albadger: (What Badgers Eat)
I didn't post from Scotland but I have an excuse - a tour guide who saw to it that I had NO energy at the end of each day. Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] hantsbear I got a great if exhausting first taste of Edinburgh, and every evening when we got back to the hotel, I collapsed into a stupor unconducive to blogging.

Now I'm in the BLOC hotel at Gatwick, with a window out onto the runways, so I can see planes taking off - still about 5 hours until my flight out. Rainy and gray (grey?), but the hotel is right in the terminal, so I don't have to go outside even for a second. Pretty minimal digs, the "shower" is just the bathroom once you've closed the door, and half the rooms don't have windows at all (ick). This is a repurposed office building; these were cubicles. Still, cheap and convenient.

Lots of adventures I'm still savoring. I got to see "the Tempest" in the new Sam Wanamaker Theatre, which is modeled on the indoor theaters of Shakespeare's day, and (for the performance) is illuminated ONLY by candlelight. Super cool. My train out that evening wasn't until 11:30pm, so the hotel clerk suggested I leave my bags with them and enjoy the city a bit more -- I took the Tube to Picadilly Circus, and on a whim got a cheap ticket for a ventriloquist show (this gal, the monkey was particular fun). London rulez.

As does the Caledonian Sleeper, the night train I took up to Edinburgh, though I was of course sleeping through most of it, it was dark, and the train track seems to run through a trench most of the time. Nonetheless, even my first glimpse of Edinburgh was stunning -- with the ancient buildings on the rugged crags right in the heart of the town, there are few cities with more distinct a skyline. I took the very new (2014) tram out to the airport and collected Steve, and we celebrated with sushi and gyoza, in the traditional Scots manner.

Saturday was the Edinburgh Zoo, which has pandas, penguins, lemurs, meerkats and KOALAS! Only koalas in the UK. I could spend hours there. Kind of want to, since the koalas are at the very back and very top of a very steep hill, so once you're up there you'll want to make it last. Yeah, there were pandas too.

After Zoo, to the heart of the city and Edinburgh Castle. Afterwards, back on Princes Street, I looked up at the height and thought, "I walked up THAT?" but I did, and it was worth it. Then to a fairly posh restaurant in what seems to be the hipster quarter, and Haggis Wellington.

Haggis. Heard of it for years, very curious, in spite of Groundskeeper Willie's description of it... always assumed it would be a bit runny and oily, like that little pellet of white fat that's always in every can of pork and beans, and you TRY to eat it but you excuse yourself and spit it out into the toilet. An acquired taste. But NO. I like haggis. It's dark, for one thing, kind of grainy, and very salty, with a nice tang. "You do realize that was on the breakfast buffet this morning," Steve told me, and I kind of had realized that, but I wanted the first taste to be SERVED, not just grabbed from a counter. Once that line was breached, mind you -- for the next 2 mornings, I piled haggis on my breakfast plate. I'm a fan. Perhaps even a cult member. I may form Haggis Eating Kia Soul Owners and combine my two great loves into one movement. HEKSO!

We had more fun on Sunday -- I'd mentioned my obsession with the Forth Rail Bridge (ever since "the 39 Steps" really), and Steve said, "let's go" -- bought us return tickets to a random down on the north side of the Firth, so we crossed the Bridge twice. I would never have thought of that. My OCD approach to such things would require an actual destination on the other side, even if just a restaurant or bookstore, but Steve's right, and now we've crossed the Forth Rail Bridge! After that we headed back to the town center and rode a hop-on/hop-off tourist bus to see other sides of the city, which filled up an hour until it was time to meet Steve's friend Colin, who is a great fellow, and with whom we gabbed with little regard to time until dinner approached and we had to part ways.

Steve and I hit the Zoo again and visited the koalas on Monday, since his flight & my train were both in the afternoon; got rewarded by rather a lot of activity from the males (the lone female was in the exact same spot she had occupied on Saturday, still glaring down). Then a sad parting, and the Virgin East Coast Train back to London.

I have had a great time on this trip, but my favorite parts were the meetings -- [livejournal.com profile] linuxcub in Copenhagen, [livejournal.com profile] hantsbear and Colin in Edinburgh. My normal travel is rather solitary -- ride a train on my own, go to shows on my own -- but the company of great people will be happiest memories from this jaunt.

In a few hours, off to LAX, and then transfer to Southwest to get home to Oakland. I'm brining my own snacks!
albadger: (Hitchcock)
There's a Sainsbury's in Euston Station, and after I get back from the theater it's more convenient (and cheaper!) to buy dinner there & carry it back to the hotel. So of course I need to get a new bag for 5p every time. I know they will be of good use!

Today I took a little detour that I've been dreaming of for years, and rode out to the Leytonstone station on the Central line to see the Hitchcock Mosaics... I took pictures of course, and they're horrible, other people have documented these better than I did, but it was great to see them in person.

Matinee was "the Master Builder" at the Old Vic, with Ralph Fiennes in the lead, solidly translated and performed, and, even better, my seat was next to a pillar AGAIN! They make the best seatmates, though the lady on the other side of the pillar engaged me in conversation and was quite interesting. She approves of my plan to eat haggis in Scotland but warned me that "there's good haggis and there's bad haggis."

Evening show was Hangmen from aging infant terrible Martin McDonagh. Enjoyable enough from moment to moment, but it failed to build and repeated a lot of the writer's go-to tropes. More to the point, if anybody gives you a free ticket for Balcony A-26 in the Royal Court Theater, DO NOT GO. Don't go even if they offer you money, up to $750. It's not really a seat, it's a little angled bench tucked off the side of the stairs, with barely room to side facing sideways, and you have to turn at a painful angle to see the stage properly. Only 20 £, which by my count is 558.38 £ overpriced. Happily, Sainsbury's has aspirin. And I have another Sainsbury bag!

Tomorrow, Shakespeare in the indoor theater at the Reconstructed Globe, and then the Caledonian Sleeper! Very excited by that.
albadger: (Named Death the Streetcar Is)
Did I not post in Amsterdam? No reason to, a very brief trip, nothing much happened. I actually turned the TV on to Comedy Central and just knitted. Comedy Central in the Netherlands, as it seems to be in Germany, is just repeats of American sitcoms, mostly the animated ones. In Germany they dub them all, in the Netherlands it's all in English with subtitles. Bob's Burgers and Archer are the best in either case.
Then the ride from Hoek van Holland to Harwich, a "ferry" that approaches a cruise liner in ambience, including two decks of very nice cabins. Those cost a pile for the night crossings, but in the daytime they give them away for peanuts, so I grabbed one and had a very refreshing nap. Perfectly calm seas, and we were part of a HUGE convoy, so it seemed -- in reality it's such an incredibly busy shipping lane there will always be a bevy of ships out your window. Also passed an offshore wind farm, very dramatic. The bus ride from Harwich to London, a bit less so.
Now at a hotel next to Euston Station (pronounced "Houston," and a flash back to the Netherlands here, Gouda is pronounced "Howda"). Tuesday through Thursday are about going to theater, and it's total conicidence that every one of the shows I'm going to is right on the Northern line of the Underground, which goes through Euston (actually here because the sleeper train to Edinburgh leaves out of this station).
Tuesday being over I can talk about the first two shows. I hadn't bought a Tuesday matinee ticket ahead of time, assuming I'd be spending all day getting laundry done, but laundry only took an hour, and the St. Martin's Theater being nearby, I tubed over and bought a cheap same-day ticket to <a href="https://www.the-mousetrap.co.uk/Online/" target=new>the Mousetrap</a>, world's longest running play. Meh, it's okay, serviceable content-free clockwork in the Christie style, and the lead role was played with a great deal less subtlety than the community theater in Castro Valley managed a few years back. But the theater itself more than worth the price, a delightful 1916 jewel-box, so I had a good time. A short refreshing nap during Act II did NOT mean I didn't enjoy the show. Just that I found it restful.
Evening show was much better, Jeff Wayne's concept album <a href="http://www.dominiontheatre.com/theatre/war-worlds/" target=new>War of the Worlds</a> is being staged, with Wayne himself conducting. Kind of a must-see, though I was a bit worried when the publicity material played up Liam Neeson, who pre-filmed segments. Was it all going to be canned, I fretted. No need to worry. Live (if heavily amped) 13-piece string section and 11-piece rock-style band, chorus of oodles, all the sung parts done live. The theater's been rigged up for fancy lights, fire effects, projection screens, and surprise giant props. Actually came off more like a rock concert than musical theater, and was great fun. But this will NEVER get brought across the pond, I'm afraid. Oh, extra points for the understudy who went on for the Artilleryman, and was both Fabulous and Boffable.
Trying to keep the theater to things that WON'T cross -- tomorrow matinee is an Ibsen at the Old Vic with Ralph Fiennes, so probably not transferring to Broadway. And that's also on the Northern Line!
albadger: (Bill Oddie -- Mister May)
Now I'm in Hamburg, after one of the neatest train rides I've ever been on -- the train goes on a ferry and spends 45 minutes crossing the Fehmarn Belt. I've never been on a train on a ferry before, and probably never will again, since there will be a tunnel here in a few more years, so you should all take advantage of the opportunity while you can.

Now in Hamburg, in a hotel room furnished entirely in IKEA, so this won't be a long entry, since the chair is really uncomfortable. But beautifully designed and easy to assemble.

Tomorrow, off to Amsterdam! Day after that, on to the Ferry from Hoek van Holland to Harwich! Another new adventure, braving the North Sea even though Eurostar is there and I could do the whole route without risking seasickness. Livin' on the edge!
albadger: (Hank on the phone)
Last night in Copenhagen! But I only had two, barely a taste. I like this better than Stockholm, but that may be because I got to spend time with a wonderful friend, [livejournal.com profile] linuxcub, but the city in general feels friendlier. Flatter, that's for sure, and I'll get a bike next time I'm here. Today was a repeat of my full Stockholm day in the sense of riding the hop-on/hop-off tourist bus and then taking a nap. Tonight, a production of "King Lear" that was advertised as "in German with Danish subtitles" but was actually in Danish, though one guy spoke English or French depending on which character he was playing.

Tomorrow, off to Hamburg, on the special train that rides its own ferryboat! I anticipate a good deal of knitting while riding a train that's riding a boat. I will get a bicycle next time I do this.
albadger: (Hank with Welcome Basket)
First full day in Stockholm -- my ONLY full day in Stockholm actually, so I'll have to come back to really see the place, though the hop-on/hop-off bus helped. Did get to the ABBA Museum, and the far larger & more impressive Vasa Museum, a huge structure created solely to house and display a very large testament to royal incomptetence. But I didn't get to any of the art museums, and I didn't walk in the parks (below freezing even at Noon), and the locals...

...I'm not sure how to put this. They're not rude, or mean. But they're not NOT rude. It's really hard to describe, and I'm assured that once I get to know them, the Swedes seem much warmer. Of course, it still is Winter...

Tomorrow morning, back on the train, down to Copenhagen. There used to be a non-stop train, but now you have to change trains in Malmo, because of the "refugee crisis" or something. Damn refugees inconveniencing me! That last sentence was satire, don't hate me.
albadger: (Vitruvian Badger)
Here I am in Sweden! And I know I'm in a foreign country because I've already pissed off a convenience store clerk, which I never do in the United States.

The impetus for the trip was my wonderful friend [livejournal.com profile] hantsbear, who wanted to show me Scotland, and the clincher was the newish airline Norwegian Air Shuttle, which flies direct to Europe from Oakland airport at insanely low prices. I booked with some anxiety, but the flight was good; I paid extra to get the exit row seat, which had ample leg room but (because TV and tray were in the armrest instead of the non-extant seat in front) were narrow. Opera upper balcony narrow. I fit but nobody bigger than me would. The entire cabin crew was of east Asian origin, and spoke as little as possible.

Now at the ominously-named Hotel Terminus, across the street from the Central Station. I did try to walk about a bit, but so creaky from the 10-hour plane ride that I moved slowly & didn't get far, but got to see why it's compared to Amsterdam - water everywhere, though the architecture is more monolithic. This has obviously been a center of power for centuries. Tomorrow I will be riding the "hop on hop off" bus to the various sights, in particular the ABBA Museum. Then I have a ticket to see Moliere's "the Miser" performed in Swedish. When everybody else laughs, I'll laugh.
albadger: (Killing Spree!)
I've been remiss in reporting on my stumbles, but this is the Relax Week, no shows, no pre-ticketed train travel, no hotels -- just fun times.
  1. Tuesday we drove down to Bradford-on-Avon, which I did report on briefly;
  2. on Wednesday, [livejournal.com profile] hantsbear & I walked about Bath, and did the oh-so-touristy thing of riding the open-top double-decker tourist bus with a delightfully cynical announcer giving us the poop on each famous location. I like Bath, and I'm surprised, because it's as much a tourist trap as Venice is, but it has a nice self-mocking edge to it.
  3. Thursday a drive back to Ravenstone, via the Cotswolds, beautiful rolling countryside dotted with precious little villages with VERY LITTLE parking, though we did eventually find a place to stop for lunch.
  4. And then, today, a bus trip into Leicester, to see the recently-unearthed bones of Richard III. Sort of -- the bones are being pored over by scientists in lab coats, so us civilians don't get a chance, but we did see a cute exhibition about the whole froo-fra, a reconstructed Richard-III-head, and the slab in the cathedral that they'll eventually dump the bones under, so there was some satisfaction in that.
And Fish & Chips for dinner! Steve & Steve also bought me a bottle of Iron Brew, which I will photograph myself drinking sometime tomorrow. Be patient until then!
albadger: (What Badgers Eat)
Very little news -- traveled with Steve & Steve to Bradford-on-Avon to visit Steve's father & get ready to tour Bath tomorrow. Relaxing time. I am trying to photograph every food I eat that has a funny name. Tonight, Bangers & Mash. I will post the photo when I figure out how.

Oh, title refers to a large block of flats by the Avon River that doesn't fit at all with the 15th-Century surroundings. What was the preservation society thinking?
albadger: (What Badgers Eat)
Off on the East Midlands train with [livejournal.com profile] hantsbear, in First Class (Thanks Steve, and no thanks Rick Steves), up to Leister, and then an hour bus ride to Coalville -- not that far a distance on bus but very much the local, with 3 billion stops. People got on and off at every stop. Including the fare inspector, who asked to see everybody's ticket or pass... and I couldn't find mine. The bus driver remembered selling it to me, but hey, if I didn't have it I might have given it to a hobo, so I had to buy another. 2 Pounds 60!

Steve & Steve's house is adorable, and has a name -- it's on a plaque right outside the door, and I forget what it is, and Steve & Steve have both gone to bed, so I can't ask. It's something from the Lake District, and it isn't actually Cashmere. I'll check again in the morning, and thank Steve and Steve for a relaxing day, a wonderful dinner, and newly laundered clothes. Tomorrow, more adventures! What will they be? No idea and that's the way I like it!
albadger: (Troubled Past and Nothing Left to Lose)
Phase III has begun! I rendezvoused with [livejournal.com profile] hantsbear at the Victoria Station -- the Bus Arrivals station, mind you, since there seem to be about 15 different Victoria Stations -- and then went looking for food. (BTW Steve wants to tell you a story about the bus driver, but you'll have to wait for him to post it to his own blog.) "I know a wonderful Swedish cafe," sez Steve, "we can have a great lunch there. It's got a sign in the door saying CLOSED ON JUNE 2 -- WILL REOPEN JUNE 3. "How about a wonderful Vietnamese noodle place?" sez Steve, and we'd walked by it a minute earlier -- but when we got back the door was locked and the sign was flipped to say CLOSED SUNDAYS. Ah, but third time's a charm! We got to a street that was lined with open restaurants, and easily chose a charming French cafe with an attractive prix fixe menu.

Minutes after we ordered, smoke from a piece of toast in the kitchen set off the fire alarm. It took the hostess 20 minutes to turn it off. Every other customer left. We were the only customers remaining. We recommend this technique if you wish to get attentive service from French waiters. Oh, and the food was really good.

Our main even today was the Chelsea Opera Group's concert performance of Verdi's early and unloved Alzira. We had a few hours before the show, so Steve suggested we try the Nestene Conciousness London Eye, the giant Ferris wheel with glass globules. I was actually willing, but the line was hours long, so we didn't have time. [weeps softly] The concert was great, actually -- I was worried Steve might be bored, but I forget that even second-tier Verdi has a propulsive energy that is great fun, even if the plot never gets beyond an inane tenor/soprano/baritone triangle dressed up in Inca & Conquistador drag. Tonight's Inez was named Zuma.

We're back at the hotel, same one I was at on my own last night (coincidence!), and in the lobby, since there's no WiFi in the rooms. Seriously, Holiday Inn Express, is this the middle ages? Then off on rail & bus to Coalville, where our new adventures will begin.
albadger: (Brendon is a pretty lady)
First thing I've done that I've done before -- riding Eurostar from Paris to London. We were 45 minutes late because somebody got sick & had to be taken off the train, so if I'd left 30 minutes later I would arrived 15 minutes sooner, I guess. Finally, back in a country whose language I am no worse at than I was 20 years ago! Well, a little worse. Though for some reason the very nice hotel still only has WiFi in the lobby. No pictures again, thanks, Holiday Inn Express! But the hotel is perfectly located for the weekend's activities, just a short walk to the riverfront, a right turn to Shakespeare's Globe, a left turn to the South Bank Centre.

Tonight, the Tempest at the reconstructed Globe. I've been to London several times since the theatre was finished, but only in Winter, so this was my first opportunity to see a show here. And sold out! I had the seat farthest on the circle, second level, so I saw a lot of actor butt. It is a great theater, wonderful acoustics; if I get to come back someday I will brave the standing room "groundling" section. I say that but I like sitting down.

Show was superb, unsurprisingly; they even found the comic rhythm for Act 1 Scene 2, which can be awfully dry, and the masque in 4.1 actually got vigorous applause. Alas, the Clump'o'Nobles in 2.1 couldn't be brought to life, but I've seen billions of Tempests and I've never seen that scene work, so okay.

I should admit that I panicked and thought I was late, and ran to get to the theatre, only to find I was an hour ahead of time; still on France time apparently. I took the extra time to walk across the Millenium Bridge, which gives you a nifty mid-river view of Tower Bridge, and doesn't trigger my acrophobia at all.

Which doesn't mean I'll agree to ride the London Eye. But that's tomorrow.
albadger: (Named Death the Streetcar Is)
Brief note tonight, since the otherwise ritzy hotel has internet ONLY in the lobby (wtf, in 2013?). I'm in Paris for a total of 17 hours 45 minutes, which once again proves that I am an incredibly stupid man. Should have just skipped it & gone on to London, where I'll have my first nap in a week tomorrow afternoon. For tonight, no show, no restaurant, just a store-bought sandwich in my hotel room and a good night's sleep, which should come easy after a walk up to Sacre Coeur and then back down through Montmarte. Those girls in the tiny black cocktail dresses would be freezing if they weren't drunk off their butts.

I did enjoy the extra hours in Marseille, though -- took the bus up to Notre Dame de la Garde, which has spectactular views of Marseille, the Vieux Port, the Chateau d'If and the Mediterranean beyond, and is windy as all hell. I also took the little toy ferry across the old harbor, all 206 yards of it. I think that thing is only running because it's in the Pagnol plays, which seem to be worshiped there.

Or you'd think -- I went into the tourist office and asked if they had a cafe set up to look ilke Cesar's cafe in the plays/movies, and the helpful clerk sent me a block uphill to a "very nice cafe, you will like it." I got there, and, yes, it's a very nice cafe. It's a cafe much like Cesar's cafe. Or like any cafe. I resisted the urge to march back into the tourist bureau and yell, "What did you think I was asking for? I want a TOURIST TRAP, dammit! I'm a TOURIST. I want to be TRAPPED, okay? If you were Venice you'd have FIVE of the damn things!"

Instead I bought three dishtowels. They fit in my bag, but it feels way heavier than from just adding three dishtowels. Maybe the guilt I'm carrying from almost abusing a tourist clerk.
albadger: (Disneyland 2011)
A quiet day opened in Geneva after a little accident last night: the travel bottle of Axe body wash had exploded all over my other toiletries (fortunately within a zip-lok bag inside a bigger zip-lok bag), so I had to take them all out and rinse them, leaving them on the bathroom counter to air. It's been 12 hours, so I'd imagine they're dry by now. Fortunately nothing irreplaceable... except the Axe body wash of course...

I did take a stroll around town (the hookers had vanished with the dawn), and don't know if I'll need to come back to Geneva anytime soon. If Venice is the tourist town ad absurdum, Geneva has tourism but it's mostly about work, and you'd damn well better have money in either case. I bought post cards but didn't mail them, since I couldn't find a post office or even a mail box. Plus, buying things freaked me out. Switzerland has its own money, the Swiss Franc. Which is doubly weird, since they're completely surrounded by Euro, and their coin is named after a different damn country that uses the Euro now. As I only had Euros in my pocket, I was shy about asking a merchant about it, until I overheard a croissant-stand operator answer the exact same question, in English. Yes, they take Euros! Probably at a horrible exchange rate, but I didn't care, so I bought a croissant, and was a little peeved to get all my change in Swiss Francs.

Until I realized -- these are beautiful coins! The 5 Franc in particular. I'm bringing several home for a magician friend of mine; I think these are better palm coins than the palm coin I actually bought for him at a magic shop in Vienna.

Then on to a fast, really really fast train, a FRENCH train. The French police at the platform made very clear that we were alreay in France, and we'd better watch our step. France beats the competition in nearly every way, with the most comfortable seats, individual power outlets, and lots of bearded guys in the complementary train magazine. I had Croque Monsieur for lunch from the bar carriage and caramel flan for dessert. The ride isn't as dramatic as the Milan-Geneva leg, but still fascinating, rolling at ridiculous speed through verdant fields and valleys, dotted by quaint farm villages and churches, here and there a Roman-era ruin or aqueduct. I'll see most of that going the other way to Paris tomorrow.

And Marseille! I'm here for one reason -- I'm in rehearsal for a production of Pagnol's play Marius, set in Marseille, and since I had no strong need to be elsewhere, why not get a taste? Like Geneva, this isn't really a tourist town, though there are certainly tourists here -- but unlike Geneva, Marseille won't hate you if you don't have cash. Very much a working city, and very French, feels way more French than Paris does actually. I walked from the hotel (next to the hella impressive train station) down to the Vieux Port, which is now not more than a marina for pleasure boats, with some tourist concessions like a little ferryboat (which I have to ride tomorrow). I'll visit again tomorrow morning before checking out & get some more photos. A fellow cast member asked me to watch how the locals move, & I'll see if I can manage that without getting beat up.

All settled in for the night, take-out for dinner, replacement sundries purchased from the Apothecary (what is WITH Europe and aspirin? You have to buy it from a pharmacist, for crimeny). I'll try not watching TV, but one channel is showing a Simpsons marathon, and that French Marge voice is so hard to resist...
albadger: (DCA Laugh)
Funny how we can panic when are denied a service that we did not have 10 years ago, that was pretty much inconceivable 20 years ago. How did your ancestors survive? Truth, of course, is a lot of them didn't. We're the product of millenia of natural selecction favoring skills required in a non-internet environment. Next generation is going to be soft, softer even than the Pennicillin Generation. I gotta lot of stuff saved up.

Read more... )
albadger: (Computer Geek)
Morning (Morgen!) in Vienna -- I'm going to be checking out of the hotel shortly, dropping my bag off at the train station, and then walking about until the 8:15pm boarding. I will be "off grid" for a bit, since there won't be wifi on the overnight train, and will have connectivity again when I get to the Geneva hotel Wednesday night. I will leave you with two discussion points so you won't be bored.
  1. I am very, very disappointed with my brain. I have in the past been able to master languages, not brainiac level but at least I could get around, order dinner, find out which U-Bahn station I needed to go to. This time? I can't even understand when the waitress is asking me which salad dressing I want. "Balsamico" doesn't turn into "Balsamic," doesn't really turn into a word at all. I feel like my German skills have vanished down the same chute that my computer-programming skills went down. And coming up -- Italian and French! Geez.
  2. I am disappointed as well in Vodafone. In Nuremberg, I bought a SIM from the Vodafone shop on the assurance that it would work in all the countries I was visiting. I listed them, and the clerk nodded (this is the clerk who, when asked if he spoke English, replied "of cou-rse" in perfect QueerDuck). Yep, no roaming across all our carriers, unlimited data & text. Worked fine until I crossed the border into Czech Rep. Since then, no data, no text, sporadic connection to roaming on the local Vodafone, but usually no signal at all. Vodafone had earlier sent me a text asking me to rate my Vodafone experience... I had to go on to the laptop to respond, but somebody's ears are blistering from reading that response! Or their eyes. I just hope that the dishonest lying smartass Vodafone salesman loses his job. At the shop his Dad owns.
Ok, off to tour, train, Venice, more train, Milan, more train & Geneva -- see you then!
albadger: (Pool)
Rainy, dreary Prague! I was hoping it would be less dreary this morning, but instead worse; I was planning on dropping my bag off at the train station and getting a walk around town, the Charles Bridge, the Kafka monument, the Dvorak museum, but it was so bleak and unpleasant, and I could not for my life find the lockers at the train station, that when I saw a non-stop for Vienna was leaving in 40 minutes, I thought screw this and bought a ticket on it.

A FIRST CLASS ticket, Rick Steves. Yes, I already had a pre-paid ticket on the 13:38 train but it was Second Class, and I think I learned that lesson. Also the earlier train is named the Antonin Dvorak, so who could resist.

The train ride from Prague to Vienna is pretty, half through forests and half through wide plains; not nearly as dramatic as yesterday's ride, and at 4 hours 45 minutes the first really long train ride I've had.

I've got to think of this trip as less making a meal of Europe as doing a tasting run, just little bites to figure out what I want to come back for someday & have the full course. Prague, yes, I'll visit again, but that was a tiny bite. Vienna, already bigger. I like Vienna. And by that I mean that I understand the subway system. I made a point to ride each of the 5 U-Bahn lines a little bit (U1, U2, U3, U4 & U6. What happened to U5? A deep mystery).

I also made a point of eating the local food, being Wiener Schnitzel. No relation whatever to the American hot dog chain. That stuff is omnipresent, especially since the Food Polizei eased up and allowed restaurants to call it "Weiner Schnitzel" even if they don't use veal. Which is fine with me because veal is murder. Yes, I know that all meat is murder, but veal is murder of the cute. I had Weiner Schnitzel vom Schwein from a sad little fast-food chain called SchitzelHaus, staffed by a sullen young Spaniard who couldn't wait to get back to his World of Warcraft. It was every bit as good as you'd expect, but you want me to spend real money on this?

I have one other task in Vienna, and a lot of time to do it, since my overnight train doesn't leave until VERY late tomorrow.
albadger: (Disneyland 2011)
I didn't even think of this -- the Czech Republic still has its own money! My Euros are worthless here! I may as well just trade them for pebbles.

Good day, first full day of Phase 2, no more opera, all about riding trains to cities and then staying in hotels when I get there. GREAT train ride today. Not the first half, from Leipzig to Dresden -- that's the southern edge of the "North German Plain" and it's as flat and dull as Nebraska (though a good bit wetter). I was hoping for some tourism during my 2-hour layover in Dresden, but the rain was so heavy I gave up & just lurked about the train station. I even had lunch, lord forgive me, at Burger King, as it was the only place I could get a table to write out postcards. Sandwich worse than our Burger Kings would dare offer, but at least I got a nice salad instead of their wrong-colored french fries.

The GREAT train ride is from Dresden to Prague. It goes up the Elbe/Vltava valley, which carves through the sandstone & basalt massifs that form the border between Germany and the Czech Republic, and it's stunning -- it's this river that Smetana wrote "the Moldau" about. The first train ride I've been on this whole time that was worth taking solely on its own.

It was still raining when I arrived in Prague (and still is), so I wasn't worried about taking in sights, just getting to the hotel & drying off -- but I was caught off guard by Wenceslas Square. Isn't a square, actually, it's a wide boulevard, with a VERY impressive buidling at the upper end, the Czech National Museum, which is totally Wow, and there's that huge equestrian statue of Wenceslas, flanked by other Bohemian saints (they're his Pips, in a way). It would be a breathtaking sight even if it didn't have all that amazing history. History added, it brought tears to my eyes. Hope I can get some postcards of it even with my decadent foreign currency.

Actually a lot of places here are happy to take their own korunas as well as Euros and Pounds (not dollars?), but truth is I'm too bushed to go shopping; I bought a ham & cheese baguette at the shop in the hotel lobby & am calling it a night. Got the alarm set early, so I aim to do some walking about before leaving the hotel & going back to the train station for the ride to Vienna.
albadger: (Lisa and Bart Screaming)
One last LAST post from Leipzig. Just got an email from Deutsche Bahn -- my train to Dresden is late! They want to make sure I know in case this would make me miss my transfer.

The train is 5 minutes late. I set up a 2-hour layover. Now it's only 1 hour 55 minutes. What will I do?

And I love Amtrak, but they don't even send you an email when the train is 5 Hours late. Which it often is.
albadger: (Krusty's Terrified Audience)
One last post from Leipzig -- the AO Hostel has free wi-fi, but only in the lobby, which is full of chatty people drinking beer. Shudder. But I'm back from the performance of Rienzi and Phase 1 of the trip is now officially complete. With that, some thoughts about this opera, Wagner in general, and Art, which you are welcome to skip.

Read more... )
End of opera ramble -- tomorrow I'm off to Dresden, famous for palaces, fine china and horrible mass death. Just having lunch there & then on to dinner & hotel in Prague. No more hostels for me, I'm goin' upscale!

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