Oh, Vienna! (Travelogue, part 2)

October 2003

We bid Na Sheldanou (goodbye) to Prague and enjoyed a pleasant 5 hour train ride to Vienna. Autumn was showing its true form, as we passed through woods with amber, yellow, brown and red leaves.  Through farmland, little towns, crumbling fortresses atop hills clouded with mist.

And, Gruss Gott (God bless or Bless God; we haven’t figured out which) to Vienna, home of the choir, sausage, coffee and waltz.  Once we gotten our bus-metro passes, we set off to our lovely little pension, which is located just off the fashionable Maria Hilfilg Strasse shopping area.  We
have a metro stop that is 50 ft away and is v. handy.

We decided that as we’d already experienced so much high culture in the last 2 weeks (symphony, opera, museums and cathedrals ad nauseum) that we’d spend our first night in Vienna with some good old American brain candy.  So, we went to see Pirates of the Caribbean at the Eng. language theater just down the street.  Paul liked it a lot, as did I.  And, I must say that Johnny Depp still looks fine, even in flamboyant make-up, and now that Orlando Bloom has shorn his Prell commercial blond locks, he looks really good, too.  But, I digress…

Vienna is a city of contrasts.  It is regal, yet pedestrian. Classical, yet contemporary. Proud of its history and culture, yet cosmopolitan. And, even though we’re in a foreign country, this seems so much more familiar than Prague.  (Paul and I both took Ger. in high school, so our broken Ger.
could be why we feel more comfortable.)  Everything is precise, efficient and clean.  The Viennese are obviously v. proud of their city, as the streets are immaculate and there’s no grafitti (sp?)to be seen. The metro has flat screen TVs inside the carriages displaying the news (no audio, just captions) and there are large screen versions on the actual platforms. In contrast to Prague, there is v. little in the way of public displays of affection.  In P., lots of hand holding, kissing and cuddling; here, v. little of it.  I hugged Paul on the metro platform and got a few curious looks. Little cultural differences are interesting.

We saw a Mozart concert with the orchestra in full dress for the time period, including wigs.  At first we thought it’d be schmaltzy, but they were very good.  The museums are chock-full of lovely art, including a wonderful Gustav Klimt exhibit. Saw just a little of the immense Hapsburg dynasty wealth when we visited the Schonnbrunn Summer Palace.  So much gold, marble, etc.  It’s amazing to view how the royalty lived. As with Prague, we’ve spent much of the time looking up at all the incredible architecture.  A statue here, a fountain there, etc.

I’ve found that central Europe is not an easy place to eat if you don’t eat a lot of beef or pork, such as myself. It is the definite staple here. Heres’s an example of cultural unawareness: I ordered a mixed salad, expecting what I’d get back home.  Instead, it was (a very tasty) potato with kraut salad.  One leaf of lettuce and one wedge of tomato used as garnish.  We encountered a little sticker shock upon arrival.  (Prague is v. cheap–a full meal for two including drinks and appetizer and tip costs about $15, if you stay away from the tourist traps.  Beer is incredibly cheap at around $1.75 a pint.) Really, the only cheap food places here are the wurstel stands–frankfurters, etc,– although beer is also inexpensive.  I’ve never eaten so many hotdogs in a period of 4 days. Fortunately, chocolate is exceptionally cheap, so I’ve been consoling myself with lots of that.

The only down part has been the freezing wind that has chilled us to the bones.  The low to mid 50s temps. and slight rain wouldn’t be a big deal, if we weren’t frozen by the wind.  But, hardy travellers that we are, we aren’t allowing a little inclement weather to slow down our journies.

Off to Venice and warmer weather tomorrow.
Hope all is well with you and yours.
Rita and Paul

Hello from Prague! (Travelogue, part 1)

September and October 2003

Hello from Prague, or as the locals say, Dobry den!

The trip has been great so far.  London was a whirlwind of sights: museums, cathedrals, parks, fancy dept. stores and my old stamping grounds.  We filled in every moment of our week there and are still trying to catch up on sleep.  No time for jet lag: there was too much to do and see.  Fish and chips abounded!  Paul has conceded that I was correct when I said that  US fish and chips pale in comparison to the original Brit ones.  I completely carb-overloaded on the chips, but it was well worth it!  Only downside is the nasty habit of smoking, prevalent everywhere, including restaurants.  We’re so used to non-smoking establishments that we kept forgetting to ask for the non smoking section until it was too late. Ick.

We’ve been in Prague for 2 days and it truly is as wonderful as everyone says.  It’s like fairytale land.  You can just imagine a  princess waving from the multiple high towers around the center of the city.  So clean, so civilized, so pretty and genteel.

(As I write this, I’m sitting in a laundromat, waiting for the wash to be done.  Got to love the e-connection.)  We’re staying in a working class neighborhood about 20 minutes out of the town center, but very easy with the metro and tram services.  We’ve yet to sample the yummy pastries we were told about, but Paul had golash (sp?) and enjoyed it greatly.

Czech is a very difficult language and we’ve only managed to figure out the basics of hello, goodbye, thank you, and please.Actual sentences are beyond our ability at the moment.

Weather has been great all around.  Off to Vienna in a few days.

Hope you’re all well.
Rita and Paul