forest honey on two different sauces. I don’t know what the sauces were but the whole thing was sehr gut. Half of our group found our way back to the hotel; lights out around 11:00. I’m not sure that I’d do this again (it cost 42 euros apiece), but it was a nice experience.

TODAY: Happy birthday, Herr Kaiser! :)

We are in Hallstatt today. It’s only an hour or so from Salzburg, but we couldn’t arrive too early because our rooms wouldn’t be ready. We drove through the Salzkammergut, the salt-mining area of Austria, and also where several of the outdoor scenes in "The Sound of Music" were filmed. I swear I could see Julie Andrews’s mountain meadow!

So we went to the small town of St. Gilgen to take a boat ride. It was a ten-minute walk through town to the lake, and what a cute place! Mozart’s mother was from St. Gilgen, so Nannerl, his sister, often took holidays in town. There’s a charming little statue-fountain of a child Mozart playing the violin. Several of the buildings have paintings under the eaves, and there are plenty of flower boxes.

Daniela stopped at the small and well-kept war memorial and told us that until she started traveling, she didn’t realize that Germany doesn’t really have memorials to any of their World War II dead. Austria, however, does. She also mentioned that Europe also still remembers September 11; she said the papers she saw today all had front-page articles dedicated to the date.

We continued on (past some sidewalk foot-massage machines; why don’t we have these all over every city?), and Daniela paused in front of a restaurant whose sandwich board read “Kaiser Schmarrn” (roll that R!). It basically means “Emperor’s crumbs,” but “schmarrn” is also the word for nonsense or when someone is talking crap. In the 19th century, Kaiser Franz Josef (can’t remember if he was I or II) really enjoyed his pancakes. German pancakes are somewhere between a crepe and an American-style pancake. His chef couldn’t seem to get his batter right, and the resulting cakes kept falling apart. Thinking he was going to have one angry emperor on his hands, he served them up anyway with a dusting of powdered sugar. The Kaiser liked them so much that they became a “thing.” We actually saw Kaiser Schmarrn on a few boards today.

Daniela helpfully told us that we should get in line at the dock well before we had our tickets. We did, and it’s a good thing because it’s a popular boat and there were several other large groups on board, including a large Japanese contingent. But because we were up front, we all got seats outside on the top deck. We chugged across the Wolfgangsee, stopping occasionally at picturesque little villages. It was particularly lovely since we got to sit and the Japanese all had to stand. What better place to indulge in a little Schadenfreude than Austria? One of our group, Terry, got to talking with one of the Japanese men, and they ended up exchanging baseball caps (but only after several photos were taken); this seemed to please the Japanese guy to no end. It was actually pretty cute to watch the whole scene. (One note about the Japanese women, of whom we’ve seen plenty these past ten days: It’s been very warm – hot, as far as I’m concerned – but these women are completely covered up with long-sleeved shirts, big-brimmed hats, huge sunglasses, vests or jackets, and gloves. I know they’re trying to keep their skin pale, but I can’t help wondering how they keep from sweating to death. I can only conclude that Japanese women have no pores.)

We arrived in St. Wolfgang, another impossibly picture-postcard-perfect little town on the edge of the lake, where Rene met us with the bus. Daniela said the Kaisers used to holiday in St. Wolfgang, and ex-Chancellor Helmut Kohl also likes to spend time there.

We arrived in Hallstatt around 11:30 and walked for ten minutes through the town to our hotel, the Gruener Baum. John and I are in room 202, and we look out over the alpine lake. We even have a terrace! The room is quite large; I think our Salzburg room could fit inside this room twice over. There are small boats skimming the lake, and ducks and swans hang out near the waterside cafés hoping for crumbs.

We sat on our terrace for a few minutes and then ventured out for lunch. We ended up at an open-air bar, where we sat at a picnic table across from three older Germans. We didn’t talk at all, but they were very polite when they sat down and when they left. John and I each had grilled sausage with pommes frites and mustard. And then I had an Eisschokolade (iced coffee with ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce) and John had Stracciatellabecher (stracciatella ice cream, bananas, whipped cream, banana liqueur, and something green and unidentifiable on top). All this and a beautiful view!

We checked out a few shops, several of which have different kinds of local salt. Then we walked up to the Catholic church that dominates the town. It’s small but interesting in that it’s got a double apse (i.e., two altars). There’s a bone chapel behind the church that we also had a look at. Kind of creepy, but not gory. The skulls are all painted with flowers or crosses and have the deceased’s name and date of death in Gothic script. The most recent skull was placed in 1995, though the woman died in 1983. You can see her gold tooth.

Came back to the hotel and are now sitting on the terrace enjoying the view and watching bumblebees romancing the flowers.

LATER: We had dinner in the hotel. Some sort of soup, which everyone at my table thought was cream of celery but which had a distinct broccoli flavor to me. I only had a little bit. Then I had turkey in a creamy sauce, and John had trout. A whole trout. Daniela gave a little lesson in how to deal with a whole fish; John seemed to manage pretty well. Dessert was our first apple strudel (warm!) with whipped cream. A nice way to end the day.

Rathaus in St. Gilgen, with Mozart statue

Rathaus in St. Gilgen, with Mozart statue


View from our boat on the Wolfgangsee

View from our boat on the Wolfgangsee


View from our Hallstatt terrace

View from our Hallstatt terrace


Dissatisfied kitty

Dissatisfied kitty


Disdainful kitty

Disdainful kitty


Sleepy kitty

Sleepy kitty


Trout

Trout


Apple strudel ... Jealous, aren't you?

Apple strudel ... Jealous, aren't you?


Rene and Daniela

Rene and Daniela

Posted by londonpenguin 17:00 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

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