Sunday, January 30, 2011

Packing it Up

The journey is coming to an end.  I'm at the hostel getting everything packed up for my flight tomorrow morning, and I seem to actually have less stuff than when I came.  This could be the result of me forgetting many, many things, which I can do, or perhaps I'm just doing a better job packing.

Regardless, I'll have to fill you in on the remainder of Berlin when I get home.  I'll have much better PC access there anyway.  So, it's been a lovely trip, but I'm looking forward to getting back home and back into the real world on Tuesday.


Friday, January 28, 2011

My Engine Room is Taking on Water

I underestimated this little knee issue from last night, where I slammed it against the escalator.  I woke up this morning and that thing was hurting like a mother.  Couldn't really walk, and felt like I would need to go to the doctor yet again.  I'm taking so much punishment on this trip I feel like the Bismarck.

Warning: next paragraph is a little squeam-inducing.

Once I finally examine the wound...well, you know on an escalator step edge it basically has teeth?  Well, there's an escalator-tooth-shaped hole in my knee, and a smaller one to its right.  I took a couple alcohol pads to it and put on a band aid, and it was beyond stiff this morning.

I had to wait around the hostel until about 2:00 to see the doctor, and when I got up to head over there, it was still painful, but I could get around, so I skipped the appointment and headed downtown.  It feels like bone bruises I've had before, and I'm perambulating a bit slowly, but am hoping to be more or less back up to speed for my last 2 days in Berlin.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Berlin: Day 1

I got to Berlin about 12:30 today, and was settled into my hostel by about 2:30.  It's a unique's run by a couple of young people who want to build a school in Zambia, so they opened a hostel to try to raise money for it.  The facilities are well above average, and the bedrooms have cheesy animal themes, but it's got a nice feel to it, as does the staff.

Since I didn't have much daylight left, I hopped the subway to Alexanderplatz, on the eastern end of Unter den Linden, one of the main drags in the city.  This will mostly be a photo post, as it was all outdoor time here.  To the left is the giant TV tower you see dominate Alexanderplatz...I'll post more on it later once I get a chance to visit.

Just to the southeast is the Fountain of Neptune.  It doesn't flow in the winter, but it's still photo-worthy (see below).

Fountain of Neptune

Passing a number of museums and embassies heading down Unter den Linden towards the Brandenberg Gate, one passes the statue of Frederick the Great, one of the objects of my historical fascination.  He was the model of the enlightened despot, greatly increasing centralization of power in Prussia in the 1700's, performing brilliantly as a military man, and all the while hanging around with Voltaire and bringing culture to the realm.  The statue here was removed in 1950 with Germans looking to make a full break with their imperial past to repent for their actions in World War II.  Fortunately, the statue was brought back in 1980 and now sits in the middle of the great boulevard.

At the end of Linden is the famous Brandenberg Gate, right next to the U.S. Embassy.  You saw photos of this when the Berlin Wall was taken down, as it was the center of the celebration.  The 4-horsed chariot on top was the God of Peace until after the defeat of Napoleon, when she became the God of Victory.  It is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the country.

On the east side is the Pariser Platz (shown), and the other side is the 13th of March Platz, commemorating the European-wide revolutions of 1848 when in Prussia, an uprising led to the king being forced to agree to numerous democratic reforms.  These were later mostly taken back, but it was the start of something.

Just south of the Gate is the Jewish Memorial, which I believe was completed only in the last few years.  It contains 2100+ steles like the ones shown here - there's no magic to the number, it's just how many would fit in the area they had to work with.

I finally ended up in the center of Kreuzberg, to the southwest, which is the HQ for the large Turkish population in Berlin.  I got me some bakhlavah at a shop that only sells that, and went next door to the place that apparently invented the Berlin-style doner kebab for a lamb kebab.  Not amazing, but quite good, especially for someone who hadn't had a proper lunch that day.

German Cinema is Trying to Sap My Will to Live

A German theater tried to take away my will to live today.  It was not successful, but it is good at its job.

I felt like seeing a movie this evening...hadn't seen one in a while, and kind of had a craving for popcorn too.  So, I settled on Tron: Legacy at the Alexanderplatz here in Berlin.  I know it will be expensive, because my experience so far is that not a single theater plays Tron or Green Hornet in anything other than 3D, and they charge 5 euros more for that dubious luxury.  But hey, I'm up to try it.

I see in the concession line (so-called because its products require many concessions to obtain) that the prices there are about the same as the U.S.  I want a combo, and here's what happens with the guy at the counter:

Me: Do you have butter for the popcorn?

Food Drone: Yes.

Me:  Ok, ich will einmal Menu Nummer Zwei (medium popcorn plus medium Diet Pepsi...I mean, Pepsi Light(

Drone: So, you want sweet popcorn, right?

Me:  Nein, mit Salz und Butter

Drone gets food, sets down a dry bag of popcorn

Me:  Wo ist der Butter?

Drone:  We do not have that.

Me:  But I just asked you if you did and you said yes!

Drone:  Oh, sorry.  It is made with butter.

I grumble my way upstairs...many stairs, as Kino 9 is on the top floor.  I am carrying a lot and, as is my wont, one of my shoes is untied.  On the last escalator, I sprawl forward and slam my right knee on the step, popcorn flying everywhere.  It is good that no one is around to hear me.  For all I know the detritus popcorn is still pushing against the top of the escalator like sea foam.

One of the (mostly) annoying things about German theaters is that they assign you seating.  This does have some advantages, I guess, such as being able to get a ticket early and not having to wait in line.  But mostly I don't like it, because a big part of what I'm looking for in a seat is to not sit right next to a stranger, and with this system one doesn't really have control over that, nor the chance to just get a lay of the land before selecting a seat.  I'm the first person in the theater, but I go to row 16, seat 24, now quite annoyed.

There are about 20 commercials and maybe 10 previews before the film.  Disturbingly, the previews for American films are dubbed into German.  Lots of other Europeans don't understand why Germans so often prefer their foreign films dubbed instead of subtitled, but they do.  I begin to wonder if I mistakenly bought a ticket for Tron dubbed into German.  The ticket has some abbreviations on it, but appears to say, "with subtitles" so that seems promising.  Not only that, but when I bought my ticket, I had to speak some English to the seller because I couldn't understand when he asked me if I needed 3D glasses.  Surely he would have asked me if I knew the film was in German.  Half hour later...that does not sound like Jeff Bridges.  Unbelievable.  I'm off immediately to get my money back.

The knee is not feeling great at this point, so moving downstairs isn't pleasant.  When I get to the ticket-taker, he says, "all our films are in German here, sir."  Well then here's a tip, friend-o, when somebody buying a ticket says he doesn't understand a relatively simple statement auf Deutsch, maybe you ought to check with him on that.  Anyway, I've left my ticket at my seat in the theater, and he won't give me my money back without it.  I ask if he's really going to make me go back up there and bother all the patrons in my row two more times, and he says yes.  I muster my composure and avoid an international incident in the process.

Do I dare try this again tomorrow or Saturday at a theater I know shows the English version?  Ok, it's not the greatest cliffhanger ever, but cut me some slack.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


I've been in Hamburg over a day now, and I keep getting excited walking around because there are so many signs with the word Hamburger in them.  Then I get the instant, "yeah, man, a hamburger sounds awesome" feeling, then a split second later I think, "oh yeah, they're just talking about themselves again."

Not that I blame them...this is a cool city even when it's cold and rainy, sort of like Boston in January.  It's got one very impressive harbor, and a famous street called the Reeperbahn.

This is the street where the sailors would come when on shore leave, so as you might imagine, it's kind of like the Red Light District in Amsterdam.  Mixed with a tinge of Times Square.  It's fascinating to walk through, not my cup of tea to actually stop anywhere on.

The Kaiserkellar
Well, one point just to the north, on the side street called Grosse Freiheit (Great Freedom).  This is where the Beatles played when they came to Hamburg, where they honed their talents before hitting it big.  John Lennon supposedly said, "I was born in Liverpool, but I grew up in Hamburg."  They played the majority of their time at the Kaiserkellar, which is still there, and I stopped by today.  Down the street where Freiheit meets Reeperbahn, metal outlines of the Four stand in a small circle meant to look like an LP.  A separate outline of Stu Sutcliffe, who died in 1962 but was with the band in Hamburg, hangs off to the right.

The Beatles at the corner of Reeperbahn & Grosse Freiheit

I took a couple walks down by the harbor, which has been hopping busy for hundreds of years despite being on the Elbe River rather than up at the ocean.  A trip to the city history museum was this afternoon, followed by a trip to Spicy's Gewürzmuseum (Spicy's Spice Museum), a small but cool set of exhibits showing you where spices come from, and letting you smell them along the way.

Big Frankie, 3rd from left, tells other birds what's what, see?
Oh, I had lunch outside the city museum, and about 4 ducks made right for my bench hoping to get some food.  I threw out two bread crumbs, and instantly had more than 20 birds hanging on my every move.  The ducks didn't have a chance, as these white birds (maybe gulls) would catch anything I threw before it landed.  One of the white ones, who I decided to call Big Frankie, made it clear by aggressive posturing and cahs that the other white birds had best get out of there, because he owned me.  Big Frankie shooed most of them off, but as near as I could tell, was never quick enough to get a piece.

Off to Berlin tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Amsterdam Arcade

So I'm in Amsterdam yesterday, just wandering around to see what's to see, and I see a Commodore 64 in a display window outside a bank.  Next to an Atari 2600.

Only it wasn't a bank at all.  This little museum had taken over a former bank, and does strange little exhibitions, and this one happened to be called "Arcade."  What this effectively meant for me was for a 5-euro admission fee, I could play all the old video games I wanted.

There were stand-up games: Galaga, Ms. Pac Man, Metal Slug, Vanguard, and one machine with about 100 to choose from...Zaxxon, Xevious (my old favorite), Mr. Do, Dig Dug, 1942, Donkey Kong (various flavors)...  I don't think anyone will beat my high scores on Time Pilot.

Evidence of the Master's Time Pilot Work
They also had a series of classic home systems set up...a 2600 with Space Invaders, a 2600 Jr. with, inexplicably, E.T., a Coleco, an Amiga, and even a Vectrex, which I've long wanted to see up close.

So, I played too many old games, and I was most pleased.

Monday, January 24, 2011


On my way from Koln to Amsterdam yesterday, I made a brief (about 90 minute) stop-off in Aachen, situated right where Germany borders both Belgium and the Netherlands.  The reason was to see the Aachen Dom, another highly impressive cathedral that in this case holds the remains of Charlemagne.

Built in about 800, Charlemagne built it in part to cement Aachen as the capital of his empire, which is arguably the first European empire (although it didn't include Spain, Britain, Scandanavia, or Eastern Europe).  The throne in the cathedral was used to crown about 30 German emperors, and has been a pilgramage site for some time.

As with most of these cathedrals, this one also claims to have a holy relic, in this case Christ's loincloth.  It has some other lesser relics, and they are displayed once every 7 years (next in 2014).

After a quick visit, I had time for an equally quick lunch at a Turkish dinerish place.  The guy working there recommended a meatball that had chili peppers and a kind of white cheese rolled up in it, and was stewed in a sauce of tomatoes, peppers, and onions.  I have to learn how to make this.  I couldn't understand the name as he said it several times, but he said it was named after the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, so I should be able to find it that way.

Old Nurnberg

The rest of my day in Nurnberg was not nearly so jarring.  The city is also home to Albrecht Durer and some great fountains, churches, and at least one good museum.

Lunch was so good that it was a little blurry.
First, the city is famous for its miniature sausages, often sold "3 im Weckla," or 3 in a roll.  I figured I should try these, but was also told that a local restaurant made another local favorite, roasted pork shoulder.  Fortunately, the place had a combo platter to give a taste of both!

The pork was pretty great (see right) came with some sauerkraut, and they mercifully substituted fried potatoes instead of potato salad for me.  The sausages on the other hand...well, it's not that they're not good, it's just that they are exactly what you'd get if you ordered sausage links at Perkins.  Same deal.  So, they tasted fine, I was just expecting something a bit more.

One of the cool sites along the way was a fountain built by Emperor Charles IV (of the Holy Roman Empire), who was a huge fan of the city.  It shows the electors of the empire, representatives from Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and more.  Just a few of the figures are at left.

There's a gold ring on the fence surrounding the fountain that one is supposed to turn 3 times for good luck.  It's a big tourist attraction

Finally, the city also houses the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, or museum of German culture.  The museum has over 1.2 million objects in its inventory, dating from prehistoric times to the present.  The most interesting to me were major works by several German artists, including Altdorfer, who I'm beginning to like.

Also on display were the two oldest known globes in existence.  The one pictured is, I think, from about 1519, and does not include the Americas.  The second-oldest one in the next room does.

Nurnberg and Nazi History

On my way from Munich to Heidelberg, I decided to take a day trip to Nurnberg, only an hour along the ride.  The city has long historical significance, including being the site of many of the diets of the Holy Roman Empire.  That's much of the reason why Hitler decided to hold his famous Nurnberg rallies, and build the giant rallying complexes here, to associate what he was trying to build with the previous German Reichs.

The aforementioned complex that he tried to build was of staggering size, although most of it was never finished.  A Congress Hall would house about 40-50,000 people for events.  Its imposing exterior was architecturally bisected after the war as a way to symbolically contradict the Nazi past, and the building now houses the Nazi Documentation Center, which is an excellent and frank series of exhibitions trying to answer the question, "how did this happen?"

I spent a good 2-3 hours here, and the tour showed several films, including roughly 10 minutes of "The Triumph of the Will," a film Hitler commissioned Leni Riefenstahl to make of the 1934 Nurnberg Party Rally.  The film is technically great, but as for subject matter, well, it's a Nazi propaganda film through and through.

One of the most famous scenes of Hitler speaking was from this film, as he addressed 150,000 (or perhaps more) SS and SA troops on the nearby Zeppelin field at the climax of the rally.

It was to the Zeppelin field that I walked next.  The field, like many sites here, was open for anyone to enter, and I was I think the only person in a facility meant to hold 250,000.  The photo below was taken standing where Hitler gave his address in the film.  That was one of the stranger feelings I've had in quite a while. 

The most interesting piece of the remaining complex was the site of the planned stadium, which only had part of its foundation excavated, which now forms a small lake.  The stadium was designed to hold 400,000 people, presumably to try to host Michigan-Ohio State games.

More on Nurnberg in the next post...


I wish I had more to say about Heidelberg, but I was pretty limited in what I could physically get myself to do at that point.  However, a couple items to mention...

First, the Schloss / fortress is as cool as its reputation.  Overlooking the town (don't they all seem to?) and partly in ruins from being taken so many times, the fort has inspired many over the years.  One purportedly is the philosopher Hegel, who looked on it many times on the "Philosopher's Walk" leading up the hill on the opposite side of the river.

Below is the view of the old town from the fortress.  The old bridge and Philosopher's Walk is off the photo to the right, and perhaps after the trip I'll post a photo including those.

On my way to the fortress, I passed the Heidelberger Zuckerladen, which was a candy shop my guide book recommended I find a way to get to.  The front window display has a dummy in a dentist's chair with a bunch of rotted teeth/dentures lying at the bottom of the display case.  Not your typical intro, but ok.

Inside I was told I could not take photos, and the owners helped me pack up whatever I asked for.  You probably already know Germans are big fans of gummi anything, and there was a lot to choose from here.  I got a pick-a-mix sort of selection and some truffles and left it at that.  Then, the owner asked me to guess "high or low."  I guessed low, then she rolled some dice, and if I guessed right, I would get an extra prize.  I guessed wrong, but since I rolled three 4's, I got some extra gummis anyway.


Deutsches Museum

(Another post from last week finally published with photos):

The Deutsches Museum in Munich is a techie's dream.  Six floors of historical machines and gadgets tell you the story of everything from engine development to glass and ceramic-making to astronomical and measuring equipment through the ages.

The ones that stare you in the face when you enter, though, are the giants, the ships and airplanes on display.  Since this is a German museum, I was happy to find a number of fighting aircraft there, including some of the more ground-breaking and experimental ones.

The first below is a V-1, one of the unmanned bombs Hitler aimed at England in 1944-5 in a desperate attempt to change the dynamics of the war.  They obviously didn't achieve the desired effect, but they made a psychological impact.

Even more of interest to a WWII geek like me is the Messerschmidt 262, the first jet fighter.  These were a big leap forward in technology, but were never produced in quantities large enough to make a significant difference in the war.

Wandering the '72 Olympic Grounds

Finishing up some loose end posts from last week that were waiting for me to find a way to get photos first...

Four of Spitz's gold medals recorded
As I mentioned, on Tuesday I made my way up to the Munich Olympic Park, built for the '72 Games.  Most of you know these games as the one where Palestinian terrorists killed 11 members of the Israeli team, and Mark Spitz won a then-record 7 gold medals in swimming, which was just surpassed by Michael Phelps in 2008.  A wall in the main plaza lists the names of all the '72 winners.

The park apparently is still used quite a bit by locals, which makes sense since it's a beautiful area to walk, and people were using at least the ice facilities to practice.  I went up to the top of the tower to get a better view.  Here are the stadium and the main cycling and swimming facilities (I believe).  The stadium is where I met Timor and Parhus (who now have a photo up!  Go check it out.).

Just to the right, across the highway, is the Olympic Village where the assassinations took place.  A memorial hits you as soon as you walk across the bridge.  Here's part of it, with the one German who died mixed in with the Hebrew lettering.

Just beyond that is the Village itself, which some of you will recognize from the footage of where the hostages were being held.

In all, going there on a quiet day was fitting.

Photo Potpourri, Part 2

A few others:

The one to the right is my favorite, a note appearing next to a pair of pants in the "rock museum" at the top of the tower in the Munich Olympic Park.  It reads:  "This letter is to go together with the Freddie Mercury stage trousers enclosed.  Obtained during my position as stage manager with Queen on there [sic] European ...1978, these trousers were worn by Freddie Mercury during the early part of the tour but were substituted for the later dates due to the excess sweating they caused Freddie."

I also thought I should note (left) that for some reason it's T.K. Maxx in Germany.

Finally, below was in the window of a busy shopping arcade, I believe in either Heidelberg or Nurnberg.

Photo Potpourri

Some of the oddities seen so far on the trip, part 1...

I give anyone credit for working in a tortured Alf reference.
Now kids have their own Reich that will last a thousand years!
Yes, the police in Germany drive Mercedes.

You can buy haggis here, but it is sold in 1.84-kg increments.


I only had one day in Köln (Cologne), and will have to make up for that in the future.  What little I've seen has been an energetic, friendly, and cool city.

As soon as you step outside the train station, the awesomely gigantic Kölner Dom looms up at you. I had thought the St. Stephan's Dom in Vienna was impressive, but this gothic mammoth dwarfs it.  From the detail on the stained glass windows inside to the view of the city from one of its spires (because I can't resist climbing something if it's there), it was memorable.

I also took in the Roman Museum and the modern art gallery next door.  I don't get much out of most modern art, but am keeping an open mind.  However, that openness does have a limit.  One large piece in one of the main rooms was a large, crocheted, monochromatic brown blanket in a giant frame, entitled "Water."  Ok, whatever.

However, there were some interesting Picassos, a very cool Salavdor Dali (wish I'd written down the name), and a room in the basement with several by Warhol, Jasper Johns, and Roy Lichtenstein.  Most surprising was that in that latter room were two pieces, including the centerpiece for the whole room, from James Rosenquist from Grand Forks. I'm sure some of you already know him, but it was the first I had heard.  Anyway, the huge piece in the middle I enjoyed.

After dinner I walked from the hostel down to the river and back.  It's Carnival here for about 6 weeks, which means a variety of balls and celebrations into February.  By the river I ran into a marching band dressed like the guard for the old prince of the city participating in the festivities.  Like good Germans, the end of their march was at a beer hall.
Staying in the right hostel has a lot of luck involved, because you don't have much idea who will be staying there with you.  In general though, people traveling by themselves are interested in talkign with you, and couples and groups aren't so much.

In Heidelberg, there was one guy whose name I couldn't understand who was very cool, and the rest of the hotel guests, when I said hello, gave me a look akin to, "who is this guy?"  Maybe I had a "sick aura" that scared 'em off or something.

My hostel in Koln was almost all singles, though.  Felix is a student from Stuttgart (where Mercedes has its HQ) who is getting ready to apply to architectural and design universities in the next couple of months, and was there for a furtniture design trade show.  We went out for some pretty decent pizza.  Felix is a huge fan of boats, and is looking to get a license to operate one in the sea, and take one out from Stockholm into the Baltic.

Hannah is a flautist from Brisbane, Australia traveling around Germany taking lessons from more experienced flautists, seeing orchestras play, etc.  I asked her about the political situation in Australia, and her first response was that Labour and the Liberals (the two main parties) are basically the same.  Here's a rule of thumb: If someone says the two main parties are the same, you can make an educated guess that they're a Green.  My guess in this case was wrong, though...she's an outright Socialist, not too common down there.

There was also a couple from Amsterdam there...Hennea and her boyfriend...who came for a cheap weekend ticket.  The boyfriend is also into boats, and told Felix he bought one, took out the engine, and replaced it with an engine from an Audi A6.  Says it has 50% more horsepower and uses less gas, which is a big deal given how expensive gas is here.

Anyway, a group of us stayed up for a while comparing notes on travel, and collectively wondering what the deal is with the Belgians.  I mean, if they're so unhappy, why don't they break up already?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Quick Update

I remain under the weather in Köln...actually felt pretty nasty getting up this am.  Will be getting that antibiotic prescription filled if I can find something open on a Sunday.  Just about to leave to catch a train to Aachen for a short stop, then to Amsterdam for 2 nights.

First impressions of Köln are quite good - will need to come back here again.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Dealing With the Socialist Medical Bureaucracy

It was very simple and quite inexpensive, actually.
For someone without any insurance that was viable in Europe, my case would seem to be most likely to be a problem.  But, given that my cold had not gone away and I had a nagging worry that I could have pneumonia, I figured I'd best get it checked out.

The lady at the tourist information counter called around to find a place nearby for me, and they said they would see me in 15 minutes.  I waited 5 more, after which the doctor checked me out to ensure I do not have pneumonia (yet another sinus cold, apparently), gave me a prescription for various symptoms and a backup one for antibiotics should they be necessary, and charged me 24 euros for the whole thing.  Two prescriptions cost another 11 euros, and I was on my way.

Feeling much better now, as having climbed up to the castle at which I'm staying today would attest.


The castle/hostel from the train station below
It probably means "Altar to Bacchus" which makes sense for a village about the size of Mayville, ND that has thrived for centuries on its wine-making expertise.  For my only night in small-town Germany, I am holed up at Burg Stahleck, Bacharach's ancient castle perched high atop the Rhine Valley that has been converted into a hostel.

Yes, I am staying in a castle, and I couldn't recommend it more highly.  For my 27 euros, I am housed in a private room that I am told once served as quarters for soldiers.  I am right behind the castle's main tower, and the assessment seems right.  The burg (German for castle...berg means mountain) feels just like a Medieval castle should outside of the actual rooms, which have been fitted up with modern amenities like plain white walls and, you know, running water.

The town itself is two main streets along the Rhine, which sees constant shipping traffic throughout the day and barge after barge of coal and shipping containers steam past.  It was cold but sunny today, making the town and its riverside park all the more picturesque.  A memorial in the park somberly chronicles the town's dead from German wars in 1864 and 1866 (Austrian Succession), 1870 (Franco-Prussian) and 1914-18.  There are quite a few names for a town this size.

The town's main business is tourism, though, and most of it is shut down in January.  None of the recommended restaurants in my guidebook were open, all the owners either on vacation or not wanting to bother putting in the effort in such slow months.  After making my second climb of the steep hill to the castle (which I must say is much easier without baggage), I made do with a frozen salami pizza in the Burg cafeteria, which wasn't half bad, particularly for someone like me who needs a regular tomato sauce fix.

The hostel clearly has a family clientele, and the vast majority of tenants are German.  Screaming children are playing at swordfighting in the courtyard and in the hallways, so I walked to a more silent spot below the castle to watch the town at night from above.

River traffic does not flow at night, and the only lights in the semi-hibernating town were street lamps and residents' homes.  I watched a passenger train pull into the train station below.  No one got on or off.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Somebody Gave Me the Stink Eye

I was hanging around the main train station in Munich on Tuesday night, doing a bit of people watching, and a guy with a serial killer look walked up to me and just stared at me for about 5 seconds.  I stared back, knowing that if I did not he would sense weakness and my entire herd could be in danger.

He barked something quickly in German that I didn't understand, I said, "I don't understand" in German, then he yelled, in English, "50 cents!"  Thinking to myself that the man could have done a bit better job of making me want to give him money, I turned him down and he walked off muttering, then about 35 feet away turned back to yell that I ought to learn the #### language or some such.

I felt like I was in New York.

Back to Reality

Now we're into the kind of weather one would expect here, probably in the 20s and 30s.  I've also been sick the last couple of days, a bit of a fever with some coughing.  If those Muscovites gave me pneumonia, the Cold War is back on.

I am in Heidelberg, laying relatively low and getting sleep.  Here's a graphical depiction of me last night versus this morning:

Last Night
This Morning

So, I walked downtown, but that took it out of me.  And, although the Internet connection at Steffi's Hostel is much better than the last one, I still can't get photos for ya'.

So, I'll do some posting tonight before needing to go to bed, and hope to say more from Bacharach tomorrow.

(Photos from  I hope it's ok to use them.)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wrapping Up Munich

I have quite a bit to say about Munich, which has been just lovely with 50+ degree weather every day, but the computer I'm forced to work on here loads a Web page in about 5 minutes, and I can't download my own photos, so there's a lot of incentive to wait until I get to Heidelberg tomorrow.

So, make sure to check back in then...

Doing My Part for World Peace

I am a diplomat, I just don't get paid for it.

So there I was wandering around the Olympic Park built for the 1972 Munich Olympics, when I asked a couple of guys (I'm thinking maybe they're from Turkey) to take my photo.  He asks where I'm from, I say Washington, DC, and he gets a big grin on his face and looks at his friend.  He says he is from Iran, a town in the center of the country.

We are both excited at this news, he especially.  He's a civil engineer over to look at some buildings, and is apparently eager to tell his American counterpart that our peoples are friends.  I agree, telling him the American people like the Iranian people, but that our governments have problems.  He completely agrees with this, and is also excited that I worked for Obama, and with the Army Corps of Engineers.

In one respect, he was like many Turks I have known, in that he immediately asks if he can give me his phone numbers so that I can call him, this after speaking for probably 5 minutes.  So, I can now call my friend Timor, and his friend Parhus, although I don't think a conversation with Parhus would last very long.  He didn't seem to speak any English.  How much is a call to Iran?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Adventures in Food

I would guess that some of you don't care one bit what I ate for dinner on a given day, but a few of you do, and I'm really interested in food, so you can decide whether to keep reading on that basis.

First, I actually took some photos of some of my food, but the computers at this hostel, in addition to being as sluggish as the DMV with tryptophan in the ventilation system, are locked up tight, and won't allow me to even access the Windows calculator, much less get photos off my camera.

The currywurst finally sees the light of day.
For lunch today I went to Munich's Viktualmarkt, purportedly one of the best outdoor markets in Europe.  It sure seemed to be popular.  I decided on a busy sausage stand (surprise) to try something I've been meaning to, the currywurst.

This is a hot item in Germany, a sausage covered with ketchup and curry powder.  It was quite good, but the fries were stunning, like the ones I had in Belgium in 2006...light, crispy outside, hot...  Then, got some fresh juice from a different stand that for some reason had a TV crew there filming them serving.

My Lonely Planet guide tells me that there is an actually decent Tex-Mex place in town.  I'm doubtful, but like to see how Europeans do food from the Americas, like Mexican or BBQ.  I have to say, the chips and black beans were actually very good.  Rice, not so much.  The salsa was odd, pretty mild and more the consistency of pizza sauce, but not bad.  The waitress brought me "habanero" sauce when I asked for it scharfer.

One I forgot to mention was dinner Friday in Vienna, btw.  I sought out an Italian place that was supposed to be good, and had the special of the day, a ravioli in tomato pesto.  Excellent.  The waiters couldn't tell me too much about what was in it.

Ok, will try to upload more photos later after I leave Munich.  As it is, my time on this machine is running out.

McDonald's are Different Here

I almost never get McDonald's in the U.S., but since the concept of fountain soda - not to mention putting any visible amount of ice in a cup - is almost unknown here, I dropped by one after a long walk today.

First of all, when you order a soda, they assume you mean soda water.  The fountain looks like it does in the U.S., only with a smaller, separate ice dispenser.  I pushed to get some ice, and about 5 of the little McDonald's style cubelets came out.

I figured it was out of ice and reluctantly gave up.  But no, what actually happens is that you push for your 5 cubelets, let it go, then push again to get anywhere from 3 to 7 more cubelets (in my limited observed dataset).  I don't know if this is to frustrate customers into just not getting much ice, or an assumption that most of their customers only want a tiny algae bloom worth of ice on top of their drink.  Either way, I'm onto their little game now.

Hostel-Goers I Have Known

About to set out for another tour of Munich, and will try to bring back some photos this time.  In the interim, I haven't mentioned enough about some of the other travelers who have been sharing my rooms.  It's one of the best reasons to stay at a hostel, after all.

In Vienna, a group of 5 from Moscow showed up at 1 am one night, having only the next day to sightsee before driving back home. I'm told it's a 24-hour drive, about the same as D.C. to Fargo, but that it would be better if those darned roads in Poland weren't so bad.

One of the group kept coughing as I spoke with him, and eventually said the whole group had been in the hospital with pneumoniae (pronounced NOO-mo-nee) for a week while they were skiing in Switzerland.  Hmm.

In my room now I have two guys from Seoul, South Korea who don't say much, but I understand their names to be Jing Swoo and M.J., the latter since he doesn't expect anyone to be able to say his name, I think.  Robert from near Dresden in Germany is here for a conference.

Last night I met someone named Anna who is down here from Berlin to try to get accepted to an acting school.  Her interview is tomorrow I think, but her English was about as good as my German, so neither of us are sure.

A drunk guy who was playing pool came up to me at my table, stared for a few seconds, and said, "nice map, man."  It was the same one every one of the guests got when they checked in.  I'm not certain that he actually cared, but it was all the sentence he could manage to string together, so I tried to be encouraging.

I've also met two old friends from Mexico, one of whom still lives there, and the other who met up with him from Barcelona.  Francisco and Pedro, I believe.  They were pretty wide-eyed about Vienna.  Someone from Uruguay too.

Off to the Frauenkirche...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Quick Post on Munich

I arrived in Munich at about 3:30 today, and probably walked about 7 to 8 hours of the day, including finishing up Salzburg.  Not much time to post at the moment, but dinner was very good, at Lemar, a little Afghani place listed in my Lonely Planet guide.

Had a chicken kebab that was perfectly cooked, potatoes with tomato sauce that were nothing special, and a baked basmati rice with pistachios, raisins, green cardamom, and something else I am forgetting.  That was tasty.

My feet are sore.  Off to bed.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Castle to Myself

Salzburg appears to have an economy based 90 percent on Mozart and, I assume to a lesser degree, the Sound of Music.  I've only been here a few hours, but that's the vibe.

This is not a bad thing, as Mozart at least doesn't seem likely to stop being a draw anytime soon.  And the town is postcard pretty, with a small old town crawling with beautiful buildings and quaint shopping streets, a fortress watching overhead, and streets ending abruptly in cliff walls.

Today I mainly got myself oriented, and walking the town isn't terribly hard.  Given my love of history, and military history specifically, top of the list to see was Hohensalzburg Fortress (photo from National Geographic at right).  There is a funicular that takes one to the top, but I like to rough it, so my bright idea was to see how high I could climb to try to find a decent view to have a picnic, even though it was too late in the day for the fort to be open.

Unlike many of my bright ideas, this one turned out to actually have some wattage.  The ascent was about 500 feet all told, but strangely enough, although the rooms of the fortress were closed for the day, the grounds were wide open.  I ended up having some yogurt with fruit and meusli (Let me just say, I love this stuff, but I never think to buy it back home.  This is going to be an easy New Year's resolution to keep), fruit and cheese with a view of the town next to one of the cannons set up to ward off the Turkish assault that never materialized.  This qualifies as a highlight of the trip already.

Final Observations from Vienna

Apparently, when people from countries specializing in spicy food think of Germans, they laugh to themselves just a little.  The people are known for liking things more bland.  Not being one of those people myself, I was lucky to have read (and reminded by Mr. Williams in a comment on this blog) that while here, if I go to a Thai or Indian place, say, I should tell the waiter that I want my dish prepared how they would do it at home, and, "ich bin kein Deutscher" (I'm not a German).

I tried this out today at an Indian place while heading to the train station, and sure enough, it seems to have worked.  I got myself a very tasty and hot Madras chicken curry.  However, more - much more - data must be collected to prove the theory.

A few other final thoughts on Vienna and Germans in general:
  • Other times I've been in Europe, I would rarely see an American car.  It's understandable that the cities I'll be visiting will be full of German cars - like Michigan being full of U.S. brands - and they are.  But this time, I've seen quite a few Fords.  No GM's or Chryslers so far, though.
  • This one is about Germans in general: It is very hard to strike up a casual conversation with one.  My friend Meredith may want to comment here, but I have yet to have one with anyone here who wasn't a backpacker from another country, except for one person at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, and he was working at the information desk, so he's kind of paid to do that.  Germans do have this reputation, and they do seem to be very private.
  • Austria is like a time warp for what smoking was like 30 years ago in the U.S.  I saw one repot that 50-60 percent of Austrians smoke, and 30 percent of 15-year-olds do; anyway, it's a lot.  They're one of the few countries in Europe who haven't implemented significantly tougher anti-smoking laws.
  • When meeting travelers from other countries, they tend to be really impressed if you know something about the history of their country, or even the capital if they're a small country.  I don't know if they expect very little from Americans specifically, or if it's a general thing.

Art and Shiny Things

The Taking of the Christ - Caravaggio
You want great art and historical relics?  We got 'em.

Yesterday I made it to the Kunsthistorisches Museum (see an excellent photo, obviously not mine, here), an imposing edifice jam-packed with hundreds of works by great masters, especially Rubens.  As I'm a big fan of Caravaggio (see right), it was a nice surprise that the museum focused several rooms on the three works of his they have, and a number of other artists influenced by him.

The other major stop yesterday was at the Schatzkammer, the royal treasury of the Hapsburgs.  Now, I'm not big into looking at jewelry, royal gowns, and whatnot, but my goodness, some of the items they made and put together were pretty stunning.

The highlight was a viewing of the relics of the Holy Roman Empire, which has figured prominently in a couple of books I've recently read.  You'll see three of the items below, including the Holy Lance (left), which the first emperors believed made them invincible in battle (and seemed to for a while).

The museum also featured a number of relics (crosses, stands, etc.) purporting to contain pieces of Christ's crucifixion cross, John the Baptist's tooth, and the like.  Most if not all of these are fakes, if only because the sources of these relics wouldn't have provided enough material to make all of them.  But, in Medieval times, having a relic in one's church or town was of immense value to raising money and rallying people around the banner of the faith.

The Third Man

If any of you have seen the great Orson Welles-Joseph Cotton film "The Third Man," you know that it was filmed in and takes place in post-WWII Vienna.  It's probably the quintessential Vienna movie, in fact.  People here recognize that, and 3 times a week at the Burg Kino, they show it.

Well, right after Little Fockers they show it.  Anyway, I saw it yesterday afternoon and, for those of you who do know the film, I wanted to post a few photos of some of the locations from it.  For those of you who haven't, put it on your Netflix list.  It's a classic, and Welles is so much fun to watch even in such a dark role.

Just a couple sites from walking around town:

The wheel where Holly Martin (Cotton) and Harry Lime (Welles) have a meeting that turns a bit ominous.

The spot in the film where Martin first sees Lime in a darkened doorway (doorway is on the far right).  It's an iconic scene in film history.

The very doorway today
More later about yesterday, but right now I need to get moving to catch my train to Salzburg.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Ghost Museums

The second day of walking is always the worst.  That's when the blisters show up from the first day, and the feet aren't really happy about their increased workload.  But, they get used to it after a few days, and stop their infernal whining.

One great thing about traveling in January is that it's almost like you get some of the museums to yourself.  There aren't nearly as many tourists here because they for some reason avoid cold (although it hasn't been here so far), so I've got a pretty sweet setup going.

Because of the various tooth problems yesterday, I had time for one other sightseeing visit, to the Natural History Museum.  Not a lot of tourists here either, although there were several school groups.  Overall, it's a very impressive collection, with some especially interesting stuff - for me, anyway - on the evolutionary fit of several of the large animals that went extinct within the last 10,000 years, like the saber-toothed tiger, giant armadillo, and giant sloth.

The prize of the collection here is the Venus of Willendorf, a 25,000-year-old figurine found near Vienna that shows a female figure with exaggerated features, of which archaeologists have found several similar ones from the same period throughout Europe.

Miles walked today: 12
Total miles this trip: 29

A Night at the Opera

No, not that one.

State Opera from the Northeast
That's the one...  Looks even better with the rain on the streets doesn't it?  I learned that filmmakers like to shoot night scenes with wet streets, so I had a crew hose them down just for this shot.  Do you like the added touch of the pedestrians holding umbrellas just to make it seem more realistic?

Yesterday was the second time I'd gone to the Vienna State Opera, last time for Turandot.  This time it was Tosca, a Puccini opera set in 1800 in Rome, as Napoleon is threatening the city.  It's as tragic as you might expect, with murder, double-crossing, dramatic suicide, and lots of melodic screaming.  I know almost nothing about opera, but I enjoyed myself, and that's going to have to be enough.

Central entry staircase from balcony section
A big reason to go is just to see the theater, which is gorgeous and of course designed specifically to hear opera.  Built in the mid-1800s in that burst of public building I mentioned before, the house was initially offensive to the Viennese (for its opulence, if I recall), and the architect killed himself before the first performance.  Kind of like an opera plot, actually.

Inside are 5 levels above the main floor, the decor soaked in cream, rich dark red, and gold.  I was on the 4th level above the floor, in what we'd call an obstructed view seat.  Basically, if I leaned over all the way, I could see the left half of the stage.  Unfortunately, most of the action in Act 1 took place on the right half.  Fortunately, each seat comes with a little translator that looks like one of those little LCD screens on 1980s-era word processors.

For the second act, an elderly German lady asked if I'd like to switch seats with her because of her bad knee.  (I was on the aisle)  So, I could see everything from Act 2 on with a bit of a lean.  Photo from the Act 1 intermission below...

Some dork who thinks he's all cultured now

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Falling Apart at the Mouth

Anybody else out there ever chip part of his tooth while eating soft bread?  Anybody?  Am I the first?

Yeah, so, this morning I got a soft roll, some cheese, and a banana from a local market for a quick brunch, and on my seventhish bite, I asked myself, "self, what the heck did they put in this roll?"  It was like a rock.  Turns out, it was a piece of my tooth.

Actually, I found out later that it was a piece of a filling I had in there some time ago.  Turns out the tooth is decaying from below, and the filling is coming out as a result.  Pretty soon I'll be a Looney Tunes character who just took a bomb to the face and has that one tooth left hanging that plays like a piano key.

So...I didn't know all that when it happened, and there wasn't any pain (Ich habe keine Schmerzen), but against my ADHD tendencies, decided I'd better get it checked out.  I got a recommendation for a place that fit me in at 4:30, went in and got 2 x-rays and the filling done in under an hour, and for that same-day visit they charged me 144 Euros.  Not bad.  I had to pay cash, though, and see about getting reimbursed when I get home...

I should point out that this dentist does not use Novacaine.  I didn't catch the full name, but it has a bit more of a kick than I'm used to.  It didn't just numb my mouth, it numbed the left side of my nose.  I know what you're saying, you don't really move your nose, but when it's numb, you also can't feel yourself breathing through it, so it feels like you can't even though you're doing just fine.  A weird sensation.

Problem is, the filling I got today was stopgap.  The doc says I probably need a root canal and two other cavities filled when I get home, and she wouldn't be able to get that done before I leave.  So now I just hope the thing holds until February, I guess.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hitting the Ground Walking

Miles walked today: about 17

Vienna is kind of like Paris, except that it's a bit cheaper, the food isn't nearly as good, and it's not crawling with Frenchmen.  (Again with the kidding!)  But, they both have that aristocratic beauty borne of being the capital of an empire that at one spent huge amounts of money on making it so.

Vienna was at one time walled like most European cities.  After the Ottomans sieged it in 1529 (abruptly calling it off less than three weeks in because of impending bad weather), Vienna upgraded its old flat, vertical walls to accommodate the latest in fortress technology of the time - star-shaped wall sections to improve fields of fire, angled walls to deflect bombardment, etc.  They were ready for the tougher siege in 1683, and came close to losing anyway, but their eventual win sealed the long-term decline of the Ottomans.

But enough about the Turks.  The point I'm getting to is, the system needed to have a lot of open space outside the walls to be able to kill lots of invaders, so the inner part of the city was separated by maybe a few hundred yards from the suburbs.  And, wall systems like that became obsolete with military technology where it was in the 1800s.  With the Austrian emperor in the mid 19th century much more interested in showing the his empire's grandeur, he decided to take them down, and fill the space they used to take up with a whole bunch of museums, palaces, public gardens, and a major thoroughfare that circled the inner city.

A person can probably walk around the whole old city of Vienna in 90-120 minutes.  Just following that road, the number of buildings one would see with international reputations is a bit mind-numbing.  The Hofburg (the main Habsburg palace), the State Opera House, the Parliament and Rathaus (city hall), multiple famous gardens, the Kunsthistorische Museum (loaded with art from great masters)...  One can get a lot done.

And I will, but the first half of today was about getting bearings and sausage, in that order.  I'm staying a bit west of the city, so I set out about 9:00 to walk through all the way through downtown, to the Danube Canal (a southern branch of the river that forms the north end of downtown), and then up to the main Danube, which I haven't seen before.  Got a couple of great photos along the way, which I'll post later.

Coming back, I toured the St. Stephan's Dom, which has dominated the skyline of the town for centuries (since the 1100s, I think).  It's a gigantic sandstone gothic cathedral that is made even more imposing because sandstone attracts air pollution like a magnet, making it look like there's a creeping blackness all over it.  I even went to the top to take photos of the town, which with my fear of heights involved repeatedly psyching myself up to bring my camera to the edge to avoid getting mostly pictures of high-grade chicken wire.

Lunch was a return trip to a sausage stand in the St. Stephan's square where I got a Kasekrainer (sausage with cheese in it) and mustard last time I was in town, partly to see if it was as transcendentally awesome as I remembered it.  It was, and more shall be making their way down my gullet before moving on to the next stop.

From there, to the Judenplatz (plaza for the old Jewish Quarter), then the Roman Museum, which is tiny but is sited where ruins of the ancient Roman fort was built, which one can see part of in the basement left where it was dug up, intact.

Then, a walk to the southeast across the Ringstrasse (the street that old emperor put where the walls were, if you didn't skip that part) to the Wien Museum, which covers the history of the city.  I was most interested in the two Turkish sieges, if you hadn't guessed.  They had some great 500-year-old maps there, and a fair amount of Klimt pieces.

Finally, a walk around the Ringstrasse to the west to get some more photos, and to three museums at the Hofburg: one with Greek and Roman ruins from the ancient city of Ephesos (were they a gift or "borrowed"?), a collection of old musical instruments, and a pretty amazing collection of arms and armor from the 1400s and 1500s, mainly.

Then to the Naschmarkt (Munch Market) to find what I've been told is the best Indian food in the city.  It actually was pretty decent, but they didn't make much of a show of it.  They spooned my entree and rice out of a buffet pot and put it in the microwave right behind the counter.  But, it was actually spicy, a rarity around here.

From there, a survey of coffee houses, for which Vienna is more famous than any city in the world.  That I don't drink coffee does not present a problem, since I can always get apple struedel and enjoy the atmosphere.

Ok, that's too much already, but I did cover a lot of ground today.  Tomorrow: Kunsthistorisches Museum, the Natural History Museum, and Tosca at the State Opera.  And more Kasekrainer.  Does that count as a vegetable?  Germans don't seem to eat a lot of those, at least the ones that aren't the color of earth tones.

In Town and Lagging Jet

I don't usually have a problem sleeping on airplanes.

Flying from DC to Paris was a problem for some reason, perhaps the grim anticipation of being in France for a couple of hours.  Ok, it's not bad, but France and I, we like to kid.

Anyway, having had no sleep in a very long time is not the best way to experience Charles de Gaulle airport.  I believe I walked 16 miles from my arrival gate to my departure gate at this extremely busy hub, and discovered a boarding process that has all the charm of a normal airport boarding process, with all the added chaos of a discount fare airline crush to get on the plane.  I slept the entire way to Vienna.

Now, I'm at an apartment/hostel off the Burggasse, just west a bit of the city center, writing on a tiny keyboard unable to figure out how to switch from the German to English layout, and I could swear I have done it.  The practical problems with this aren't immense, but are annoying.  Mainlz the y and z kezs are reveresed.  See?!?  And where the semicolon and colon normally would be, I have an ö and a ä.  This makes it harder to type contractions, but easier to type heavy metal band names.

The hostel here is excellent, with a lot of extras relative to a hostel, and a communal and stocked kitchen, for example.  It's hard to find, being inside a building which entire facade is under long-term reconstruction, and can be found winding through tunnels that make it look like a bombed-out building.  But, inside it's great.

It's not full either - its 16 beds, small to begin with, hold 6 people now, two friends from Mexico, a girl named Hong Kong from Vietnam (I wonder if it's a nickname), a guy named Joseph from...not sure, actually...and Amanda from Australia that strangely enough worked for their version of the Democratic Party over there until a few years ago when they were voted out of power.  We picked each others' brains a good bit last night trying to better understand each others' political systems.

Went last night to Zu den Zwei Lieseln, which is a beisl (a bit like an Austrian pub that focuses on local food rather than drinks), that is somewhat famous an been around for decades.  It's just around the corner, and I thought, hey, let's start off with a bang and get some schnitzel.

For those that don't know, a schnitzel (not necessarily the famous wienerschnitzel) is veal pounded out thin and then deep fried.  Yeah, I know, don't fall all over yourself finding a recipe on the Food Network's Web site for your next dinner party.  But, it has a certain comfort food charm once in a while.  I got the house version, which is supposed to be the best, and is stuffed with gorgonzola, ham and pepperoni.  Sounded like a new Pizza Hut calzone, really.

The thing took up half an acre on my plate.  It was several pieces of veal tied togeter underneath with toothpicks too...sort of like stumbling across a bone eating fish.  One thing I forgot is that in most of Europe, pepperoni means pepperoncini peppers, not sausage. So, that's what I got.

And I have to say, I didn't know blue cheese or hot peppers came in flavorless varieties, but apparently I havent't looked hard enough in my grocer's freezer.  If you like breading, you won't go wrong at this place.  Otherwise, well, just enjoy breading and meat.

One thing I read before I left on a blog I subscribe to is that when one is in Berlin at, say, an Asian restaurant, tell the waiter that you're not German, and you'll get better food.  I'm getting the impression that ordering spicy food in the German countries may be a lot like ordering it in Minot.

Now,time for exploration, and maybe a nice Indian place for lunch.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Coming Soon: Bits of My Internal Dialogue

Posting begins tomorrow about the trip to Europe.  These posts are not carefully written, they're pretty much stream-of-consciousness, at times hindered by an international keyboard that resists punctuation and non-umlauted letters.  Caveat emptor.

Ready to Hit the Road

The plane leaves for Vienna tomorrow just shy of 10:00 pm out of Dulles.  Got just about everything ready, and can't wait to see one of my favorite cities again.  On the tentative agenda:
  • Get a Kasekreiner (cheese sausage) from a street vendor
  • See Tosca at the Vienna State Opera on Thursday
  • Visit the Kunsthistorisches Museum, and Museum of Military History
  • Convince the natives to make me speak German...most of the time, anyway
  • Watch "The Third Man" at the Burg Kino
Lots to do in about 3-1/2 days.  I'll post again when I get across the Atlantic.

Birth Announcement

My sister's first kid was born at about 11:00 pm EDT Sunday night.  Parameters:  6 pounds, 10 ounces, 18 inches.  Optional exercise: convert to metric.  Discuss.

No name yet.  One hopes they choose something that's briefly funny, and becomes more an more of a burden to the child as the years pass.  Like, something very topical that no one will understand in 5 years, like Snookie or something.

Anyway, congratulations, Steph & Matt.