Adventures; Christmas Season 2019

DAY ONE – MUNICH

Sleep-deprived from two flights to Germany. One from Denver; four hours. The second from Dulles Airport; 8 hours. During the overseas portion, I watched three films while sitting sandwiched between two tall men of markedly difference girths. I cried when I watched ‘Racing in the Rain,’ and neither of the men noticed my nose horn going off. The other films aren’t even worth noting. I was supposed to sleep, but the cramped quarters squelched my desires. However, I managed to pull out my laptop and type with my shoulders compressed. This task will likely produce some sore muscles in the future.

In München we went through security at eight in the morning with no one in line before us. The guard looked at my passport and asked me if I had a German one as well since he notices I was born in German. No one had ever asked that before. He didn’t inquire about why I was visiting his country.

The train ride into town from the airport was about eleven Euros, followed by a two Euro metro. Both had different size cards, but only the smaller appeared to require validation in the machine off to the side of the entrance. If I didn’t do this, I could receive a hefty fine from the train monitors. Once we carried our rolling suitcase and laptop bag through it all, we stepped out into Munich to find a holiday display. A small ice-skating rink, Christmas trees, and some temporary merchant booths were all decked out for the holidays. The weather felt cool and misty, but no snow or freezing winds like Wyoming.

We walked for about fifteen minutes to get to our hotel near the main park in the city. The staff was friendly and got our room ready by noon so we didn’t have to wait until the customary three in the afternoon. He suggested places for us to visit and held our luggage behind the counter for when we came back. Speaking of suggestions—I posted our whereabouts on Facebook, and a friend told us to go to a specific Indian restaurant Swagat. Finding the place was a little trickier than I thought. At first, on the GPS, it looked like the place was only 600 meters from our hotel but it was across the bridge further away. During our search, we stumbled across two things; both sad in different ways. A passageway took us under the road, and there we found an artistic street art but also a raised bed with blankets neatly placed. Under the platform sat orderly pairs of shoes and next to it a bicycle. The owner of this home was not there but likely on the streets panhandling. The second sculpture on the other side of the road was a tall memorial tower with an angel lit on top. Below her were gorgeous tiled pictorial walls. It is called the Angel of Peace (The Friedensengel) and was built to commemorate 25 years of peace after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. This web link is helpful https://www.muenchen.de/sehenswuerdigkeiten/orte/120451.html

By the time we arrived at the Indian restaurant we were hungry. It was delicious and we got in before the ‘reservation’ crowd appeared. After our saag paneer and curry dishes we heard music on another side of the dining area. It turned out to be a dancing demonstration given by a woman dressed in traditional garb from India. Such an added treat.

The city is quite magical in the early evening soon after the sun goes down. The Christmas markets are aglow, the glockenspiel is sounding off on the hour with the collection of figures going in a circle around the clock—but the clock is running all year. Communicating with people is sometimes easy since many people speak English, but the ones that don’t speak in spite of my lack of understanding which isn’t to terrible in daily required events. I give thanks to another friend who had me take a month of immersion German in Berlin a few years back. Except I can’t understand a thing out of context such as a discussion on philosophy or politics. Forgetting speaking anything beyond; please, thank you, and I’d like…. At one point, I was so terrified I couldn’t even do that. The more I travel and get acquainted with cultural customs and listening to other languages, the more comfortable I become.

Back to the market booths. They are all are made of a type of alpine wood and hold treasures of glistening ornaments, carved candles, and wood. Some nearby store windows display nutcrackers, ceramic beer steins, and cuckoo clocks that are larger than my head. Across the court, children gather around a window. Its contents took me straight back to my childhood, and emotions welled up in my heart. Moving stuffed bears and bunnies filled the landscape like the ones in Washington, D.C. in the Woodward & Lothrop windows that my parents took me to see every year. It is no longer there since the store was closed forever a few years back. But here, in Munich, the window is full, and I am too. I couldn’t stand there for hours, so I pulled myself away after taking a photograph with my phone.

Next, I found a bratwurst at a stand and bought it straight away without a care as the shopkeeper stops speaking German and switched to English. The meat was not like any American brand. It was tender and delicious with some sort of spice within the meat and cupped in a fresh bun. It was the best and first euros I spend after getting off the train.

Onto the church to find high vaulted ceilings and a deep colored variety of stained-glass windows that I drank into my soul. This should complete the day and some ways it did. We were so tired at noon that we went back to the hotel and fell asleep for a few hours. This time warp almost felt like it gave us two days in one.

Deeper into the English Garden, we went to the Christmas market within the beer garden next to the Chinesischer Turm Restaurant.

A familiar park is near our hotel. Coming back to the surfers felt like coming home. It’s been years since I last visited. Next to the bridge the water waved rapidly back and forth sweeping the riders clad in wet suits along the current over and over.

DAY TWO

We woke up at 5:30 and fell back asleep until 11. Breakfast time was over at the hotel so we didn’t both to grab it elsewhere and went to the Deutches Museum. There we managed to get lost in the mines and sea fairing exhibits for ages before finding the hands-on exhibits. We had to go up an elevator to be able to go down into another section. We couldn’t find the nano-technology exhibit because we were overcome by hunger and thirst. I guess that part of the museum will have to be visited on our next trip to München.

We walked back to the Christmas market and samples a variety of foods, which turned out to be our only meal of the day. Currywurst, bratwurst, a thing that looked like a fluffy pancake with cinnamon and sugar, another item that was spaetzle with sauerkraut, and finally some spiced wine (called Gluehwein). All quite delicious and a warm drink in the chili afternoon. Moving around the market was trickier today because it’s Saturday, and the crowds multiplied in triplicate compared to yesterday. Nevertheless, the new discoveries were worth the bumper pool walking. New nativity scenes were found with do-it-yourself painting kits and completed kits. They appeared to be reasonably priced until we figured out the stable was priced separately from the figures.

DAY THREE – leaving München, going to Wien (Vienna)

Today I am in a silly state of mind after not sleeping through the night. Off and on, I woke thinking about every aspect of my life in spurts and flows. Then I went over what is to come. I blame it all on a chili chocolate bar with a fair amount of caffeine; I should have known better, but the bar was irresistible. The morning came too soon. We went to breakfast in the lower level of the hotel and found a marvelous selection. A rack of honey straight from the hive for breads, soft-boiled eggs from the coop, fresh vegetables, fruits, and cheeses. To top it all off—fresh orange juice and coffee mit Milch.

Away we went after breakfast to the metro through two stations to the main train line for a three-hour journey to Wien. We may be there before our friends since they missed the connecting train in Nuremberg. I wanted them to get their first since the directions to get into our apartment require having a conversation with a shop keeper and then putting a pass-code into a keypad at the door. My confidence in travel has much improved over the years so I am not worried.

On our train, we reserved a seat in advance and are now sitting in window seats at a table next to another couple who are intermittently speaking German. Words here and there are familiar from my immersion course in Berlin several years ago. My friend, unlike me, has been studying the language for years. I should have since I was born here, but I don’t. Perhaps it’s stubbornness or lack of language discipline, or it might be because Spanish is more prevalent in the United States, so I am able to listen to it more often. If I am not in the culture, I tend not to commit to trying to learn. Immersion works better for me, I think. While I am here, I am regretting my choice, but I am listening, reading signs, using a translator on my phone. I hear people use short-cuts and abbreviations for phrases or words I have learned in Berlin. An attempt is better than doing nothing.

The countryside along the train route is covered with evergreen trees, lakes, short-term camping cabins in small clustered communities, and in the background high mountains bigger than Wyoming mountains.

DAY FOUR, FIVE, and SIX – Wien (Vienna)

The first evening arrived in Wien and acquired our accommodation’s key from a Chinese lady’s shop on the street level. She had three or four cats wandering around the coffee shop.  Upstairs was our palatial AirBnB accommodation with three separate bedrooms, two full-baths, one half bath. An open kitchen/dining/living room area with honey and raspberry striped curtains. Replicas and prints of classic artists framed in gold or black all over the apartment. Ten-foot ceilings. We felt like royalty or rock stars or people with unlimited funds, which we do not have.

The Christmas Markets are all over town in various sizes, but they have basically the same type of food, drink and goods to sell. The items are too numerous to cover in detail. There are things like Christmas tree decorations, carved candles, bags, knitted items, chocolate formed into tools, wooden figurines (nativity sets painted and not), gingerbread items (as food or decoration), cuckoo clocks, beer mugs, etc. So many things to look at that they almost blur together in my mind—I took photographs to sort out the cobwebs in my mind. The biggest market of them all has an ice-skating area that weaves around an area through corridors, there are also live coral singers that entertain for a short time in the evenings, and lights are twinkling in the trees.

  • Small Christmas market (Gluwine – Red mulled wine)
  • Naschmarkt Christmas Market (a big one – south of the Ringstrasse)

Saint Stephen’s Cathedral – is as ornate as any al in Europe. In this one, I noticed an altar in a small chapel with a glass front. Behind it was a partially clothed skeleton reclining on his side. I wasn’t particularly shocked because I’ve seen collections of bones stacked in other places, but those were done to save space while creating an artistic display to honor the dead. This doesn’t seem like something I’d want for myself. After this wanted to go to the Nativity display behind the church to lighten my mood, except it wasn’t what I’d expected. I thought it would be one large manger scene with live animals and wooden statues of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Instead, there were a couple dozen small displays all created by different artists in various forms of wood, paint, and plaster — a miniature dollhouse concept.

We also found these places very much worth the time and highly recommend visiting them at least once.

  • Kuntshistorisches Museum (I love the golden ornate animated/music type boxes and dolls that were once table centerpieces on wealthy landowners’ homes. Specifically, the Hapsburg family. I put one in my first novel)
  • Albertina Museum
  • Opera House Tour (a walk through the place with a tour guide)
  • Vienna Hofburg Orchestra: Mozart and Strauss Concert (music along with a couple dancing)
  • Bowaki Restaurant (Romanian food. The dessert was fabulous. Make a reservation and spend a couple of hours dining there)

  • Spanish Riding School (no photographing permitted the training area). With some difficulty, I rooted out the various options at the facility. They escalate from simple to extravagant. The only event that I found with a free entry was the Advent-event, which begins on December first from 4 – 10pm daily through January 6th (except December 6th, 24th – 26th and January 1st). This can be accessed through the inner courtyard of the stable castle at Reitschulgasse 2, 1010 Vienna. At this address there are drinks and food to observe and purchase. As for the performances, I had only remembered one show from my visit over thirty years ago, but now there are many options at various prices. The least expensive of the group was the morning exercise program; I chose this option. My memory of that hadn’t changed. The horses, some fully and some partially trained, pranced around the arena guided by riders of various levels of experience. The brown coats being the ones with more than the grey coats.  For me, the difference this time was that I had enough riding experience to almost move my hands, my seat, and my legs to send commands to the horse while I sat in my folding chair in the audience. I have never done dressage on that level, but having some understanding of what the riders were doing enriched the experience.
  • MAK museum was rather unusual from my perspective. A few rooms had traditional carpets, lace, and furniture on display. Others had modern gadgets like a ‘robot’ to dust, vacuum and scrub someone’s home. There was also a room with repurposed items and demonstrations of the latest collection methods for wasted water bottles floating in the oceans.

PARIS – December 5, 2019

Our intention was to leave for Paris on a flight with Austrian Airlines. This was also the intention of our four traveling companions. After assessing the up-coming labor strike over pension time-lines and benefits, we decided not to go to Paris (the strike is all over France; Marseille-Lyon-Rennes-Bayonne to name a couple others). The French public service community is unhappy with President Emmanuel Macron’s plans. There hasn’t been such a massive worker strike since 1995 when President Jacques Chirac tried the same thing. The news reports coming out of Paris say many private shops are closed because of the strike. The police ordered some restaurants and liquor establishments on several streets to close for safety reasons. They are on Boulevard de Denain, Boulevard de Magenta, Place de la Republique, Boulevard Voltaire and Place de la Nation. The businesses have boarded up their storefronts to keep the glass from being broken by demonstrators. The Eiffel Tower has been closed as well. Most of the trains and public transportation are not running. The yellow coats will be out protesting in force. Six thousand police are on duty during the strike. They were tested when violence broke out. People clad in black at Place de la Republique and Boulevard de Magenta. They set objects and trash cans on fire. Others threw bricks they’d ripped out of the sidewalks. Some overturned a shipping size container. Another climbed the side of a building’s iron bars and destroyed the security camera. Police responded with tear gas towards the demonstrators and blocked the streets with vans parked side by side.

When our group of three couples decided to cancel our trip to Paris, we each came across different challenges. The most positive of the challenges came when we contacted hotels and tour/class businesses asking for a refund on non-refundable slots. Most complied with apologies (ParisByMouth.com). We were impressed with The Hotel Galileo as they lost a large amount of money by refunding our stay. In the future, we will certainly stay there and recommend them to others. The Cordon Blu (Address; 13-15 Quai Andre Citroen. Phone; +33(0)1 85 65 150) was to provide some of us with a tour and others a lesson—they contacted us to reschedule before we had a chance to ask. Two exceptions; the Eiffel Tower, with its complex website of ascent options, declined our compensation request, and Moulin Rouge said we had two years to use a voucher for another performance, which was acceptable to the couples who had purchased those tickets. We were also sad to miss going to the unicorn tapestry exhibit at the Cluny Museum-our third attempt in as many visits to Paris; closed on the other two visits. We hadn’t planned to go to the Louvre this time, so that wasn’t an issue, but I fondly recall the goat tied in a ditch outside trimming the grass. Looking across the goat to the plaza, there was a man proposing marriage to his lady on one knee.

Four of us were on flights that were canceled and therefore, they could get a refund. The other couple—which included me—did not have a canceled flight; one of the only ones that wasn’t.  Regardless, we took the small financial loss and scheduled a new flight from Vienna to Porto, Portugal. This appeared to be the best choice since we had planned to go there after Paris anyway.

My husband and I got to the airport and discovered our new flights with TAPortugal airline only had one of the two boarding passes we paid for. After negotiating with the window agent, making an attempt on-line, and on the phone, we failed to solve the issue. Another flight had to be booked, but the timing was quite taxing. We had arrived at the airport at ten in the morning and the flight we finally acquired left at 8:30 at night. It took us to the southern end of Portugal—Lisbon—and leaves us there for eight hours. In the morning, we boarded another plane to Porto and arrived at around seven in the morning. We could have stayed in Lisbon since we’d planned to go there a week later, but we’d already booked lodging and transportation from one end of the country to the other. MAYBE that was a mistake. The time to cancel out accommodations had passed, and the trains tickets were non-refundable. When I traveled in Portugal a couple of years ago, nothing beyond a day or two was booked in advance. This was our daughter’s idea. At the time, I was very uncomfortable with the idea, but it turned out to be precisely the right choice.

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