Bob and Eva's Adventures

Vienna – City of My Dreams

Posted on July 12, 2017

Over 50 years ago Eva and I spent part of our honeymoon in Vienna, during the frigid March of 1965. As many times as we have returned to Europe on vacation, this is the first time we have revisited Vienna, this time in the chilly month of February.

No picture captures the city’s throbbing heart better than one of its cathedral, St. Stephen, whose portal dates from about 1200 AD. After WWII, it, along with the famed opera house, were about the first public buildings to be restored. Schoolchildren donated their spare Groschen to buy the roof tiles you see here.

Stephansdom (Thanks, Wikipedia, for the aerial shot)

We have fond memories from our first visit to that sentimental city of dreams (of its glorious past) as you can imagine from hearing this rather sappy rendition of “City of My Dreams”.

Well, Vienna has changed a lot in the meanwhile, still living on its dreams of course, but now all the more vibrant, modern and commercial. This time I’m not too thrilled by it all as we spend seven days skimming the surface, but somehow not finding that old slightly down-in-the-mouth appealing texture of the past. There are all too many tourists here now to be satisfied in more modern ways. And the home folks, too.

Panorama view of the cathedral and main shopping street, Kärntner Straße

Along Kärntner Straße you can find all the traditional stores, such as Lanz for Austrian festival clothing.

Lanz for traditional garb

Pedestrians take over the main streets.

An Apple store is coming soon on Kärntner Straße.

Mozart gets his own souvenir shop.

Gustav Klimt also gets a shop for his artwork.

The stylish way to get around, by horse-drawn carriage.

It isn’t long before hunger strikes so we wander around the back side of the cathedral a bit off the beaten path.

We pass an Italian restaurant but that’s not quite what we want.

The Twelve Apostle Cellar looks like just the right place. We don’t let the ultra long German words and Gothic typeface repel us.

The Twelve Apostle Cellar looks inviting.

We enter through the old carriage portal and find ourselves descending a spiral staircase to an underground cellar, now restaurant. What a find!

This place must be good, on appearance alone.

We find a cozy corner and start off with three beers.

Our server is a polished professional.

We order traditional fare, just the right thing.

After lunch we wander deeper into the labyrinth of streets behind the cathedral.

Regensburger Hof Hotel at the Lugeck

In front of the Regensburger Hof is a bronze statue of Johannes Gutenberg, put there in honor of the 500th anniversary of book printing in Vienna.

Johannes Gutenberg – inventor of movable type for printing.

Long go, before cars and trollies and even electricity, this was a swanky part of town. The upper class people rode in carriages. Famous people lived here.

Former carriage entry

Another finely crafted carriage entry

The Romantic era composer Robert Schumann spent a winter here.

Leibniz and Zwingli lived here.

Famous people indeed

Leibniz was a German polymath. Although the Englishman Isaac Newton is largely credited with inventing the calculus, Leibniz did the same thing at the same time independently of Newton. Despite no-doubt groans from math students, the time for calculus had come.

Ulrich Zwingli was doing in Switzerland what Martin Luther was simultaneously doing in Germany – trying to reform various aspects of the Catholic church. He laid the groundwork for Protestantism in Switzerland, and Luther did the same in Germany. Today, both countries are strongly divided along lines laid down in the early 16th century.

There are many narrow ways in this part of town. This one leads to an ironmonger. On our honeymoon we bought several wrought iron pieces here. We still use them regularly. The place has been modernized. Back then when we passed on the sidewalk, sparks were flying every which way. We walked into the workplace below ground and watched the guys banging glowing metal into works of art. No eye protection offered.

The old iron monger workplace

Here’s a pub with a famous connection – the spirited song “Oh du liber Augustin”, in memory of the bagpipe player, Augustin, who often played here.

Song posted outside the pub, the oldest restaurant in the city.

Evening descends over the city as we head for home, on foot.

As befitting a city of such historic grand stature, Vienna is full of wide plazas, huge buildings and loads of bronze statues of warriors and statesmen. In the 19th century, the old protective walls surrounding the city were torn down and the space was used for fine new government buildings and broad boulevards. But within decades, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was a thing of the past, yet these sturdy structures survived and are still in use.

Opera house

View from the Albertina

A way of life from the past, but the memory doesn’t fade.

The opera house by night

It is rumored that coffee was brought to Europe when Islam laid a long term seige at the gates of Vienna. Had the gates not held, Europe today might well be Islamic rather than Christian. A slightly lesser result of the seige was the introduction of the coffee house and its pastry decadence. We finally at the end of our visit discover almost in our back yard one of those holdouts that has not given way to yet another Starbucks. We go inside and settle in for an afternoon splurge.

Ritter Cafe, an old fashioned coffee house

First lunch with beer and wine

And finally, as a parting shot, coffee and cakes.

Bratislava, Slovakia – Old City, New Capital

Posted on July 6, 2017

Long ago, Bratislava was on the edge of the Roman Empire, having been settled thousands of years before, beautifully situated on the shores of the Danube River. A good thousand years ago the city was known as Pressburg (German) or something close to that in all the many surrounding countries. Although really settled and developed by Germans, for a while it was the capital of Hungary. After the end of WWI the name was changed to Bratislava once the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved in defeat. The Germans and Austrians were pushed out and the city was populated with Czechs and Slovaks. In 1993 it became the capital of the newly formed Slovak Republic and is today almost completely ethnically cleansed of all who are not Slovak. It’s located a mere hour’s drive from Vienna and just 15 minutes from the Hungarian border. We took a comfortable bus there from Vienna for about one Dollar.

A view over the old town of Bratislava from the castle above the Danube

Were we ever surprised to find such a lovely city, one that we had hardly heard of. The old town is easily walked and explored in a couple of days but I would have stayed longer just to enjoy the place. For a different kind of experience, Eva and I took a room on board a tightly moored river boat, while Suzi stayed in a hostel some distance away.

Our river boat there below the castle

Our tight but adequate stateroom

The dining room

They served a pretty fancy lunch.

Suzi’s hostel had a well stocked bar. Because she was a new guest, we each had a beer on the house.

Bratislava holds 25% of the country’s population and a large amount of the country’s wealth, but by more Western standards has quite a way to go to repair the damage of being subjugated by the Soviet Union for two generations. At this time, unlike Vienna and Prague, it isn’t overrun by tourists. We seemed to be about the only foreigners around. Prices were low and quality was good. What could be better than that?

Promenade along the Danube, the view from our boat landing toward a Soviet built bridge

Gateway to the old town from near the end of the bridge

Many old cobblestone streets and alleyways are well preserved in the old parts of town, making wandering around adventurous and a lot of fun.

Cobblestones

Byways

One drizzly morning we set out on foot to explore the town, starting by crossing the Navy Most, or New Bridge, to the newer part of town on the right side of the Danube. Built under Communism in 1972 it was originally (and presently) named Most SNP, or Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising. It leads from the Old Town to newer suburbs, mostly sterile, soulless concrete high rise apartments, seen all over the world that Russia has touched. Interestingly, vehicular traffic flows across the top of the bridge and pedestrian and bicycle traffic goes outside underneath, where it’s safe, quiet and views are unobstructed. When we got to the far side we switched to the other side and came right back. A good portion of the Old Town and essentially all the Jewish quarter were demolished to create the roadway beyond the bridge.

View from the Navy Most, or New Bridge onto Bratislava Castle

Like in most European cities we visit, we enjoy wandering around rather aimlessly, excited by the architecture and surprising elements of design and art that’s so lacking in our everyday world.

Tree lined promenade

Along Hviezdoslav Square we found lots to be charmed by, including a bronze sculpture of Hans Christian Anderson, who visited here in 1841.

Hans Christian Anderson surrounded by his story characters

Nearby is a favorite bronze work from 1997 that we stumbled across, so to say.

Čumil the sewer worker

On Main Square we came across Napoleon, resting against a park bench, satisfied I suppose to having laid waste to the city in 1809.

Napoleon at ease after conquering Pressburg in 1809.

Friend to wildlife

Bratislava is still recovering from decades of neglect under Communism, so not everything is as pristine as one finds in the West, but life seems vibrant and cheerful, as best we could tell.

Philharmonic Hall

Fancy facade

Life is good, and up to date

Not always tidy

Look who gets stuck with the umbrellas while Suzi and I are busy with our cameras.

Postal workers are a bit laid-back

After a while we work up an appetite and decide to have lunch at the city’s oldest brewery, which is on one of the old squares. Other places look a bit touristy.

Could be good, but…

Old brewery in town, a good place for lunch

Nothing like a stein of beer to mate with hearty fare

Goulash, of course

Eva discovers a huge red pepper in her dish.

Just outside the old town we find Soviet-style faceless reconstruction.

After lunch we wander into the formerly fashionable neighborhoods at the base of the castle and find there some really fine homes, if a bit in need of care.

Mansion

Another stately home

After a lot of climbing, we reach the castle, which until a few years ago was a roofless wreck, now splendidly reconstructed.

The castle

Castle with rainbow

Broad view overlooking the Danube and the new town

Collision avoided

Another shower and rainbow on the way back to town

Yet another bronze

A long descent

Ever more descent

Finally late afternoon comes and we are ready for tea. Afterwards we step outside to charming evening light so we stroll around another hour or so enjoying the atmosphere.

Another cozy plaza

A laser beam emerges from the town gate, sparkly in the mist and light drizzle.

We explore narrow alleyways.

Finally it’s dinnertime and we find ourselves at the Zylinder Restaurant. In German, cylinder means a formal top hat.

Restaurant Zylinder

Top Hat, indeed

Inside, the decor is a bit spartan, not unlike Soviet interiors, but the service and food were splendid. Eva had the huge Hapsburg era Tafelspitz, a multi course dinner featuring boiled beef. We rolled ourselves home afterwards.

Rather Spartan interior

Super service with Eva’s meal prepared at a side table.

For me, spareribs and peppers

Great setting as we wandered home to our boat on the Danube

The castle above us bids us goodnight.

Budapest Loves English – Hot Body, Cold Beer

Posted on April 12, 2017

Aside from a few million Hungarians and three Harvard professors, almost nobody speaks and reads Hungarian. So English has become the lingua franca that helps the rest of us get around and understand what’s going on. Eva and I, and daughter Suzi, spent eight days in February wandering the fabulous streets of Budapest, cameras (at least iPhones) in hand. Suzi has the keenest eye for capturing the unexpected, including signs and stuff in English, so I want this post to feature only her photographs. Let’s see what caught her attention.

Hot body, cold beer.

Different is beautiful. Sputnik? Haven’t the Russians left town?

Love thy neighbors.

Real girls are real pearls.

Life is too short for a shit bike.

Time cover mural – Hungarian uprising against communism, 1956

Leave it to America to deface anything.

A nice bit of barber creativity

Hair-Nett. Now that’s a good one.

Ka-Pow!

Maybe mr. Goodbar eats here.

Beef Club – The place for carnivores.

Haven for the gluten free crowd.

Can a gluten free bakery really make a go of it? In Budapest, no less?

Just say no to almost everything – except paleo!

Let’s get down to some real food!

If you are throwing an event, they’ve got the stuff.

Maybe all you want for your party is a load of Zing Burgers.

How about a do it yourself kitchen.

Do they serve mEAT?

Yum. Liver, tripe and pig knuckles.

Fine wines – good liver chasers.

If your iPhone is on the fritz, these guys can help you.

If you need to go upstairs use the escalator way upstairs. Huh?

The people who live in Budapest have been through a lot over the years.

Is it time for a beer?

Maybe a Shakesbeer.

How about something a wee heavy?

To chase the evening hungries away, here’s the place.

For the super hungry, here’s a place where you can literally eat your plate. Really. No waste here.

The place for the best coffee. They say so; they must know.

Now for some hot wine – that’s a new one.

Cake is always a good idea.

Time now to wrap up the afternoon and this blog post. Better latte than never.

Prague – Signs of the Times

Posted on February 12, 2017

In Prague – where tourists outnumber air molecules, there’s a definite need for souvenirs, especially real ones. Here’s the place to go!

Authentic souvenirs

Authentic souvenirs

If you want to meet up somewhere with a friend to show off your new authentic treasures you can meet at the Meeting Point on Wenceslas Square.

img_0017-copy

Perhaps you are hungry and want some beef.

Beef Bar

Beef Bar

Or maybe a big Mac on Wenceslas Square.

MAC

M.A.C.

Oops. Wrong place. Maybe over here on the other side we can find a Big Mac and a nice tablety with WiFi.

McD

MickyD

Americans may prefer KFC, which is over this way.

KFC this way

KFC this way

If all you want is an occasional beer then try out the Prague Saturday Saunterers.

Prague Saturday Saunterers

Prague Saturday Saunterers

Or try the specialty – pork knee roasted in dark beer.

Pork knee in beer

Pork knee in beer

All I need right now is a coffee.

Coffee House

Coffee House

Cut O Joe with unrefined sugar

Cup O Joe with unrefined sugar

After a good coffee, who can resist sneaking a bit of absinth?

Absinth for a bit of euphoria

Absinth for a bit of euphoria

If these aren’t for you then maybe try one of these.

img_9931-copy

If cola is your taste, then by all means try an air conditioned Coca Cola.

img_0164-copy
Who wants AC in the dead of winter?

Who wants AC in the dead of winter?

Maybe it’s time for a cigarety.

img_0072-copy

As a foreinger, I’d better get some money exchanged. I sense some expensive indulgences coming on.

img_0117-copy img_0271-copy img_0182-copy img_0183-copy

Prague is a safe place, trust me. There are gun free zones around. And hate free zones, too.

img_0202-copy img_0077-copy

However, this park bench quotation leaves me in a quandary, especially for these days we are in.

img_0042-copy

Maybe it’s time to buy some music sheets and play some cheery tunes.

img_0038-copy

Maybe some day we’ll again be giving folks a thumb’s up.

img_0032-copy

Here’s a famous wall where you can express yourself without fear.

img_9847-copy
Don't Trump yourself

Don’t Trump yourself

Bridges, not fences

Bridges, not walls

Avoid snakes in the grass.

img_0273-copy

Let’s see if we can simplify life a little bit.

img_0261-copy

Get a haircut and feel renewed.

img_9996-copy

And tone down your voice. Some folks around you may prefer that.

img_9938-copy

Then cross the Charles Bridge, lay your hand on a chosen spot and make a good, positive wish for human kind.

img_0279-copy

Prague – Pluses and Minuses

Posted on February 12, 2017

Prague, like everywhere else, has its pluses and minuses. Here’s my take on the situation.

A plus for this one

A plus for this one

A minus for sure

A minus for sure

You get the point.

You get the point.

Oh, blast. A numeral.

Oh, blast. A numeral.

Hmm, where should this blog post go?

Hmm, where is this blog post going?

Oh my god, an omega!

Oh my god, an omega!

That sucks the oxygen right out of the air.

This sucks the oxygen right out of the air.

Where did all these Vs come from?

img_9968-copy img_9924-copy img_9713-copy
Give me a W.

Give me a W.

For sure, X marks the spot.

For sure, X marks the spot.

Give me a Y.

Give me a Y.

Let’s wrap this thing up while Martin here is still 80. Only two days left.

A good M

A good M for sure

Not a bad 8 if you ask me.

Not a bad 8 if you ask me.

Maybe a little desperate for an O.

Maybe a little desperate for an O but why complain this late in the game.

The end.

Prague from the Street

Posted on February 11, 2017

Tourists visit Prague for many reasons but two favorites are to sample the beer and to see the Astronomical Clock on the main city square. So Eva, Suzi and I do both right away. Here’s the clock in the dead of winter with a few (thousand), mostly Asian, admirers with their cell phone cameras at the ready.

Astronomical Clock

Astronomical Clock dating from 1410

We have long planned to stay at the centrally located U Medvidku Hotel and oldest active brewery in Prague, dating from 1466. As we check in, we are offered free steins of their brew, which we enjoy in the lobby. Our room is on the top, fourth floor among the rafters. Suzi’s bed is perched on a loft amongst the beams. Our in-room bathroom is actually in another building. We share the wall. The floors don’t match up so we climb six stairs to the door. Bizarre.

Beers in the lobby

Beers in the lobby

Our room amongst the timbers

Our room amongst the timbers

Some of the brewery kettles

Some of the brewery kettles

Buffet breakfast comes with the room

Buffet breakfast comes with the room. This is a portion of what is offered.

A couple of blocks away from us is Wenceslas Square where major demonstrations have taken place, such as the Velvet Revolution in 1989 against Communist repression, championed by Alexander Dubcek and Vaclav Havel. Today it’s a major shopping area. Because Prague was not damaged during WWII, many fine buildings remain from earlier times throughout the city. Along Wenceslas Square are many places built during the Art Nouveau period around 1900 and the Art Deco period that followed. Here are some examples.

To feed the masses who come there today, there are two McDonald’s, a Burger King and a KFC. When revolution comes to America’s plazas, will MickyD be there?

Wenceslas Square

Wenceslas Square

The Grand Hotel, now boarded up

The Grand Hotel, presently boarded up

img_0004-copy img_0167-copy img_0168-copy img_0219-copy img_0172-copy

Most of Prague is paved with cobblestones. Nonetheless, yesterday we did nearly 20,000 steps, according to our iPhone, and were none the worse for wear at the end of the day.

Typical back street

Typical back street

img_0146-copy

Not far away from us is the large Jewish quarter with many synagogues, cemetery and shops. Of course, the quarter’s inhabitants were decimated in WWII by the Nazis. In the 18th century, they were about one quarter of the population and more Jews lived here than anywhere else on Earth. Now there is some recovery.

Jewish quarter

Jewish quarter

Nearby flows the Moldau River, put to music by Bedrich Smetana in his famous Ma Vlast (My Homeland) symphonic poems we know as The Moldau.

The Moldau

The Moldau

At the end of one of the several bridges spanning the river is a plaque to Gustav Mahler, the famous 19th century composer. He got his professional start in Prague in 1885 as conductor of the Prague German Opera. At that time there was much tension between the resident Germans and Czechs. He managed to keep his musicians playing together harmoniously, so to say.

img_9732-copy

Franz Kafka, though of German Jewish parentage, is today one of Prague’s most esteemed sons and towering figures in 20th century literature. Try his easily read “Metamorphosis” as a starter. Free on the internet in the US.

A poster

A poster

img_9930-copy

Another notable figure is Jan Hus, the martyred theologian who attempted Catholic reform a century before Martin Luther survived a similar feat. A huge statue is in the Old Town Square.

img_0139-copy

Prague is crawling with tourists, even in the wintertime. Souvenir shops follow their paths.

img_9783-copy

We cross the river but the tourists follow. Still there are many beautiful things to see.

img_9769-copy img_9766-copy img_9757-copy img_9836-copy img_9933-copy img_9925-copy

Of course hunger finally catches up with us. We find a nice local spot rather away from the tourist stream. We drink lots of beer. It’s half the price of German beer, which is already cheap, about 25 cents for an American size can. Bread is 40 cents a pound – the tasty, dense rye type. Yum.

img_9789-copy
It's goulash again

It’s goulash again, seemingly the national dish.

Finally, in the evening we get to the famed Charles Bridge. Charles IV crossed it 700 years ago. These days millions cross it, hourly. Mostly Asians. It’s really sooty and ugly as I see it in the winter gloom.

Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge

One day we walk to The Dancing House, a bit of extreme modern design. It’s really nice inside.

The Dancing House

The Dancing House

Then we climb lots os stairs to the Citadel where there are views over the city.

Prague is not especially tidy.

Prague is not especially tidy.

A city view

A city view with many towers

View of the Moldau River

View of the Moldau River

Next day we walk to the train station, somewhat out from the main downtown. It’s a rather down-in-the-mouth place on the outside because it hasn’t been restored, but the station was once an Art Nouveau marvel and quite lovely inside.

Main train station

Main train station

Train station interior

Train station interior

Stained glass widows are original.

Stained glass widows are original.

We leave in a couple of days for Vienna. Half the way will be by Leo Express train, half by Leo bus. $7.70 each for the six hour journey. What does it cost to SFO? $32 for a two hour trip? Hmmm.

Here's our train. All aboard.

Here’s our train. All aboard.

Letters from Munich

Posted on February 8, 2017

Instead of sending you the usual collection of exterior architectural features such as doors and windows from this great city of Munich, Germany, I’m sharing with you a collection of short stand-alone letters instead. Letters I did not write, but instead found where others had left them.

A love letter to one's sweetie.

A love letter to one’s sweetie.

You might think I cut out an easy task for myself, but I assure you, it took three sets of eagle eyes to complete this project. Without further ado, I present you with the letters, the alphabet as it were. Some intentionally are a bit obscure.

a-img_9394 b-img_9164 c-img_9460 d-img_9266 e-img_9470 f-img_9450 g-img_9428 h-img_9509 i-img_9083 j-img_9487 k-img_9382 l-img_9061 m-img_9446 n-img_9346 o-img_9062 p-img_9551 q-img_9447 r-img_9643 s-img_9344 t-img_9035 u-img_9512 v-img_9436 w-img_9539 x-img_9418 y-img_9384
There's nothing like ending on our favorite subject, a pastry shop.

There’s nothing like ending on our favorite subject, a pastry shop.

Auf Wiedersehen.

%d bloggers like this: