Thursday, May 31, 2012

Big day in Salzburg

Thursday May 31st
We really had a fun day and the weather cooperated. I think Salzburg gets some rain almost daily but it doesn't last long and doesn't seem to interfere with activities.

We don't have WiFi at our little pension, so we have been out of touch since arriving.

We would be a good advertisement for bike tours. We went on another one this morning, called Fraulein Maria's Bicycle Tours. The Sound of Music (S.O.M.) is their speciality, but you bike through the old city and a good deal of really pretty countryside while seeing some sights where the movie was filmed.

Two completely different homes were used for the front and back of the Baron's home. Fun hearing behind-the-scenes stories and about the Von Trapp family and the filming. People in town who didn't realize a movie was being made got upset and scared when they shot the Nazi scenes in a square.

Mozart, Haydn, and "Sound of Music" really put Salzburg on the map. Again, good bikes, comfortable seats, fun people and a very nice leader. Much smaller operation than in Paris though and not as organized. There were 26 people in our group and only one leader.

Right next to the bike shop are the famous Mirabel Schloss (palace) and Gardens. (It was built for the mistress of the Archbishop-Prince Wolf Dietrich...she bore 15 children, was exiled when Wolfie was jailed in the fortress.) The flowers, designs and fountains are spectacular. Maria and the Von Trapp children danced around in here. We will have to rent the movie!

We then went to the residence of Mozart. He lived here from age 17. The audio guide gave a fascinating insight to his life and works. At each stop you would hear an excerpt from his many pieces. What a prodigy !

We thoroughly enjoyed our evening at the fortress high above the city. First, we took a funicular to the top, known as Hohensalzburg, for a look down at the city. Then dinner, again with great views and very good food, including a special Mozart dessert called a Variation. After a leisurely dinner, we walked up no less than 150 steps to a concert in the Golden Hall. They have different chamber orchestras each evening. Again, a large dose of Mozart. They take their music here very seriously. A very fun and interesting day.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Next Stop, Salzburg

05/30, WednesdayWe say our "good-byes" to Karin and Lukas and Jamie...Jakob has already left for school. Karin drives us to the West Bahnhof for our 10:14 train to Salzburg, where we arrive at 1:00pm. Taxi to our nice pension, top floor with a sweet patio of our own.

First discovery! Mom realizes our train ticket date for Innsbruch is a day early, 06/02. Our host, Hilda, confirms that the ticket is good any day after June 2, so everything is okay. We're back on track!

Our room is on the 3rd floor with a nice private patio. Our bags are so heavy, we need help getting them up the stairs. On our next big trip, we will not bring so many clothes. It is too much work pulling heavy bags.

Old Salzburg is across the Salzach River, a 15 minute walk to the Tourist Information center where we pick up ideas for our four days here. Lots of things going on and we want to squeeze in as much music as possible and a bike tour.

We have a late lunch/dinner and walk around the old town. The river, Salzac, is very fast moving and winds through the town.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Our Last Day in Vienna

05/29, Tuesday
Our first venture is to the nearby botanical gardens which are adjacent to the Belvedere Palace and grounds. It's very well maintained, quite large, and with extensive plantings of flowers and trees. It has given us some inspiration to plant more native grasses and plants at the cottage in NH.

The Vienna City Museum (Wien Stadt Musee) is located in the Karlsplatz, an easy walking distance. It traces the history of the city from 1700-1815 on the first floor and from 1815-2000 on the top floor...wars with the Hungarians and Ottomans; fortifying the city with a perimeter of walls; removing the walls to make way for the Ring Strasse; expanding size and population; WWI and WWII bombing; persecution of Jews; rise and fall of the monarchy; feudal life to democracy through rebellion; and re-routing and covering the Wien River.

The Naschmarkt is just across a couple of streets. Rick Steves and Karin have suggested we stop there for lunch. It is a market place for fresh fish and meat, along with small eating places. TokoRi, an Asian restaurant, catches our interest. We haven't had much Asian food since leaving Singapore. Mom has Pad Thai and I have Thai Mango duck.

The main shopping street in Vienna is Mariahilfer Strasse. We pick up a couple of items at the Rags Store, Jakob's favorite.

Then, more walking to an art area called The Museum Quarter. There we find an Austrian Architecture exhibition. It covers two centuries (19th and 20th) of development as impacted by cultural, social, political, war, and economic conditions, as well as a chronological progression.

As an example, during 1939-1945, when Austria was dominated by the German Third Reich, Der Führer, Adolf Hitler, favored the city of Linz, not Vienna because it was too progressive. Thus, more time, money, and effort was spent in Linz, and Vienna fell into an architectural slump.

We had drinks on the Museum platz and hustled to the Opera, hoping to catch another performance outside on the screen. Too bad, no show on Tuesday.

Back home to say good night (and good bye to Jakob who leaves early for school). Karin treats us to homemade rhubarb strudel and milk before bedtime. Lukas is at a meeting with his pharmacist friends. We'll see him in the morning.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Outside of Vienna, Beyond the Ring

05/28, Monday
The public transportation here is "precise" and convenient. Today we are headed to the Schönbrunn Palace, another summer home for the monarch dating to the 1800s. It is beyond the Ring as well as the outer Ring and beyond the Gürtel so we take two U-Bahn to get there...maybe 25 minutes.

Schönbrunn is a huge estate...1441 majestic rooms plus a monster garden outside the Ringstrasse. Even though we've seen several other "royal apartments" in other cities and countries, we decide to take the tour here, too...only 40 rooms. (Many of the "apartments" are now rented to civil service workers to help support the maintenance of the property.) The monarchy ruled for 600 years until 1918. Then they weren't sure what to do with these magnificent palaces, but tourism became the answer. The Schonbrunn is the most visited site in Vienna. The gardens were also fantastic, where roses grow like weeds.

While the opulence is somewhat redundant from one palace to another, what we find interesting is the history of the royals and trying to understand the family tree. It is foreign to our American experience (no King's or dukes, etc.), it is confusing to put the lineage all together. Queen Maria Theresa (1790s) was the only female monarch in over 640 years of the Habsburg empire. Along with ruling, she had 16 children ! The more children that could be married off in other countries, the more peace without war. The Hofburg family ruled for over 600 years.

Since we are on the outskirts of Vienna, we U-Bahn to the end of U4 and bus 38A to the Vienna Woods high above the city. There we enjoy a late lunch on a terrace overlooking the city. Very special. We hike down a pretty path and our timing was good since it started to rain right when the bus arrived. The woods help keep the city pollution free and it is one of the cleanest cities I have ever been in. Another wonderful thing about Vienna is that it is so quiet. It is actually against the law to beep a horn in this city unless an accident occurs. There is a heavy fine for anyone not obeying.

In the evening we sit outside the opera house and watch a marvelous ballet, Don Quixote, on the new huge screen they have recently installed. What a grand thing and completely free. Plus you could hear the music perfectly since there is no street noise. The dancing and the music were superb. A wonderful summer-like evening in Vienna. This made up for missing last night's opera.

Vienna Within The Ring

05/27, Sunday
Lukas and Karin and Jakob are leaving for an overnight stay at their cottage about two hours drive away. It's a relaxed morning in the kitchen around the wicker counter/table for from a DeLonghi espresso, OJ, thin-sliced cheese and ham, very good grain bread, homemade peach jam, Nutella, and avocado...spread on bread, really good!

Lukas shows us their backyard, including a pet turtle. Their whole building had belonged to his grandfather and now several relatives live there. Great setting and location.

Mom and Karin have scheduled our remaining 10 days in Austria back to Milan, Italy. So, our first task is to get tickets at the West Bahnhof train station. (There are four stations in Vienna.) We are helped by a young man there who makes all of arrangements...we're all set to go.

It's about mile-walk to reach the Hofburg Palace where we are having a tour of the Lippinzaner horse stables. Mariahilfer, a shopping street, leads us past lots of global high-end stores as well as McDonalds and Starbucks. We arrive a few minutes before 2:00.

The Stable Tour is very interesting. Our guide (Alexia Havlacek, no relation to John of the Celtics) has lots of information and details and history about the Lippinzaner horses. Lippinz is an area in Spain where the horses originated. They were the first modern horses as opposed to large draft animals...much smaller and sleeker.

Emperor Leopold I, a Spaniard, imported these horses from Spain until he realized it would be easier to breed them in Austria. Most Lippinzaner are white, but a regressive gene sometimes produces a dark brown. These are considered good luck charms and are revered by the stables.

We saw the tack room where saddles and bridles are stored and maintained. The saddles are made of the same leather as the breeches worn by the riders. This helps them stay on the horse because the riders do not use stirrups. The stable is right on a busy center, but the horses get two months off each year to prance in the country. Their stalls are cleaned hourly, so they can stay so white.

There are strict criteria for a horse to be chosen as a performer, and, likewise, there are criteria for the riders. Training for both horse and rider is intensive...a horse can perform for 20 years; a rider for 35 years or more. The horse and rider are always paired together. Women are now allowed to become riders, and they are usually better suited to the horses. The hall where they perform seats 1000 people and beautiful, including large ornate chandeliers.

About 4:30 we stop for early dinner (no lunch today) at Stepl, the same restaurant we ate dinner with L&K&J on Friday. Too much food for both of us to finish. We rested at the apartment for awhile, and then trammed to the outdoor Opera screen, arriving at 9:00, just as It ended. We had our choice of seats anyway! Oh well, we'll try tomorrow night.

Now it's almost 11:00, our bedtime after a little reading. Just as we turned out the lights, we heard the front door buzzer. A lady over the intercom asks if we have lost a cat. Sounds crazy, doesn't it?

Well, we haven't mentioned that the day we arrived, Friday, Karin told us their cat, Jamie, had not returned last night. She was very worried and upset about him, understandably. She and Lukas had been out periodically the last few days looking for him and putting up posters. Now, a woman around the corner has found him!

I ran down stairs to meet her (in my pjs), but Jamie is not with her, so I follow her to verify the cat is okay and bring him home. But, because I am not the owner, she refuses to let me take him. Mom, is upset because she thinks I have disappeared (maybe the "cat nabbers" have kidnapped me!) when I return. We called Karin to let her know that Jamie is okay, and she calls back quickly, very excited, of course.

So, the missing cat saga is happily concluded. Karin will bring him home tomorrow when they return from their cottage.

Mom and I are wide awake after this,so we play a game of Scrabble before settling down again for sleep.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Getting Familiar with Vienna, Day 3

05/26, Saturday
Karin starts our day with juice, bread, and coffee. She has another itinerary for our day in Vienna. She has alerted us to a senior rate tram/U-Bahn ticket, half-price. After buying a supply for several days, we walk through the lower (winter) portion of the Belvedere...several fountains and lots of green space.

That brings us to the Salzberger Platz and, from there, a few blocks west on the Ring Strasse to the Opera. We are approached by one of many hawkers selling tickets to the various concerts and operas. We negotiate what we feel is a pretty good price for a small concert of Mozart and Strauss tonight at 8:00.

We have lunch and all the Vienna specialties at a place that Karin told us about. We sit outside. The people watching is great. The weather is perfect today, and it is the start of a long 4-day weekend.

Trying to find the Mozart concert hall, we end up in the Hofburg Palace grounds. Among many enormous buildings is the Spanish Riding School, where the Lippanzaner horses train and perform. We get tickets for a tour of the stables tomorrow at 2:00pm.

Now it's time for a famous Viennese dessert, the Sacher Torte. The Sacher Hotel and Cafe are located behind the Opera. The Sacher family name is a big brand here since 1879 and the torte is a favorite of tourists and locals...dark chocolate cake that requires 32 steps to properly complete, a secret recipe, of course.

We rest back at Lukas and Karin's for 1-1/2 hours and then return for the concert at 8:00. The tram system is typical European...clean and on-time. It's only a 15 minute ride and, as senior citizens, we ride at 1/2 price, €1.25 each.

The concert is in a small hall, grandly called the Palais Palffy. There are 6 string players, a pianist, a soprano, and two ballet dancers...performing on a small stage. Mozart is the first half with all performers dressed in period costumes. For the second half of Strauss, the players are in traditional current attire...all black.

Most of the tunes sound familiar to us, but the most popular is The Blue Danube. The performers are professional and very competent, but not up to symphony standards. We were entertained, but not wildly impressed. It's strange how good talent and training do not always add up to high quality.

Returning to catch the tram, we pass by the Opera. Outside on the side of the building, those who can't afford tickets or aren't great opera fans can watch and hear the live performance free on a jumbo screen. We take about 15 minutes to listen. Of course, it's sung in Italian, but they provide German.

On our return to K&L's, we have a relaxing conversation over a good Australian Shiraz Cabernet. They are taking a two day holiday starting Sunday, so they are leaving us in charge. Karin has done a lot of research and planning for the remainder of our time in Austria which includes 4 days in Salzburg and 2 days in Innsbruch.

Stairway in
Karin and Lukas'
apartment building

One of the Ponds
in the
Belvedere Gardens

In Front of the
Summer Palace
of the Belvedere

Front of the
Opera from the
Ring Strasse

Dancer and Violinist
from the
Mozart-Strauss Concert

Add caption
Typical Street and Buildings
in Downtown Vienna

Friday, May 25, 2012

We Meet Lukas and Karin and Jakob

05/25, Friday
I stuffed myself at breakfast with traditional Austrian fare...eggs, pastry, meat, cereal, cheese, more pastry, and lots of coffee...strong.

Cousin Jack's contact in Vienna, Lukas and Karin Mayerhofer, are our hosts for the next several days. Their home is within 4 minutes walk of our hotel, so we arrive by 11:30, after just a minor confusion of the address. It's a beautiful weather day with temps in the 70s.

What a wonderful couple!! Lukas carried both of our heavy bags (at least 50 pounds each) up three flights. Their home is on the top two floors of the building which is probably 100 years old. Karin has a great eye for decorating, in fact, she and a friend are in that business together. Lukas is off to work...he rides a motor bike. Their son, Jacob, is at school until 2:00. It's a long weekend...Monday is a holiday. Their place is wonderful, warm and quite unique. They do welcome us with open arms, just like cousin said they would.

Karin informs us of things to see and do in Vienna, which we follow to a 'T'. U-Bahn #1 to the Danouinsel (Danube Island) stop. Find a bike rental (which Mom persists in finding although it is not easy to locate, and I'm doubting). Ride on the island paths which are paved for 28km. This is a manmade island and of course no cars.Spending time on a beautiful day biking with the Danube on both sides is quite nice!

We then U-Bahn back to the Belvedere, two palaces built for Prince Eugene of Savoy, a summer palace and a winter palace separated by a 500-yard garden. They are opulent and maintained perfectly. Today they house an art museum of primarily Austrian artists including Gustav Klimt. You will probably recognize one of his art pieces below. The rooms themselves are beautiful art pieces and there are marvelous views of the gardens. The gardens are only a few minutes walk to Lukas and Karen's home.

Lukas arrives home from work at 6:30 and we're off for dinner by 7:30 at a neighborhood restaurant, Sperl's, and sit outside. Great, fun dinner and their son, Jacob, meets us there after going to the movies with friends. We sit outdoors on their rooftop deck when we return home and have some special Austrian red wine. Really, really a nice family.

Return to Fumel, and Leaving Fumel for Austria

05/19, Saturday
The weatherman was wrong! It is a beautiful day.

After b'fast at our hotel in Perigeux, we head to the Roman Museum passing through town...about a 20 minute walk that we turn into 50. That leaves only 45 minutes to learn about the 2nd century Roman settlement here named Vesunna. There are plenty of artifacts and the remains of a 4500 sq meter home. The town was only discovered 60 years ago. Very highly sophisticated engineering used including floor heating, solar heating, water pumps, and aqueducts. Amazing !

As we wait to leave Perigeux in the train station, it is raining, but we are dry. A woman helped us get the right bus to the Gare and we have an hour before departure.

Had a leisurely lunch,consisting of large salads, on the square and then another look inside the cathedral before picking up our luggage.

Our train arrived in Marsempron-Libos exactly at 19:05 where John and Madeleine picked us up. We made a quick change of clothes at the apartment and left for dinner and a jazz concert in Lacapelle-Biron. We were entertained by a six-man jazz band, the AriJazz, at Le Palissy chez Norbert bar-restaurant.

Both the dinner and the entertainment were very good. The menu included Soupe de Clams et Crabes, Filet d'Asturgeon aux Epices, Purée de Patates douce et Coco Champignons aux Herbes, and Fraises au Rhum et Menthe Poivée. Doesn't that sound good? The band played lots of New Orleans jazz and American favorites: Duke Ellington's "Caravan", "Sunny Side of the Street", "St. Louis Blues", and "Bye-Bye Blues". They played until 11:00pm.

Mom put some wash in before bed to get cleaned up from our 2-week jaunt.

05/20, Sunday, Laura's Birthday, Matt & Lizzy's Anniversary
Brief shopping at the Sunday market in Fumel. Lunch at A Gong, a Vietnamese restaurant in Fumel.

Then, a return trip to the Iris Farm. J&M had taken us there our first week in France, but it was too early for any flowers to be in bloom. Today, while it's raining, the irises are in full bloom...there must be 50-75 varieties. What a beautiful sight!

From there, we're off to hear a student piano concert. The venue is an old stone monastery, now privately owned, used for recitals. The two pianists are 3rd and 4th year conservatory students from Saint Sebastian, Spain. Each performer played for about 45 minutes, no sheet music for reminder, only short breaks between each piece. They were both very skilled and professional. Composers included Liszt, Chopin, Ravel, Franck.

Last on our schedule for today, Madeleine prepared dinner of duck breast and salad of endive and mushroom. Delicious as always!

05/21, Monday
This morning we made reservations for a hotel for one night in Vienna (Wien in Austria). After that, we will be hosted by Cousin Jack's friends Lukas and Karin Mayerhofer who live there.

J&M assisted us with getting train tickets to Bordeaux for Wednesday. We, also, had a superb lunch at a new Tea Salon in Fumel, Choc O Lot, kind of a play on words because of their delicious chocolates (and other desserts), and because they're located near the Lot River.

With Madeleine, we watched a 60 Minutes segment about Harmony Schools, charter schools "sponsored" by a wealthy Turk named Gulen. The schools are very effective, but the segment raised some questions about the motives of Mr. Gulen. Most of the schools are in Texas (known as Harmony), there are others, including the Math and Science Academy in Chicago, in 25 other states that are part of Gulen Charter Schools.

05/22, Tuesday
Our last full day in France. We will pack up for our next adventure in Austria today so we can be ready to leave at 7:00.

Madeleine and John invited us for our final lunch together at home. A delicious duck cassolet (using duck confit) with white beans and a mild sausage, and John's carrot cake with caramel ice cream. Toooo Gooood! No dinner necessary tonight.

Madeleine has a 14:00 French student, Bjorn from Sweden. And, we have more final things to pack and errands in town. We all took an hour walk through town this evening at 8:00, and said "good byes" to Madeleine. We will see John at 7:20am when he takes us to the train station. And, they will be coming to Chicago in November to visit John's daughter and celebrate his 80th birthday.