Nom de Plumage

August 2, 2013

Reflections

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Today is a milestone, for it is six months since I have left home and it is also the day that I shall be leaving the European continent, bound for Britain. It is then only fitting, that I should reflect on my adventures and prepare myself for new ones.

My three-day visit with the French woman did not entirely play out as planned. Although, I did get to see spectacular scenery and fulfil my dream to see the Somme Valley and the war cemeteries, it was not without some dramas. I did something very out of the ordinary and excepted an invitation from a stranger to stay in their home. I have always felt uncomfortable about such things and hence the reason it took so long to confirm my visit. My hesitation was in tune with my intuition and I should have listened to it. Without going into too much detail, basically the woman suffers from severe depression and made me feel very uncomfortable and through her jealousy and insecurities, she judged me unfairly. It was hard to overcome such ill-treatment, but I am wiser for the experience and leave France sadly on a sour note.

I experienced something also that I believe many travellers, regardless of their sex or age must experience, and that is pursued by someone who is married.  It is while I was in Lucerne that I met a man who worked in a bar and throughout one evening he flirted. This time, I listened to my intuition and decided against returning any flirtation because of my imminent departure and eventual return to Australia. I ask advice from some friends and they all said that I should not have been so quick to fob him off and that I should go back and see where it will lead. It lead to my finding out from a third-party that the man is not only married, but has children. He did nothing to deny it and could only muster a sheepish smile. Thankfully, nothing happened and if not for the fact that I regretted wasting the money to return to Lucerne, it did save me embarrassment and eliminated the dreaded ‘what if’ ?

My three-month Eurail Pass has now officially expired and it is with a wonderful sense of achievement that I store the pass away as a reminder of my unbelievable destinations. Before departing on each train journey, I needed to fill out the form (to validate each journey) on the pass. I had used my pass extensively, that while in Berlin, I needed another form. The two attendants at the train station, were in shock that I requested another form, so much so, that they read the form to see what countries I have visited. Impressed, they laughed and handed me a new form and wished me well.

If you had asked me just one question before I even left Australia about what I fear most on my journey, you will be surprised to know that it is the fear of not being able to communicate with people. True! It is because I knew that I could not learn every language of the countries that I shall visit. I have read and heard countless stories of locals being rude to tourists who will not/cannot communicate in the language of the people, that I was very nervous. And for what? I will not lie that I did not meet a few rude people, but once I had made some attempt to communicate in their language, the language barrier dissipated and communication (either verbal or hand) is established. Funny, that even though I could not understand the actual language spoken, I somehow could understand the meaning behind the words. It is the unwritten law of communication and it surprised me that with some effort, we understood each other. Unfortunately, I missed not being able to read everything that surrounded me, or even have a meaningful conversation with the locals.

Of all the train stations in Europe that I travelled to/through, it is undoubtably Gare de Nord in Paris that was the station I visited the most. Not my most favourite of stations and yet it is fittingly the last station that I visit as I leave Paris bound for Britain on the Eurostar. I make my way up the stairs towards the UK customs and it is with relief when the customs officer speaks to me in perfect English. Ahhh! We spoke while he was processing my ticket and then he stopped and shook his head while he was flicking through my passport. The dreaded stamps from Berlin! I tried to make light note of it and although he laughed and informed me that many tourist also make the same mistake, he reiterated politely and strongly the foolishness of my actions. What now makes perfect sense, then seemed sensible. In fact, for a five euros and five stamps, each of countries that now do not exist, I had in fact committed an offence. He assured me that I will not have my passport confiscated because many other tourists fall into the same trap, but he warned me to think twice about my actions and that passports are legal documents that must not be tampered with. Point taken!

I believe that I may have had high expectations of the Eurostar train and it was only when I enter the train, reality hit. In fact, the train was very cramped, leg space minimal, luggage space minimal and the decor is a faded and worn grey colour. The journey itself was barely two hours long, but it was the experience of travelling under the channel that I was anticipating the most. Twenty minutes; that was all it took. Barely a blink and I was on British soil.  I exited the train at St Pancreas station, and became euphoric at the sound of the English language. My journey got that much easier simply because I could put the fear of not being able to communicate behind me, to a world where I could read and communicate perfectly. Bloody marvellous! My journey on the London metro was not so easy, especially when it is almost peek-hour. But it also does not help when I am carrying a very big back-pack and the metro train is very cramped and narrow. I was very taken back and had to contend with being jostled about.

At my destination, I had no idea where my hostel is. The hostel is operated by a private company and they do not provide directions. I tried looking for a taxi and could not find any or the taxi stand, so I went to ask someone at the station. The guard directed me to a place around the corner and still I could not find it. Went back to the station and he informed me again what I need to look for. It is in fact, a tiny shop (without a sign) and when I peered inside the large window, there was a large group of men of many different ethnicity playing cards. I hesitantly walk in to ask if this is where I can get a taxi. A quick discussion of whose turn it is next, a little Jamaican guy jumps up and takes me to his taxi. No sign and no meter. I am nervous and he senses my hesitation and assures me that it is a flat five-pound fee.

When I reach my hostel, I knock for about ten minutes before someone eventually hears me and opens the door. I had to telephone the office that I arrived and they inform me that they emailed me informing me that I have to go to another of their properties. Thankfully, the secretary comes to pick me up and it is only a short drive to the hostel. It is more like a huge house, clean and very comfortable and full of Aussies. I feel right at home and in good company.

 

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June 18, 2013

Berlin – The City of Museums

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I started my day back at the very gate that welcomed me to Berlin; the Brandenburg Gate. The Kennedy Museum is next to the US Embassy and the first of many museums that I would visit today. I have always been fascinated with America’s royal family and the power and tragedy that came at a high price. The museum is mainly a photo gallery of the main Kennedy players, along with wonderful memorabilia of John F Kennedy.

Linten Strasse is a wide and very impressive street that is lined with beautiful neo-classical buildings. I unexpectedly came upon the Humboldt University and wanted so much to go inside, but I was not allowed for obvious reasons. I am content with a photograph and walked further down the street to a very beautiful and very pink building that is the German History Museum. I am not deterred by the unusual colour and enter to discover a wonderfully rich and varied collection from ancient to modern times, royal families, art, philosopher’s and both world war’s. A great museum and one of my favourite displays is dedicated to philosopher’s such as Voltaire, Rousseau and many other’s. But the most outstanding of all, would be the moving and confronting memorabilia of both wars. To actually see SS and Nazi uniforms and footage of the destruction of both lives and cities, is very powerful viewing.

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Directly beside the pink museum is a channel of water that is partly frozen. I turn and follow this frozen path and what stands before me, is again, beautiful classical stone structures that could easily find a home in ancient Greece or Rome. The Pergamon Museum is a huge building dedicated to Egyptian and Islāmic works. The front entrance is impressive enough, but when you enter the building, ancient makes way to a modern interior housing very old precious artefacts. Further up the road is the Bode Museum and this smaller building has a very regal entrance and even more regal antiquity. From German, Greek and Roman artefacts, to sculptures, paintings and silver and bronze pieces of workmanship, this museum is also wonderful.

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But wait……there are more museums.

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I would like to write and boast that I visited every museum within the vicinity, but that would be a lie. It would not have been humanely possible nor could I have done justice. There is also the possibility that I may have come away either cross-eyed or blinded from all the reading and glare from the precious metal and stones, that I thought better of it as I still have some way to travel. These buildings are very impressive and I do not even know if any of them are the original or if they were rebuilt after the war. What I can write, is that no city that I have visited thus far, has been able to fuse ancient or modern, stone or glass; quite so perfectly as Berlin has.  What I do know, is that the Berliner Dom was destroyed in the war and was painstakingly rebuilt to its original design. What is even more surprising, is that the royal family crypt is all that survived the bombings. I am sure that the royal bones were rattled a bit, but there place of rest is once again at peace.

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Needless to say, that the cathedral was not only beautiful, but built-in stone, marble, gold and wood. There is a small museum upstairs that shows drawings, paintings and model replica’s of the cathedral and other old buildings. The guide was very friendly and even directed me on which angle and position I should stand to get the best photo’s. Very sweet!

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Alexanderplatz is a modern precinct where I stopped to have lunch. In all honesty, I was not overly impressed. But in saying that, I can see that what my not be impressive now, will change very quickly. It is still an area of vast open space, filled with modern glass high rises and growing at an unprecedented rate. It is edging closer to the old Berlin and what is a construction site now, will be something amazing in the future.

April 3, 2013

A Sporting Pilgrimage in Barcelona

If there is something that the people of Spain do very well, it is sport. The one sport that they have ruled for many years now, is soccer/football. I should know, living with a brother who is a fanatic about the sport, I am constantly bombarded with all things soccer/football. It seemed inevitable that I should make some attempt to at least have a look at one of the world’s greatest stadium‘s and then cruelly boast to my brother about my religious pilgrimage on his behalf. Palau Reial is HUGE! The home to the Catalonia masters, it is an incredible stadium – from outside. You see, at twenty euros for an entry ticket, I really needed to evaluate how keen I was to see the inside. Sense prevailed and I decided that I have seen it umpteen times on TV and that would suit me just fine. But, I have taken a photo in good faith and completed my first sporting pilgrimage.

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In 1992, Barcelona became centre-stage for hosting the summer olympics; the greatest sporting event in the world. I remember it fondly and the highlight for me, was the utterly simple and yet magic lighting of the cauldron. More than two decades later, I stand at the base of the hill Montjuic and look up to the fortress Castell de Montjuic. Two obelisks stand as entrance gates to an impressive waterfall that cascades down from the castle. The whole place is a fusion of cultures, from ancient Egypt and Greece to neoclassical Spanish. I walk up the ‘steps of plenty’ to the castle’s entrance (which is now an art museum) and turn to look back down the hill to a beautiful view, nicely illuminated by the sun.

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Behind the castle, stands a lone statue holding a torch above his head and he is the guide that leads to the olympic park. There is a sadness when I visit an olympic stadium. When a city hosts the games, the world is engrossed for sixteen days and then what? The stadium stands proud and still beautiful, but it is an empty and quiet place with only a trickling of tourists to keep the ghosts at bay. I walk over to a stall (which I presume is the place where you buy an entrance ticket) with my wallet open, only to kindly be informed that entrance is for free.Where does the money come from to upkeep the park? It is kept very clean and in great condition. The stadium with its elegant stone façade and classic ancient look, looks nothing like modern over-the-top metal structures.  The vast park is from another realm with water cascades, huge yellow pillars, green parkland and all this over-looking Barcelona. My second sporting pilgrimage complete.

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The road winds itself down from Montjuic and quite inadvertently, I come across a place called Poble Espanyol. I have no idea what is within the walls, but I am intrigued enough to pay the somewhat expensive entrance ticket and discover a hidden gem. It is in fact a place built-in 1929 for the International Exhibition and it is a beautiful old world, protected within stone walls. A place of restaurants, cafe, souvenir shops, people plying their trade in their worships and all woven through narrow paved streets and Spanish charm. It is an expensive place, but I enjoyed just shopping with my eyes and appreciating the culture.

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I am all ‘sported’ out and for my last part of the day, I make it the hardest. From the metro station Panal-Lel, there is a steep walk up a hill that leads to an abandoned fortress, but with a great view over-looking Barcelona and the ocean. There is an easier option by taking the funicular and although it would have been quicker and easier, I just wanted to feel the sun on my face as I slowly make my way up and enjoy the discovery of what lays ahead. The road winds itself up and some parts are steep. But at each turn there is a different view and a place to rest and catch my breath. Once I reach the top, it becomes clear that this is the place to come. Tourists and locals sit upon the stone walls to soak up the last days of the sun and the view below. The fortress itself is very old and in great condition, but is closed to the public. There are parts that are assessable and the 36o degree view is worth the sweat of the climb.

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March 16, 2013

Rendezvous in La Petite France

DSC00259Strasbourg is a city of contradictions. The people are unmistakably French and yet the architecture is as German as it comes. Centuries of conflict between Germany and France for ownership of Alsace, have left their imprints on the country with Strasbourg the ‘jewel in the crown’. This is a detour that I have made for a couple of days un-route to Spain to revisit a friend. Suzy and I met over a month ago in Italy and we spent several wonderful days touring the delightful city of Vincenza. After some discussion about each of our travel plans, a window of opportunity presented itself and I could not pass it up.

‘Il Grande’ in the 1980’s became World Heritage Listed, unique for part of a city to have been given the honours. It is only when you see this stunning gem, that one can appreciate and understand the value in preserving such a unique town. Regardless of who owns or controls Strasbourg, the city is richer for the culture, architecture and cuisine, and I am richer for the experience.

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One would think from my photo’s that I am in Venice or Amsterdam with the canal that weaves through the city. But observing the many towns/cities that I have visited so far, the predominate theme is to build near or on water. Times were very different back then, when the common mode of transport was on water. The canal, bridges, boats and cafe’s upon the water’s edge, all add charm and allure.

My day passes slowly and it is the evening that I am looking forward to most. Suzy and I have agreed to meet very late; due to her work commitments and I wonder through the Christmas market in search of a little treat to tide me over. It is a beautiful evening and just as the stall operators begin to close down for the night, Suzy arrives with her big beautiful smile shining. It has only be weeks since we last saw each other, but it has felt so much longer with all the travelling that I have done.

We are both hungry, but have no idea where we should eat. I suggest we go to ‘Petite France’ because we may have better luck and the fact that it is such a beautiful place. Our search is more difficult than we thought it would be and the evening is closing down on us. We back-track to a modern-looking restaurant that is still in full swing and decide to try our luck. The waiter is lovely and hands us the menu and the word that keeps making an appearance is – Flammee. Suzy and I both look at each other, questioning what a flammee is. But as the saying goes; “beggar’s cannot be chooser’s, we order. I order a duck, cherry and orange flammee and Suzy orders salmon and chives. Between catch-up and anticipation for our dinner, it eventually arrives. It is? A very thin pizza. Not exactly what we thought or wanted it, that is until we started eating. Delicious, light and certainly taking the edge off our hunger pains, we are both satisfied. Great service, delicious food and wonderful company.

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February 25, 2013

Reminiscing In Munich

Dampfnudeln galore!

Dampfnudeln galore! (Photo credit: hirnrinde)

Neuschwanstein - Germany

Neuschwanstein – Germany (Photo credit: Madison Berndt)

English: Frauenkirche (Church of Our Blessed L...

English: Frauenkirche (Church of Our Blessed Lady) in Munich, Germany, as viewed from the tower of Peter’s Church. Taken by myself with a Canon 5D and 24-105mm f/4L IS lens. Deutsch: Die Frauenkirche in München von der Peterskirche aus gesehen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I knew from the beginning, that my return to Munich would be a very emotional experience. But it was something that I really needed and wanted to do. I had to move forward in my life, but to do that, I had to go back and close a chapter that I left unfinished.

There was never going to be a set plan of where I would go and what I would see today. It was always going to be a day where providence will guide me and my feet take me. That is to be the easy part, for I came to know Munich very well years ago. The question is, how much has changed?

The best place to start is from the Hauptbanhof (main train station). I exit the main entrance and cross the wide road to the beginning of the street that I once lived on. I knew at first glance that changes were made, it now appeared more dirtier, and new unfamiliar shops, had moved in. But shops that I knew so well, are still here. The Italian gelato shop that became my favourite after work treat during summer, is still here and the Turkish café that sells the most memorable culinary experience. The greasy Doener kebab! Turkish pita bread, filled with fatty meat of which the outer crust is caramelised, topped with salad, onion and a yoghurt sauce. Nothing beats it! My brother and I would always chose a Doener over every other food, ever time. And so I will again chose it for my lunch today and being the great sister that I am, I ring my brother back home and rub it in (just a little). Ah, sibling love!

The block of apartments were I once lived, is no more. It has been renovated and some parts demolished to make way for a new business. The memories remain and although I am sad at the lose, change was inevitable because the building was old. But something still remains and that is the cathedral at the end of the street. Many a night I cursed the damn bell that would ring every hour, as it kept me from my sleep. But not anymore! It was a sound that I am unaccustomed to back home in Australia, but in Europe, church bells ring all the time and I miss the sound. Not more than a few metres from the cathedral, is a vast expanse of open parkland that transforms every year to the best show on earth – the Oktober Festival. I would walk around this park almost every night and from July, watch the men construct the wooden foundations that would become the mighty beer halls. With the tents up, the food stalls and rides would follow quickly ready for the start of the beer season. I was lucky enough to love metres from this amazing spectacle and would every night after work, come down and enjoy the people, amazing food, crazy rides and the atmosphere. But seeing the park now covered in snow and standing here alone, opened the gates to my emotions and I openly cried. It was an amazing time and I miss my brother and the crazy adventures we had, and the laughs we shared.

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Karlsplatz is the entrance to the long promenade that leads to the impressionable and very famous Rathaus. But before I walk under the medieval looking arch, I go into the bookstore that brought me such joy. Hugendubel bookstore is massive and has several levels filled with books of all genres. The only section that I could understand (unfortunately) was the English books. For a traveller to walk into a bookstore and not be able to read the books because of the language barrier, is a nightmare. But to find a bookstore that sells English books – is heaven – and a place I frequented quite often.

Through the stone arch and I am immediately familiarised with the department store of Karlstad. The long crowded promenade has changed very little and I recognise many favourite shops and cafe’s that I once use to visit. Half-way down is the church of St Michael and it is famous for housing the mortal remains of many of Munich’s ruling élite. For a small fee, the underground chamber is accessed and here lies many impressive tombs of different sizes, of the royal family. The tomb that I have come to see and have seen many times before, is that of King Ludwig. It is a massive tomb and one of the most popular, if the amount of flowers laid down are any indication. Whether history states that he was crazy or just misunderstood, I care not. Personally, his story is very sad and his death, whether it was suicide or murder (the jury is still out on that) is unfortunate.  Something about his story, his loneliness, love of music and beautiful castles and his tragic early death, touched me. His beautiful castles, stunning recreations of his dreams, are something worth seeing.

Marienplatz is the square dominated by the Rathaus or council chambers. But come Christmas and the square transforms into one of the best Christmas markets. Stall upon stall selling beautiful Christmas decorations and foods, all distinctly German. Personally, I love the food stalls because the food offered is so varied and delicious. I treat myself to a sugar overload and buy skewered strawberries dipped in milk chocolate and dampfnudeln (sweet yeast dough) coated in vanilla custard. Here in Germany, a treat that I have found very rarely outside of Germany (or one of such great quality) is fruit (mainly banana, strawberry, grapes) dipped in either white, milk or dark chocolate. Simple and yet so wonderful. Please note; I am lactose intolerant and yet, I have indulged on dairy food throughout my travels and not a sign of any upset stomach or other pleasantries that I shall not name. The mind boggles about why dairy food is so different in countries and why it affects people so differently. Look, I am not complaining because it is my favourite food group and I am going to enjoy the novelty while I can.

Not far from the square is Bayerischerhof Hotel. A place that floods my emotions with both good and not so good memories. I worked there for eight months and found the experience  both a joy in learning a new cuisine, meeting new friends and catering to some famous people. One such famous person, was Michael Jackson and in a little park in front of the hotel, is a memorial dedicated to him. Memento’s, photo’s, poems and candles, transform this shrine into a sea of colour and memories. I fondly remember an occasion where I had to show Michael Jackson’s personal chef around the kitchen and help him find what he needed. We talked and he thanked me with a beautiful dish of lentils and vegetables. That was as close to fame as I got, but I shall remember it fondly.

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I am not sure how many people know the real reason behind the “English Garden’s” notoriety? Apart from being a massive landscaped garden in the middle of the city, it is also where the locals during summer like to bare all. When I first arrived in Munich back in 1999, it was winter and the locals are clothed appropriately when taking a weekend stroll through the garden. But come summer, how different things were. One summer’s day, I wondered why there was a large group congregated in one area in the middle of the park and it was only on closer inspection, that I quickly saw for myself. There was that initial gasp of shock and bewilderment, followed closely by a roar of laughter.  You have to give it to the Germans, their freedom and ease in laying bare all their assets to the enjoyment of tourists. I remember watching a young fully clothed male teenager, playing badminton with his not-so-young, not-so-trim unclothed father. There are just some things you should not see and that still haunt you years later. If you are wondering, I never participated in the summer craze (too modest), but I certainly enjoyed my weekend walks through the park.

And so my day of reminiscing is all but over. With each step taken, I shed a tear, but each tear represented not only sadness for has passed, but happiness for what will always remain in my heart.

Chapter closed!

Deutsch: Doener.

Deutsch: Doener. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

English: Crypt of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, b...

English: Crypt of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, beneath Michaelskirche, Munich (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Munich Christmas Markets

Munich Christmas Markets (Photo credit: lostajy)

January 28, 2013

So Much Beauty and Culture In Vienna

sightseeing. I know, that no matter how many days or weeks I stay in any given city, it will never be enough to see all that I want. So not to  whinge on what I have missed, I am grateful for what I have seen. Plus, I like to believe there will always be a next time. This morning, my room-mate hampers my departure, with a kind offer of driving me into the city. I unwisely said yes and was left waiting for 45 minutes before we leave the hostel. But we eventually leave and I finally arrive in the city just before 10 am.

My first day in any new city, is a day of exploring, with no agenda or sites planned. It may seem a day wasted and yet, I see it as a day of freedom to experience the joy of discovering things that are  in any ‘guide book’. It is such a beautiful city and so easy to find one bearings, that I never fear that I may get lost.

Hofburg Palace Christmas Market entrance

Hofburg Palace Christmas Market entrance

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The ever impressive Town Hall in the background

Vienna spoils my senses, for it not only has one of the most beautiful of Christmas Markets, it has three vibrant huge markets, all within proximity of each other. I choose the biggest (of course) at Hofburg Palace. Crowded with tourists and locals, the ever presence of smells, colours and all things Christmas delight my senses and I start my tour with a stop at a food stall for a delicious hot chocolate and banana crêpe accompanied with a glass of hot gluwien. I have to say, that my diet since I have started my travels, has all but disintegrated and how can I help it, with all the tempting food on offer. I love good food, not the cheap nasty take-aways full of fat and sugar, but the rich mouth-watering flavours of Europe. And here is the best part, I have actually lost weight, not gained and that it attributed to all the walking and food.

The massive grounds of the Hofburg Palace are directly opposite the Town Hall. You enter this élite world through a massive gate and walk the wide driveway past the impressive architecture that gives a whole new meaning to splendour and wealth. A royal family who dominated Europe through the ages, is all but a memory now, but their glamorous world of power and politics is on full display for the ever impressed tourist. I for one, am not immune to the sights before me and can only wonder at the glory days that are sadly no more. There is much to see and do within these grounds, that I decide to leave it for tomorrow and continue my walk through the back entrance and into a boulevard of shops and delights.

When you live in a country such as Australia, where the architecture is more modern and the buildings are  predominately of glass and steel, you really come to appreciate a city that is built for beauty and to survive the ages. Buildings that are centuries old and carved of stone. One of my favourite stone carvings, and one that is shared with Budapest, is above and around the main entrance to a building,  chiselled men/women in fine detail, with the expression of either pain or exertion on their faces, as they hold the weight of the buildings on their shoulders. Utterly unique and so tender to witness these faces that I have never seen before and believe never will. St Stephen's Cathedral

The cathedral of St Stephen’s is at the end of the very long and wide boulevard of shops. But when I got my first glimpse, I was again confronted by my bad luck again of a major tourist sight undergoing renovations. So I was left with a poor expression of something that I could only imagine are very beautiful. The ravages of war have left their black charred mark on the outer façade and from the pictures within the cathedral of what the true impact of the war really did, I was grateful that there was something left to see and appreciative of the continuous renovations and dedication of the many people involved in the preservation for future generations. The interior of the St Stephen’s is very dark and gothic and where elegance and grandeur of Italy’s cathedral is to be admired, the simplicity and humbleness of this icon is not  less diminished.

Speaking of simplicity, my dinner is purchased at a bakery. There are times when a sandwich of fresh salad, cheese and ham on a crusty white bun, accompanied with a traditional Viennese pastry, is all that one can dream of after a long day of walking. Too much richness can spoil the waistline and blow the budget and with my dinner purchased, I make my way back to the hostel for another three-hour marathon of torture by my room-mate.Superman in stone.Wonder woman  in stone.

January 20, 2013

Oh…..Vienna……

English: Stephansplatz and Graben street in th...

English: Stephansplatz and Graben street in the evening. Vienna, Austria. Polski: Stephansplatz i deptak Graben o zmierzchu. Wiedeń, Austria. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I leave Salzburg with the greatest of reluctance, but I am moving on to a bigger city – Vienna. A short, yet pleasant three-hour train journey, I disembark at Hutteldorf station. Before leaving my hostel at Salzburg, I asked for directions to my hostel in Vienna. The directions given was excellent and I arrived at the hostel with no problem. That is until I got to the hostel and they kindly informed me that I have no reservation. It was then that I quickly realised, that I was given excellent directions to the wrong hostel. The woman was very kind and even suggested that she could cancel my reservation at the other hostel and book me into this one. Do you ever get those moments, when a spirit guides you in another (better) direction, but you ignore it and go with what you believe is best, then regret it later on? This was one of those moments and how I regretted it later on.

I eventually found the correct hostel, about an hour later, beautifully situated high above the city of Vienna. Booked in and given the key to my room, I enter and discover my roommate sleeping when it is only two in the afternoon. Not wanting to disturb her, I deposit my bags and leave, making my way into the city to buy another camera. This will be my third and I still have three months left of travelling. I can honestly say that I am over the damn things and frustrated at my bad luck and money wasted. But the thought of not being able to document my travels and not have photo’s as reference for later years, is enough persuasion to buy a new one. But this time, I buy something small and reasonably priced.

It is late in the afternoon and the day is slowing fading. My main mission is complete and so I spend the rest of the day just walking with no purpose or direction. The city is beautiful and it’s reputation as a city of culture and beauty, is well founded. I must contain my excitement to explore for another day and make my way back to my hostel and meet my roommate.

When I open my room door, the woman is awake and appears very friendly and keen to get to know me better. I am longing for company and indeed a conversation with someone, especially with one who speaks English so fluently. But it was almost immediately obvious, that the conversation was going to be one-sided and that I was to spend the next three hours bored and in shock at the conversation that I listened to. This was ‘that moment’  I mentioned in my opening paragraph about guidance that was given, but I refused. In all honesty, I cannot write that my roommate was senile, deluded or in fact that she may even be of sound mind. I have not the courage to even write her name or the conversation we had, in fear that it may even be true. What I can write, is that her life has been for a year, no life at all. On the run and with no home or no family for support, her future is very bleak. I know that I could have opted to change rooms, but I did not have the heart to do it because I knew that she was lonely and needed to confide in someone. I also prayed that this would be a ‘one-off’ event and once she had gotten things off her chest, all will be OK. Wrong! This was only the pre-cursor and I was in for more.

I can only write, that this will be an interesting and very long five days.

YOTOT(MC): Austria Center Vienna (panorama)

YOTOT(MC): Austria Center Vienna (panorama) (Photo credit: Yaisog Bonegnasher)

 

January 13, 2013

The first seasons gentle snow flakes touched and then melted just as quickly upon my face. Since the drop in temperature these past two months, I have anticipated this event. You must humour me a little here because I come from a country of heat and humidity. Snow is almost a rarity and found only in the mountains, far away. I stood outside my hostel and glorified in the cold and subtle caress of the delicate flakes – pure white. Although the snow and bitter cold can dampen ones mood, today I was going to revel the feeling and just enjoy the moment. But ask me in a couple of months time and I may have a completely different opinion.

The city of Salzburg, picturesque and perfect, is dominated by a fortress nestled high upon a hill. It dominates the city, powerful and ancient, it stands overlooking and protecting this little jewel. It is my first place to visit. A small, yet steep climb the driveway and you enter a beautiful courtyard. It is the season and therefore, not many tourists congregate. There was the opt of a cable car or steps, but I thought I should do the walk Maria from my favourite musical did. Next best thing! Within the castle, was several rooms, showcasing war memorabilia from the past, marionette puppets, stately rooms and torture equipment. But the highlight, was a tour behind the scenes – narrow stairs and passageways through rooms tucked out-of-sight – places of imprisonment and torture. Narrow stairs wind their way up a steep turret that leads out on a platform at the very top overlooking Salzburg. The view was absolutely stunning. Grey clouds lay heavy and with it, bitter cold winds that permeated  your clothes. The scene was mystic and magical and although I was cold, I could not help but enjoy the landscape before me and the weather that cast a beautiful blanket of snow and haze.

With the weather being so cold, I wanted a more heartier meal for lunch and trying to find something at a reasonable price, is no small feat. It is a city that caters mainly to tourists – hence the mark-up in price. So my best bet, was to get out of the main tourist precinct. It took some walking and searching, but in the end I found a wonderful little place in narrow cobblestone road on the other side of the river and it served some traditional and very filling Austrian food. When in Austria, you cannot pass by the fried golden chicken schnitzel, with caramelised mushrooms mixed with ham and fried crisp potato wedges. All washed down with a beer. Of course!

For dessert, I walked down to the river’s edge to an iconic institute – The Hotel Sacher – for the very cake it is famous for. There is a small shop on the side of the hotel that sells the cake, but take-away and no coffee, so I had to go inside the hotels restaurant if I wanted to experience the sweet sensation. I was not very comfortable with the idea because I am dressed very ordinary and felt very out-of-place. But at no time was I made to feel uncomfortable by the hotel staff or other guests. The restaurant itself is beautiful and what I loved most was all the old photo’s decorating the walls. Each told a wonderful story – royalty, famous citizens, family members of the hotel patron – elegant men and women dressed to perfection with all their glamour and style. There was so many that I spent the little time there just enjoying the by-gone days of the early twentieth century. My waiter was so elegant and very friendly and the experience  was enjoyable. Now what about that famous cake? It is iconic and well-known and replicated around the world and just maybe the legend is out-date or over-rated? The cake is a dry heavy chocolate cake, with the centre filled with apricot jam and coated with a rich chocolate topping. It is still delicious, although somewhat plain and dry. The coffee washed down the dry remnants and although not wholly disappointed, it was not as great as I expected. But one should always try it, nonetheless.

The most famous son of the city, is none other than Mozart or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. There are several museums dedicated to the musical master, but I chose the one where he was born and spent his early childhood years in. It is the house that nurtured and exposed this genius of music. Within each room, there are paintings of the family, manuscripts well-preserved, letters between family members and between Mozart and his future wife and musical instruments. All beautifully cared for and preserved, it is a time capsule of a man whose life was so tragically cut short and yet who created such masterpieces in such a short time.

With my final stroll through the Christmas Markets to buy some treats for later on, I slowly made my way back to ,y hostel for some warming up and preparation for my departure tomorrow.

 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's compositions charact...

The Café's Interior

English: Old Town Salzburg across the Salzach ...

English: Old Town Salzburg across the Salzach river (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

The original Sachertorte, as served at Vienna'...

The original Sachertorte, as served at Vienna’s Hotel Sacher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

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January 12, 2013

The City To Fill The Senses

Filed under: European Flavour,Solo Travelling,Travel Journal,Travel Journal — nomdeplumage @ 4:20 pm
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I awoke this morning, resolved to continue my journey in the best of spirits and determined that no depression was going to ruin a life-long dream. I had no choice really. The two options that I had was either spend money and time in a doctor’s surgery hoping for a remedy or to continue travelling. The latter was more appealing because I had no idea of the cost of any medical procedure or what the remedy would be. Any medication was not a viable option. There is one small characteristic that I possess and that is; once I make aware of some difficulty/problem, I face it head on and survive. No life is ever easy and without dramas and mine has certainly thrown a few curve balls, but I would continue to put one foot in front of the other and live to the best of my ability. Depression cannot be cured, only managed and that will always be an ongoing struggle, but put the right people and actions into place, your chances are always that much better.

If ever there is a city that resonates within my heart and that I looked forward to more than any other; it would have to be Salzburg. My name must surely be a clue as to why the city of mountains and music is special to me – Maria. My childhood memories are of balmy evenings, fighting with my sister again because the ever popular musical is on- again and my parents always siding with me on this one. The ‘Sound of Music‘ was not just about the main character and I sharing the same name, it was more than that. It was the love story between a nondescript nun and a handsome captain, the children’s laughter and joy, the music, the scenery and the joy that the whole musical would instil again and again. No matter how many times I would watch it, I never got bored. And yes, my sister and I still fight thirty plus years later.

A modern and comfortable new train called the ‘rail jet’ departed Budapest’s Keleti Station before noon and lead me on a six hour journey of peace and reflection through the rain and alps of Austria. The gentle and soothing music from my iPod, offered comfort as I watched the beautiful scenery laid out before me. Six hours was over before I knew and my train finally rolls in to Salzburg’s main train station. What struck at me first, was that I was in the wrong city. The train station was not as I remember it. My recollection was a small, old and single platform station, not a huge, modern and  several platform station. Confused, I followed the crowd and walked into a more modern city.

I visited Salzburg for the first time in 1999 and fell in love with it a first glance. But I only had the chance to spend half a day there and promised myself that I would return one day. Eleven years have passed and many changes have occurred and not all that bad. There is now a major bus terminal and it was here that I was able to find the correct bus to lead me to my hostel. As the bus travelled through the city, I felt somewhat lost and could only marvel at the new changes. But it also brought with it an eagerness to explore this new gem.

Finding my hostel was not easy. The directions given was very obscure and in the end I had to knock on someones door for directions. But in the end I found it. Modern, clean and very hospitable, it would serve me well for the next few days.

Mountains lay behind the hostel and the telltale signs of winter approaching was evident in the subtle shadow of snow covering the peaks. The temperature had plummeted quite rapidly and not prepared as yet to the harsh winter that lay before me, I raced to the shops desperate for some thermals, jacket and gloves. The choice in clothing was reasonable, but I had little money or time to find the ideal clothing. I needed warm clothing and I was desperate. A thick black jacket, a woollen hat and matching gloves and my mother’s knitted scarf, I was prepared and ready to explore.

My first mistake, was not pre booking the ‘Sound of Music’ tour. I stupidly thought that being the ‘off-season’ that tickets would be available without too much trouble. Big mistake! All companies were booked out for the next couple of days and I would miss out again. Heart broken, I was determined to make do and bury my sorrows at the Christmas markets with glu-wein and huge cinnamon doughnuts. Warm spiced mull wine is the perfect winter warmer and is always a special treat when travelling through any German/Austrian country at winter. It slides down into the stomach, bringing warmth and pleasure all the way. It will be safe to speculate, that I will be drinking a lot more of this heart-warmer whilst travelling through Austria and Germany. Their markets are the best without any argument. The food is delicious and varied from hot, artery clogging belly warmers, to the delicious sticky, cavity inducing delights. Then of course there are all the decorations and activities. But my main reason for visiting, is the atmosphere and food. Diet be damned and I will enjoy every morsel while I have the chance. The smells that permeate through the cold air, is something that I cannot describe. It is the smell of winter and Christmas – spices and all good things nice. One can never be depressed in a place like this. Then maybe again when I think about all the food that I will not be able to savour. Oh well!

Belly filled and my senses warmed, it was a quick journey by bus back to my hostel for some rest and meeting new friends.

Salzburg

Salzburg (Photo credit: ecv5)

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January 8, 2013

Enter The Black Dog

Filed under: Diary,European Flavour,Solo Travelling,Travel Journal,Travel Journal — nomdeplumage @ 12:08 pm
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IMG_6719

Or more commonly known as – depression.

One of the fastest growing illness in the world, that touches the lives of many. One can also assume, that depression touches the lives of almost everyone. It may be the individual who has suffered a tragedy or it may be a loved-one who has it, either way, it has a profound affect and it changes your life.

Personally, my depression has lay dormant for years, slowly festering and waiting for the opportunity to rise and knock me hard to the ground. I only ever denied the problem or was so busy dealing with other peoples dilemma’s, that I could forget my own troubles. Well not anymore. It goes without saying, that travelling solo can either make you or break you and I had no one elses problems to deal with but my own. So the situation I had placed myself in was perfect to let my ‘black dog’ loose.

After spending an amazing day touring the sights of Budapest with Warren, I awoke already feeling like I had fallen into a deep hole and could not breathe. I lacked any motivation to do anything and felt so emotional, that tears would swell into my eyes for no reason. The walls were closing in and I needed to get out.

I walked the cold grey streets of the city in no apparent direction. There was no place I needed to see, no one I needed to be with and no energy to propel me anywhere. My steps were heavy and my body numb and the only thought I had was to place one foot in front of the other. Life was going on around me, but I saw and heard nothing. I cried with each step taken and had never felt so alone, helpless or afraid in my entire life because it was then, at that moment, I wanted to die. Thoughts raced through my mind as to how I wanted to end it. I tried willing the concrete paths to open up and swallow me whole or hoped a bus would pass and end my misery. Never, had these thoughts ever crossed my mind before and they frightened me. It was here that I finally admitted that I needed help and that I have depression.

You know that feeling of always being strong for others, for just waking every day and getting on with life and never admitting defeat or that you cannot do it. Then that moment of admission. That incredible feeling of relief, the emotions that rise and release and the burden that you finally throw off your shoulders, can only be described as enlightening. To finally admit I have a problem and to release years of pain, was the salvation that I so desperately needed. This journey was something I desperately needed. It made me come to grips with my mental state, my life and direction and the most profound of all, that I am number one for me,myself and I. Do you know what the hardest word to say in the English language is? NO! Two letters, but so painfully hard to say. Why? You want to make others happy. You want to please others and you want them always to think the best of you. You want praise, affection and the ‘thank-you’ at the end of the day. You give, give and give. At what cost? The cost of one’s health or sanity, is a high price to pay and I may never have come to this conclusion if not for a tarot reader telling me of a journey that “I had to take”. In two days my life had changed. Two days, one amazing soul and one amazing city, changed my course in life and set me on a new path.

I had no camera to document my day, nor to remind myself of a day I would never forget and so I kept walking. The incredible monument dedicated to the men from the past, who helped create and shape Hungary was on full display. It is the only thing worth mentioning, for I saw nothing else today. I stood below each statue and looked up, wandering what miseries and burdens that they carried to bring about unity and peace to a once troubled country. That their troubles were so much greater than mine and yet here I stand, tears streaming down my face at my own miserable existence. It does not get more pathetic than that. When I recommenced my walk, I chose a wide boulevard full of humanity and noise. I needed companionship and something to focus on. But all in vain. I was embarrassed by my tears and so bowed my head and became lost once again in my thoughts. So lost in fact, that when I came to to my surroundings, I realised that I had indeed become lost. I had no map to guide me and thought I could keep going and I would eventually make my way back into the city. But the more I walked, the more lost I became and panic slowly started to emerge. When finally that feeling of defeat hits and knowing that going forward is a surety for failure, stop and turn back. It was all that I could do. I retraced my steps until I came to familiar surroundings. Having wasted my day on getting lost both mentally and physically, I realised that I had not eaten anything and was hungry. A quick stop at a cafe to eat a late lunch, I headed back to my hostel for much needed writing.

The hostel was quite and I had the communal computer all to myself and so I sat down to write an email to my cousin in Australia. For me, writing has always been the best therapy. It has ever been my best way of communicating, expressing my emotions and getting my voice heard. It soothes me and invigorates me at the same time. It brings out the best in me and it saved me. I wrote the mother of all emails, every emotion, every thought I wrote down and some. Drained, I retired early to bed and felt saddened that tomorrow I was to leave Budapest and leave my new friends. But it is a journey and I need to continue……………

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