Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A walking tour of Prague

We arrived in Prague on Sunday evening (well before what I predicted on the itinerary, as I was happy to point out to everyone).
The little B&B, Dum um Velke Boty (which means something about a boot) was charming (or so Mom kept telling me), and we had the entire top floor (which was a bit of a hike up a curvy staircase) all to ourselves. It was across the street from one embassy (maybe Austria?) and a block down from the American embassy (which Dad was quite intrigued with). There was no sign but, as Rick said, masses of geraniums in the window boxes clued us in to our destination. Upon arriving we all first argued over who had to/got to share the room with Lauren (Dad kept insisting L prob should share with them, while we insisted we would share with her bc we would not be seeing her while they were in Vienna), anyways, it was a strange conversation but in the end, O, L, and I had a big room and the parentals slept next door. (L's bed was like a rock, I just kept hoping that she would never bother to sit on any of the other beds or she'd be rather shocked to see how we were all sleeping).
That evening we planned to do laundry. Trusty Rick Steves had listed a few places in Prague but we found out they were far off and were 'pay per piece of laundry' which sounded a bit outrageous. The hotel offered to do the laundry but mom was not about to let anyone touch her clothes. In the end, O somehow convinced Simone (lady at the front desk) to let Mom put her stuff into the washer, then Simone put in the soap (like a bucketful) and started the machine. We did a few loads and set our stuff up to dry, hanging stuff literally all over the third floor. We took it easy that night, playing on ipads and computers (and me left with only the guide book for entertainment. Being the only one without a computer, I had to try to grab up everyone else's when they took a bathroom break). 
Monday morning we woke up and headed to breakfast. L had told me to book hotels that included breakfast and now I see why-it was really quite a delight. The house owners were up making us scrambled eggs to be served with toast, bread and rolls, cheeses, meats, fruit, yogurt, etc. My only complaint-which actually has to be said for all of Europe-the warm water! Not only was there no ice to be found (on the whole continent!) but the water was always lukewarm. Who drinks lukewarm water???
We had booked a walking tour (8 hours total, 4 hours on Monday, 4 on Tuesday) and our guide picked us up at the hotel. Jana, a very small person with purple hair, took us our a walking tour of the castle complex that morning. It was amazing! The castle, construction began around 1000 AD was great (there was a bit of rain but nothing too serious) and the cathedral quite Gothic. 
We went into some parts of the castle where they used to have jousting tournaments (right in the grand hall), banquets, markets, court with the King, and all that. 
Great hall:
We even saw the windows where they chucked out some of the Hapsburgs (I think) people who were trying to force Catholicism (the Hussites did the chucking). Unfortunately, when the guys survived the million foot fall (by falling into manure) the whole fiasco turned into a miracle and really strengthened the faith of some. (throwing people out of windows (to kill them, not just to embarrass them) is an extremely popular activity in the Czech Republic. They call it "defenestration" (who has a word for throwing people out of windows?). Nearly every building we went into had some window where so and so was thrown out, even today, there are still some laws that allow for you to toss people out I think). 
Seeing the Castle and church complex and hearing the history was interesting because Austria and Prague have long been so connected. Prague (and the Czech Republic) were ruled by the Hapsburgs (part of the Austro-Hungarian empire) and so it was fascinating to see how the rulers were really quite popular in Austria with the people, but not so much in Prague (they were sort of thought of as foreign rulers, with the exception of one or two Hapsburgs who actually moved the capital to Prague and ruled from there, one of the Franz Joseph's I think). My favorite part of the castle was the Golden Lane. Set into the castle wall is this tiny lane of houses. The best way to describe it is a bunch of playhouses. If you were little, you would just die to play house here! The houses were mini, like the size of one or two bathrooms put together, just a little space for a bed, a table, and a few pieces of furniture.(I'll soon put up my own photos but here are some just to give you a visual)

and the other side-the rooms are build into the yellow wall.
They had no plumbing (granted I don't think anyone had plumbing back in the 1400s-I think that is the time period) and did their cooking out front. It is a tiny little lace, with living spaces on both sides of the lane, on some places, your shoulders can brush both walls, while in others, it is large enough for a wagon to drive down. Seamstresses, goldsmiths, alchemists, and other tradesmen lived here and you can walk through and see some of their furniture and the rooms all set up. Perhaps my favorite was one of the medical person's abode-it looked straight up just like Gaius's rooms (from Merlin)!
People lived here as late as the 1940-50s, including Kafka, who lived in a 'house' owned by his sister. People were moved out during communism but fortunately, the communists did not bother to destroy them. They were truly enchanting. From the Golden Lane we peaked into the dungeons, mom did not bother and the rest of us were pretty sick as we saw the torture devices still hanging on the walls, and then headed to some panoramic vistas for picture time.
Castle town took up our 4 hours of walking and the guide left us at the corner to the castle gardens, warning us (mostly just looking at L) that Tuesday would be a lot of walking, even more than we had walked that morning. We all laughed bc she so pointedly told L to be ready (she and Dad kept leaning against walls and stretching out weirdly), then walked through some royal gardens, complete with a grotto (caves were all the rage in the 1700-1900s I think).
By this time we were all fairly exhausted so we sat down to lunch at a recommended restaurant and had some great good (svikova for O, L, me). Afterwards we headed back to the boty for a nap, before heading out for fried cheese (yes, who doesn't love a good patty of fried emmentaller cheese?!?) and a concert at St Nicholas's church. (We passed the church on our way to the castle and Dad, upon finding out it was St Nicholas's church, St Nick, or Santa that is, was extremely taken with the place. He was so excited to go in and check it out-in fact I think he expressed more excitement for it than for any other site in Europe. It was actually quite puzzling, but we were all thrilled to get him inside to look around.) The concert was excellent-an awesome opera singer, a great organist (teacher at the prestigious school of music across the street) and a unique setting (very baroque) with great acoustics. The pews could have been more comfortable (but I don't think they could possibly have been less) but all in all, it was a magnificent performance. Following our music spectacular we had a few hours until dinner. O herded Dad and L off to some grocery store for all sorts of Czech treats while Mom and I walked over Charles Bridge (most famous bridge in town, build in like the 1100s) to watch street performers (we saw a trio of cellists and a marionette man-they have EVERY KIND of marionette you could never need ALL OVER Austria and C Rep. and have talented people maneuvering them. While quite interesting, I lean towards finding them super creepy, they remind me of Madame Elaine-who was not a marionette, just a scary looking doll-on Mr Rogers) and look at the souvenir shops. 
Charles Bridge

A marionette on Charles Bridge (I have no idea why almost all the marionettes look like hobos, I guess hobos are really popular in Europe or something)

Typical marionette store (which is like every other store practically)

(enough to give even the most sensible people nightmares!)

We all met up at McDonalds for dinner-throughout which Mom and Dad raved about European McDonalds (they are quite nice, I must admit) and, after enjoying 20 chicken nuggets, a few hamburgers, 3 ice cubes in our drinks, and a Magnum Mcflurry, we headed back and collapsed into bed.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ceske Budejovice and Prague

After leaving the charming little stone town of Cesky Krumlov, we drove to church in Cesky Budejovice, a town about 45 minutes away where O spent quite a bit of time on his mission. He had written to some friends there and when they heard he was coming, they asked if he wanted to speak. Well, this was a really different church experience than we were used to, and, suddenly, we did not feel bad for the lack of home teachers in Mom's ward.
The branch there had 7 missionaries present which I initially thought was a bit much, until I realized that besides us and the missionaries, I think there were only about 10 people (and apparently most of them were either the branch pres's fam or investigators). The missionaries were thrilled to see us (since they had so many investigators that day they were excited to show them a big crowd) and it turns out several had been to BYU and we had many mutual acquaintences (small world!). O translated for us the first speaker (one of the missionaries) and then we all sat and wondered what sort of jokes O was telling during his talk-which had everyone laughing wildly and such. After church (which very nicely for us, as it was all in Czech, was only 2 hours-they switch every other week having Priesthood and RS and Sunday School), we went over to the Branch Pres's house for lunch. They have been good friends of Owen's since he was on his mission, I met them when they came over for General Conference a few years ago. At their house we had a fun meal of Halusky (some of you might remember when I made this meal, it is a potatoe noodle, sort of like gnnochi, but I made my potatoes in the morning so they were entirely grey by night and everyone was really nervous about eating them). Mad-I am buying some packets of this so I can make it for you at home, if you liked my grey stuff, you will love the packets!! Over lunch we heard about how Honza has been the Branch Pres every other seven years since he was baptized, he would switch with his best friend. His friend has now left and he is the only Melchizedek P holder in the branch and pretty much will be the Branch Pres forever! He sounded a little worn out and we did not blame him. I was amazed that these people were still hanging in there! Now we all understood what O's mission was like and why all the returned missionaries are always trying to help the members there, I mean, how depressing to go to church with like one or two other people every week!
Well, wanting to help, we promised to send them some YW ribbon things (the branch pres has one daughter in YW) and left, impressed with the fam-they were very nice. (Of course we did have some different brownies made out of beets first) and climbed back in the car, on the way to Prague.

As a quick aside: we had another little GPS glitch. That morning, we hopped in the car and found that the GPS would not turn on! Well, of course I nearly had a brain anuerism. Fortunately, O had printed off directions to the church so We made it that far. When we were at Honza's house we looked up troubleshooting the GPS on the internet and found that if you hold the on switch for 20 seconds, sometimes it will turn on. Guess what, it did!! You cannot imagine how happy I was, I really don't think we ever, in 12 million years, would have made it to our hotel in Prague otherwise!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Saturday in Salzburg and a morning in Cesky Krumlov

Saturday we awoke to a rainy day in Salzburg. We quickly canceled our bike tour of the town and opted for a Sound of Music Tour by Lauren. I will tell you what, the Sound of Music Tour is slightly confusing when it is given by someone who had not seen the whole movie (L) to someone who has never seen the movie (me). (My mom had me watching The Gods Must Be Crazy and The Dark Crystal and I skipped the classics as a child. She tried to make up for it in my high school years by showing me movies about Transvestites (Some Like it Hot) and mass murderers (Arsenic and Old Lace) but all in all, I have no idea who Mr Grant and Grace Kelley are)  I tried to jump into the spirit of things and had my picture at the singing steps and the dancing pavillion along with every Asian in Europe. Mom and O were having a hey day singing a bunch of songs and giddily remembering scenes from the show. Dad kept pointing to the wrong set of steps so I think he has maybe not seen the movie in quite some time. I think we will have to watch it when we get home while eating wienerschnitzel (don't know how to spell that one but with L and Mom gone, I am afraid it is a lost cause).

The weather cleared up halfway through the tour (which was nice! L and Dad had great rain coats, O was content to get wet in his sweatshirt, but Mom and I were running around in these neon orange and blue ponchos-too small in the head area of course-and looked positively absurd). And we just enjoyed being in the charming town of Salzburg. It was lovely! We stepped into one of the most beautiful churches we have ever seen-it seemed a bit understated (we have seen some serious Rococo so everything is understated in comparison) but then we saw the detailed stone work, it was quite breathtaking. There were bands playing all around town (it is the city of music after all, and we did see Mozart's house) and we stopped to listen to one brass band that was particularly fun. As usual, Mom was left lollygagging behind everyone, but, with her bright poncho (which Dad has said she needs to wear rain or shine) we were able to spot her quite easily. We had lunch at the best place L ate in all of Austria (it was actually not the best place I ate, but very good). They had a Red Bull store that Dad was particularly fascinated with (inside was this Indian motorcyle, Dad was appalled that previous to seeing this, L and I thought that the World's Fastest Indian was a movie about an Indian marathon runner), and because Red Bull originated in Austria, O decided that, though he swore them off after a terrible night during which he thought he was having an attack of appendicitis, it was only appropriate to order one to drink. So he asked for a Red Bull and the waiter just looked at him like he was crazy and kept saying "what, you want a Red Bull?" and O would be like "yes, Reeed Buuullll" sounding it out really slowly. This went back and forth for a while until he finally pointed to it on the menu and then the waiter was like "you want a Red Boll!" as if O was such a dummy (it was the slightest change in pronunciation). It turns out, the waiter thought he was asking for his food to be served in a Red Bowl, which makes so much sense....

After lunch we hit up a Swedish candy store, a toy store, then hopped in the car and waved goodbye to Austria!

In the car, on our way to Cesky Krumlov, I was the driver once again, apparantly also driving about 1/3 of the speed limit (which meant I was driving 50 mph on tiny, twisty roads, in the rain, once again one lane so cars would build up behind me and everyone in the car would scream at me to go faster, go slower, that there were cars all over, etc. It was a little bit much. Finally, my Dad took back over (I never have been one for driving in the rain, or singing for that matter)

We crossed the border into the Czech Republic and guess what we saw....
GNOMES!!!!!!, like you have never seen before, hundreds upon hundreds of garden gnomes (too bad I could not force the driver to pull over and let me get some pics, my Dad kept saying, "we'll get some later". Of course, O revealed, he has never seen a bunch of garden gnomes like that anywhere, Czech Republic or otherwise.
We made it to Cesky Krumlov, had a very very hard time driving into the tiny city center, Fred was pretty sure cars were not allowed in there, but, drive we did, around and around and around until we figured out the GPS was as confused as we were. We pulled over, were on the recieving end of some nasty gestures from a lady, screamed when her husband came out to get us :) and eventually made it to the house/bed and breakfast.

Cesky Krumlov is a magical town (also a UNESCO world heritage site). When I emailed around, every hotel in the town was booked! One hotel owner emailed me back and said we could stay with his neighbor, Mrs Maruska. So, as we were quite lost, O kept asking everyone if they knew how to get to Mrs Maruska's, and everyone would say, I have never heard of her. Everyone started worrying about this lodging I had arranged. In fact, Mom totally freaks when I tell her it is a lady's house. She freaks even more when she sees the place :)  It is this skinny, tall, ancient looking place, she had to duck to go into her room and entering the bathroom was akin to going caving. I thought, well what can you expect from a house that is like 500 years old? M thought she was for sure going to get lice bc she figured they did not have hotel inspections (O told her to sleep on her towel or a tshirt). You can imagine what that sort of statement, combined with her earlier statement that she had not planned on so much driving, led up to. No trip with the doodlebugs is complete without me yelling at D to read his itinerary before coming on the trip (or just read it on the trip at least) and telling M that next time she was going to have to book her own hotels! We go back to the hotel, and O slips out to find an internet cafe to write out a talk that he was asked to give the next morning in church. M, D, and L were all on the bottom floor and I was way at the top so I decided to hang in their room and grumble about how ungrateful they were for all my hard planning and so on and we told O to knock on the window when he got back so I could open the door for him. (of course, I was also terrified of being alone on the top floor of the rather interesting place).
So I wait and watch D kill some spiders. Then I wait and talk to M while L showers. Then I wait while D falls asleep. Then I wait and make small talk with M and L about wedding registries. Then I wait in the chair bc everyone else is in bed. Then I wait in the dark while M and L start to join D in sleeping. This whole time of course M and L are telling me that they can wait up for O to knock on their window, but I'm now too scared of encountering spiders to get off the chair, besides, I think they'll fall asleep, not hear O knocking, and O will cause some super ruckus trying to get back inside (or I'll find out that he has slept out on the street, etc).
I wonder if I should go out looking for him, but I'm not sure that a) I'll find him or b) I'll be able to get back inside the house. So, bc M and L keep telling me to feel free to head to bed (in other words, leave us in peace, we are tired of entertaining you, even though all that is happening is you are all balled up in the chair in the dark sitting in silence) I move out to the front hall. Here I hover looking out the window for O, until I notice a spider above the doorway. I back away slowly and wonder what to do, at this point, I hardly dare sit down on the bench or stone stairs so I just drift around the tiny entry trying to figure out what to do-after all, this is O, he could show up in 10 min, or 10 hours. I eventually decide to go get ready for bed, then come back and stand slightly away from the door to wait for him. So I creep up the stairs. I slink past the owers' room on the second floor and try to silently move up to the third floor-this was very difficult due to the extremely creaky stairs. I crept up the stairs and made it almost to the landing, then the light shut off. In the pitch black I hurried back down the stairs, my flip flops flapping against each stair noisily in the eerie silence. I triggered the motion light at the bottom of the stairs again, crept up, and the light went off again. I went back down. This time, I totally ran up to the top, to no avail. I tried waving one arm, my purse, my leg, jumping on the stairs, but nothing I could do made the light stay on by the time I reached the top. I pondered throwing my purse down the stairs when I was at the top but realized that I would have to then race down the hall, shove my key into the door, and get inside all before the light turned off. Bc I had seen O having extreme difficulties working the antique key, I concluded that this would be impossible. Figuring it to be  a two person job, I went back down to the front hall and stood for a bit. Fortunately (for O's health, safetly, and my good will towards him) I soon heard a tapping on the window and I zipped the door open to find him standing in the street. We headed up the stairs. I planned to stand at the bottom and wiggle around to keep the lights on while O worked on getting the door open. Then, I would hopefully be able to navigate the stairs and hall in the dark without breaking my neck and get inside my room. Well, what do you know, as soon as O arrived at the top of the steps, he triggered another motion light on the landing.
We were awoken at 2 am by another boisterous traveling duo that had rented the third room in the house. Of course I thought it was the owner up making breakfast and panicked that we had overslept.

The next morning Mom was crazy nice, going on and on about how interesting the place was, how she slept better than she ever has in her whole entire life, etc. She was really chatty with the old owners (who spoke absolutely no English) over a lovely breakfast on the patio and through Owen's translations, we found out the next morning the house was not 500 years old but 700 years old. It was like sleeping in the King's Arms in the Cotswolds and I think it highly possible that one of those hapless Hapsburgs may even have slept there previously! (additionally, we found out that they had a hotel license and prob knew all about cleanliness standards, etc). After hearing the history of the house and town, (and as we were on our way out) Mom actually found the place very fascinating and amazing, and we all left in good charity-even though I'm pretty sure Dad has still not read the itinerary :)

PS: I found out that I have another true talent (in addition to being excellent at organizing people into assembly lines when moving stuff, such as people in and out of their house). I watched as both Mom and O struggled major with the antique keys, getting the doors open and locked up again. I, however, had no prob. O struggled with the door for 5 min, then I walked over, poked the key in, turned it, and voila, without a hitch I had locked up for the night.

Well, I am off to Bratislava in the morning and will sleep in Budapest tomorrow night. O today said he is going to take me to get my first massage in the spa there-I hope it is not the nudey sort of spa because, despite the wild streak I sort of give off, I am not a real exhibitionist.

Tomorrow I'll tell you all about Prague, Brno, and of course, the world's most interesting pizza part-think your high school principal in hot pants and a captains hat (a man by the way), your elementary principal wondering where the chain smokers should sit in a tank top and some serious bling, and a whole lot of fun!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A little more...

I've been off showering (since my hair was nearly to the dread-lock point) and I realized I have my most clever thoughts when washing my hair (I must get the blood flowing better or something when I scrub my scalp vigourously). For example, I have just solved L's problem about her shampoo-which has a pump so she did not know how she'd get it home. I thought about telling her to pour out all the hotel samples, and pour her shampoo into them, when I suddenly noticed my travel bottle cap fits right onto her shampoo. As it is only a little travel bottle, I might be persuaded to give it up. I should wash my hair more often. Just think what I'd be capable of if this was an every day occurence!

Anyways, while I was onto this thinking kick, I thought I had better include a few more details.

The drive in through the country:

I imagine the drive is similar on the autobahn in France-people drive crazy fast in the fast lane and you don't linger in it at all.
Seeing the countryside brings the Grimm brothers fairy tales to life. Suddenly you see how Hansel and Gretel can wander through the woods, get lost, and fine a cottage in the middle, and how you would go through the woods to Grandmother's house, because there really are these immense, vast woods separating tiny villages or even surrounding little cottages. Hallstatt was every bit as fairy tale-esque and so I have included a photo below. (and yes, it really looks just like this!)

When I said it was the world's oldest salt mine, I meant it was extremely old. Hunters followed animals there (who were attracted by the salt in the water), and started mining before metal tools had been invented (they used animal antlers). They have been mining there ever since (it is high up in the mountain behind the town you see in the picture). Despite the fact that I had never heard of it, this area was a center of importance, there was even a time period in history called Hallstatt! (btw, Salzburg--Salz means salt). The salt mine tour was amazing, perhaps the most memorable moment was Mom sliding down the slide (the longest of its kind in Europe, but I also think it might be the only one of its kind) to get down to the lower levels (got a great picture of that, soon to come), but the eerie whisperings of the salt man (a body was found in the salt mine in the 1700 or 1800 hundreds and they call him the salt man (his body somehow has disappeared from the grave so they think he haunts the mine now), as well as the train ride out (which fogged up Dad's glasses completely) were also quite unforgettable.
All in all, it was an incredible day.

(Now I really should be off to bed. Every time I move the floor creaks terribly and O, who has for once in his entire life gone to bed before me, starts chattering on about all sorts of touristy stuff. I'd best let him, and everyone else sleep.)

Leaving Vienna, Hallstatt and Salzburg

OK, so it turns out we did not pick up the car in that last post. If I continue on in that wordy vein, I don't think we'll ever make it to the Czech Republic. So, I will try to be brief.

Friday morning was a big day. We started out at Karl's Kirche (church). This was a fabulous baroque church, complete with a dome to climb. We stopped for photos and breakfast at the grocery, then, hauling flimsy grocery bags of water bottles, rolls, juice, apples, cheeses, yogurts, etc, as well as or back packs, purses, and about 20 hats in mom's case, we strolled over to the car rental agency like a bunch of hobos. (it was rather embarrassing).  Fortunately, the car rental place was just around the corner from our hotel! We got in the car and now for the moment of truth-did the GPS map download work.......(all will recall our disasterous day driving out of London without the aid of the GPS and the meltdown that ensued)

I turned it on and it said searching for signal. Well, my heart nearly stopped when it did not pick anything up after 5 min. I made O ask the car rental lady if she knew anything and she just said "it takes some time". We decided to drive over to the hotel to get our bags while waiting for the GPS. I was getting sicker by the minute, L and O were proving their prowess as navigators (L really has a head for directions you know). We got to the hotel, I was pretty much ready to die bc the GPS was still searching. I ran in and got my bag, came out and did not know whether to try to ask for directions out of the city and to Hallstatt or to just break down and sob away (keep in mind, the signs are all in German, and, with only a few weeks in the class, L is slightly less than fluent). So, everyone else loads up (the car was rather roomier than I expected-when I rented the car the person on the phone sounded doubtful that 5 American (emphasis on this) adults could fit into anything short of an SUV), I sat down, and despondently asked O what we were going to do. O is like "Oh, didn't you hear, the GPS started working while you were in the hotel".  Hallelujah!! It was one of those moments where you are promising to be good for the rest of your life bc your prayers have all been answered.

So, with Dad driving and O navigating (and shouting at all of us in the backseat to quit screaming out directions and yelps of terror) we made it out of the city. Dad drove for an hour or two before needing to be spelled off. We had rented a manual (automatics are expensive!) and so, it came to me to pick up the stick. I slid into the driver's seat and said "which one is the break"?  I mean, I had not driven in ages. Well, that freaked everyone out. I fiddled around a bit and managed to remember all my driving lessons (years of habit took over). Dad had to get back in to figure out how to reverse, but, soon enough we were on our way. My first time driving in Europe was a success (as in, I managed not to hit or be hit). I must say, these people drive fast here. The freeway was OK but once we left the autobahn we were on these insane twisty mountain roads. Cars would pile up behind me, then they would pass me one by one, and I'd have a break for a ten minute stretch before it started all over again. O kept saying "you are going half the speed limit, but, you're doing a good job I guess". There I was, flying around corners, nearly running down bikers, speeding through the rain, etc. and I was going half the speed limit?! Imagine driving through the canyon with a speed limit of 80 mph and you'll know exactly what I felt like.

As far as the drive went-the country side was absolutely charming! Just as you would imagine it to be!
We drove to Hallstatt, the world's oldest Salt mining town. It was the most delightful town imaginable (see L's blog, or mine in the future, for photos). They have these fabulous epeliated trees everywhere, and a tiny little street. Words just don't do it justice.
We made it just in time to for the last Salt mine tour so it was a race to get to the funicular, then race to get to the tour, then race to get the last funicular down, after which we ambled through town.

That evening we drove another hour into Salzburg, met the rudest hotelier imaginable-he was swearing at poor Fred because he cautious about parking on the curb. Hello-it was a rental car. Additionally, as he was screaming about in German, I don't think Fred even knew what he wanted him to do. You'd think we were bothering him by stopping in :) Fortunately, this is the hotel L stayed in when she was in town so she had some idea of where we were and helped us get around from there. We walked over to dinner, during which Dad could not figure out what is was we were supposed to be doing in Salzburg (similar to the whole Jaunt through the Cotswolds thing), made it back to our rooms, and headed straight to bed.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Vienna Day 2 and, we picked up the car!


Thursday morning we woke up quite early in our room (as O had been out and about sneaking into gyms and buying pastries and such). We pulled it together and set off. L took us by a little grocery store where we picked up yogurt, cheese, spread, and bread (Dad was really quite into the strong cheeses, takes him right back to his days in France) and caught the U-bahn (metro) to the Schronnbrunn palace and gardens. The palace was amazing. It was built up quite a bit by Maria Theresa (Marie Antoinette's mother) and is of similar time and style as Versailles (but it still has most of its furniture and is in better condition, or so I believe they say). We had a great audio guide that told us all about the life of the royals there (weird in some ways, there rooms are really long, not very wide. It is strange because you walk through like the King's bedroom to get to other rooms, creepily un-private). We also heard about Sisi, who was completely bizarre. She was adored by her husband, though she barely tolerated him or her children. The country was not to keen on her either until she was stabbed to death-nothing like a good martyrdom to make a saint out of a weirdo.

Our tour of the palace was followed by an apple strudel cooking class. L and I ordered small samples of strudel for all except Fred, for whom we ordered a large combo strudel and hot chocolate (thinking we could all to share it). Before the class started, we sat down. The waitress came and set the strudel and cocoa in front of Dad. You should have seen his eyes. Then of course, O turns back around, you really should have seen his eyes. He starts gasping and sputtering and asking Fred if he really loves strudel, seeing as how he has a seven pound piece of it in front of him. Fred was just as speechless, also wondering why he had this enormous piece, looking confusedly at our little bite sized things, then back at his dinner plate sized strudel. The cooking class was great, you know how I love that sort of thing. the lady rolled out the dough thin enough to read through, and left us all crazy impressed.

 (I wish I could insert a pic here, but Dad, whom I sent out of the room to look for his computer cord, has now taken up residence on the chair in the hall, and I think the pics will have to wait.)

After the cooking class we meandered through the gardens (Mom meandering, L running 10 yards ahead, then stopping and staring at Mom frantically-a little aside, I asked L today where she was in such a hurry to get to. She said, we just have to hurry). The Hapsburgs really did quite a lot out there. The trees are trimmed in the most amazing ways, making these walkways with arches to enter little tree lanes, very cool (you know how I have long been interested in topiary/bush trimming, I may just have to get a job there if It's a Small World won't hire me). After a 10 min nap on the benches (during which Mom read the guide book and when we stood up the leave told us she had not taken her nap yet), we raced to Belvedere Palace.

Belvedere Palace was the home of Prince Eugene of Savoy. The grounds look a bit like those seen in the Count of Monte Cristo (scene where he comes floating in on a hot air balloon). He was an unfortunate looking man, whom nature was unkind to (audio guides words, not mine), but he made the most of life and, though lacking in looks and stature, he was a brilliant strategist in the war (Turkish war I think). One of the most important events in Austrian post war history was the signing of some document by Kennedy and some other people. The palace does not have furniture but houses art collection-which had many famous pieces. One that most recognize is the painting of Napolean on his rearing horse, charging forward. The collection also included a Van Gough, some Monet, Schiele, Rembrant, and one that is crazy famous by Schuppn (portrait of Eugene) etc. The most famous piece of art in all of Vienna is also housed here-the Kiss, by Klimt. It was amazing and one that must be seen in person, it just doesn't sparkle in the reproductions quite right. M personal fav was another Klimt, in a different style, a lady in a pink dress.
(a bit more about Eugene-apparently he was both physically and mentally frail-so I'm not sure about his strategies-and, about once and hour, my mom says, his heart is buried in Savoy, not sure how that keeps coming up though :)      )

From Belvedere, we moved back to the U-bahn and over to tour the Parliment building. We were all absolutely exhausted, but dragged ourselves onward bc we did not want to miss out on anything! O was particularly interested in the Parliment tour bc he loves the whole government thing.
The tour was great, filled with interesting facts about how the Austrian government works and excellent photo opportunities, you bet I took some of O and D at the mics, with lots of profess flags behind them-I'll blow them up and make them think they really have lived their dreams of becoming politicians (I've always known this was a dream of O's, but, before this evening when D loitered around the American Embassy and mentioned that he would like to become an ambassador, I never knew this was of interest to him)

After Parliment, we had picked up our second wind. We stopped by a stand to get hot doggies and We went to the Sacher Hotel to have Sacher cake, the most famous cake in Vienna (lots of places have Sacher cake, but the hotel started it all and is the only one with the original recipe!). We ordered a few cakes, Mom ordered a Viennese sausage plate which L's host mom told her was just so beautifully served. The nasty waitor (can I just say Europe has no concept of customer service) said every person had to get something so I ordered an expensive drink that I think was just tang put in some soda water. The most hysterical moment of the day came when the waitor came with Mom's meal. First off, he had come and put down a nice napkin and silverware in front of her, so she started getting all excited. Then he dropped off the cakes and the Tang. Finally, he arrived with the sausage plate.

I have the most priceless photo of this moment, I'll post it as soon as I find the camera cord. Mom's lovely sausage was just two extra long (as in, like a foot long each) Hebrew National raw-looking skinny hotdogs with a little pile of horseradish (I'm used to hotdogs with grill marks on them and just find the pasty looking ones creepy). Mom looked more than slightly dismayed, as she cut tiny bites of her "beautiful sausages".

To cheer her up, we talked a lot about the horseradish-what it was (quite literally, Mom kept saying, "what is this?", and we would say "horseradish", and then she would say, "no, I mean what is this" and we would say "horseradish", and on the third time, after O responded "I think it's horseradish" she nearly screamed "don't tell me it is horseradish, I want to know what horseradish is"), how it tasted, and all that. Mom kept offering everyone a taste and finally Dad gave in. He picks up a bite and mom tells him to dip it into the horseradish (the only other thing on the plate). He takes another bite and says "what is this stuff?" and we all say "horseradish" and, strangely, its as if he missed the whole horseradish conversation-so of course we had to go through once again, what horseradish was. We laughed for like 20 min, all the while trying to get mom to let us take photos holding the naked foot long sausages in our bare hands, basically giving credit to all the stories about the vulgar American tourists :)

By this point, we were all seriously tired. However, you nothing can keep us (particularly Mom) away from a good shopping moment. The boys headed straight for the hotel but us girls managed to drag ourselves through a few H&Ms and Zara's before returning to the hotel for a quick nap. I completely passed out for an hour, could not even respond to O's questions about shopping nor find out where he had been roaming about this time :). After a short respite, we pulled ourselves together and went up to the Rathaus, the Town Hall (though much more fabulous than any town hall you can imagine) to watch Madae Butterfly (in the summer the put up a giant screen and show musicals, operas, ballets, and other artsy things for free several nights a week, it is wonderful!).

Well, as you can imagine, that was quite a day. (if you have made it to the end of this post, I imagine you are also feeling quite exhausted. Though it is hard to believe, I have actually skipped a few things, such as how O would disappear at strange hours of the night or early morning, zipping off into other hotels workout rooms and picking up treats for us at nearby bakeries, as well as the sleeping situation. With all the pressure of the marvelous Spain lodgings (castles etc) I went for 4 star hotels (sort of Art Novoue-ish) I only got 2 rooms and figured we could squeeze L somewhere. Well, squeeze we did. I slept on 1/3 of L's bed and 1/3 of O's, which meant that their two beds were pushed together and I was sleeping along the crack. Thankfully, doped up on Ambien as I was, I did not mind, and none of us seemed to dwell on the bizzarreness of it all. In fact, it only occurred to me when, M came in the last morning, looked around, and said "where does L sleep?" which gave us a good laugh) Anyhow, I really must be less wordy, otherwise, we'll never get out of Salzburg. So, I'll be preparing much shorter posts of our future days!)

ps: L is rather affronted that I suggested she has used the bidet at the Daw's. Apparently, she never used it, just looked at it frequently. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Vienna Day 1!

We woke up in Vienna.
After a decent night (apparently the trick to beating jet lag is 36 hours of transit with very few hours of sleep), we checked out of our hotel and raced to the train station to meet L. We stepped onto the platform to be greeted by a wildly waving L on the other side. She took us to our next hotel (which she had rather considerately scouted out so she knew exactly where it was), we dropped off our bags, and hit the town. L took us to the Kunsthistorisches museum which was fabulous. The building was amazing, built by the Hapsburg's to hold their art collection, with no expense spared. It featured Brueghal, Raphael, Titian, Rubens (mounds of pink flesh), Vermeer, Velasquez, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, that great guy who painted fruit faces, Holbein, Durer, and Cranaugh, and an odd ball point pen paintings exhibit. Basically, it was a treasure trove for even those unenthusiastic about art. I thought O would be rushing me out but in the end, I had to drag him down the stairs with him screaming that he needed another week in there!

From the museum we headed to Nachtmarket for lunch where we had kebab and falafel, dried strawberries (tasted like incredible fruit snacks), and some apple drink with a man in Lederhosen on the label.

After lunch, exhausted, we headed to the hotel to find M and D. We were thrilled to find they had made it in nearly one piece. The hotel was lovely (M's words) done up in the art noveau style, complete with L'occitane toiletries (I am having to compete with all the fab hotels P and L put them up in in Spain, it has been rather difficult, as you will soon hear)
Dad and O opted to recover at the hotel (from exhaustion) while Mom, L and I went to collect L's bags and meet her host mom. We found the burrow, climbed to the top of the world, looked out of the sky lights, then had to lug her bag down to the ground again where we were met with nice little tarts (but way under-sugared, as are most desserts here) and heard about how nice L was (not quite sure how she convinced her of that) and how white our teeth were. She then proceeded to show us pics of her daughter whom she suspects has professionally whitened her teeth but claims that she has not.
She was very nice and fun, L really lucked out in the landlady department!

We hauled L's suitcase up the cobblestones to the bus stop, passing her roommate and fam on the way, made it back to the hotel, found that O had been running around town sneaking into gyms at other hotels, D had already received several texts from Mad about all her conflicts of interests, and headed out to dinner.

We dined at the Gulash museum where we enjoyed good food and suffered terrible service (welcome to Europe). O ordered an apricot drink that tasted like syrup from canned fruit but he thought was delish. M tried it and said it reminded her of her grandmother's canned apricots. She delighted over this for several more sentences and asked D if he remembered his mother canning apricots like her grandmother did. D says "raspberries?" We all burst out laughing, wondering where he has been the past 10 min of conversation, M says "No, canned apricots, this juice tastes just like them, try it."  Then, approx 20 seconds later, M takes another sip and says "this just reminds me so much of my grandmother's canned apricots, doesn't this remind you of that Fred?" and D says "canned raspberries?". It reminded me of a dinner in Stow-on-the-Wold where D, after 45 min, informed us he was 75% Danish. Eventually D joined the conversation and figured out that yes, it was like canned apricots.

After dinner we walked through the city center and saw the grand Stephansdome (pronouced Shtefensdome, and L will let you know it :)     ). We walked past tons of fun stores, M the whole time glued to the windows (they were closed so she could not get inside), L frantically leading us onward (not sure what the hurry was but fortunately, there were no real deadlines bc M was really drifting along quite slowly) to Zanoni and Zanoni for ice cream. We had our tasty little treat and headed back to the hotel, where most of us fell rather promptly into an exhausted slumber.

Well, now L is telling me she has some serious health problems, including possibly IBS (which I don't think she knows the meaning of, D suggested she stop eating so much cheese, as if L eats an inordinate amount), O is hanging my garms all over the hotel, to avoid paying the $12 dryer fee (which I support I suppose), D has mentioned that he could not find a towel and so had to use the floor mat, and O has just walked in to tell us about the bidet (L is now telling us how she used to use them at the Daw's), so I had best break here for the moment and find out exactly what chaos is ensuing.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

We have arrived!

Well, we arrived in Vienna, after quite the trek.

My dad dropped me off at the airport at home at 5:45 am. I promptly called him, blabbering on about how I was going to miss my flight (the line to check in was longer than the Indiana Jones ride on a Saturday!). I eventually pulled myself together and went through the self-check in.
I met O in Chicago and we had a marvie time at the Field Museum. We then ran around shopping and picked up Giordano's for the train back to the airport. Once there, I panicked and started looking for some hotel rooms for the trip (I was not sure how the parentals would react if I told them we were just going to get there and 'see what's available'). I worked myself into such a frenzy over the whole event that I did not really register that everyone around me had left. We had made it to the airport hours early and yet barely made the flight. Fortunately, I did hear "this is the final boarding call for Frankfurt" over the intercom, jumped up, scrambled around, grabbing stuff and yelling frantically to everyone around-no one bothered to reply, they just stared at me-found O on the phone somewhere, and ran to the gate. The minute we got on, they closed the doors and took off. It was as nice a flight as could be for those in coach. It was nearly empty and so O and I took our own rows. Unfortunately, we did not notice until we tried laying down to go to sleep, that we should have grabbed the empty middle rows, as the side rows were not quite long enough. However, if that is all one has to complain about, things are not too terrible.

Frankfurt, the land without garbage cans. We get off the airplane and O says, "wow, I feel like we are at home". I, on the other hand think "wow, Hanz and Franz (those German speaking car sales people on the radio) are not exaggerating one tiny bit"! Yes, it is true, the German-speaking men really sound that dramatic, it is great! In fact, since I arrived, though I have avoided saying anything out loud (other than Ja Ja) all my thoughts have been coming in a German-Franzish sort of accent, no lie.
Germany was lovely, though they don't create a lot of waste here. We looked forever for a garbage can to put our pizza box (a small one) in and finally found a tiny little cup for trash. It was extremely puzzling. After some staring, we just left the box on top and scurried off, a little embarrassed.
We walked out of the train station and were greeted by the most amazing sight-everywhere I looked there were giant pretzels. I thought I had died and gone to Heaven. What more could a person want? I promptly bought one, and have had one every day since. We had a few hours so we took a bus tour around town, then walked to the city center. All in all, a great layover. As an aside-I had originally planned this whole layover as a chance to load up on smurffs, these Haribo blue-rasberry gummies that are just divine and impossible to find. I pictured myself literally buying $100 dollars worth of them. Well, we looked high and low but there was not a smurff to be found (which is odd, seeing as how the movie is coming out so soon). Depressingly enough, I am coming away empty-handed. I have found some comfort in telling myself that I can spend that money on stock in Neldon and LaGrande's company.
We got back to the airport in Frankfurt a few hours before our flight (we could not figure out what time it was in Germany so we thought we better get back in early). O promptly fell asleep on the bench like a regular homeless person. Meanwhile, I ran up and down the terminal looking for hot chocolate and an internet cafe-no luck on either, the cafes served only coffe and had no wifi, Finally, 15 minutes before boarding, O woke up and found that Lufthansa (whish has won my loyatly completely) has a free hot chocolate machine at each gate. To think, I could have been drinking that stuff for 3 hours! I had to make do with 2 cups before boarding the bus to the plane (which, oddly enough, drove around the parking lot for a full 30 minutes! I thought maybe they were just going to drive us to Vienna). I boarded and went to pull out my book only to discover I had left it on the bench in the terminal! This was a dismal discovery but I told myself it could have been much much worse. After all, I could have left my passport. They did have some decent pasta salad once we sat down-which mollified me slightly. We took off and the whole flight I sat and contemplated the hot chocolate machines awaiting us at the gate. We arrived and I suddenly remember we had no hotel, it was midnight, the train had stopped running for the night, etc. I became a bit panicky. In the end, we found a decent hotel, took a cab to it, and had a good night. I awoke to a terrible sadness. I sat up and thought, what have I lost out on. It suddenly came to me-I had forgotten about the hot chocolate! O made up for it. He had been out running around in the wee hours of the morning and brought back rolls and cheese, and, of course, a pretzel. Vienna really is a lovely place!

Well, I took some Ambien before starting this and I hear that if you do not go straight to bed after taking it, you will wake up with amnesia. Hopefully, that will not happen as I have much to tell about meeting Lauren and the Parentals and all our adventures in Vienna. Additionally, I think Mom may have taken some too, I hope that I'm not awoken by wild war cries from next door.
-Until tomorrow

Saturday, August 6, 2011

I've got to stop looking up, particularly when my hands are injured

I don't know why it is but spiders always come for me at the most inopportune of moments.
Yesterday a horrific creature as large as a saucer quite ruined my pot pie. Then, today, there I was, in the shower....
I was trying futilely to detangle my hair with my wrecked fingers when I looked up at the ceiling and saw a spot. I generally look up at the ceiling about every 30-45 seconds when I shower in the grey bathroom due to an unfortunate incident that took place a few months ago that ended with me shrieking and dripping all over the hallway.
Anyhow, I saw the spot that I always see in there. However, to the North of the spot, was another one, so small I had to stare at it for a full 2 minutes before I was sure it was moving. I started thinking fast, what could I do. I thought about screaming for help, until I realized how fruitless that would be (as everyone was out at the wedding in the yard). I thought about jumping out of the shower before my exit was cut off, but my hair was such a mess I knew I had to finish what I'd started. So, I pushed on. This was made rather difficult by my damaged digits.

Today, I have managed to cut my three middle fingers on both hands all across both joints, as well as rubbing the skin off the tops. I'm completely mystified as to what happened to cause blisters to rise on the tops of several fingers as well, but even more mystified by my stupidity over this whole chair washing affair. In retrospect, I really should have used a sponge, and not my fingers, to scrub all of the pool chairs. In my defense, the rinse water was cold enough to numb my hands so completely that I did not notice the damage until much too late. All in all, I'm left with oozing fingers that cannot straighten out two days before I backpack through Europe-a bit of a predicament.

If I thought finger combing was difficult with my injured hands, shaving was worse. Between the stinging from holding the razor and the pure fear the spider was inspiring in me, I was shaking so bad I cut myself worse than I have in decades. Eventually I gave up, as I needed legs to get out of the shower and away from the predator. So I hopped out, wildly grabbing my towel and personal affects, running crazily though the hall and just praying that no one was taking a self-guided tour of the house. I slammed into my room, dripping some serious blood down my legs, my towel held askew by my little pained paws, only to give quite a fright to anyone looking in the windows (as the line for the wedding was drifting slowly past my view). Well, I obviously did not find much solace there. I next moved on to apply my medicated lotion (for very dry skin). This turned out to be the worst idea yet. I poured it into my palm and then rubbed both hands together. Talk about literally rubbing salt into the wound (though I think the active ingredient is some sort of alcohol, and not at all sodium chloride), that was some extraordinary stinging, worse than the day I rubbed stinging nettle all over my hands (which was rather unintelligent). In fact, it quite took me back to last summer, when I so macho-ly decided to chop 5 pounds of jalapenos without gloves on. That was a huge mistake.

In that situation, the pain did not come until about 30 min after chopping. At said time I was riding in the car. A fire slowly started burning deep in my fingers. As it moved from uncomfortable to unbearable, I started pouring water out of my water bottle onto my hands and holding them out the car window to catch a cooling breeze (which of course resulted in water all over me and my seat but, in the moment, I did not mind a bit). This worked well enough, until we stopped to wait in a parking lot to pick up M. Quite quickly the fire was so intense my mom had to rush over to McDonald's to order cups of ice to put my hands in. For future reference, capsaicin, the compound that causes the "discomfort" is not water soluble, therefore, washing with water will do nothing. Following one of life's principles, 'like dissolves like', rinse your hands with alcohol or oil.

Well, I'm now covered in bandaids and best be off to spread Neosporin over any skin still exposed, I suppose I'll have to sleep with my mitts in socks tonight.

I'm finally getting the Firework show pics so I'll be posting them soon!