Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas in Vienna

The Viennese take Christmas very seriously.  I don't think "Happy Holidays" is part of their seasonal parlance -- "Frohe Weihnachten!" (Merry Christmas!) is the norm. Christmas Markets seem to be everywhere -- the one at the Rathaus being the largest and most touristy among them -- with all manner of souvenirs, artisanal products, food and drink being sold at each.  Glühwein (a warm red wine infused with spices and schnapps) and various flavors of punsch (Orange, Raspberry, Berry, Bailey's, Coconut Rum, Apple, etc.) are de rigueur -- a trip to a Christmas Market without having a mug (or two) seems, well, just wrong. 

Merry Christmas!  (Now please buy an ornament imported from...China.  The other, smaller, Christmas Markets feature products created by local artisans.)

View from across the street.
Viennese Christmas Market located at the Rathaus.  I'd heard that it cost several thousand euro for someone to set up shop at this Christmas Market, thus the mass-produced, non-local items being sold.
Hurry!  The Gluhvein stand is about to close!
 The Christmas spirit isn't limited to the Christmas Markets.  Downtown Vienna steps it up, too. 
 
A Christmas Tree in front of St. Stephensdom (St. Stephens Cathedral).

Christmas lights strung across a street.
Stare long enough and they become hypnotic...
Vienna is a wonderful city day in and day out, but when the Christmas season arrives, it's a...Christmas Miracle!  

Monday, November 29, 2010

Marco? Polo. Marco? Polo.

Venice, Italy is situated on a lagoon.  If you've been there, you get it:  water is everywhere, parts of the city are prone to flooding, cars aren't allowed in the city, the asphalt "streets" are more akin to sidewalks, and boats of various shapes and sizes move people and goods throughout the city.  If you haven't, however, long-winded descriptions just can't do it justice, so I'll get right to the pictures...
View from the Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto).  Tourists crowd this bridge snagging pictures of the Grand Canal below.
The Grand Canal is, essentially, Venice's Main Street -- vaporettos (public water taxis), private taxis (for the well-heeled), and gondoliers all navigate this 3.5 km stretch of water.
The Grand Canal
And not surprisingly, the Venetians also move the goods that keep the city running by boat:
 
The smaller and less congested canals (and streets) evoke both charm and surreality.














As cliched as it is, a trip to Italy isn't quite complete without the pizza.   Although I was happy to oblige, I figured I'd mix it up a bit and order a pizza with 'pommes fritas'.  Who knew that the pizza would actually come topped with fries?!   (Seems so obvious now...)

Pizza with Pommes Fritas.  Not quite sure what to think.















Another pizza a couple of nights later as an act of redemption.

I'm not usually one for cheese unless it's on a pizza or accompanied by a glass of white wine, but I'll make an exception for an evening gondolier ride. 
Onward Gondolier!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pilsner in Prague!

Perfection
Lisa, her father, and I spent my birthday weekend in Prague, Czech Republic drinking many, many pints of Pilsner Urquell.  How could we not?  The stuff was on tap almost e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e. After a ~5 hour train ride, we promptly deposited our things at the hotel and then marched off in search of food and beer.  The weekend was off to a brilliant start:
Lisa and her father, Karl
This is going to be a great weekend!
Prague ("Praha" in Czech) is a stunningly beautiful city:  Old Town Square, Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, and the Vltava River are just a few of the prominent attractions.  The architecture in Prague is arguably some of the richest in all of continental Europe, especially since virtually all of it was spared from the destruction of the second world war.   Although the city's beauty and essence can't really be captured on film -- even more so when I'm behind the camera -- we made up for it by taking many, many photos.  The better ones follow... 
Back-side of Prague Castle
Old Town Square

 
The castle guard humoring (tolerating?) that annoying tourist...
St. Vitus Cathedral on the grounds of the Prague Castle
View from Prague Castle

Prague Castle from the Vltava River
Lazy Saturday afternoon

Near the top of Petrin Tower:  Prague's answer to Paris' Eiffel Tower
Drinking beer brewed locally by the monks of the Strahov Monastery   


Labor Day in Berlin

Labor Day Weekend in the states usually marks the unofficial end to summer and although the American holiday naturally means nothing to Europeans, Lisa and I decided to celebrate anyway so we headed up to Berlin, Germany for the long weekend.   We arrived early on Saturday morning -- Berlin is only an hour or so away by air -- and after we dropped our things off at the hotel, immediately started wandering toward the major tourist attractions.  The highlights:

Fernsehtrum
Large public square near Alexanderplatz.  The Fernsehtrum ("television tower") is the tallest structure in Germany and a throwback to the days when the East Germans intended it to be a symbol of Berlin. 


Brandenburg Gate.  A former city gate and one of the most famous landmarks in Europe.  When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the gate came to symbolize freedom and unity between East and West Berlin. 


Brandenburg Gate

The Holocaust Memorial.   Unveiled in May 2006 after years of wrangling over its design, scale, location, and cost.  There are 2,711 of those oblong, dark gray pillars of varying heights.  
Holocaust Memorial
  Beer Bike!  A stroke (ha!) of genius.
Beer friendly, bike friendly:  my kind of city!
The Berlin Wall.  Not so formidable anymore:  most of the wall has been reduced to a pair of cobblestones occasionally adorned with a plaque indicating what once was.
This is the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall that is still intact.

Racing toward the West!
The iconic Ampelmann:  The red one is welcoming you to Communism whereas the Green one is hurriedly rushing off to the factory. 


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Festivals

Festivals seem to be an integral part of Viennese life.  Every summer -- mid-June through mid-September -- the plaza in front of the Rathaus (Vienna City Hall) is home to a nightly film festival featuring a re-broadcast of either a concert symphony, play, or opera with the viewing area flanked by food stands from over a dozen local restaurants (of varying cuisines), as well as a local brewer.  No matter what night it is, the festival draws a crowd, although one night in mid-August drew a particularly large and young crowd:  the re-broadcast of a DJ Tiesto concert.  And as if that weren't cool enough, an Electronica Music Festival occurred earlier in the day with the city allowing a major boulevard in front of the Rathaus to be closed off so that over a dozen tractor trailers doubling as mobile DJ booths and dance floors could turn the city center into a veritable dance club.  Good times!


The Rathaus adorned with an AIDS ribbon (the bi-annual international AIDS conference was held in Vienna this year).

"I am Vienna".  Well, not really, but if the Austro-Hungarian empire had annexed Scandinavia a hundred years ago I might be.
I think she is more Belgian than not.
He should be Viennese with moves like that!

No open-container laws! 
The enormously large film festival screen.  The Rathaus is behind it.
DJ Tiiiiieeeeeeestoooo!

First Impressions

Beautiful.  
Our first night in Vienna.  Stephensdom in the background.

Decadent.  
Enjoying wine & cake at a vineyard w/in Vienna city limits (Kahlenberg)!
Melange and a cake.
More cake.  Dessert may constitute its own food group here.
Regal. 
City Art History Museum and the surrounding grounds.

Parliament.  Kramer definitely won't be wearing that AIDS ribbon.