Monthly Archives: May 2016

Socks and Shoes

We are halfway through our last stop on this tour. We have had a great time, but that big bed is calling our names.

Yesterday we exposed Ria and Scott to their first Vietnamese coffee, complete with the obligatory condensed milk. The owner of the shop moved here 10 or 12 years ago and 2 years ago opened her coffee shop, La Purete. She imports the coffee from Vietnam and roasts it herself. It was as good as anything we ever had in Vietnam. For those  unfortunate souls who have yet to have the experience, you have no idea what you are missing.

Get off Tram 16 at the Keizergracht stop and walk towards downtown on the east side of the street.

Get off Tram 16 at the Keizergracht stop and walk towards downtown on the east side of the street.

We were wandering through the shopping area – which is pretty much all of Amsterdam that isn’t a bar and came upon this little shop. The owner was delightful. She has been selling vintage clothing and accessories in this place for 25 years. The number and variety of socks and tights was fantastic.

Fabulous patterns on the tights

Fabulous patterns on the tights

Colour? You want colour?

Colour? You want colour?

You name the pattern, she's got the pattern

You name the pattern, she’s got the pattern

But our favourite were these – a package of three.

Mix and match the faces each day!

Mix and match the faces each day!

We had some time to kill before our appointment to go through the Anne Frank house so stopped for a drink at a little cafe. Now, you need to know that for some strange, unfathomable reason Scott has a thing for accordion music. He just loves it. Imagine his glee when this gentlemen strolled across the street and began playing right next to us.

Now imagine his dismay when the woman in the next restaurant came out and threatened to call the police if he didn't move on. I was surprised, he wasn't really bothering anyone and you could just say no when he approached you for some change. Poor Scottie.

Now imagine his dismay when the woman in the next restaurant came out and threatened to call the police if he didn’t move on. I was surprised, he wasn’t really bothering anyone and you could just say no when he approached you for some change. Poor Scottie.

Then we visited the Anne Frank house (no photos allowed). It was quite the experience. After Oskar Schindler’s factory, Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Jewish Memorial and Jewish Museum in Berlin, this seemed to bring it all together. I think because it was so incredibly personal in that we have all read her book. What was surprising were the sizes of the rooms. They were quite large. When it was turned into a museum, Otto Frank, the only survivor and Anne’s father did not want the rooms furnished as they had been, so the most powerful items were pages from her actual diaries and books. The Frank family were betrayed by someone who has never been identified. I suspect it was one of the people closest to the families living there since the hiding place was so well hidden.

Strangely enough, the single most emotional item there for Terry and I was the actual Oscar award given to Shelley Winters for her portrayal of Mrs. Petronella Van Daan, one of the women who lived in the secret annex. When she won, she told Mr. Frank that she would keep it for a while and then give it to the house, which she did. Somehow, seeing it at the end of the tour just tore both of us up.

Someone else took this photo - I just stole it from the internet.

Someone else took this photo – I just stole it from the internet.

From there it was meandering until dinner to be followed by the infamous red light district at night.

We sat at a street side bar/cafe and watched the Dutch go by.

But first, I get what can only be described as a healthy pour of what turned out to be a very nice wine.

But first, I get what can only be described as a healthy pour of what turned out to be a very nice wine.

Terry took all these photos.

Next up, a fashionista on his way home from work

Next up, a fashionista on his way home from work

Focus man, focus

Focus man, focus – or is it “Get out of my way!”

This gentleman appears to be happily singing - probably also on his way home.

This gentleman appears to be happily singing – probably also on his way home.

Sing it out, sister

Sing it out, sister

Just groin' to the tunes

Just groovin’ to the tunes

Guy watching' girl...

Guy watching’ girl…

...and girl watching' guy

…and girl watching’ guy

Finally – even in Amsterdam there are distracted drivers riders

Pay attention!

Pay attention!

After dinner at a very nice Thai restaurant, owned by a sardonic Chinese/Dutch fellow who has only one Thai person working for him, it was off to the “sights”. Here’s the problem. It doesn’t actually get dark until after 10:30 and we finished dinner at about 8:00. We’re old and the chances of us being up at 10:30 are negligible. We assume most of the action starts when it is dark, so we didn’t see the traditional sights. However, at street level in many little alleys are glass doors behind which sit minimally dressed women. There may have been 15 or 20 of these rooms which were “in operation”. There were many others waiting for a woman to start work.

I want to say that I felt quite uncomfortable walking through here for the 15 – 20 minutes we were there. I’m far from a puritan, but the entire atmosphere was demeaning. From the hordes of drunk guys on stags marauding through the streets, to the middle aged tourists – me included – to the parents with children it was like we were alien visitors to a zoo, with the unfortunate women in glass cages. It was the ultimate degrading tourist trap.

Saturday we headed off to Zaanse Schans. This is a typical Dutch village which dates from the 18th and 19th centuries. We watched how they make wooden shoes – it now takes 10 minutes on a couple of machines to make a pair as opposed to the 3-4 hours it used to take. We saw many many windmills – most of them still working. We enjoyed a nice lunch and walked through along a street of traditional homes. All in all it was a pleasant experience – right up until we got on the bus for the very hot, long forty minute bus ride home.

Anyway, there’s the wedding wooden shoes

Wedding

There’s the steppin’ out wooden shoes

Saddle

There’s the artsy wooden shoes

Arty

And there’s the travellin’ wooden shoes

Roller

A couple of the traditional homes.

House1

There are lyers upon layers upon layers of the green enamel paint.

There are layers upon layers upon layers of the green enamel paint.

We always seem to have our picture taken on a bridge...

We always seem to have our picture taken on a bridge…

The Shoe Blog

What else?

The "Stiletto" wooden shoe

The “Stiletto” wooden shoe

 

I’ve Arrived!

 

Oh, the places I've been and the things I've seen!

Oh, the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen!

Well here we are in Amsterdam – home of bridges (over 1000), canals, beautiful buildings and, of course, sex. We’ll get to the sex in a minute, but first a look at our apartment. Well, not our apartment exactly. The apartment itself, booked on AirBnB is okay, although the review we will submit won’t give it any more than two stars out of five. We are on the third, which is really the fourth floor, and I think our view is typical of what one sees in Amsterdam.

Nice view

Pleasant view

It is the entrance and exit to our place which is challenging, particularly to two guys who have had heart issues and still have stair issues. There is a vertical drop of a total of 42 stairs over a horizontal space of less than 5 feet.  They are no wider than 8 inches. When we mentioned this to the woman who rented it to us, she just laughed and said there were even narrower and steeper ones in central Amsterdam. I think she wanted to make us feel better but it was irrelevant to us, as I lay splayed out huffing and puffing in the armchair .

Packing the luggage up was no picnic.

Packing the luggage up was no picnic, and going down without it isn’t either.

Terry carefully descends

Terry carefully descends

When we checked the frying pans in the drawer, this is what we found.

Leftover scrambled eggs

Leftover scrambled eggs

Let’s just say that I will post our full, unabridged review of the place when we have left town.

We arrived on Wednesday and Scott and Ria had arranged to meet Ria’s sister and brother-in-law – Ann and Larry –  from Ontario who were in town for a day waiting to go on a river cruise. They had been here a few times before and Larry wanted to give us a tour of the red light district and off we went. Now at 3:30 there aren’t a great many – ok, any, women sitting in the windows to entice one. (We are going back tonight to see the “sights”.) There are however, many shops in the area to provide aid to those in need.

Happy is as Happy does

Happy is as Happy does

Reminds me of the controversy over the Bic Pens.

Reminds me of the controversy over the Bic Pens.

Larry, Ann, Scott and Ria

Larry, Ann, Scott and Ria – hey lady, move out of the photo would ya!

We saw some great looking buildings

Cool front

Cool front

kk

I don’t think this is an Arthur Erickson design, but it is interesting.

The homes in Amsterdam are quite narrow – there’s an understatement and in order to get their furniture into their homes they employ hooks and pulleys.

By hook...

By hook…

or by hook.

or by hook.

Centraal Station (not a spelling mistake) is magnificently huge. This is approximately a quarter to a third of the length. It is the home to the trains which flow in and out of Amsterdam

Centraal Station

Centraal Station – from the front

It is impossible to get a sense from photos of the station. First, check out the bikes in the bottom of the top – I haven’t even mentioned how prevalent bikes are. There are three of these semi-circled covers over the tracks – see the middle photo. You can’t get the entire length in a photo even from a distance on the water.

Centraal Station - from the back

Centraal Station – from the back

I think the captain of our little tour boat was quite impressed with the Silhouette – even she was taking photos of it.

Celebrity Silhouette: Built 2011 Years old 5 Passengers 2886- 3463 Cabins 1443 Space Ratio 35 Tons 122210 Speed 24.0 Length 1047 Beam 121 Crew 1000 Total decks: 15 Decks with cabins: 8

Celebrity Silhouette: Built 2011,   Years old 5,    Passengers 2886- 3463
Cabins 1443,  Tons 122210
Speed 24.0,   Length 1047,  Beam 121,  Crew 1000
Total decks: 15 Decks with cabins: 8

The Sea Palace restaurant is a miniature copy of the Jumbo Restaurant in Hong Kong. The Sea Palace holds 700 for dinner – the Jumbo – 5000. I can’t imagine the noise of 5000 Chinese diners since we often were drowned out in restaurants in China with only a hundred – or Starbucks with no more than 50.

The Sea Palace

The Sea Palace

On the way home from downtown we were on a tram which was packed with standees and it had just discharged about 10 standees at the previous stop when the driver jammed on the brakes – HARD – and we saw this girl lying on the ground. By the time I got my phone out, she had gotten up, clearly shaken. She had cut in front of him and was totally at fault. The driver got out and took a strip off her and wanted her id. It was quite the experience. If those people had not just gotten off, I am sure there would have been injuries on the tram.

She is lucky to be alive

She is lucky to be alive

Now for a little entertainment. We spent about a half hour watching a five man dancing troupe. They had their schtick down really well. Not only was their dancing pretty cool, so was their patter and their money collection. This guy was the finale.

The Shoe Blog

I originally thought of using this shoe as the featured one, but decided against it. You’ll see why in a minute.

And who wouldn't want a shoe as a boat - or a boat as a shoe.

And who wouldn’t want a shoe as a boat – or a boat as a shoe.

But this is today’s shoe. We were walking in Dam Square when I spotted this woman and her boyfriend. She was clearly in some difficulty. They walked to the side and I unobtrusively sidle over just to get a photo while they stood there. I was rewarded, however, with this conversation:

He: “Why are you taking them off?”

She: “Because they hurt.”

He: “But you just bought them three minutes ago”

She: “So what? They hurt.”

She put on the ones on the left.

She put on the ones on the left.

 

 

….Then We Took Berlin*

We’ve yet to take Manhattan, but we have taken Berlin – or perhaps we were taken in Berlin. Anyway, we have left Berlin and are now on the final leg of what is fast becoming an arduous journey.

We got to the Tegel Airport at 6:30am for our 9:10 flight. Now, compared to Kelowna International, the Berlin airport is equivalent to Dogpatch, USA. From finding something decent to eat to finding an electrical outlet is a chore. Add to that the squeaking women’s washroom door (Apparently there is no WD40 in Germany) next to where Terry, Ria and Scott were sitting for an hour and half and you get the beginning of an idea. It is just the beginning.

Scott, Ria and Terry go to the gate attendant (I am lagging behind) and Terry is told she cannot take her carry on suitcase on – either it is too large (Not true) or she has three bags (one of which is a 6″ by 6″ purse which Terry says  she can put in her backpack. “No! You must check this bag” This is our 7th flight. Scott and Ria’s carry-ons are both larger than Terry’s and she told them they were ok. Nevertheless, the attendant gives Terry a paper tag and tells her to leave it with her colleague at the gate. Terry obliges. (I know, you know where this is going).

We get to Amsterdam – even in the rain it is much much nicer looking than Berlin. We wait at the baggage carousel – and wait and wait. No suitcase. We file a lost luggage report. Problem – because it was just a paper tag, it doesn’t get scanned into the system. There is no way to track it. They have to manually search for it. Great. They give us a file number so we can track the hunt online. Great. “Search is in progress. Please check back later” At 5:00 Terry phones and the woman reads her the online message. Great. At 6:30 an irate husband phones and gets a much better response. A very nice gentleman says he will look more closely into it, contact Berlin and get back to me. At 8:30 he calls to say they have located it and a courier will deliver it by 11:00. All’s well that ends well. Nope. I wait up until 11:45 – no courier, no suitcase. At 8:00 this morning Ria goes down to see if they have left it at the front door. No, but they have left this.

Even if Ria is of Dutch heritage, she can't read this.

Even if Ria is of Dutch heritage, she can’t read this.

I call the number and am told that a) perhaps the driver didn’t call because my number is not a Holland number and b) it will be delivered between 11 and 2 today. I tell him we only have 3 days in Amsterdam (ok, a little lie, but still…) and waiting isn’t how we want to spend one day. He says he’ll call the courier later – when the courier gets up. He calls the courier – now it will be between 2 and 7pm. I get upset and we finally agree to delivery between 7 and 11:30 tonight with a guarantee they will call me. 

I do want to be clear that the delivery debacle does not appear to be KLM’s fault – it is the courier. On the other hand the KLM attendant at the Berlin gate caused this because she was so – let’s just say – difficult.

And so we wait.

So there’s my morning rant. More on Amsterdam later.

*From the fantastic Leonard Cohen’s fantastic “First We Take Manhattan” I have wanted to use that line ever since we arrived in Berlin.

BCBG

Many of you, particularly the women among you, may believe that BCBG is a women’s fashion line. Not so. It actually stands for “Berlin: Cafes, Bars/Buildings, Graffiti”. There are more Cafes, Bars/Buildings and displays of Graffiti here than anywhere else we have travelled – and that includes Rome which I believed would never be beaten in that department.

Given the B is for Berlin, let’s start with the C.

After so many days of cold, miserable weather, it was certainly nice to find a city where a cactus could actually grow.

On the table at the Candy on the Bone deli.

On the table at the Candy on the Bone deli.

il Casolare is a local Italian restaurant which looked quite calm and desolate when we walked by during the day. When we arrived at 7 pm, it was a different story. Terry signalled a table for 4 – but she used both hands which was interpreted as 8. I wish I had had the camera ready for the guys’ reaction! It was priceless. The food was fantastic and the ambiance was even better. Service even beyond the ambiance.

Didn't matter if you were outside (left) or inside (right)

Didn’t matter if you were outside (left) or inside (right), it was packed.

They do know how to look after their clientele

Enough said...

Enough said…

B is for Buildings (It is also for Bars, of which we see hundreds on our daily walks, but we haven’t been up late enough to visit one)

Driving in from the airport, it was very very obvious that most, if not all, of Berlin had been destroyed in the war. There did not appear to be any of the old buildings we saw in London, Krakow, Prague or Budapest. What we did see were very new and modern. This was reinforced on the Hop On Hop Off bus tour (another bad idea – more in another post) where the guides just kept pointing out the new buildings.

A knife-edged new building

A knife-edged new building

A

I have never been to New York, but somehow this reminded me of the Empire State building

Terry and Ria in the Sony Centre. There is no angle or place to get a good photo of this incredible building.

Terry and Ria in the Sony Centre. There is no angle or place to get a good photo of this incredible building.

At the Sony Centre is a Lego Discovery Centre.

Check out the very cool cap

Check out the very cool cap

Right down to the tail feathers

Right down to the tail feathers

And now we come to the G – as in a Gargantuan amount of Graffiti. It ranges from the very artistic to the standard tagging. It must be frustrating to live in an area where no matter how often the walls are cleaned, the artists just come back. There seems to be a general rule among the graffiti artists not to deface each other’s work. You do see it occasionally but not often.

Graffiti1 Graffiti2 Graffiti3 Graffiti4

And now, moving away from BCBG (Ed note:  too bad he didn’t include a ‘D’ for dirty.  Really quite grubby, especially in the east with squatters and hippy-types living rough–‘No Pictures!’)

Obviously, you cannot come to Berlin without visiting The Wall. These are three photos of parts of the longest remaining stretch still standing – 1.6km. Right after it started to come down, artists from all of the world descended upon Berlin to paint it and they did – both sides. If you look at the top, you can see what appears to be a round pipe. This was the cap of the wall to prevent anyone from getting a handhold.

Wall2 Wall3 Wall4

At the bottom was an angled protrusion of about 4 feet which was designed to stop any car of trying to ram its way through.

Grabbed this photo off the internet to show what I mean

Grabbed this photo off the internet to show what I mean (post-gazette.com)

wall

Here’s a shock for you. The famous Checkpoint Charlie has changed.

Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie

From this

Taken from the west on October 26, 1961 when Russian and American tanks were facing each other down

Taken from the west in October 1961 when Russian and American tanks were facing each other down

to this

Faces of Dortmund Football Club in town for the national final (our grey cup - they lost) with American "soldiers" for a photo op

Fans of Dortmund Football Club in town for the national final (our Grey Cup – they lost) with American “soldiers” for a photo op

You have all heard helicopters flying overhead. You may have even seen them land on helipads. Bet you have never seen one land on a bridge in the middle of Berlin in the middle of the afternoon though.

We aren't sure, but we think this was some kind of medical emergency and due to the road traffic they didn't think an ambulance could get there (wherever there is) in time. Caused great excitement among the mostly muslim population in the area,

We aren’t sure, but we think this was some kind of medical emergency and due to the road traffic they didn’t think an ambulance could get there (wherever there is) in time. Caused great excitement among the mostly muslim population in the area,

The Shoe Blog

Why do I have a picture of chicken in the Shoe Blog? Well, it’s because of a story. Many of you have expressed that you were surprised I never got arrested or “involved” with anyone while I took my photos of shoes.

Just after we saw the helicopter land, we wandered into a semi-weekly Turkish market. I started to take photos of all the different things which were available – basil plants, cloths, perfume, and chicken. Just after I took the photo of the chicken, however, the guy behind the counter went a little nuts – okay, a lot nuts, on me. If you look on the right hand side of the photo, you can see a bag and a pair of hands. If you could see more, you could see she is wearing a burka. Taking a photo of a muslim woman is not a good idea. I don’t know exactly what he was saying to me, but I got the general idea and feeling that I should vacate the premises VERY quickly.Camera Fool

 

 

Bye Bye Budapest

Here we are – all done with Budapest. Did the obligatory Hop On Hop Off bus tour, visited the House of Terror (no time to explain – Hungarian Nazi and communist regimes), saw the castle (hey, remember when I said the hilly side of Prague was west of the river and the flat side was east of the river? Well, same same in Budapest – Buda=west=hilly, Pest=east=flat. Funny, huh.), climbed the 302 steps to the top of Saint Stefan Basilica (only church where Jesus is not the figure on the alter – it is Saint Stefan), saw Saint Stefan’s right hand – literally, ate in the Jewish quarter and saw a very unique musical duo, saw the Parliament Buildings, witnessed the most boring job in the world, saw the memorial to the Soviet Union, saw the memorial to General Bandholtz, shook hands with the star of Bedtime with Bonzo,  saw a unique cafe/bar, traveled on the first metro on the continent, rubbed a belly, ate incredible ice cream, went aaawww, saw shoes, and finally, slept.

Here we go.

This is Saint Stefan. He founded what was to become Hungary roughly 1100 years ago. He was made a saint when, after 20 years of being dead, his body was exhumed by his son and found to be naturally mummified and still entirely intact. Naturally, his body was cut up into parts and spread across the world – and why wouldn’t it. Luckily, the Magyars kept his right hand for future display.

Saint Stefan

Saint Stefan

Here’s that hand

When was the last time you saw the hand of a mummified saint?

When was the last time you saw the hand of a mummified saint?

From the top of Saint Stefan’s Basilica you get some fantastic views of Budapest. You also get a pretty cool look down.

Things are NOT spiralling out of control - yet.

Things are NOT spiralling out of control – yet.

So dinner in the Jewish Quarter. There are many many little restaurants and bars in the jewish Quarter. Although we didn’t visit one, they have “ruin bars” which are bars which popped up in the squares or courtyards of buildings which had been condemned over the years. They used to be very cheap, but as tourists moved in, locals moved out, prices went up – well, you know the story.

Anyway, we had dinner at Trattoria Gozsdu after being “pulled in” by a young woman who promised very good Italian food. She was right – the meal was fantastic, plus we met our first pleasant Hungarian. He was delightful. The best part though was when these two guys showed up to play. I’m sorry the photo didn’t turn out. There was a heat lamp on which totally skewed my iPhone camera. The two of them looked like they had just come from the gym. Big thighs, big biceps and lots of tats.

Guys

Then they started to play and sing.

Yes, we were pretty surprised too. They continued on in this vein for the rest of the time we were there. It was great fun.

The Hungarian Parliament Buildings are huge. They were built before Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory and people at the end of the First World War. It was built to mimic Westminster Buildings in London.

Spectacular

Spectacular

In front of the buildings is the national flag and pole. At the base of it are two soldiers who march in tandem around it.

Round and round and round they go. It takes 1:14 seconds to do one rotation. Can you say tedious? mind-numbing?

Round and round and round they go. It takes 1:14 seconds to do one rotation. Can you say tedious? mind-numbing?

We also saw the memorial to the Soviet Union erected by the communists in honour of  the Soviet Union prior to the collapse of communism. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for it still to be here since the Hungarians hate the Soviets. There is a rumour the Russians own the ground it is on, so it can’t be officially removed.

Gotta love memorials to yourself.

Gotta love memorials to yourself.

Just down the road was a memorial to U.S. General Harry Bandholtz. After the First World War, the Romanians were all set to plunder the Hungarian treasury and remove all the gold. General Bandholtz took a half dozen soldiers over to the entrance to the treasury and essentially said “No, it will not happen.” They built this to honour him – apparently this was the pose he struck at the door.

"I simply carried out the instructions of my government, as I understood them, as an officer and a gentleman of the United States Army."

“I simply carried out the instructions of my government, as I understood them, as an officer and a gentleman of the United States Army.”

I got to meet my cinematic and political hero – the star of Bedtime with Bonzo

Just me and Ronnie...

Just me and Ronnie…

Interesting combination

The letters on the sign are made from some kind of indoor/outdoor carpetting.

The letters on the sign are made from some kind of indoor/outdoor carpetting.

We travelled on the oldest metro on the continent. Many of the stations are still original from 1896 when it was built. 1896 was the celebration of their millennium as a nation – remember old Saint Stefan?

The original subway tiles.

The original subway tiles.

Terry met an old time policeman.

Rub his tummy for luck

Rub his tummy for luck

Had some uniquely created ice cream

A rose of chocolate chili and basil lemon sorbet. I want more!

A rose of chocolate chili and wanna cotta and salted caramel. I want more!

We came across the model for RCA Victor’s “His Master’s Voice”

Aaaawwww...

Aaaawwww…

We found another Toni and Guy for cool haircuts and colouring – just for you Mary

Remember Shanghai, Mary

Jennifer, oh Jennifer.

On a much more sombre note, we saw a memorial to some of the Jewish people in Budapest. Toward the end of the war, the Russians were advancing and the Nazis realised that the mass deportation of the Jews was not going to be effective. Instead, they took them down to the banks of the Danube and shot them, pushing their bodies into the river.

So sad

Men, women and children – so sad

And so we return to the far, far less serious.

By the time we got to the Budapest Airport on Thursday morning, we – well, one of us, were tuckered right out.

“Man is a genius when he is dreaming.” ― Akira Kurosawa

“Man is a genius when he is dreaming.”
― Akira Kurosawa

 

Next up: Berlin

 

 

 

Buda Pest – A Tale of Two Cities

Buda – from Bleda, brother of Attilla the Hun and Pest either from Pession – a Roman fortress or the Bulgarian word for cave. No wonder they have such a violent history. Now you know.

Well here we are in Budapest, Hungary. If anyone had told us 16, 10, 5, 1 year ago that we would find ourselves freezing on the banks of the “Blue” Danube in May of 2016, we would likely have guffawed at and even mocked them.  Alas, they would have been correct.

First, the average daily temperature is supposed to be 21°. Hah! We arrived late Friday night: Sat. 19° with rain, Sun. 14° with wind which made if feel like -10°, Mon. 14°, Tues. 15°, Wed. 13°. We have not been warm. Jan and Peter were here 11 months ago and it was over 25°

Saturday we wandered down the “Blue” (maybe it is blue when the sun shines and the sky is blue – we wouldn’t know.) We found ourselves at the huge central market which sells, as far as I could tell, paprika, meat, vegetables, Hungarian crafts and, did I mention, paprika.

There were many, many many stalls which sold paprika - and yes, these are all containers of paprika.

There were many, many, many stalls which sold paprika – and yes, these are all containers of paprika. (Did I say many stalls?)

We had planned on getting something to eat at the market, but the stall restaurants were so busy, it would have been easier to move on Nanjing Road East during National Holiday. So we went across the street to the For Sale pub – really, that is its name. Apparently they have the best goulash in Budapest. It is a throwback to the days of straw and peanut shells on the floor. Although, in Hungary they are not called peanuts, they are called monkey nuts and they come in large containers.

For Sale

Not to worry, that is only my debit card

Not to worry, that is only my debit card

Ria wanted just a light lunch so she order salad and a little fried cheese.

It came with rice...

Those three patties are the cheese, but it did come with rice…

The two men at the next table ordered a “Mixed Salad” to go with their plated meal.

Mixed Salad: Whole onions, whole peppers, stuffed peppers, dill pickles, olives, sauerkraut, cauliflower and the kitchen sink...

Mixed Salad: Whole onions, whole peppers, stuffed peppers, dill pickles, olives, sauerkraut, cauliflower and the kitchen sink… That bowl is 6″ deep and 10″ across.

The Hungry Threesome weren't so hungry after lunch.

The Hungry Threesome weren’t so hungry after lunch.

Sunday we took the Hop On Hop Off bus. To say that it was an adventure is to understate the case. Before we embarked on that adventure, however, we visited Starbucks, where I experienced a morale dilemma.

I was sitting there, minding my own business when I saw this fellow get up from a table near the door and get in the typical long Starbucks’ line. He picked two pounds of coffee off the shelf, exclaimed “frustration” at the length of time it was taking him to pay and walked back to his table, where I saw him put the bags into his backpack. He saw me see him and then kept looking to see if I was going to do anything. After fifteen minutes of inactivity on my part, he got back into line, took another pound, expressed his frustration, shoved it under his jacket and went back and sat down. What would you have done? As I left, I looked him straight in the eye and shook my head. He didn’t react – just looked at me as if to say “You do what you do to survive.”

My moral dilemma - say something or ignore it

My moral dilemma – say something or ignore it

And now on to the bus tour. It was the least entertaining and informative bus tour we have ever taken. It was also the coldest. The wind was bitter. H.ow bitter? Wait

Now, if I was an intelligent traveller I would check things out before buying tickets. For example

Look closely at the yellow square

Look closely at the yellow square

Now…

Time to get off

Time to get off

Since all their buses were already out, if you wanted to continue you had to wait at least 30 minutes before the next one came along, and, because it was a holiday, it was going to be packed even before our bunch could get on. We walked.

Eventually we caught another one and continued on. We headed for the Castle District. On the way, the tour bus told us that the statue of Saint Gerard was there because in 1046 he had rolled down the hill and died. Actually, marauding hordes put him in a barrel, nailed it shut and rolled it down the cascading waters. Maybe the tour company didn’t want to offend the marauding hordes.

Gallant Hill is named after Saint Gerard. Huh?

Gellart Hill is named after Saint Gerard. Huh?

And somewhere in the Castle District Terry spied this sculpture.

I hope this wasn't a real queen. The sculptor/painter might have been shot for this likeness.

I hope this wasn’t a real queen. The sculptor might have been shot for this likeness.

By the time we were ready to leave the Castle District we had bought someone a red hoodie to make give her a fifth layer. She was either hoping to be incognito or was trying to stop her eyes from freezing.

Who's cold?

Who’s cold?

The Shoe Blog

Again we wander from one part of the body to another. Now, I want you to know that Terry, not Geoff, took this photo of a 4 story high billboard. Many thoughts come to mind.

  1. The model is much too young to need Magic Boost
  2. Does this mother really dress like this to pack her son around?
  3. The kid is looking waayyy too happy for someone his age.

Magic Boost

 

 

Sights and Sounds of Prague

Are three days enough to see Prague? No, but they are enough to get a good perspective on the tourist “corridor”, and we certainly covered that. These are likely the high points of any trip to Prague. It is interesting that the west side of the Vitava River it is very hilly and on the east quite flat. This made walking much easier on the east side, which is where we did most of our sight-seeing.

Map

No visit to Prague is complete without a visit to see a troll. This guy was just around the corner from where we were staying. Surprisingly, he was much much friendlier than the wait staff. (We are finding the “friendliness” an ongoing point of interest. Generally, there isn’t any.) We had a drink there on our last afternoon – 3 glasses of wine and a beer. After the server delivered the two whites, Scott volunteered to hand me my red. “NO! DO NOT TOUCH!” was her response.

He's cute though

He’s cute though

Also around the corner was what appeared to be an old time beer hall. There is no whining about smoking in here – consider yourself at the mercy of the smokers.

No Whining!

No Whining! We Smoke!

What are the odds? We saw this bride posing on the steps just outside our place while we were having lunch on our first day. A couple of hours later, there she was again, waltzing across the Charles Bridge (Karlovy Most) – this time with the groom.

wedding

And one more beautiful woman crossing he Vitava.
Terry

On a wandering day, Terry and I came across these sculptures. We came up from behind them and they look just like three crawling babies – until you see the “faces” . Then they are just down right creepy.
babies
Terry1

This is the door to the Spanish embassy. Now it is an interesting door, to be sure. However what is more interesting is that it is next door to  the U.S. embassy. There is a sign in front of the the American one saying “No Photos Allowed” and before you can drive past their embassy, your car is stopped, a guy with a mirror checks under it and you are asked a couple of questions. There are also a couple of heavy weight (literally) guards out front. (More on American embassies in a later post.)

Spain

A shot of the four of us in front of the Prague Castle, first established around 880.A.D. It was a cloudy day so the colours didn’t come out well.

Retro

This is a cool building and this is how they got that look. 1. Paint the entire building black. 2. Paint the entire building white or cream. 3. Scrape away the white which covers the black and which results in the pattern. A work of art? A work of tediousness? A work of a hell of a lot of labour!

Building

A few more examples of works of something.

Building 1 Etch 1 Etch 3

And here is a different kind of art. “Once a normal wall, since the 1980s this wall has been filled with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and pieces of lyrics from Beatles’ songs. In 1988, this wall was a source of irritation for the communist regime of Gustáv Husák. Young Czechs would write grievances on the wall and, in a report of the time, this led to a clash between hundreds of students and security police on the nearby Charles Bridge. The movement these students followed was described ironically as “Lennonism“.” (from Wikipedia)

Lennon1

 

Lennon

Just a little more bizarre art. Who knew penguins were on the march?

Penguins

Finally, from the art world, Nota Bene is not just a fantastic B.C. wine.

Nota

If you ever find yourself in Prague and on the west side of the Charles Bridge, looking for a quaint restaurant just below the bridge, look over the side and you will see the Cafe Marnice. Wander down and check it out – and then quickly leave. Bad food, bad service, bad prices. Consider yourself warned.

Cate Marnice

On the other hand, Ria and Scott did enjoy the wine.

(But when haven't they?)

(But then again, when haven’t they?)

However, if you find yourself near the “Lennon Wall” and looking for some fantastic tapas, check out el Centro. This guy was happy before AND after lunch.
Geoff

This was followed by incredible tomato and cheese topped aubergine.

Tomato bruschetta, olives and anchovies followed by a terrific hot tomato and cheese topped aubergine.

Didn’t get here, but looks like it would be a great place.
BoozeBar

Prague is FULL of churches and they all seem to host classical music concerts of one type or another every evening – all one hour long and all starting at different times in the evening – 5, 6, 6:30, 7 and 8 pm. We were at the Cathedral of St. Clement.

Vivaldi

Lenka Dandova sang two variations of Ave Maria – both fantastic.

The guy behind her on the cello was a riot. He really got into the music, bopping and shaking his head. I think he also had something going with the first violinist since they were always smiling and winking at each other.

The guy behind her on the cello was a riot. He really got into the music, bopping and shaking his head. I think he also had something going with the first violinist since they were always smiling and winking at each other.

These are just the bones of some nun, apparently.

Is that you, Sister Mary Margaret?

Is that you, Sister Mary Margaret?

The view of Prague from the Petrin Tower – also called the Eiffel Tower as it was built just after the original and is apparently a small copy. 302 steps to the top.

Prague

Finally, this is for Lorna. Keep in mind, now, we are 30,000 feet up and that’s the propeller you are seeing. Enjoy.

The Shoe Blog

Okay, this has only a little to do with shoes but it’s tough in Europe -I’m more likely to wind up in jail, I think.

shoe

Nothing But Beauty

We are as far away from the horror which was Auschwitz as one can imagine. It may only be 461 km – but it may as well be a million miles away. I was fortunate enough to be in Prague in 1990 or 1991, just after the fall of Communism. Ever since then, I have felt that if it had not been under that particular rule, it would have been the most beautiful city in Europe. This trip has confirmed that view. I have been fortunate to visit many major cities – London, Edinburgh, Paris, Rome, Florence, Venice, Vienna, Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Krakow and, of course, all those cities in Southeast Asia. In my mind there is no comparison.

Prague is called the city of 100 spires and at the bottom of each of those spires is a beautiful piece of architecture. Every turn in every lane we traversed over the past 4 days brought us another magnificent building. Don’t believe me? Here are 12 photos taken over a two hour period on our first morning.

Building 1Building 2Building 3Building 4Building 5Building 6Building 7Building 8Building 9Building 10Building 11Building 12

Anyone want to argue?

More on the morrow, folks. Off to bed now – in Budapest!

Our Time In Poland

This is not a post which will entertain you. Our visit to this corner of Poland, on the whole, is not one you could describe as enjoyable. It was one which filled us with a sense of sadness bordering on despair. We ask the same question millions have asked over the years – How could any sane person have allowed the Holocaust to occur? How could intelligent, rational people not rise up and say “This is wrong”. I know that communications are different now than they were 70 years ago, that the Nazis resettled people from the immediate area of concentration and death camps  (they are different) in order to commit their despicable acts away from prying eyes, that even those who may have suspected could never have imagined the scope of the killings. But still, how  could the guards, the German officials and others involved not have rebelled at the inhumanity?

(As you read this, it may be you notice some adjectives or adverbs over-used. I apologize, but sometimes those are the only words which work.)

It is difficult to describe our time in Poland. On one hand we visited a lovely old Polish city, had some good food and a fantastic time at a fantastic restaurant. If you find yourself in Krakow, be sure to go to Pod Baranem on Gertrudy Street, renowned as the finest Polish restaurant in Krakow. We had lovely accommodation in a 400 year old apartment building and visited a lively, vibrant market with wonderful aromas, goods and beer.

On the other hand, we visited Oskar Schindler’s factory as well as Auschwitz-Birkenau. Strangely, it seemed to be the visit to the factory which evoked the most emotion. On reflection, for Terry and I it is perhaps because we had visited the killing fields of Cambodia which may have inured us to the horrors of Aushwitz-Birkenau. This is not to say that we weren’t moved or emotionally affected, but rather, either sadly or fortunately, we weren’t as affected as we might have otherwise been.

There aren’t a lot of words to describe the three memorials. Perhaps a few photos will convey a sense of the sadness and inhumanity.

First off, on Sunday afternoon we found the factory. These are taken from the displays there. It was overwhelming, to say the very least. They provide a minimal description of what happened in Krakow and elsewhere in Poland.
University


Lodz Poles

Sign 2

Sign 1

On Monday we travelled to Auschwitz-Birkenau by bus – 70 minutes in some comfort. I could not help but think of what that trip would have been like 73 years ago.

This memorial contains the ashes of some of the victims.

This memorial contains the ashes of some of the victims.

Quotes from senior Third Reich officials

Rid the Nation Total ExterminationAs we all have learned over the years, the Nazis were incredibly organised and collected everything – and I mean everything. In Birkenau, there were huge warehouses which the inhabitants of the camp referred to as Canada I, II and III. They were call Canada because it was believed that not only was Canada was a land full of riches, it was a safe and welcoming country. These warehouses contained all of the riches and belongings taken from the prisoners.

Suitcases with the addresses of where the owner thought he or she was going.

Suitcases with the addresses of where the owner thought he or she was going.

Thousands upon thousands of shoes

Thousands upon thousands of shoes

The pots and pans the Jewish people had taken with them, thinking they were being resettled to another town.

Some of the pots and pans the Jewish people had taken with them, thinking they were being resettled to another town.

Prosthetics taken from the infirm after they had been killed in the gas chambers

Prosthetics taken from the infirm after they had been killed in the gas chambers

Brush of every description

Brushes of every description

Cans of creams and shoe polish

Cans of creams and shoe polish

Believing they would stile allowed to practice their religion, many took their prayer shawls with them

Believing they would still be allowed to practice their religion, many took their prayer shawls with them

A canister of Zyklon-B

A canister of Zyklon-B – previously used as a rat poison.

When the Nazis built Birkenau as an addition to Auschwitz (a 10 minute bus ride away), they built 5 crematoriums which could accommodate the killing of 2000 people at a time. Zyklon-B reacts to heat, so the more people who could be forced into the chambers the faster it would work. Women, children and the infirm were forced in first, followed by “healthy” males, since they would be strong enough to push the others further in. Thousands suffocated even before the 20 minutes it took the gas to kill them.

The ruins of Crematorium #2

The ruins of Crematorium #2. When the Russians were advancing in the last days of the war, the Nazis attempted to destroy all evidence of their atrocities. Within two weeks of the end of the war, the Polish government recognised the need to keep the camps intact as much as possible.

One of the cattle cars used to transport people to Birkenau

One of the original cattle cars used to transport people to Birkenau

Looking back from inside the camp to the entrance to Birkenau. At this point people were taken from the cattle cars and put through the selection process

Looking back from inside the camp to the entrance to Birkenau. At this point people were taken from the cattle cars and put through the selection process

The gallon where Rudolf Hoss, the commandant of Auschwitz, was hanged. I don't understand why he wasn't put in a gas chamber to suffer the same death he caused over 1,130,000 people to suffer

The gallows where Rudolf Hoss, the commandant of Auschwitz, was hanged. I don’t understand why he wasn’t put in a gas chamber to suffer the same death he caused over 1,130,000 people to suffer

The memorial to the people who were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau

The memorial to the people who were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

We came away with many more stories, photos and information than this brief post. At one point during the tour of Auschwitz, I suddenly stopped taking pictures. I experienced an overwhelming sense that in taking the photographs, it was an affront to the dignity of those who had lost their lives to this evil. This was an experience none of us will ever forget.

Catching Up

Today is Sunday and we are now in Krakow, Poland and Scott and Ria have joined us. Seems surreal to be here. Who would have thought that when the four of us met on the 7th tee at the 2001 Husband and Wife tournament at Pitt Meadows and discovered we lived 6 doors apart, that just under 15 years later we would be here? Yes, surreal is definitely the word.

Anyway a quick tour of our last two days in London.

This was our walk on Day 5. My Pacer app said it was just over 22,000 steps.

Add to this an hour of walking around Westminster Abbey, an hour of walking around the Victoria and Albert Museum and you get two very tired people at the end of the day.

Add to this an hour of walking around Westminster Abbey, an hour of walking around the Victoria and Albert Museum and you get two very tired people at the end of the day.

The sights

Lunch at Cafe Brindisa – Finest olives we have ever tasted.

Charcuterie, Olives, Bread and Oil and 2 glasses of Sauvignon Blanc. A meal fir for an outdoor cafe

Charcuterie, Olives, Bread and Oil and 2 glasses of Sauvignon Blanc. A meal fit for an outdoor cafe

Then we were off to the Victoria and Albert Museum

An original Mary Quant dress - creator of the mini-skirt

An original Mary Quant dress – creator of the mini-skirt

A couple of pairs of shoes which prove what goes around, comes around.

Plarforms Sandals

And for the wine lovers out there…

Now this is a wine serving set.

Now this is a wine serving set.

Terry and a very very dusty Chihuly sculpture. We saw this 15 years ago when we first came to London and it sparkled. Not so much today, though

A tired Terry (and at this point we are less than halfway through our walk) and a very very dusty Chihuly sculpture. We saw this 15 years ago when we first came to London and it sparkled. Not so much today, though

Hired help only

Hired help only

On our walk we stopped in to view this exhibition. Since no photos were allowed it was perhaps the definition of irony

... or maybe hypocrisy

… or maybe hypocrisy

In Kensington Gardens we came across the Albert Memorial. I always thought Queen Victoria had all these memorials created because of her love for Prince Albert. Maybe not so much

Perhaps the most garish memorial ever created

Perhaps the most garish memorial ever created. Recently they spent 11 million pounds to refurbish it. I don’t know if the “they” was the government or the royal family.

and right across the street

One of the finest concert halls in the world.

Royal Albert Hall – one of the finest concert venues in the world.

We didn’t see Kate and Wills but it is a beautiful spot.

Kensington Palace and the front garden

Kensington Palace and the front garden

My apologies for the invasion of their privacy, but this was just too good to ignore.

How do they do this? They were sound asleep.

How do they do this? They were sound asleep.

The next three photos are of the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. It is difficult to see, but it is a ring with various mini fountains spurting up water with different textures and widths of channels to create a great place for kids to play in. Why anyone would have put a sign there asking people not to walk in it is beyond me. (Ok, maybe it’s a legal thing, but still.) It is the perfect play place for kids and from I read about her, something the Princess would have wanted kids to do.

Diana Diana 1 Diana 2

 

A very cool looking tree in Hyde Park

A very cool looking tree in Hyde Park

So that was it – Day 5, Thursday.

Day 6 Friday

After our 22,257 paces, 16.2 Kms on Thursday we took a day of rest.

We cruised up the Thames for 1 1/2 hours to Kew Gardens.  We passed under 11 bridges, one of which was the Albert Bridge (named after you know who).

The Albert Bridge

The Albert Bridge

Here’s a quiz for you. Which band used this as a backdrop on which album?

Hint: Battersea Power Station

Hint: It’s the Battersea Power Station

There were several homes with impressive wysteria on the walk to the gardens from the boat dock. This was just one of the impressive ones.

Wysteria on a house

Wysteria on a house

I think we called these Bleeding Hearts when I was a kid. Interesting fact about the DNA

I think we called these Bleeding Hearts when I was a kid. Interesting fact about the DNA.

The treewalk is an elevated walk about ten feet below the treetops. It is 104 steps up from the ground - That is 34 feet. Very cool.

The treewalk is an elevated walk about ten to twenty feet below the treetops. It is 104 steps up from the ground – That is 34 feet. Very cool.

These provide all sorts of information along the walk.

These provide all sorts of information along the walk. – “tree roots are twice as wide as the tree is tall but only a metre deep”

This is a swamp cypress and those nodules are all roots

This is a swamp cypress and those nodules are all roots

Terry in a rhododendron tree

Terry in a rhododendron tree

We saw this sign at the airport as we were leaving.

Could someone, anyone at all please explain the logic, relationship or whatever else it may be to me. Please.

Could someone, anyone, anyone at all please explain the logic, relationship or whatever else it may be to me. Please.

And, almost finally, in the 6 days we were in London, according to the Pacer app on my phone, Terry and I walked 103,220 paces or 83.5 kilometres in the roughly 96 hours we were awake. No wonder our feet hurt.

Last, but far from least, here are 3 minutes of the Queen tribute. If you watch it, please be aware that there are 20 seconds in the middle (2:00 – 2:20) which are a little blurry, but then it clears up again. Please enjoy. We did.

The Shoe Blog

These could DEFINITELY be found in modern day China

These could DEFINITELY be found in modern day China

Our next posts will be written in Prague about Krakow, Oskar Schindler’s Factory, Auschwitz and Birkenau.