Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Amsterdamage

We have been home now for almost two weeks, which means this final post is well overdue. The final stretch of our trip brought us to the Netherlands, Amsterdam. An obligatory rainfall greeted us as we exited the station and hopped in a cab. The cobblestoned streets are shared between impossibly narrow trams, buses, cabs, pedestrians, and lots and lots of bicycles. Something has to be said for the amazing coordination of the Dutch, whom are able to hold an umbrella, smoke a cigarette, chat on thier cell phone, all while riding thier bike down a narrow crevice between a tram and a stream of pedestrians! We finally arrived to our place and after some peculiarly explicit directions and instructions from the quirky staff, we managed to check into our room. That night we met up with Reid's friends and went out to a few bars to celebrate his birthday and made our way to the infamous red light district.

As one Brit we ran into proclaimed, "the place is just rotten, isn't it?", But the women blatantly displaying thier "goods" is only part of the attraction in the old town. The drug dealers that line the alleys and post up on the canal corners are a show in themselves. Walking through the district, your ears are peppered with solicitations, "Coca, Coca, Ex" is a phrase that becomes familiar quickly. And if you listen closely you can hear the peddlers communicating with each other using bird-like chirps and peeps; some of the busier corners sound like an overcrowded aviary! One dealer, holding the signature umbrella where the "goods" are stashed, stood in front of a chicken stand proclaiming "Chicken, Chicken, get your tasty Chicken," and as I walked in front of him whispered "Charlie" under his breath. Pure insanity!

Another shocking incident involved an irate woman handcuffed with an odd apparatus that connected her bound hands to the front of a police scooter! The cop was calmly escorting her through the streets as she stumbled down the alley a couple feet in front of him, all the while angrily shouting back at him! It was nothing short of bizzare!

The next day we explored some more of the city before checking out the Heineken brewery. I wont waste any time talking about this lame tourist trap, don't waste your time either, skip it. The architecture of Amsterdam is very unique; the narrow alleys and leaning buildings gave me the impression of being on the set of a movie, the buildings almost seem to be a two dimensional facade in a movie backlot in Hollywood. And pictures don't convey the amount these buildings lean on each other, none appear vertical and the only reference to the extent the buildings are leaning is to observe how the top of one building portrudes four feet closer to the street than its neighbor; although they were once parallel. we really got a kick out of the cartoonish buildings.

We checked out the Van Gogh museum along with a special exhibit comparing Rembrandt and Caravaggio. Wow! Caravagggio's impeccable detail holds up even when your nose is almost pressed against the canvas. His paintings emit a powerful, indescribable aura which fill you with wonder and awe. After lunch we took a tour of Anne Frank's house, the museum did an excellent job preserving and presenting the harrowing story.

Brugge, Belgium

The next morning Starr and I dragged ourselves out of bed and took an early train to Brugge. Although we missed the 8 o clock train by a couple minutes, we hopped on the 9 o clock and the train ride went by very quickly. Brugge is often referred to as Venice of the north, Its an infinitely cute town and has my vote for the most picturesque and impressive town square, (St. Mark's eat your heart out) starr absolutely fell in love with this canal-filled ancient city, and I will bug her to add her impressions of th city to the blog. By the time we got back it was almost midnight and we headed back to the room to get some rest before beginning our last day in Europe. (sniffle sniffle.)

We started the day with a trip to the scaled down temporary exhibit at the Rijks museum, although it was only a small fraction of what the museum usually has to offer, many of the masterpieces were on diplay including Rembrandt's "Night Watch." starr was quietly relieved the small size of the exhibition meant we got out of thier in under three hours. after traveling around the unmatched hospitality of the Dutch was accentuated by comparison to some of the less-friendly cultures we encountered ahem cough *France* cough.

I have much more I want to talk about and overall impressions and reflections to share, but I'm at work right now and need to get back to it. So for all you out of town readers that haven't got to see the slideshow, I will be adding pictures and afterthoughts in the next week or so......

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Rothenburg

First off, sorry to dissapoint everyone but, this whole uploading photos thing has me really worried because I can´t read German, therefore Im not sure if im supposed to check teh box to delete the photos after uploading or leave unchecked, also it takes almost 20 minutes per photo to upload and resize them without an image editing program. Basically, everyone is going to just have to wait another week. It will make the slideshow that much better, right? Anyway Prague was an awesome city, one of the most lively; the city permeates with a unique buzz and excitement. A bit more "western" and commercialized than I had anticipated, but a beautiful city and we found the Czech people to be most hospitable and friendly.

Now we find ourselves in Rothenburg, located in the heart of the motherland. We arrived two days ago and luckily found accomadations, because there is a conference and a long weekend in Germany and the city was nearly booked. After having a nice dinner we spent the evening walking around the walled city, it is the best preserved Medievel city in Germany and it immediately transports you back a few centuries once you cross under one of the several gates into the adorable village. We took a nice walk along the old wall encompassing the city and peered out over all the sharply sloping red terra cotta roofs, towers, and interspersed steeples. We headed to bed early because we planned a day trip to the Dachau concentration camp just outside of Munich.

Being a holiday, the train tickets were steep, but we took the two and a half hour train ride down anyway. After another short train and a bus we reached the camp around 10:00 and picked up some audio guides and headed through the iron gates inscribed with the imposing message, Arbeit Macht Frei (Work shall set you free). A unsettling feeling rolls over me as I step out onto the courtyard where daily roll call and ritual beatings were performed during the time of the camp´s use. WE head into the main building which houses the museum and watched a twenty minute film about the atrocities committed at the camp. Dachau was the first cmp built and operated for over 12 years. It contained 25 barracks (only 2 rebuilt ones still remain). each barrack was designed to hold 200 people, but they overcrowded them to over 2,000 at one point. In the back corner of the complex lies the crematorium and Gas chamber, although there is no evidence the gas chamber was ever used for systematic murder; many believe they used it for isolated experiments. the prisoners at Dachau were used as guinea pigs for various medical experiments including submersion in ice cold water for hours and days at a time, many until death; the Nazis wanted to determine the amount of time a downed pilot could survive in the ocean. In front of the most eerie room, the crematorium there stil remains a long wooden pole with several hooks attatched, which were used to hang the prisoners before burning thier corpses in the ovens. ((shiver)) Around the back of the crematorium in a forested area, the "blood ditch" is still visible in the earth at the former shooting range. Dachau was moving but, i agree with the criticisms of it being to "dolled" up or "touristy." Most of the origanl structures are long gone and the impact of what is remaining is somewhat dulled by the crowds and various exhibits. After a long and sobering day i Dachau we caught a train back the Rothenburg, exhausted and hungry. After dinner we caught some Z´s.

This morning we decided to devote to the superb selection of shops in the town. Mom, you would LOVE it here, Rothenburg is known as the christmas city and has a copuple world renowned stores filled with christmas decor and various hand made nutcrackers and other "knick knacks." I don´t think my mom could leave the store without spending at least a couple thousand dollars and several hours inside. And on that note, we DID find you a doll, we shipped it out to you should be there in three weeks!! After buying a couple gifts and souvenirs we checked out the town some more before heading to eat. After lunch it started to rain prety hard, so I decided to send everyone another update.

Rothenburg is amazing and lives up to the hype, the ideal old europe village. We want to bring our parents back, you would all absolutely love this place. But, im need to get back outside cause its about golden hour and i need a few more photos.

Happy birthday Jimmy!!!!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Praha

Sorry for keeping everyone hanging for so long, but we have been busy making the most of our rapidly diminishing time here. We left Budapest after a wonderful four nights to proceed onto Prague (Czech Republic.) The train ride was about seven hours and we were all loopy with cabin fever and excitement by the time we arrived and checked into our hotel. Shortly after czech-ing (haha) in, the last of our entourage- Reid and Terra- enthusiastically appeared at our door. Our hotel was located in an ideal spot, just a minutes walk from historic Wencelas Street, a bustling wide avenue lined with neon signs advertising restaurants, cabarets, and department stores. Wencelas square and the adjoining street are icons in Czech history, nearly all protests, demonstrations and riots throughout the Communist era were held here. russian tanks and earlier Nazi tanks both paraded up the boulevard after thier respective invasions. It was also the site where two students set themselves on fire in 1969 and 70 in protest of the Soviet occupation. The architecture along the boulevard is amazing, packed with fantastic examples of Art Nouveau (my favorite. After settling in we walked the strip in search of food and stumbled across what would become our daily haunt, the Bona Vita, a cafe loaded with tons of vegetarian options (a godsend in the decidedly un-vegetarian Czech.) After a little exploration, We topped of the night with some spirits back at our room.

Day 2 (in Praha)
After breakfast, we headed to Prague Castle which is located just across the Danube from our hotel. We took the steep old castle steps up the hilltop to the castle and got a great view of the city sprawled out below us. The castle and surrounding village are superbly preserved, with cobble stoned alleys winding through the medievel complex. After watching the changing of the guards at noon (along with every other tourist in Praha) we proceeded to the truly magnificent centerpiece of Praha, St. Vitus Cathedral, located in the heart of the old castle walls. One of the most impressive churches we have visited, the highlight is the jaw dropping stained glass windows lining all sides of the Cathedral. After wandering around the church we went underneath were the 11th century foundations were still visible and got a peek into the vault which held the coffin of Good Kig Wencelas of chritmas carol fame. Then we walked up a dizzying 287 sharply spiraling stairs to the top of the south tower, gving us a bird´s eye view of the entire city. After spending a few hours examining the various nooks and crannies on castle hill we made our way down to the Danube and watched the throngs of tourists make thier way over the famous Charles bridge. We made our way to the old town square, site of many executions throughout Prague´s tumultuous history including that of Jan Hus, a martyr who was burned here over 500 years ago. Several churches and the well known astronomical clock are located here. We got a close look at the clock and gawked at the genius required to put the clock together. The clock shows the date and time along with the phase of the moon, the time of sunrise and sunset, along with the zodiac signs, and identifies famous birthdays on each day. After a long day of walking we ate dinner before crashing for the night.

Day 3
We awoke early and caught a train to the nearby village of Kutna Hora, home of the macabre bone church. The church became an extremely desirable burial ground after a priest sprinkled the grounds of the church with dirt from the Holy land. The large amount of people wanting to be buried on the grounds along with the Plague led to the twisted ornamentation which now fills the church. The centerpice of the church is a chandelier made with every single bone found in the human body, each ocrner is a teepee like structure of skulls and other bones. Garlands of skulls drape acrross the ceiling and a coat of arms made from, yes, bones, is hung on one wall. After the bone church we explored the quaint village of Kutna Hora before catching a train back to Praha, a train which we ran across the entire village to catch only to find out we had another hour and a half before it departed (Nic was basing the departure time on a bus schedule DOH!). After dinner, we decided to all go to a Cabarat, the bargaining with the people on the street trying to get you to come to thier cabarat was notably amusing, the cabarat was overall quite an experience.
The next morning we headed back to teh streets of old town, stopped by a museum of torture before heading to the Jewish Quarter Museum. Drawings from children held in concentration camps were displayed in one of the synagogues, it was terribly emotional to see the inspired drawings from the children only to read below the date they died, very few survived the camp ordeal. Also in the quarter is one of the oldest surviving Jewish cemetaries in existence, it only survived because Hitler intentionally preserved in with plans to turn it into a museum for an extinct race. The cemetary was amazing, some headstones dated back into the 14th century all severely eroded and packed almost on top of each other and leaning against one another at exteme angles. After dinner and a little souvenier shopping we headed to the communist museum, an interesting and informative look at the Soviet era in Czech. That night the Czech Republic was playing Finland in the final game of the World Cup of hockey and they were projecting the game onto large screens i the old town square. We watched the wild and raucous crowd while the Czech team was roundly defeated Four to nil. But the flag waving crowd was unfazed and if one didnt know better, you would have thought they won the match. After the game we followed the procession of drunk and amazingly enthusiastic crowd to Wenscelas square were they chanted and waved flags until the early hours of morning.
Day 4
After reading much about the fairytale city of Ceske Krumlov, Starr and I decided to make a day trip to the village despite a lengthy train ride, we arrived and promptly checked the schedule for the last departure home, 8:02. It ws just after one so that gave us plenty of time to soak in the tiny historic village and well preserved castle. Ceske Krumlov was just what one would expect of a middle age village, immensely picturesque and encircled by a bend in a lazy river dotted with rafts and backpackers soaking up the sun on the banks. Reminscent of another of our favorite towns, Cinque Terra, we immediately fell in love with the place. We hiked to the top of a tower overlooking the entire town and got a boatload of postcard worthy shots. Side not, ive ran out of my 2 gig memory card and had to purchase another, again, I am rapidly becoming my father, heheh. We had an amazing day relaxing by the river and walking the alleys of the town. We arrived at the station with a little time to spare and decided to grab a beer from the bar at the end of the station, we sipped our brew and chatted for a bit when a small train came rolling into the station, "Is that our train?" Starr asked. "No, weve got at least twenty minutes, I double checked the clock as the train was pulling out of the station and disbelief swepst over me as the clock struck 8:03 and the caboose pulled out just out of arm´s reach. No way, my eyes were decieving me, I looked at the clock long and hard trying to will it to not be 8:03, but it was. We rushed into the station frantically asking the conductor, "No more trains?" "No" she replied. "Buses?" No. "Shit, Shit" i repeated, "Yes. Yes" the conductor responded. The blod left my face as the repurcussions swept over me. Before I puked with disgust, Starr had the brilliant idea of a Taxi, we ran back in to inquire about a Taxi, to find out we could get there in half the time it took the train to reach the next connection. YES!! We rushed to teh front of the station and hopped in the cab, sensing our despration he floored it and we were soon flying down the street passing vehicles at a ridiculous speed, laughing at our stupidity, 25 dollars and 17 minutes later we were in the station, relieved and hysterical with the situation. After getting back into Praha we took a few night shots of the city before calling it a night at just past 2 a.m. Giving us a mere 7 hours until our train departed for Rothenburg the following morning. WE had another commotion filled day at the train station in Praha, where we got different information on time and routes from every person we asked before managing to hope on a train just as it was leaving. Six connections later we arrive in our current location, the simply awesome walled city of Rothenburg.

I will catch everyone up on our stay here tomorrow, along with pics (don´t believe me, do ya?). By the way Happy Birthday, Jess!!! See everyone soon!!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

From Buda to Pest

First, we would all like to wish our wonderful Mothers a belated and emphatic HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!! Sorry Mom, we made a genuinely valiant effort to call you on the occasion; Starr got directions on where to buy a phone card but instead we ended up walking in circles for an hour and a half before giving up and heading for bed. I love you and miss you and hope you aren't too angry with your baby boy :) I will buy you an extra cool souvenir to sort of make up for it. We will definetly make some calls to everyone from Praha.

Secondly, sorry for the awkward writing in the last blog, I didn't proofread it and it shows, heh. Anyway, we just wrapped up our last night in Budapest and we have had an absolute blast. Jess, Budapest is in Hungary (heheh) and it actually is two separate cities, Buda and Pest, sitting on either side of the Danube river.

Making our way here on the train from Vienna we had our passports checked twice in as many minutes by intimidating guards with fatigues and guns, giving you the immediate sense you are crossing over into "uncharted waters." On the train, a friendly Hungarian working for the tourism department reserved a room for us and arranged a shuttle to pick us up from the train station. The shuttle was piloted by a short round gentleman who turned and uttered "no english" before putting the pedal to the floor and rapidly zipping us off to our destination. Our Hotel is a mere stone´s throw from the grand and beautiful (especially at night) "Hero´s Square."

After settling in we walked down the Embassy avenue, dubbed so because it houses all the foreign embassies in beautiful old 18th and 19th century mansions which line either side of the grand boulevard. We made it to the danube and crossed over the famous Chain bridge before heading up to castle hill in Buda, which contain the majority of the remaining medeieval structures. We popped in to the church and perused the grounds of the castle, but being Sunday many of the attractions were closed.

Budapest is catching on to the whole capitalism thing wonderfully, around the castle if you want to walk along the path of the old castle walls, 150 forints (roughly 75 cents). And inside any attraction is loaded with little extras; for example, in the Bath house they charge you to get in but if you want a "private dressing room" it will cost you 300 forints, need a loincloth? 200. Towel? 400. But, it's great, you can sense the almost child-like excitement of the Hungarian people excercising thier freedoms. The excitement manifests itself in all sorts of ways, from thier penchant for peeling out, to the wild hairstyles and flashy clothes. Besides, it is still far cheaper here than in any "western" city, though I wonder for how much longer.

Another great thing about Budapest is the architecture, left largely undamaged from the war. The streets are lined with astounding examples of neo-classical, gothic, and baroque buildings all covered with wonderful ornamentation (along with centuries of dirt and grime) and full of character. These impressive buildings stretch across the entire city inerrupted only by infinitely ugly and depressing soviet-era apartment complexes (little more than giant cinderblocks with diminuitive windows). The soviet past displays itself in quirky ways, such as the angular and staunch outlines found on the walk/don't walk street crossing signs. The only heavily damaged area is along the banks of the danube where intense fighting took place between the Russians on the eastern side (Pest), and the Germans across the river in Buda. Looking out from the castle walls you can envision just where the hardest hit areas were, because the bombs blasted holes in the grand old architecture and opened up room for the fancy five star hotels that line the banks of Pest.

Well back to the narrative, so after walking around Buda, we ate some dinner before heading in for the night. The next morning we took the Metro to the most famous bath house in Buda, the Gellerty Baths. Ever since antiquity, as far back as the second century, the natural hot springs running under Budapest were exploited and channeled to create mineral baths, revered for thier natural healing powers. The Turks built many, and the Hapsburg empire built more later on. The Gellerty baths have been around for hundreds of years. The baths were quite an experience, we started in the main pool room, which houses a lap pool and a hotter semi circular pool to the back. The pool is lined with columns decorated with fish and mermaids and other sea scenes and the end of the pool is capped off with a fountain and bronze statue. Various spouts of water tapped from the springs stream from the mouths of dragons and fish sculptures lining the sides of the baths. The ceiling opened up to the sky letting the sunshine fill the room with golden light. After soaking for a while in the main pool, we split up to check out our respective baths, (we soon learned why the strict segragation of sexes is necessary). Nic and I ventured back to the Men's baths through a maze of stalls and cubicles full of men getting different massages. The thermal bath house was even more impressive, a large arched room covered from floor to ceiling in small tiles of different shades of blue and browns with intricate designs and patterns all over the floor and walls. Statues of little cupids peer down on you from all angles. The room contains two main baths, a 36 degree bath with a 20 percent mineral concentration, and a 38 degree bath with a 10 percent mineral concentration. The water is channeled directly out of the natural springs and comes pouring out of old Baroque fountains of little boys and various sea creatures. After soaking for a bit me and Nic explored some more of the Labryinth like structure, after finding what appeared to be an enema device (a metal bar circle around a spout that shoots straight up with great force) we found a steam room. And this steam room was not messing around, the steam seemed to be rising directly out of Hell itself, and had sort of a salty almost unpleasant odor about it which was hard to breathe in. We sat in there for as long as we could to clear out any remaining Virgal and just outside the door we found a small bath marked 8 degrees. After psyching oursleves up, we got up the nerve and took a plunge. Wow. After getting out of the steam room your body isn't sure what to think; a second ago you were literally on fire and now this, it takes a moment to register the ridiculously cold temerature, but it does and it hits you like a tond of bricks. Then we limped over to the 38 degree and submerged ourselves, further confusing our bodies. The hot water feels like nothing at first, then a strong tingling sensation before briefly feeling chill and then back to warm again. We were hooked and replayed this routine at leats four more times, feeling more invigorated and refreshed each time. Oh yeah and everyone but me and nic our sporting these little loincloths, basically a dishrag and a string. Starr later informed us the women sport nothing but thier birthday suits, quite a shocker for her western sensibilities. Later we headed to the outdoor pool areas which contained an impressive complex of more pools, saunas and the like. After a few more rotations of Steam room to 8 degree pool to 38 degree pool and some good soaks, we decided to get some food, since we were all filling very thirsty and hungry after spending over five hours at the baths.

We ate at a nice Italian cafe on a popular avenue and had a delicious dinner. It was an all around superb day, but although the baths made us all feel great, it also made me tired as a dog and I practically collapsed into bed and was snoozing like an old man by ten o´clock.

The next morning (yesterday) Starr and I got up early and caught a train to nearby Eger, which supposedly housed a really neat castle and some great wine cellars. WE arrived and ate some lunch before heading up to check out the castle. The castle was rather mediocre, mainly just ruins and the coolest section of the castle (the underground passages) was inexplicably closed up at 3 o clock! Dissapointed we headed out to find the ancient wine cellars carved right into the porous rock of the mountain side, to make a long and frustrating story short, we didn't find them. The trip was kind of a bust so we decided to catch the five o clock train back to Buda. Once we arrived we returned to our new favorite cafe and had another great dinner with Nic before heading to a outdoor concert they hold at a nearby park. The park was mainly filled with high school kids, amusingly rocking out to American rock, all cheesy and dated by our standards but they seem to love it. It was rather amusing and after people watching for a bit we called it a night.

This morning we got up to rainy skies after having brilliant weather for the last three days. WE took the short walk to the other famous bathhouse which is only about a five minute walk from our hotel. The Szecheney Baths wern1t quite as impressive as the others (not as expensive either) but, we stuill had a great time and left feeling refreshed and even more enamored with the bath houses(sp?). It had cleared up again so after lunch we took some buses out to Szobor park, an outdoor museum housing the old communist statues and plaques that once filled the city. It was quite a ways out there, but once we arrived we had a great time posing for pics around the statues and afterwards we got some really cool souvenirs from the gift shop. Then we once again patronized the Fresco Cafe (I think we spent the majority of our forints at that one establishment) before heading down to the river banks to experience the night time beauty of Budapest "The Paris of the East." We snapped some pics and walked around a bit before retiring back to our abode, now I need to join Nic and Starr in getting some sleep for tomorrow we are on to Praha!!

Oh yeah and the Austrians ain't got nothing on the Hungarians, they should rename the city Babepest, well maybe not. But wow, the most gorgeous women ever (besides my ever loving, wonderful wife of course).

We miss and love you all, and an extra thanks to Vicki for watching the bitches, tell them we will see them soon. I'll get some pics next update, I promise.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

We are a bunch of Weiners

Well we are now finishing up our three day stint in Vienna. We decided to skip Hallstatt and opt for a three night stay to avoid trains for a couple of days. We got here in a short three hours from Salzburg and checked into a room near the train staion before heading out to the heart of Vienna and stroll around checking out the mind boggling amount of impressive buildings (all liberally decorated in gold, dozens of statues, and ornate, elaborate decorations; the city is the definition of baroque). After walking miles and miles throughout Europe you would think it would get easier, it doesn´t. So we dragged our tired feet back to the room to cash in, although Nic had a hard time on his inclined cot; a mattress approximately five feet in length with no less than three divisions in it, and the foot of the bed at least four inches lower than his head.

We slept in a little bit and headed to grab some breakfast errr brunch from the local market filled with stalls with vendors selling flowers, produce, schnitzel
, and cafes. Then we proceeded to a much anticipated stop at the Leopold Museum to check out some work by Klimt and my current painting Idol; Egon Schiele. I am even more in love with him after seeing his work (and buying one of nearly every one of his prints in the store). After that we headed to the room to unload our newly purchased goods and then we checked out the local mall for some food. We ate at a "Mexican Restaurant" ecstatic with anticipation of eating our first bean burrito. But, they had no bean burritos and we ended up getting some enchiladas instead (I dare say there doesnt exist a single refried bean on this entire continent; yo quiero Taco bell). Jimmy will be happy to hear we haven´t patronized a Mcdo for quite some time now, except for the occasional ice cream. We caled in an early night, well I did anyway; I was snoozing by 9:30 while Starr tossed and turned listening to the television blaring until 2:00 am!

This morning Starr and I awoke early while Nic slept in, and headed to the Stephansdom, a thirteenth century church in the heart of Vienna, situated awkwardly between a strip mall housing H & M and a Mcdonalds on the other side. We went inside and took a tour of the catacombs underneath the church, it was O.K., but nothing compared to the Paris ones. After that we took the underground train over to the Belvedere Museum to check out some more paintings; I hadn´t quite satisfied my Klimt and Schiele obsession. Seeing Schiele's (and Klimt´s ´the Kiss´) work up close was mind blowing, it's nothing short of a tragedy that he died so young. After that we headed to the local market where we ate yesterday to meet up with Nic. We decided to eat at the same noodle place as before and sat and watched all the locals do thier thing.

The stereotypes hold true of Austrians for the most part; a tad grumpy, uptight, and always occupied with a cigarette or a coffee or both. And boy do they enjoy thier schnitzel, combined with any other item at any time of day. And they do have thier share of babes; tall skinny and curvy (of course I only got this information from Nic, me I haven't noticed..heheh). German is probably the funniest language we´ve encountered, filled with dramatic inflections and funny signs like "Gute Fahrt." And Austrians also are the most inclined to talk trash about you right in front of you, as demonstrated by a drunk in Salzburg who went on a twenty minute diatribe "American" "Respect" "Atlantic Ocean" and a strange mocking blubbering sound we deduced to be an American complaining. Our hotel toilet consists of an open air platform which insures that your entire room stinks by the time you get a chance to flush. Vienna is quite impressive overall, although many of the buildings have been restored or completely rebuilt due to the devastating war.

Tomorrow on to Budapest where we hope to get some more pictures up for everyone!

Servus

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Austria? Throw another shrimp on the barby!

From Switzerland we headed south to Venice for a couple nights. The rain followed us from Gimmelwald and drenched us as we searched for a room. Something else followed us from high in the alps; An ailment we have affectionately dubbed "the Virgäl Drip." the Virgäl drip basically consists of clogged sinuses and a wicked cough. We blame the staff at Hotel Mittaghorn because we overheard them discussing the infamous drip as we checked in. We all got it and passed it around, Starr of course suffered the most severe form. It all comes with the territory when touring Europe; it isnt a question of IF you will get ill, but when.

Anyway after checking into our room we headed down the street and quickly found some food, after eating pringles and Kit Kats all day on the train we all needed to fill our angry stomachs. After dinner we wandered around a bit before heading back to our place.
The next morning we got up early (thanks to the bell tower about 100 meters from our window which chimes at 7:00 for no less than five minutes. Seriously. After a modest chime 15 minutes later, it does it's five minute serenade again at 7:30. No joke.) and took advantage of the Hotel's surprisingly decent breakfast before heading out to wander the alleys of Venice.

Venice is basically a floating, stinking, tourist trap; but a charming one nonetheless. Aside from the frustrating crowds and thousands of shops selling the same cheap masks, marrionettes, and tacky crap as the next thirty five down the same street; there are some great sights to see. The tall skinny buildings lining the narrow alleys seem to tiredly lean on one another for support. Some of the buildings and towers are hopelessly tilted; weighed down from the centuries spent on this doomed island and the endless crowds. The bustling grand canal is filled with fragile Gondolas and huge ferries jockeying for space. After circling the entire island about four or five times, (getting lost in Vence is inevitable, part of the charm) we finally staggered upon St. Mark's Square. The square and Church are still impressive enough to hold the attention of even the most jaded traveler; We bought some pigeon food and Starr wigged out as the pigeons mobbed us. We walked around a bit more before we headed up the tower overlooking the square and got a great vantage point of all of the city. Looking down at the city all you see are red tiled roofs jammed together at nonsensical angles interrupted only by an errant church, tower, or canal. The pigeons in the square look like ants swarming whoever has the food. After that we wandered around and got lost again, and ended up back in the square. The once huge line to get in the church was now nonexistent, so Starr and I ducked inside just as they were closing. St. Mark's Cathedral is truly spectacular, gold leaf glimmers off of nearly every surface. The extremely bowed and warped tiled floor shows the impressive age of the structure. Starr's Virgäl was in full force at this point so we headed back to the room so she could try to stave off the dastardly sickness.

The next morning we ate breakfast and headed to the station to head to our next stop, Salzburg. We just missed a train so we had to wait a bit for the next one. We passed the time eating in the station and studying up on our next stop.
We arrived in Salzburg late in the afternoon and ate some chow, did some handwashing and called it a night. This morning we caught a train to nearby Werfen to check out some ice caves that I had read about. We caught a bus and then a cable car which moved at a ridiculous speed at an even more ridiculous incline, and after a short hike in thick morning fog, we arrived at the mouth of the cave. After waiting a bit a young Austrian with frizzy red hair shooting out from under his wool cap, introduced himself as our guide and gave a few of us candle lanterns before opening the door to the cave. The cold air rushed out the door as we piled in. The cave inside was about freezing level but as the guide joked, the 700 stairs up and then back down prevented any of us from getting too cold. The cave was absolutely amazing, the largest accessible ice cave in the world, over 73 km deep! We walked up the steep stairs amazed at the different complex and beautiful ice structures. Such a surreal experience being in a frosted, glimmering cavern underneath over 400 meters of limetone. The cave was first discovered in 1897 and the man who discovered it left a black cross on the wall at the point he had to turn back and it's still clearly visible today. Simply amazing, definitely one of the highlights of the trip. After that we headed back to Salzburg and after grabbing a bite to eat, Starr and I headed up to explore the Castle and surrounding city below. And now we are about to head back to the room for tomorrow we are headed for a neat little town, Hallstatt, about an hour or so away from here, and then on to Vienna. So i'll try to get some more pictures up soon. By the way who reads this anyway? Please leave a comment or something so I know my words aren't echoing unheard through cyber space.
Austria? Throw another shrimp on the barby!

From Switzerland we headed south to Venice for a couple nights. The rain followed us from Gimmelwald and drenched us as we searched for a room. Something else followed us from high in the alps; An ailment we have affectionately dubbed "the Virgäl Drip." the Virgäl drip basically consists of clogged sinuses and a wicked cough. We blame the staff at Hotel Mittaghorn because we overheard them discussing the infamous drip as we checked in. We all got it and passed it around, Starr of course suffered the most severe form. It all comes with the territory when touring Europe; it isnt a question of IF you will get ill, but when.

Anyway after checking into our room we headed down the street and quickly found some food, after eating pringles and Kit Kats all day on the train we all needed to fill our angry stomachs. After dinner we wandered around a bit before heading back to our place.
The next morning we got up early (thanks to the bell tower about 100 meters from our window which chimes at 7:00 for no less than five minutes. Seriously. After a modest chime 15 minutes later, it does it's five minute serenade again at 7:30. No joke.) and took advantage of the Hotel's surprisingly decent breakfast before heading out to wander the alleys of Venice.

Venice is basically a floating, stinking, tourist trap; but a charming one nonetheless. Aside from the frustrating crowds and thousands of shops selling the same cheap masks, marrionettes, and tacky crap as the next thirty five down the same street; there are some great sights to see. The tall skinny buildings lining the narrow alleys seem to tiredly lean on one another for support. Some of the buildings and towers are hopelessly tilted; weighed down from the centuries spent on this doomed island and the endless crowds. The bustling grand canal is filled with fragile Gondolas and huge ferries jockeying for space. After circling the entire island about four or five times, (getting lost in Vence is inevitable, part of the charm) we finally staggered upon St. Mark's Square. The square and Church are still impressive enough to hold the attention of even the most jaded traveler; We bought some pigeon food and Starr wigged out as the pigeons mobbed us. We walked around a bit more before we headed up the tower overlooking the square and got a great vantage point of all of the city. Looking down at the city all you see are red tiled roofs jammed together at nonsensical angles interrupted only by an errant church, tower, or canal. The pigeons in the square look like ants swarming whoever has the food. After that we wandered around and got lost again, and ended up back in the square. The once huge line to get in the church was now nonexistent, so Starr and I ducked inside just as they were closing. St. Mark's Cathedral is truly spectacular, gold leaf glimmers off of nearly every surface. The extremely bowed and warped tiled floor shows the impressive age of the structure. Starr's Virgäl was in full force at this point so we headed back to the room so she could try to stave off the dastardly sickness.

The next morning we ate breakfast and headed to the station to head to our next stop, Salzburg. We just missed a train so we had to wait a bit for the next one. We passed the time eating in the station and studying up on our next stop.
We arrived in Salzburg late in the afternoon and ate some chow, did some handwashing and called it a night. This morning we caught a train to nearby Werfen to check out some ice caves that I had read about. We caught a bus and then a cable car which moved at a ridiculous speed at an even more ridiculous incline, and after a short hike in thick morning fog, we arrived at the mouth of the cave. After waiting a bit a young Austrian with frizzy red hair shooting out from under his wool cap, introduced himself as our guide and gave a few of us candle lanterns before opening the door to the cave. The cold air rushed out the door as we piled in. The cave inside was about freezing level but as the guide joked, the 700 stairs up and then back down prevented any of us from getting too cold. The cave was absolutely amazing, the largest accessible ice cave in the world, over 73 km deep! We walked up the steep stairs amazed at the different complex and beautiful ice structures. Such a surreal experience being in a frosted, glimmering cavern underneath over 400 meters of limetone. The cave was first discovered in 1897 and the man who discovered it left a black cross on the wall at the point he had to turn back and it's still clearly visible today. Simply amazing, definitely one of the highlights of the trip. After that we headed back to Salzburg and after grabbing a bite to eat, Starr and I headed up to explore the Castle and surrounding city below. And now we are about to head back to the room for tomorrow we are headed for a neat little town, Hallstatt, about an hour or so away from here, and then on to Vienna. So i'll try to get some more pictures up soon. By the way who reads this anyway? Please leave a comment or something so I know my words aren't echoing unheard through cyber space.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

If Heaven ain't what it's cracked up to be...Send me back to Gimmewald

So after our spectacular two days spent hiking the Med. coast along paths perched between steep terraced vineyards and crayola ultramarine water, we awoke early on the morning of the 4th to head to our next destination, Gimmewald.

After a long day of traveling (Five trains, a bus and a gondola) we finally arrived in Gimmewald, a mere eleven hour journey! Starr wasn't to thrilled about the requisite Gondola ride up the steep cliffs of Lauterbrunnen valley, but the moment we arrived we were comforted with the knowledge it had been well worth it.

Gimmewald is a little village perched on a cliff high above a valley below. A small town of only about 100 residents and a couple dozen structures. The mountain air is refreshing, although tainted a bit by the sometimes intense goat smells. After arriving, we took a short but steep walk up to the Mittaghorn Hotel, and found Nic waiting in the dining room.

Nic had checked us in a few hours before, and he led us up to our room in the loft, a spacious room with four sinks and twelve beds. Famished we quickly learned the only place to eat was the Mountain Hostel below, we took the five minute walk down, soaking in the unbeleivable views of the Eiger and the Jungfrau proudly situated just across the valley. We ordered a couple pizzas and headed back to the Hotel for the night.

The following morning we ate some breakfast before heading out to explore this wonderous village seemingly stuck in a time warp. After walking a bit in a slight drizzle, we noticed a home advertising cheese for sale, we rung the bell and a short, weathered Swiss woman peered out the window before appearing at the door. We informed her of our wishes to check out her cheese and she led us across the dirt path to her cheese hut. The smell inside was "interesting" as she proudly relayed in broken english "this cheese 200 years old, good for heart" she added (but maybe no the digestive tract.) She gave us a sample and it was surprisingly delicious. We purchased a small block and headed down the path watching all the local farmers hard at work mending fences and moving hay. Many of the local farmers sport thick white beards and swiss stocking caps, faces weathered by decades of hard work high in the alps. Thier hard work is only interrupted with trips into Walter's bar every couple hours for a bottle of local wine. Deluxe, this is your kind of place!

We headed to another small store advertising goods and as we walked in we were greeted by Esther, we proceeded to buy the rest of the ingredients of what would become a fabulous picnic (bread, joghurt, and jam). By thius point the rain was picking up and our stomachs were grumbling so we took the short tram ride up to Murren, a slightly larger resort town up the hill. We ate some lunch and since the sun had decided to make an appearance we chose to take the half hour hike back into Gimmewald and take advantage. The views of the alps were postcard perfect and we amazed at the intimidating size of the Mountains and the beauty of the giant waterfalls lining the cliffs. It began to rain again, so we headed back to the Mountain Hostel to grab some more pizza before heading back to our Hotel where we enjoyed some wine in the empty bar.

Yesterday morning we woke up with the sun and I headed our for a morning stroll and explore this spectacular place further. After getting back to the room and meeting up with Nic and Starr, we all hopped the gondola and headed up to Murren to get some cash and but a couple knives for our picnic. On the hike back we stopped on a bench with awesome views surrounding us and had a truly sensational and delicious lunch. With our stomachs full we decided to take a hike up to a near waterfall where the trail actually takes you behind the "Spreitz." The hike was a little tough but the forest was gorgeous, moss blanketing nearly every inch of the forest floor, and gnarly twisted roots criss-crossed the trail. Nic commented it reminded him of the shire from LOTR, and I had to agree. The falls were amazing and well worth the hike, we let the freezing water splash down on our faces, invigorating to say the least. By the time we got back into town, we were beat. We got our laundry together and headed down to the hostel to do a few loads while enjoying a bier and a game of scrabble. We had dinner at the Hotel that night and it was great, Vegetable soup followed by spaghetti and green beans with ice cream and fruit for dessert. WE talked among the fellow guests and had an all around good time. After, we walked back down to the hostel and enjoyed a couple more drinks and some good converstaion with some fellow backpackers. At about eleven we decided to head back to our place and commented how relieved we were to not have to try to sleep at the rowdy hostel.

Which brings me to today, we just ate breakfast and our about to take what I've heard is a hellishly-long train ride to Venice....