Friday, November 11, 2011

Copenhagen

November 5th
The train went all the way east to Berlin during the night, before heading north to Copenhagen, so it ended up being a 16-hour ride!  Luckily we were able to sleep through half of it!  We found a café with internet (we highly recommend Barossa coffee shops) and looked for a room in town that wouldn’t force us to mortgage our house or take Lindsey out of college to work in the salt mines.  We finally managed to find a room for $115 at a new youth hostel.  The Generator Hostels began in Berlin and are now spreading across Europe.  It was clean and relatively quiet – with simple and functional design.

We dropped our bags in our room and then went out for a walk.  Unfortunately, we didn’t put on quite enough clothes for our walk in blustery coastal weather so we shivered our way through some parks and then the star-shaped citadel before heading back to our room to put on more clothes!  After all, it is November in Scandinavia and we are heading even farther north!

Picnic in the park - note cheese and wine!
View outside Citadel.  The Little Mermaid (not shown) is on the coast to the left.
Copenhagen Harbor
Every country has some wonderfully unique things.  In Copenhagen we were struck by the large carriers on the fronts of bikes - hauling children, groceries, and pets!

Danish family transportation
And the other thing we noticed (but perhaps it was because it was a Saturday and the Friday night partying had been extreme) was that Copenhagen wasn't as clean as other European cities we have visited...

Ever present 7-11 with more trash than we are used to.
Of course, the beautiful statues in the parks are a better remembrance of Copenhagen than the wind-blown garbage in the streets.  And there was a much smaller "Occupy" movement - perhaps because it was colder and/or the citizens are overall quite happy!

Valkyrie on her horse
Last evening shot of Copenhagen's favorite coffee shop.

Coffee and free internet - a great combination!
Tomorrow we take the train to Oslo!  The adventure continues...

Amsterdam, again


November 3rd and 4th
From Brussels we took a late afternoon train to Amsterdam. We had done a Priceline bid and gotten a 4-star hotel near the train station for a decent price.  Of course it had advertised free internet but it turned out that was only if we upgraded our room to a more expensive one!  We dropped our bags and went out for dinner.  It was already dark, but Amsterdam had many of the downtown streets decorated with lights.  One street had white bells, another street sported red packages.  It was lovely.  And when we stroll along the canals we agree that Amsterdam is the most beautiful city in the world.

Day view of typical Amsterdam canal
Of course, Amsterdam is also known for its tolerance of marijuana (in controlled establishments) and prostitution.  We accidentally ended up in the maze of small alleys with scantily clad ladies in the windows under the glow of the red lights.  You could literally window shop for sex.  A closed curtain meant the action was taking place right in this small room off the street.  Of course it was awkward and depressing, and I was glad when we escaped the maze.  I think I had been holding my breath as we walked by because I was so uncomfortable.

Sorry, no pictures of the red light district for you!  I did look up the origin of the term red light district and there were some interesting stories.  I'll leave it to you to do your own research though!

The bright side of this tolerance is that it extends to a tolerance for gay and lesbian relationships, as well as religious tolerance.  Amsterdam is home to a large synagogue from 1671.  Jews were well-integrated into the business and social life of Amsterdam until the Nazi’s invaded in May of 1940, and then it became dangerous.  We toured the Anne Frank house; established as a memorial, but more importantly as a place of education.  The Anne Frank institute has branches in many countries to educate people on religious tolerance.  Otto Frank, Anne’s father, was the only one to survive the war, and they had video clips of him speaking about Anne.  The entire exhibit was well done and extremely moving.

We also found the Houseboat Museum that we had missed last time, but I was content to just view the outside of the houseboats.  I was envious of this man reading a book on his houseboat in that area.

Find the lucky man - reading on his houseboat in the sun
Darrell’s grandfather on his mother’s side had furniture stores in Essen and Cologne/Köln, Germany as well as in Amsterdam prior to the rise of the Nazi’s, so we went to the city archives to see if we could find some information on his furniture store and where it had been located.  We followed one lead from an old telephone book, and an archivist then typed the information into the computer so we could get more complete records.  The lead didn’t pan out and we ended up without any information, but we were so impressed with the quality and quantity of data available in these archives.  If we had more information to begin with I think we could actually get somewhere!

We toured the Van Gogh museum and a photographic museum called FOAM when we were here in August with Lindsey.  We also took a canal cruise then.  So this time we just walked a lot!  We also took advantage of the free exhibit at the architecture institute.

Architecture Institute reflecting older buildings
We walked up the steps to the children’s science museum where we could get views over town, and took photos of the tall ships that were part of the maritime museum.  Recall that the Dutch had the Dutch East India Company and were world traders, so I'm sure there was lots of great history in this museum, but the weather was so nice we just wanted to soak in the views.

Tall ship - part of the Maritime Museum
On our way back to the train station, we stopped at a café on a bridge over a canal to have some Dutch cheese and beer.

Mindy fantasizing about a life in Amsterdam.
Our last stop was to see the "Occupy Amsterdam" encampment.  You can see by the lady in the front, that this is not just a movement of the youth here either!

Occupy Amsterdam
One of the perks of our Eurail Pass is that we are eligible for some of the train lounges.  This was fantastic because we could have a glass of wine along with checking our e-mail before boarding the train.  From the outside, the train looked like it was Cold War era, and it was ultimately headed to Moscow, adding to the ambience.  But the bunks were comfortable, and there was a table you could set up inside the compartment.  It was wonderful to turn off the cabin lights and open the window shade so we could watch the world go by as we traversed the nighttime Netherlands...

Louvain-la-neuve and Brussels

November 2nd and 3rd
From Köln we took a late-afternoon train the few hours to Brussels and then transferred to the smaller town of Louvain-la-Neuve.  There is an original Louvain, but the University kicked out the French speakers, so they formed their own community and university!  Belgium is quite divided between the Flemish and the French speakers – in fact, some want to divide the country into two.  So, in the early 70’s, the displaced French Belgians designed their own university and town and named it The New Louvain.  It was designed after a medieval village so all the buildings are stone and none of the streets are straight.  They also created different elevations with ramps and steps joining them and made much of it a pedestrian city.  The university is fully integrated into this small town.  They preserved woods near the town and put trails through it.  Our hotel was actually accessed via a ten-minute walk throught the woods!  Very nice.

Walking through the woods to our hotel
Darrell met with Hughes, a climate modeler, and his students.  He gave a presentation with about 30 interested people attending, including an emeritus professor whose work on Milankovich cycles have been cited by Darrell for most of his career.  It is so great to put faces to names you have known for so long!

Then, we met Hughes and two of his students for a Belgian dinner at a very nice restaurant.  The chef seemed to have a flair for fusion cuisine, but we had some traditional Belgian fair.  The “taster” – in French I think it is called the “small mouth” - was scallops and mussels prepared ceviche style in a small glass.  Then we shared an appetizer called croquettes du crevette – which was a shrimp dish wrapped in bread crumbs and deep-fried.  Darrell also tried Hughes snails – but I wasn’t that brave!  For dinner, Darrell had a local fish, and I had “faison”, which they translated as pheasant – but which I think was a kind of hooved game animal.  I couldn't find a translation for it, so maybe someone can help me here!  Whatever it was, it was delicious.  I was too full for dessert but I had a bit of Darrell’s crème du brulée on some pasta rosettes.  Amazing.

The next morning, we weren’t in a big rush so I took a run along the trails in the woods while Darrell did some work.  Then we walked into town and picked up some coffee and croissants to eat on the train to Brussels.  It is great to only pay 2 euros (about $2.50 now) for a cup of coffee and a croissant after the prices in Switzerland where it would have been at least double and probably triple that cost!

We only got to see a bit of Brussels, concentrating on the oldest parts of course.  The number one spot is Le Grand Place, a central square surrounded by many ornate buildings including the city hall and many guild buildings.  While this was a market with buildings from the 13th century, the buildings were rebuilt after war damage in the late 17th century and then refurbished in the 19th century.  Le Grand Place is a UNESCO world heritage site and is considered the most beautiful plaza in the world!

Darrell in front of just one small section of Le Grand Place
Even after months here, we can't get over how many highly-decorated buildings there are - no matter where you go in Europe!  How could there have been so many stone masons, sculptors, glass makers, painters, etc. as you would need to have made all these places - even given several hundreds of years?  And then of course, inside the buildings, are paintings, sculptures, candelabras, etc.  Coming from a Midwest background where having a bay window was pretty darn fancy, it is difficult to comprehend the elaborate nature of so many buildings in Europe!

Another delight in Brussels is chocolate and other sweet treats.  Here are two last photos celebrating food!

Window display designed to make us drool
Darrell and Lady Godiva!

Cologne/ Köln

November 1st
Our night-train from Vienna arrived in Köln around 9 a.m.  The train station opens up right to the Cathedral.  According to wikipedia: Cologne Cathedral was built between 1248 and 1880. It is 144.5 metres (474 ft) long, 86.5 m (284 ft) wide and its towers are approximately 157 m (515 ft) tall.  The cathedral is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe and has the second tallest spire and largest façade of any church in the world.

It was so tall I couldn’t get a picture of the entire cathedral, but here is an image showing the modern architecture of Köln next to the Gothic architecture of the cathedral.

Modern imitating Old
We also climbed up 533 steps to the top of one of the towers in the Cathedral.  And that was on our slightly sore legs from our hike with Sabina!

View inside tower
We hoped to do some research in Köln, as Darrell’s mother lived in a Jewish orphanage here from about the age of 10 until just before immigrating with her mother to the United States just before her 12th birthday in 1939.  Her father had owned three furniture stores, including one in Köln, prior to the Nazi regime, but then he immigrated to Milwaukee with Lenore's older brother before Lenore and her mother were able to leave.  She doesn’t have many memories of Köln, though she said she had been to the cathedral.  And she remembers Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, when all the Jewish-owned businesses and the synagogues were destroyed, November 12th, 1939.  Her view then was of Nazi boots from the ground where she had been thrown down.

Unfortunately, we didn't get to do as much research as we hoped because it was a holiday.  Another strike against us was that the archives, some of the best in Europe, had all been jumbled up when the building they were in collapsed into a subway tunnel.  They are working to get the archives back up, but they are not in business for now.

 So we toured the old part of the city, especially enjoying the waterfront.

Houses by the waterfront
After a picnic of our usual bread and cheese on a bench by the Rhine, we ended up at the Chocolate Museum, crowded with tourists even in November.
Chocolate fountain with view of Rhine in background

Chocolate robot trying to keep up with world demand!
We walked to the Jewish quarter where there was an active archaeologic dig.  They were also building a 7,000 m2 museum to house the results of the excavation including the oldest Jewish synagogue in Europe, including the ritual baths, plus the earlier Roman ruins it was built on.

Excavation of Jewish and Roman ruins
Just before catching our late-afternoon train to Brussels, we found a museum dedicated to understanding the National Socialism (Nazi) movement in Köln and honoring the Jews that suffered and died.  We didn't have time to see the museum, and their research library was closed due to the holiday, but we searched through some materials they had at the front desk to learn more about Köln during the war.  So, it wasn’t an entirely satisfying day in terms of research, but we were glad to see a little bit of where Darrell’s mother lived for some time…

Vienna, the "frosting" of Europe

October 31st
We caught the first train out of Klagenfurt before 6 a.m. on Monday morning so we could have as long as possible in Vienna.  We loved Vienna.  We made two different café stops there so we could sample the coffee and incredible pastries!

A sweet view of Vienna!
The pastries are as fancy as the Baroque buildings.  The buildings sort of look lie decorated cakes – so the pastries and the buildings are both exquisitely ornate.  Not tacky or ostentatious – but elaborately decorative.

One of the gorgeous buildings in Vienna.
We first went to the Albertina Gallery where they had the Monet and Picasso exhibit as well as their usual art.  All of it was amazing.

Albertina Gallery
Then we used the walking guide on the map to find our way around the city and see as many historic places as we could.  We ran across an ice skating rink that reminded us of Lindsey, our own figure skater!

Ice skating in Vienna
We also saw one of Lindsey's favorite stores, Viennese style.

Shopping in Vienna
The last image leaves you with the flavor of Vienna in gelato, statues and the reflection of a building!

What a glorious day!



Klagenfurt, Austria

October 28, 2011
We woke up at 5 am – actually I’d been awake since 4:15 after falling asleep after midnight – to finish our last packing and cleaning (and e-mailing for Darrell) before leaving our sweet apartment at 23 Centralweg in the Lorraine District of Bern.  We left a little later than planned and ended up running to catch the train.  Not a great start to our trip – and hopefully the last time we have to do that for our trip!

It was hard to leave Bern as it is such a nice city to be in.  Especially with the changing colors of the leaves, and the changing mood of the River Aare…  I don’t think a day ever went by where I didn’t take a walk or a run along the river.

Our first stop with our one-month Eurail Pass is to Klagenfurt, Austria – where I met Sabina Kropfitsch 34 plus years ago!  I was 19 – she was 18 – and we met at her Grandmother’s farm where I went with another "Carl" named Marty.  His family had hosted Janko, Sabina's uncle, as an AFS student and he wanted to pay the family a visit.  Hence, Klagenfurt!

Darrell checking out how the train seats turn into a bed!
Sabina met us on the platform at the train station and took us to our hotel.  Then we had a lovely dinner at Sabina’s house.  She and her daughter Lea made us vegetarian lasagna, a beautiful salad, and an amazing raspberry fluff dessert.  Sabina invited Janko and his wife Christa as well as her mother Janja (who lives downstairs in the same building) and we had a wonderful time visiting and having memories of so long ago!

October 29, 2011
On Saturday, Sabina picked us up at 10 am and we went to the farmer’s market right by our hotel.  Then she took us to a medieval fort, Burg Hochosterwitz, built high on a hill.  The path that wound up the mountain to the fort at the top had numerous gates with towers and then a gate with a drawbridge near the top – so it would have been tough for anyone to get there unseen.

View of Burg Hochosterwitz from a distance.


It turned out Sabina had a connection with the tour guide at the fort so he gave us a private tour in English!  We saw lots of medieval armory – including the oldest cannon in Austria.  We weren’t supposed to take pictures inside – but I really wanted one of this amazing armor they had for a knight that was 3.25 meters tall.  The armor looked like it would have fit Hagrid!  It was so impressive.  He would meet anyone coming up to the fort and tell them he was the smallest one!
Sabina and I at the first gate on the path to the fort.

Dragon on the way up to the fort.
It was cloudy out and Sabina thought we might be able to get above the fog if we drove up to Magdalensburg where there was a wonderful restaurant, Gipfelhaus Magdalensberg, and normally an impressive view.  All we saw was mist – but it did lend to the mysterious and romantic atmosphere of the restaurant.  We had a delicious traditional meal of pasta stuffed with different cheeses and meats.

On Sunday, October 30th, Sabina picked us up for a hike up Dobratsch.  This turned out to be the same alpine hike I had taken 34 years ago!  But I didn’t know that at the time – though I did wonder as it looked somewhat familiar from my photos.  There were some geology trail signs with nice descriptions and samples of the rocks there.

Sabina on the trail up Dobratsch
We hiked up the “hunter’s trail” first – a more narrow path that wound along the southern side of the mountain.  We climbed out of the fog this time as we were at 2,167 meters (7110 ft) when we reached the top!  We had lunch at the hut – bratwurst, bread, and beer - perfect hiking food!

Sabina, Darrell and I at the top!
Our next stop was to St. Jakob v Rozu in Tesinja where her grandmother had lived.  I used the Slovenian spellings for this area because Sabina's family are Carinthian Slovenes.  Carinthia is this southern part of Austria.  She grew up bilingually German/Slovenian and it was so interesting to hear her speak the more musical tones of Slovenian with her family.  It seems the Slovene's have suffered some discrimination in Austria, like so many other groups in so many places...

Her grandmother's old house has been remodeled and it is where Janko and Christa now live in the summer.  Then her mother and her aunt also build houses near there on some of the property, so it is a nice family setting.  I remembered some views of the farm.

Sabina, Darrell, and Sabina's family farm.
The houses are also close to the cemetery where the grandmother and grandfather are buried.  Sabina’s dad passed away recently and is also buried there, with a beautifully simple gravestone.  All Soul’s Day is on Tuesday, so many people were decorating the graves at the cemetery.  I had never seen anything like it.  Many people seemed to have scrubbed the white rocks (like large gravel) at the sites, cleaned up (even re-engraved) the grave stones, and planted fresh flowers.  No plastic flowers here.  They also had red lanterns that were placed at all the graves and burned through the night.  We saw some later on the train from Vienna glowing along the tracks!

View of church from the farm.
Janja invited us for coffee and cakes.  She had made an amazing chocolate torte and a delicious apple streudel.  I'm learning where the cooking talent in the family comes from!  Yum.  I definitely ate too much!

Sabina's beautiful mother and her delicious apple streudel.
Sabina's aunt Ivi also came over and she remembered our jaunt up Dobratsch from so long ago!  She helped me remember more about my past visit.  Now we both need to look for our pictures from so long ago!

Sabina, Ivi, Mindy, and Janja
It was so wonderful being with this warm and loving family.  Thank you, Sabina, Lea, Janja, Ivi, Janko and Christa for sharing so much with Darrell and I!


Catching up in Stockholm!

I'm hoping over the next few days I can finally catch up on our adventures!  We moved from our apartment in Bern on October 28th, two weeks ago.  Since then we have been to Klagenfurt and Vienna, Austria; Cologne, Germany; Louvain-la-neuve and Brussels, Belgium; Amsterdam, Netherlands; Copenhagen, Denmark; Oslo and Bergen, Norway; and now we are in Stockholm, Sweden!  That is ten cities and seven countries in 2 weeks - a little crazy!  And not, not, the normal way we travel.  But that is what happens when you get a one month Eurail Pass and when Darrell is trying to connect with his Arctic research colleagues working in northern Europe!

So, drift back in time and I will take you to our last days in Bern before our trip began...

October 24, 2011
Yesterday was the national election day for Switzerland.  They had all the seats in the equivalent of their house and senate up for grabs – so there were many candidates for over 400 positions.  Their house seats are won by simple majority, but the senate seats (with two senators from each canton like we have two senators from each state) had runoff elections if no candidate got a large enough percentage of the vote.  There are also seven ministers, and the President is a rotating position among the ministers, so if you want to meet with the President of Switzerland, you often meet with all seven people!

A special light-show on the Parliament building in Bern
Diccon Bewes, an English expat living in Bern, wrote in his blog:
“Swiss politics became the ultimate soufflé yesterday: full of hot air and with the middle rising nicely. Left and right lost votes and seats, while the two new parties in the center broke through in spectacular fashion.”

The people we know in Switzerland were quite happy with the results.  The rightist party was running on an anti-immigration campaign, but they were not successful.  Switzerland has only 3% unemployment and so immigration is not that large of an issue for most people.

Diccon has written a book “Swiss Watching: Inside Europe’s Landlocked Island” that I should read – but haven’t yet.  It is #1 on the bestseller list in Switzerland – I guess the Swiss want to know what an Englishman is writing about them!

Another view of the Bundeshaus with the light show images
Our very last night in Bern, after we were all packed up to travel, we went to the Bundeshaus plaza to see a special light show that was illuminated on the Parliament building.  It was about 20 minutes long and it was amazing!

I also want to leave you with some of the fall images of Bern from some walks and a COLD bike ride that I took soon before we left.

View of Bern from the Rose Garden
We lived on the right side of the bridge in this image in the lovely mixed Lorraine neighborhood.


The oldest bridge in Bern, replaced many times since the middle ages.
Houses on the hill above the Aare River.

Classic Swiss sign showing towns, hiking and biking directions.
The last bike ride took me climbing up high for almost an hour, and then freezing my hands as I cruised down the steep hills.  I took a picture of the farm near this sign.  Another sweet Swiss adventure.

Swiss goats are even cuter than Swiss cows!