Monday, 31 May 2010

The air in Rome is bad!

Well I have been sick with acute Bronchial Asthma for several days now. It is the second time in 3 years that this has happened to me in Rome. It is due to a combination of cold and humid air we get from the sea only 35 km from the city and the other temperature patterns swirling around the City. Rome is or was originally a swamp surrounded by low hills with 2 rivers crossing it.
There is also air pollution which does not help matters much, too many cars for such a small place and buildings built for hot weather meaning all stone, marble and concrete which keeps the cool. The months of March-April are deadly in Rome, cold humid buildings poorly heated never kills the chill and the smell of damp mildew everywhere. We have also had a lot more rain in the last 2 years than is normal in winter with much colder weather, we did have snow this past winter.

I am currently taking all this medicine to clear my lungs, makes me tired and restless and have difficulty sleeping despite being tired. Hopefully this will pass in the next few days.

Picture is me last year during our visit at the Monastery of Montserrat, Catalonia, Spain, which is near the city of Barcelona.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

It's not all glamour you know

Lately as I have been thinking of many things about my life and looking back, reflecting you could say, I noted that I have often put the wrong emphasis on things, what is important and what is not important. People's attitudes, response or lack of will often affect me and color the way I see things. I have to remember that everyone in this world has a different experience and some people no matter who they are may be selfish, dishonest, have insecurities and negative attitudes or just lazy. I have to simply hold on to what I believe and do my best at all times and that is really all that is required. I also have to learn to look after myself and not worry so much about others. They are just as capable to look after themselves. Taking some distance, deep breath as Mr. W. would say, I often laugh at him saying that, but in the end he is right. I have enough to do without worrying about others and their attitudes or responses or lack thereof.
Life is a two way street and people have to respond in kind, if they don't well it is because they have their own problems and it is really not my concern.

I am often bad at reading people and how their behaviour or body language can send clues of what they are really thinking. I really have to work on that. The difficulty is trying to correct a lifetime of habit into a more pro-active or defensive attitude to protect myself. Being positive or looking at things from a completely different angle can help also. Things are not always what they seem, there is often much more beneath the surface. So I need to take a fresh look or at least a different look and be more analytical of people, so that I can lead a happier life.

I have to remember that I am not responsible for everything in this world.
Help if I can. Be more positive and look on the bright side.
Many things are out of my control and I have to accept that.
Bad things happen but that is not my fault. Others have to also take responsibilities.

toy soldiers new addition

In my ever growing collection of toy soldiers I bought more in Vienna, found a little shop down a street near our hotel. It was full of stuff, old pictures, 19th century helmets of various regiments with plumes, even silver tread embroidered and plumed ambassadors bicorne, once worn as part of Court dress, lots of beautiful officers swords, both military and diplomatic. The workmanship that produced such weapons, very fine, some blades where etched with patriotic calls to duty. What was in the store must be at least 100 years old. Much of it from the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which also included the ex-Yugoslavia, Czech republic (then called Bohemia) and the Slovak republic which was an integral part of Hungary until 1918.

Lots of beautiful medals and large star shaped decorations and sash, all in very good condition. Probably families selling off heirlooms of days long gone.
Also of course of prime interest to me was the lead soldiers 54 mm, medium quality production. I needed to supplement my Austria contingent. I also needed a Napoleon since I now had a Duke of Wellington from my February trip to London. I also bought quite a few soldiers in London, mostly British troops under General Wolfe.
Here are a few photos of these latest additions.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Nickolas and Eleonora are home

This morning we drove out to Prima Porta to fetch Nicky and Nora who were visiting family in Capena. We were told that Nicky was kept busy by 3 bitches in heat, he looked a little thin apparently he forgot to eat. Nora also lost a bit of weight which is a good thing, all the fresh air and running around in fields. They also had 3 classes in socializing and playing with much bigger dogs, German Shepherds that is at Lisa T. who is their trainer.
In the car, Nicky slept on the back seat, while Nora was in the front looking out the window and the world going by as we drove back into Rome.

Now after having double rations for dinner and biscuit, they are snoozing away on the sofa, using yours truly as a pillow. The world is perfect.

Tomorrow I was planning to go to Florence for the day to see a cabinet maker of miniature display cases. But since I am a bit tired I will postpone the trip. These cabinets I would use for my ever expanding army of lead soldier. If I ever go to Russia on posting, I probably will get into serious army build-up.
Russia is very well known for its quality lead soldiers and beautiful craftsmanship. When I get close to the one hundred thousand mark, I will let you know.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

No Kangoroos in Austria!

We are at gate B34 at Vienna Airport waiting for our flight home to Rome on Alitalia. The neat thing about this airport is that the internet access is FREE. We had a wonderful time and now we want to go home. Tomorrow morning I go pick-up Nicky and Nora at the farm. They are apparently doing well visiting with family in the countryside. Very impressed with the service in Austria and the country as a whole, we always enjoy our visits here. Luckily this is a short flight 90 minutes to Rome.

The weather throughout the vacation was a little uncertain, today per example we had hot and humid and windy and cold all day, on and off, sunny and dark clouds. No wonder people catch colds, you do not know how to dress from hour to hour.

On our last day we went to visit the Belvedere Palace in Vienna,in fact 2 palaces the upper and lower belvedere, once the Residence of Prince Eugene of Savoie-Carignan,a French noble at the service of the Hapsburg, his feat, he stopped once and for all the Turks at the gates of Vienna 1683 in a decisive battle with the help of King John Sobieski III of Poland. Thus he became a national hero in Austria and a European hero, the Pope called him at the time the Savior of Christianity. He was also notoriously gay. Had he not succeeded we would live today in a different world, less Christian and more Muslim. Prince Eugene was also a man of the Baroque age, a philosopher, an art collector and a great Statesman. This special exhibit on his life which is on until 6 June 2010 is well worth seeing. The Belvedere Palace today houses a beautiful painting collection of Monet and Manet and many other German and Austrian painters.

On his death in 1736, Prince Eugene only had one heir, a cousin, Princess Victoria, who was short, fat with beedy little black eyes and very miserly. She sold the contents of his art collection to her cousin the King of Savoie-Piedmont and the art collection ended up in his palace in Torino. If you visit Italy today you can see the collection there. The Savoie became the Royal Family of Italy in 1860.

Prince Eugene also had a menagerie of exotic animals and Princess Victoria sold off the animals to hunters for fancy hunting parties. The Emperor of Austria was a little scandalized by the attitude of Princess Victoria and society in general was disapproving of her doings, but she was the legal heir so she could do as she pleased. It is said that after the death of Prince Eugene the Austrian state started its long descent, there really was no one quite like him as a Statesman, Diplomat and Soldier.

Finally Rome Fiumicino airport, on time on a Wednesday evening, how to we know we arrived, simple as we step down from the plane unto the tarmac to take the bus which will ferry us to the terminal building, I note how driving along the runways in Rome Airport is a bit like Formula One, speeding is common, as we arrive at the terminal building, a Alitalia service vehicle is illegally parked blocking our access to the terminal door. Which other airport in the would have vehicle parked illegally.
Home sweet home.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Tuesday 25 May,Vienna

We left Salzburg Hauptbahnhof ( under massive reconstruction for high speed trains) at 11:02 on our way back to Vienna. Last night we had a very nice dinner in the restaurant of the Bristol then dessert in the bar at our table. Jokingly I said to Gunther that I would like a baked Alaska or make that two for dessert. Gunther looked a little puzzled at first and then Will told him to pay no attention to me, I was just being funny. However what we did have a soufflé with berries. The recipe calls for 7 eggs, berries and lots of sugar, it is freshly made and arrives hot from the kitchen, it was very good.

We said goodbye to Gunther and went off to bed. This morning at check out the owner came to say goodbye. We hope to return this winter for the Mozart week. The program looks interesting with the Hagen Quartet, Marc Minkowski, Philippe Jaroussky, Heinz Holliger, Sir Charles Mackerras, with music by Mozart, Schubert, Schostakovich, J.S. Bach, J.C. Bach and C.P.E. Bach.

The weather has been like in years past, a bit chilly, a bit rainy and now hot and sunny. This means we brought too many clothes and then bought shirts and ties and other things we liked, not to forget lead soldiers.

Austria like many European countries is changing rapidly, through immigration, many new Austrians are not natives, they come from Latin America, China, Sri Lanka, India, Turkey and Africa. They work in the service industry and you find them in hotels, restaurants, trains, airports and in many other areas of the economy. This movement of people is not just a North American phenomenon but very much something happening in the whole western world. This is why I am always surprised to hear some individuals speak against immigration as if it is a threat, think of it, if not for these new workers who would do all these essential jobs. It is changing the face of countries like Austria.
We should not forget that Austria was for centuries a multi-ethnic Empire, so maybe this is not so new after all.
This train per example started in Munich, Germany and now crosses Austria and with a final destination of Budapest, Hungary. It borders during its journey the Czech Republic and Slovakia. All these people were once part of one country.

Along the route from Salzburg all the train stations we cross on our way to Vienna are under re-construction including in Vienna the Westbahnhof, very impressive.

We went to Immervoll for lunch today just steps from our hotel. Very good food.
Tonite its opera night at the Volks Oper.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Monday our last day

This morning was the last performance of the Festival, we heard the Oratorio Betulia Liberata by Niccolo Jommelli, composed in 1743 for orchestra and choir, in one sentence, beautiful music but too many notes, I fell asleep and even Monsieur fell asleep, it was boring, despite the excellent orchestra and conductor Riccardo Muti and the setting in the Felsenreitschule. Afterwards we went to the Cafe Bazaar for a light lunch and then a walk up the Möchsberg which is the mountain that separates the city in two parts. The Festival hall is built partly inside of it and a big tunnel Neu Tor was cut through the rock in 1767 to facilitate movement within the city. Beautiful views from up there on this sunny and warm day.

We have our train tickets for our return tomorrow to Vienna and Wednesday evening we fly back to Rome. Will's cold is a bit better and the weather now being warm and sunny should also help.

For 2011 we are seriously tempted to come to the Mozart Week Festival in January (21-30) instead of the May Whitsun Festival, the reason being that we looked at the program and in May nothing special is happening. So we will see, in May 2011 we may do this cruise of the Baltic we have been planning for years to do from Copenhagen to St-Petersburg.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

The Golden Stag

In the Alps region of which Austria is part, the Stag (Hirsch) is prominent in the iconography and culture. Here in Salzburg, the Golden Stag Hotel is one of the best, small but exclusive with an excellent restaurant, beautiful linen and fresh cut flowers, usually a small bouquet of roses on each table. Very nice menu, if a bit on the heavy side. I took this picture of the sign for the hotel which hangs on the street, no big commercial neon signs here. The building dates back to 1757.

I also have this official photo of Will in his new Austrian Trachten, I think he looks very handsome. Thanks to him I discovered this Music Festival. He is a wonderful fellow.

Pentecost Sunday

A beautiful day today, hot and sunny, concert this morning with Les Arts Florissants with Paul Agnew. An excellent group who through the years have amassed a large following under William Christie who is now retiring slowly. Les Arts Florissants is known for its early Music repertoire and Baroque music of the 1600 and 1700.
This morning was Neapolitan music and as Paul Agnew explained to the audience, this was the period when Neapolitan music and genre was dominating the world stage. The concert was devoted to music of the Roman Catholic Church played during the Passion period and entitled Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah. The music is written in the antique style, meaning that as church music it is not accompanied by an orchestra. The stile moderno on the other hand is secular music and is with orchestra but would not be performed in a church.

Here we had cello, theorbe and organ continuo and the choir of Les Arts Florissants. The concert last about one hour and 40 minutes all together. The pieces span the period 1660 to 1757, by authors Alessandro Scarlatti, Leonardo Leo and Antonio Caldara.

Afterwards we went to Herzl the restaurant of the Goldener Hirsch Hotel (
They have nice Austrian food and it is beautifully presented. We had Zander, which is a white fish with green asparagus and mashed potatoes. Since Will is not feeling well, a slight cold, he went to bed after lunch and I went walking about town. Today is quiet, tonight no concert, so we will have dinner in the hotel restaurant.

One thing about this Music Festival, first when you come to one of the concert halls, no one checks your ticket, you simply walk in. The ushers may take a cursory look at your ticket but they are there to help you find your seat. The whole thing is an honour system, it is assume that if you do not have a ticket, you would not try to sneak into an event. Same thing at intermission, in the Karl Böhm hall, they will often have champagne on offer and an area for the special guests, again it is assume that if you are not a special guests of the sponsor, you will not try to barge in and take something that is not yours. The idea is that if you are caught the shame of it would make you loose face in public. You know it works here.

This morning a non-European tourist in an expensive rented car tried to drive the wrong way down a one way street passing in front of the Festival hall, the police stopped him and asked for ID.
The officer then told the driver that he could go no further. The driver argued with the officer that he only wanted to go to the next intersection about 600 meters away. The officer told him NO turn around or park right here. Tourist was having none of it but at the same time realize that the stern look on the officer’s face meant NO and that is it. He finally turned around.

At the festival people dress well, you will not see casual wear, it’s not done. Women are very well dressed and so are men, for an 11am concert men wear tie and jacket and women have nice outfits, nothing loud but in good taste. I find that women here look feminine, dress in an under stated way but with elegance, even ladies who do not attend the festival dress well.

The other thing Will and I noticed is the number of wealthy looking older gentlemen with younger companions. There are quite a few here, nephews no doubt.

Also people attending the Festival will not be seen between concerts, where do they do? I have no idea.
It seems that people simply visiting Salzburg belong to one group and people at the Festival are another distinct group, a bit like groupies or conventioneers.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

another music day in Salzburg

Well we had quite a day today, first the weather, turned out sunny and warm despite all predictions that it would rain all day.
The crowds came out everywhere in the squares and all along the river banks of the Salzach. Our morning concert at the Mozartheum was very beautiful, though the concert hall tends to be very warm due to poor air circulation. I also noticed a naked statue of Mozart in the lobby, he appears under the form of Apollo, god of music. We had lunch in a very good Japanese restaurant, not surprised given the number of Japanese here. I discovered that Kirin Ichiban Beer is owned by Heineken and made in Russia under licence. We then went to Demel for coffee and pastries. The late afternoon we saw the opera Piramo and Tisbe by Johann Adolph Hasse composed around 1768 is an obscure piece and maybe it should stay that way. We left after the first act, pretty music but boring, it is the old theme along the lines of the Romeo and Juliette story. We returned to the hotel for dinner and Gunther our barman, who we believe to be the best barman in the world, served us dinner, Will chose from the Austrian Imperial menu, which are favorite foods of the Kaiser Franz Josef, wiener schnitzel and I had veal cutlets in morel sauce with white asparagus. To start we had goose liver paté, a personal favorite with a coulis of red pimento and strawberry.

We then went to the movies, as part of the Festival this year they had a 1927 silent movie called Naples is a song, accompanied with techno music. The movie was great, it had a scene shot at the top of the Vesuvius, which was smoking with a huge plume back in those days. The street scenes of Naples were very interesting and funny.

We came back around midnight and Gunther the Bar man had night caps for us.
Tomorrow we have a concert at 11 am and then we are free. We will probably go to the Goldener Hirsch (golden stag) for dinner.
It is one of the best hotels in the world and their restaurant is very nice. Hopefully tomorrow which is Pentecost and a major holiday here in this very Catholic country, we will have sunny weather again.

Morning rush

This morning after a night of very heavy rain, the sky seems to want to clear. Hopefully the weather will be warmer, though it is not unpleasant. We went down to the breakfast room, really good offering for breakfast and they have those really nice pork sausage with herbs that I like so much and all kinds of other good stuff. Had a little chat with the hotel owner about the festival and exchanged views about the artists this year and last. He took over from his mother who has retired, a very charming fellow.

His background is not hotel business but music he was for many years with the Vienna ensemble and now he runs this beautiful hotel. I took a few pictures of the hotel public rooms, what a lovely place it is. This morning or today is going to be a busy day, 2 concerts and a silent movie from 1928 called Naples is a song. Remember this festival is devoted to Naples of the baroque era 1660-1770, when it was music capital of the world reknown for its Music schools and violin teachers and virtuosis like Geminiani, Matteis, Porpora, Scarlatti and Barbella.

We will hear Giuliano Carmignola, violin, Riccardo Doni, Ivano Zanenghi and Francesco Galligioni playing as an ensemble though they are single artists.

So off we go to hear and see all this wonderful art.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Opening night

This Evening we went to the opening of the Whitsun Festival in Salzburg at the Haus fur Mozart one of the 3 halls in the Festival complex the other known hall the Felsenreitschule that appears in the movie the Sound of Music, it is all carved in the rock face of the mountain. The hall we were in is an addition. The opening work this year is an opera by Mozart, he composed at the age of 15 on a libretto by Pietro Metastasio (1698-1782), it is the story of Judith and Olofrenes. Story taken from the old Testament which tells how the widow Judith saved the Jewish people by killing the leader of the Assyrians, Olofrenes. It is a theme in classical painting that comes back all the time, Judith is seen using Olofrenes's sword to chop his head off while he is sleeping. She is the hand of God liberating his people (the Jews) from the oppressor, in this case the Assyrians or Persians. It is a story of Faith, Love and Hope and of the conversion of the Amonite Prince Achior to Judaism when he sees a defenseless woman win alone against a mighty foe with the help of the one true God.

Beautiful score which shows that Mozart as a child was a musical genius, Maestro Riccardo Muti, (my favorite conductor) did a superb job as always with his orchestra. The theme of this opera was very well received by the Austrian Emperor who saw in this score of the deliverance of the Jewish people an allegory to the liberation of Vienna from the Turkish menace in 1683. Faith in God the All mighty frees his people, the Turks being savages and godless barbarians. In the Felsenreitschule the Karl Böhm hall which use to be the setting for jousting matches and is now use for receptions, on its ceiling a large fresco of a match where Christian Princes are watching galant knights behead rather stylishly Turkish prisoners.

The audience is composed at the Festival of regulars, same people each year really, mostly Europeans and a lot of wealthy Japanese who appear to be guests of the official sponsor the watchmaker A.Lange & Sohne of Dresden, Germany (

This morning off to Salzburg

We left our hotel by St-Stephen’s Cathedral and made our way towards to West Bahnhof of Vienna, the city has several train stations, all large, depending on your destination in Europe.

Since shops and businesses open around 10 am in Vienna, it was a rapid taxi ride to the train station about 15 minutes away from our hotel. The West Bahnhof is currently undergoing a complete rebuilding. We are on the Austrian Federal Railway train or OBB rail Jet which arrives from Budapest and stops 3 minutes in Vienna, just enough time for people to get on and off and now we are going towards Linz, then Salzburg our destination. The train itself will continue onwards to Munich. The trip is about 2:30 hours. The train is very clean and quiet, though again full of passengers. This being a long Pentecost weekend in Austria lots of people travel. We go through dark forests, little towns, we see valleys and hills, everywhere dark green the predominant colour and Alpine peaks, everything is very picturesque. The train is going 202 km per hour,
in first class, the seats are leather and there is lots of leg room, very comfortable with meal service at your seat or in the car restaurant, they have a wide menu of food and drinks. We go through several villages like Pukersdorf, Pressbaum, Eichgraben, Neulengbach, Böheimkirchen on our way to the first stop St-Pölten.
In the station in St-Pölten we see car loads of freshly cut pine wood logs . Here too the train station has been re-built and modernize but in keeping with the town Alpine look.
The infrastructure in general in Austria is very good and modern.

It reminds me that the Danube river in Germany and Austria has been canalized some decades ago with a series of locks, allowing ships to bypass the rapids and waterfalls of the river Danube, as it rushes down as a torrent from the mountains in southern Germany across europe and towards the Balkan. So the Danube that you see in Vienna proper is the old river, nowadays the canalized version open to shipping is on the outskirts by the Prater Garden.

Now on our way to Linz, we pass by Melk, there is a beautiful abbey and castle here, all done in Austrian Baroque, looks a lot like pastry and marzipan decoration with white icing and lots of gold leaf. More little villages, Golling an der Erlauf, Neumark an der Ybbs, Blidenmarkt, Amstetten, Aschbach Markt, St-Peter in der Au, St-Valentin. At this point we are in a wide valley and to our right is the border with Czech Republic further ahead is the border with Germany. All along since Vienna we have more or less followed the Danube river.

Now Linz on the Danube, the composer Anton Bruckner lived here. Otherwise it is an industrial centre, not much of a tourist spot.

We are now just one hour away from our destination. Arriving in Salzburg the multi-year total reconstruction of the railway station is only 60% complete, the new part is modern and quite beautiful, once completed it will be a spectacular port of entry to Salzburg.

The weather unfortunately is cold around 16C and cloudy, some rain tonite. We arrive at the Bristol Hotel, at our request the management gave us the same room as last year. We then go to Café Bazaar for lunch, love this place, good food and friendly service, has not changed since 1920, beautiful cherry wood paneling on the walls and bevelled glass windows overlooking the river.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Vienna, Day two

Well today we went to the Lipizzaner at the Spanish Riding School of the Hofburg Palace to see the horses perform their morning exercise. Now this is not a show like you would usually see, but more exercising the horses and putting them through their paces.
They are beautiful animals and it was a pleasure to see them up close. All of it is done in silence, the rider speak to the horse through hand gestures or by pulling on the reins. I noted that the riders do hold on tight, to establish who is in charge, these horses are big stallions and have a lot of character and personality, you see it in the way they behave.
Today the Riding school is a private art foundation and is no longer part of the Austrian Army. There are only 5000 Lipizzaner white stallions in the world. The only dissonant note was a couple of very fat, loud tourists who told everyone how much they paid for just about everything during their trip so far, this being a bar of how successful the trip is. We got away from them real fast.

Afterwards, we went again shopping for more Austrian clothing, we have enough of it now to do Sound of Music, just kidding, we bought more shirts and ties and summer pants.

For lunch we went to the Palmenhaus which is the old green houses of the Imperial Palace, part of the green houses is still used for rare plants and is also home for a large collection of live butterflies who fly through the green houses, it is very beautiful and the kids are so impressed by these little creatures, that they fall into a stunned silence. We had grilled forelle which is trout, it was delicious and so fresh with green salad and a glass of Gruner Vetliner, a light Austrian white wine.

After lunch we took a tour of the State Opera House, it was partly destroyed by aerial bombing in March of 1945 a week or so before Vienna fell to the allies. It was rebuilt between 1946-55 in a brutal modernist style. When you visit you can see the front rooms of the building which escaped the destruction and is original including the Imperial salon reserved exclusively to this day to the Austrian Head of State, the rest of the building, the auditorium and backstage is all modern. I pointed out to the guide that the Eagle above the Presidential box, (formerly the Imperial box) looks very American and not Austrian at all. She did not appear to understand what I was talking about. Maybe this was too sensitive a point, Austrians still have problems acknowledging their role during the Second World War and the sucking up to the Allies once the war lost.

We also visited the backstage area, the stage hands were installing the decor and sets for La Traviata. The stage area is one of the largest in Europe and the understage area goes down 4 floors, it is massive. The State Opera is open for opera and ballet only almost 7 nights every week of the year, 1000 people work there and it is a beehive of activity.

Afterwards Will had to return to the hotel, we changed our plans, we will return to Vienna directly from Salzburg and cancelled our stop in Linz. We re-arranged our hotel reservations and now will return on 25 May so we can attend the Volks Oper production of Oscar Strauss, Die Lustigen Nibelungen, a comic spoof on Richard Wagner's Ring cycle.

Tonite we are going to another Austrian restaurant, the Griechenbeisl, the name says Greek but this is because it is next to the Greek Orthodox Church on Fleishmarkt. ( Tomorrow morning off to Salzburg and the Music Festival.

Now where are we...

So we drove Nicky and Nora to Capena down the Flaminian road to the farm where they were born and where their moms and dads live with other relatives. Nicky and Nora were put into the general pound to socialize with the cousins, Nora did not seem impress with them and Nicky looked down right offended, I did not think of taking a picture but it was so funny, with his big mustache standing up like Kaiser Wilhelm, he just looked at them with an imperious air of, have we been introduced, who are you? sort of look, obviously living in the Citta Eterna has gone to his head. The cousins where probably thinking what is with this guy.

The next day we flew Alitalia to Vienna on a Bombardier Canadair regional jet which holds 98 seats and is like flying with your own private jet, very smooth flight, these inter-city jets are famous around the world and the only competition for Canada is from Embraer Brazil.
In Vienna we were met by the driver of the hotel, who had sent a car. Very nice hotel next to St-Stephen's Cathedral, Kaiserin Elisabeth, you cannot escape the imperial family in Vienna, they are everywhere. See the hotel site

Big room and very clean, spotless hotel, very quiet also, though it is full. You hear nothing, even in the breakfast room in the morning, guests behave themselves. Today we went down for breakfast, beautiful silver service on each table and very nice presentation of breakfast food. If they do not have it on the buffet, just ask and they will be pleased to bring it to you. Free selection of international newspapers available. What I like is that the hotel feels like you are at home, quiet service, polite, always courteous to a fault, it is understated and it leaves you smiling. When we arrived the front desk recommended a very good lunch place, just a feet steps away down the road, Imevoll, its a typical Austrian restaurant and wine bar, ten page wine selection menu, great food, plain and simple. Now is Asparagus season, so they have lots of dishes featuring beautiful white asparagus. There was a white asparagus lasagna on the menu and asparagus with small white potatoes in a bearnaise or bechamel sauce, asparagus soup and of course other Austrian dishes of meat, veal, chicken, beef.

You also cannot come to Vienna and miss the pastries, cakes, marzipan and chocolates, everywhere coffee houses with beautiful pastries and sandwiches, a true delight. We went to Gerstner which also is the official caterer of the State Opera House and has been around for 175 years.

For dinner that night we went to a new Austrian cuisine restaurant called Artner, ( it was wonderful, the waiter kept calling me Commendatore, usually in Italy I am simply Dottore, this was a real promotion. This is another facet of life in Austria, everyone has a title, you simply cannot go through life here without a title, you do not have one, don't worry they will give you one. The food was excellent as was the service, this restaurant has a wine shop and the wine selection goes on and on. We ate too much but it was so good. I started with a home made goat cheese, made I was told by the mother of the owner, wrapped in bacon and served on a bed of grilled white asparagus. Followed by a filet of Austrian beef with green beans sauté with a slice of bacon. We had a Riesling with dinner and for dessert, fresh berries sorbet with mint leaves. Both at the beginning of the meal and at the end the chef sent little bouchés to open the appetite and to close the meal. While we ate, the restaurant being across a small square of St- Hieronimus, we saw a procession from the Franciscan church with parishonners singing hymns, holding candles, this is Pentecost week.

On this first day we also did some serious shopping, Will wanted a Trachten jacket so we went to the Trachten shop, they are all over Austria, they sell essentially traditional Austrian clothing for children, men and women. I bought a Sakko jacket and a shirt and 2 ties and will bought a Trachten jacket, pants and shirt and tie. ( The sales personnel are very nice and self-effacing but very helpful. We were on the second floor of the shop, men's area where they sell clothing and hunting rifles, riding gear, and foot wear for the serious sportsmen, all of it of the highest quality.

So all in all not a bad first day.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

a stroll in Rome on a Friday afternoon

Usually on a Friday afternoon after lunch I like to either get my haircut or go out to see something. This friday I thought I would go out and get my haircut since we are going on vacation next week to Austria. So I called Mimo and made an appointment.
Photos here are of the streets I walked to get to my appointment and then the walk home.

I walked down Via Palermo which is a back street parallel to Via Nazionale. Went by the Opera House of Rome, then by a series of shops, many are specialty shops, like the one selling decorated cakes and designer handbags, well that is what I thought walking by. I was intrigued by the fact they were selling cakes and handbags, what a strange combination. I looked more closely at the Chanel Bag and the Ferragamo and the Louis Vuitton, they were very nice but then I realize they were made of marzipan.
What a fun thing to do for a party as a novelty, am sure they would be as good to eat as they are to look at.

Then I arrived at the corner of Vincolo dei Serpenti (alley of the snakes) it's a very old street in Rome, it is also the street where the private home of the President of the Italian Republic is located. A little street nothing special, in an old neighborhood. It took me a while to realize that something was odd about that street, no cars are parked, except for one with 2 fellows sitting in it, they are policemen, guarding the street.

President Giorgio Napolitano is 84 yrs old and has been a politician all his life, a communist Italian style. He is much respected by the Italians, a very dignified figure, a defender of Italian democracy and the Constitution. While he is in Office he lives at the Quirinale Palace just about 2 blocks away. Then I turn the corner and am at the barber shop, just across the street from the massive Palazzo Koch which is the seat of the Bank of Italy. The President and I share the same barber.

After my haircut, I decided to walk a little down to the old Market of Emperor Trajan, it was in its time the first shopping mall of antiquity, 5 floors of shops. Today it houses the exhibits of the Forum of Emperors Trajan, Nerva and Augustus.
These forums were fairly well preserved until 1605 when Pope Paul V decided he needed all the marble for a palace and a fountain he was building, what you see today is the result of this act of vandalism by the Pope. From the market platform you can look directly at the Altar of the Nation, this white marble monument was built about 130 yrs ago to commemorate the Royal House of Savoy and the unification of Italy as one country in 1860. It is the largest marble monument built in modern times. The belly of the horse on which sits the figure of King Vittorio Emmanuele can have inside a dining table and 9 men around it for a meal, there is an actual photo of this feat.

I then crossed Via Nazionale and walked up to the Quirinale Palace on my way home passing by the back gate of Prince Colona's garden where once stood the massive Temple to Serapis. The Quirinale was once a Papal Summer Palace, then in 1860 it was confiscated and became the Palace of the Italian King and in 1946 it became the Presidential Palace under the new Italian Republic. However it retains all of its grandeur and the President is housed like a king with all the ceremonial and protocol this entails.

I then walked up along the palace towards Piazza Santa Suzanna where the fountain of Moses has been cleaned after years of neglect, the stone has this soft butter color, it use to be part of a Cardinal's Palace, the palace today is the St-Regis Hotel. The fountain is in fact just a facade, it hides a beautiful apartment attached to the back.

Then onwards towards Porta Pia and home, the street lined with orange trees, full of oranges, they are apparently good to make jam but not to eat. I thought to myself, when would I ever be able to do this back in Canada. This is what I will miss most of Rome when we leave, this certain theatre of life and the elegance of this old city. Will continue to enjoy our stay and make most of it.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Orkestra Sinfonike, Tirana

This evening in the old theatre of the Faculty of Art of the University of Tirana (C.1933) the RadioTelevizionit Shqiptar Orkestra (radio-television orchestra of Albania) was giving a free concert, as is usually the norm in Albania. The orchestra was created in May 1962 under the Stalinist Regime of Enver Hoxha. It is a very good orchestra and a lot of its members are the original crew. The conductor is one Nir Kabaretti of Santa Barbara, California, who appears to belong to the ham fisted school of conducting. The soloist was Mirela Kokasykja who played the piano concerto opus 54 of Schumann, on a piano that needed tuning. The music auditorium is quite small about 500 seats, built like a bunker in concrete, poor acoustics and it has never been renovated since 1933, you can well imagine the terrible state of the place, the stuffing coming out of the chairs and the smell of mildew, dried sweat and stale cigarettes, I think it use to be called the smell of old communism. The chandelier in the ceiling is missing and the paint is peeling off the walls. Also during the concert people talk and take calls on their cel phones. But I have to say that though the Faculty is full of ghosts of the last 80 years it is sad but at the same time fascinating.
The faculty buildings of the University of Tirana stand at the end of the great boulevard built in the 1930's by the Italians for Mussolini, at the opposite end of the great square of Skanderberg currently under massive renovation by a Kuwaiti firm.
Though the concert was free only about 50 people showed up, many quite elderly.

On the main boulevard this week a protest by the Socialist party of Edi Rama,they set-up tents and are blocking the street, each night speeches to a light crowd who I am told is paid to attend and listening half-heartily. Lots of police around but not one has a gun or any weapon, just looking around.

Here at the Hotel Rogner (Austrian owned) jazz concerts on Thursday and Friday nights in the lush gardens. The music is quite good, it reminded me of Budapest. This is probably the best hotel in Tirana in terms of comfort, services, amenities and price.
Tomorrow return to la Citta Eterna.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Greece austerity, votes 172 for to 121 against

I just saw the vote in the Greek Parliament, the photos of the crowds outside Parliament on Syntagma Square an area I know very well since I stay in that area when I am in Athens. The austerity is harsh and for the Greek people this is a very difficult time and it will continue to be difficult for years to come. I have friends in Greece and I think of them and how they will do in this time of crisis.
Greece is a special place, every time I go to Athens I always go up to the Acropolis to see the Parthenon.
To me this says Western Civilization like no other places on Earth, this is our inheritance and our values. I am not Greek but nonetheless feel a connection with the place. This is why all this news of austerity and budget and sacrifice is such sad news. But as a professor of the University of Athens said tonight on the BBC World News, those who are responsible for this situation are not going to pay, it is like all crisis the citizens foot the bill. That has to stop, in any democracy, no one should be allowed to take advantage of citizens and if parliamentarians fail in their duty to protect the citizens, then they should be prosecuted.