Sunday, April 08, 2007
We got up early (5am) to take a tram and catch our flight out of Germany. ;-(
Siobhan was smart enough to book a 5 hour layover at the Charles de Gaulle airport. That gave us just enough time to take the shuttle into town for a quick climb up to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. This has the best view of Paris, even better than the Eiffel Tower, as from here you can actually see the tower in the view!
After that we strolled down the Champs Elysées and found an outdoor café for lunch. Siobhan had a crepe, while I had ordered a hot dog. What I got is something different. It was a baguette split open with a frankfurter inside and covered in cheese and baked. It was good, just different. The mustard was definitely good. The French know how to do mustard.
We hurried back and caught out 747 flight back. This flight was via Air France. Air France sucks. I will just leave it at that…
Saturday, April 07, 2007
We caught a bus tour to take us up to the alpine region above Munich to visit the Neuschwanstein Castle built by “Mad King Ludwig”
This castle was the final castle built buy King Ludwig II of Bavaria. They called him “Mad” because he spent so much of his country’s fortunes on extravagant, fantastic castles. Castle Neuschwanstein (“New Swan Stone in German”) is the most amazing, quintessential castle example you can imagine.
Friday, April 06, 2007
This morning we took the train from Venice station (on the island this time…) to Milan.
Once we got into town we visited the galleria, an outdoor shopping district covered in 1860 with a glass and steel dome, and equipped with the newly invented electric lights. We also took a spin on the mosaic bull oysters for luck. Seriously.
Here is a cool VR:
Next door was the Duomo, the second largest gothic cathedral in the world.
After that we visited the Castello Sforzesco, a gigantic brick castle, built just in time for Napoleon to take it over.
Here is another cool VR:
Finally we stopped off at the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie to visit Leonardo’s (Davinci, not the Turtle…) Last Supper. We were surprised at how low-key it was. First of all, the church itself is located on what once was the outskirts of town, not in the city center. Second it’s a fairly small church, and the fresco itself is not in the church, but in the unadorned building next door, the dining hall for the monks. Third, it was not crowded, although this may be due to the need to buy tickets months in advance. These are all in contrast to the Mona Lisa, housed in the Louvre, surrounded by hundreds of gawking tourists pressing themselves up against the protective glass, cameras flashing away…
It’s amazing the painting has survived at all. Read the quick paragraph of it’s amazing volitle history here:
Here is a great VR Leonardo’s Last supper:
Italy is interesting. One thing always strikes me is how everything is in an advanced state of deferred maintenance. Cracks in the sidewalks and abundant weeds. Broken and unwashed windows. It’s like that everywhere across the country. It’s more third-world than the former Soviet states of Hungary and Czech. All the train stations are left over construction from Mussolini himself. Interesting.
That evening we took an Air Dolomiti flight back to Munich and tok the tram into town to our hotel.
Thursday, April 05, 2007
A city like none other in the world, for so many reasons. There are only two modes of transportation: walking and boats. No cars or bicycles. Also, everything here is old. Hundreds of years old, which is just a great atmosphere. Unlike other world cities, Venice has no real “must see” or “must do” sites. It’s more of an even experience, all over the place. You can walk in *any* direction and it’s all just as fascinating. It’s not like you are likely to move away from an important area, you just find a new interesting area. There is no pressure, you just go and experience. And when you get hungry, you will find a place to eat. Simple. Easy. Plus for us on a personal note, this is where I asked Siobhan to marry me, so we have those wonderful memories to remember.
Here is what we ended up doing:
In the morning we made our way to San Marco square (the “pigeon” plaza you always see in the movies) and took a tour of the “Doge’s” palace, the seat of government for the Venetian empire.
Very fascinating, plus we got to cross the “Bridge of Sighs” (Under which I proposed to Siobhan as we rode in a gondola)
Afterwards we went to tour the Church at San Marco Square, but the line was too long. That’s ok, we can do that next time! We noticed another tour for bell tower was very short and decided to take that. We weren’t expecting the amazing view from the top, panoramic over the entire island and surrounding lagoon.
It was from this point (although the tower was rebuilt after a collapse in 1902!) that Galileo demonstrated his “invention” of the telescope to the Venetian government.
After that we shopped and ate and ate and shopped and shopped and ate and eventually capped the day with a sunset gondola ride under the Bridge of Sighs.
Pictures lifted from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venice
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Today was a day of travel. We drove from Prague to Munich thru some freshly snow dusted forests – beautiful. Once back inside Germany I pulled out my Kraftwerk CD. “Autobahn” on the Autobahn – nice. The perfect accompanying score…
Near Munich we stopped off at Dachau and toured the memorial. A bit of a more somber experience.
We dropped off the car at the Munich airport. We started with a brand new car, and took it from 4km to 1969km in 6 days. Bye bye car, it was fun, but it will be nice not to have to worry about parking or freeway passes…
We walked out on the tarmac to our “Air Dolomiti” flight. I love boarding the plane on the tarmac, it feels like more of a travel adventure and less like a commute flight.
After a short flight over the Swiss Alps we landed at the Milan airport. For some reason, the Milan airport is not in Milan. It’s about an hour away. We took the airport shuttle bus into town, but with the evening commute traffic, it was slow going. So slow we missed our train to Venice. There was one other that we were able to take. The only problem (unforeseen and unmentioned) was that this train did not take us directly to the island as our first train did. Instead we needed to catch a second train at the Venice mainland station. Well, once we arrived there and disembarked the train, it was evident we weren’t on the island. We figured out we needed to board the connecting train just as it pulled out. In fact, the last train out for the night. D’oh. Hmm… what to do? We went to a hotel across from the station and asked. They pointed us to a bus stop that had busses that went across the bridge every ½ hr. Thank goodness… We caught the bus with about a dozen other passengers and rode it in. About midnight we finally crossed the “Ponte Degli” on foot over the Grand Canal and found out hotel – Whew!
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
We left Vienna early and head3ed for the Czech Republic. It a was a lot easier to get out of the city than in. Our route took us off the main autobahn and on to a winding 2-lane highway thru a lot of small villages. This was like stepping back in time before the 1992 soviet break-up, not much seems to have changed. It was nice to see more of the true Czech country, rather than the “designed for driving comfort” rest stops of the Autobahn.
We stopped in a small town for lunch and I successfully ordered (pantomimed) an eastern European style hot dog for myself, and a chocolate crepe for Siobhan.
We made it into Prague with little difficulty and checked into out hotel, the “Hotel Mucha”
Prague is a very art Nuveau city, and Mucha was one of their biggies. Even if you don’t recognize the name, you have seen his work:
We had a great room, on the 6th floor, the top floor, and had the hotel’s only rooftop balcony.
We took the subway out to the hill top castle and after quite an up hill hike, had the most spectacular view of Prague. We then hiked down and visited the Charles Bridge.
We also stopped near there and had an amazing meal of goulash and stuffed peppers – Yum! Hungary and Czech has had the best food by far this trip. After dinner we visited the “Medieval Tortue Museum”. Jack Bauer meets Monty Python – Ouch!
At 9pm we caught the ringing of the gian mechanical astronomical clock, with a parade of animated saints and nobels, and with death ringing the bell. Very cool.
A sizeable crowd had gathered to watch too. It’s cool to think that crowds have been gathering here to watch the show since 1490!
At the clock we met for a night time walking tour - “the ghosts of Prague” Very fun.
Monday, April 02, 2007
Two things about travel:
First keyboards are different. I have to keep looking up and down t make sure I didn't just type "kezboard" or put in random Ö's or Ä's, so forgive me if something is weird.
Second, It's just plain un-American to charge to use the bathroom.
This morning we left Budapest early. It took about 3 hours to travel (including a great Tesco stop) to Vienna. It took almost 2 hours to park and reach our hotel. We got lost and asked a guy on a bike for directions and he told us to turn left then go a couple of lights, then turn right, then.. well... best of luck!After we found our hotel and checked in, we toured the local cathedral, big old and smokey. Siobhan noticed a sign for "catacomb tours" It was only 4 euro, and was totally worth it. Just like you would imagine catacombs under a cathedral from the middle ages. Think stacks and stacks of bones from black plague victims. No pictures allowed as it was a working graveyard.
After that we took the subway to the giant 1879 Ferris wheel. This thing was huge. Instead of each spoke holding a bucket or bench for 3 people, each spoke held basically a wooden train car.
Last we caught a concert-opera-dance performance of Mozart and Strauss. Now, I can appreciate Mozart, but I enjoyed Strauss. I guess it's analogous to appreciating a fencing match, but enjoying a demolition derby. I also relates to the tact that I couldn't help visualizing the dancers as two overweight auto mechanics performing the same moves. Very entertaining.
Sunday, April 01, 2007
This Morning we went on a walking tour with Louie.
We then crossed the famous chain bridge and walked to the St. Stephen's Basilica for a 360 degree panoramic view high above the city from the rim of the dome.
We then had lunch at a traditional Hungarian restaurant and had gulyás! Boo-yah!
Last we stopped by the “House of Terror”.
It was such a wonderful experience to awaken in the most beautiful setting on earth next the most beautiful girl in the world! We took an alpine hike to a nearby waterfall and came back down past the church graveyard with the Beinhaus or “Bone House” in English.
Afterwards saw a film crew in town shooting a tourism spot (w/ a full 35mm Arri package from Arri Munich) You know you are in the most picturesque location when you see the film crew choosing it as well…
We then left for Salzburg and toured the famous salt mines, complete with wooden miner’s slides and all! Way fun.
We then took the longer than expected drive to Budapest. Note to self for future reference: Add 1 hr for every 2 when using European Mapquest directions. We got to the Hungarian border just after sunset. Crossing the border was different, lots of police at the old soviet style border check. I was a little nervous, but we got through with no problems. Hungary has a 130kph speed limit, so we were able to make up some time, that however was lost as we got lost repeatedly in town. Street signs are like the remaining Easter eggs after all the hungry little kids have scoured the yard: hard to find. We met Louie Petro, an old friend from film school and went out for a quick bite at his favorite restaurant since he was a kid, a hamburger stand next to the towns main trolley turn around. On his recommendation, we had hotdogs. These were great, but different from American hot dogs. Instead of the bun opening like a book, these were a tube with the bottom closed, like a cup. You pour the condiments and then drop the dog in.