Through my eye

A sometimes caustic view of things.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Through the Alps

Vienna, Austria to Paris and Barcelona

We found a nice hotel through Tripadvisor, the Pension Attache with the accent over the e. The trams stopped right outside and a three day city transport pass was very helpful. We toured art museums and the Treasury of the Hapsburgs. Connie was impressed by the jewels on the crowns and necklaces. We looked at St. Stephans Cathedral in the middle of the pedestrian center of the old city. Speaking of that, in the Treasury were numerous religious artifacts collected by the Hapsburgs and placed in gold and silver containers. A terrific number of thorns from Christ's crown of thorns, pieces of the cross, pieces of Christ's loin cloth, nicely embroidered, and one of the actual nails used in nailing Christ to the cross. I believe they we specific in which hand it was, as well.

Mark Twain had much to say about relics in Europe when he toured here 150 years ago. Something like "if all the pieces of the true cross were gathered together, you'd have enough wood to heat a cabin in Nevada for the winter." If he didn't say that, I apologize, but I'm certain he addressed the subject in like manner.

Vienna has an amusement park with a large Ferris wheel, been around as long as the tower in Paris. We took a ride on it and it stll gives a good view of the city. This is a town that believes in music and opera. Mozart look-alikes roam outside every public place trying to sell tickets to an opera. If they depended on me, they would starve.

Actually, I'm beginning to have enough of museums. Our next stop is Innsbruck.

In Innsbruck, miracle of miracles, our Ibis was interconnected with the train station. A car rental was across the square. Food was everywhere all around the clock. We toured the town, walked to the Alpenzoo, although we did not go in. We rented a car and drove to Neuschwanstein castle where we walked up the trails along with many Japanese tourists, all of whom had to stand at the best viewing point and have one picture taken of themselves, followed by a group shot. I got the required picture of the castle, but I also climbed some rocks to get a view without the jostling. Connie was not pleased with my taking risks, however.

I'll have to say that my knee complains a lot. After mailing my VA brace home earlier, I had to turn around and buy a new brace in Vienna, but it was a good one, very supportive, breathable and flexible without using neoprene which causes an allergic reaction on my skin. Hereafter I'll wear a Bauerfeind GenuTrain size 4 or no brace at all.

I followed the advice of the Info office (in the Innsbrucke train station) guy and drove back by back roads that took us across the Germany-Austrian borders four times in a winding route that paralleled rivers and a elongated lake. We saw blonde children naked and as brown as nuts running by the water while their parents lay in hammock chairs soaking up even more sun sans bathing suits for the most part. What I only saw once, however, was anyone dipping a toe in that glacial runoff that made the river an icy blue. At one point we and all the traffic behind us were delayed several minutes while a herd of cows ambled home from the meadow, just a dog and a boy with a switch to keep them moving along.

The route was perfect for motorcycling and dozens were out but frustrated by the traffic. They often took chances darting around RVs and cars on curves. It reminded me of my biking days except I would not have passed on a blind curve. Too much risk, even for me.

We saw the old city part of Innsbrucke, and it was as commercial as Rothenburg, but somehow it seemed more medieval by its closeness and crooked old buildings. It was the most heavily touristed area of the city, the rest of the town was uncrowded, although it did have a fair number of street people.

The wall of mountains all around and the variety of Italian and German dishes made this a very interesting city, one that might make a good winter visit as well.

Next we left for Paris to try and catch a night train to Barcelona for a two week stay. We changed trains in Zurich and had a nice lunch between trains. Could have sworn that Steven Spielberg was eating a few tables over, but who knows? The guy left before I could get a closer look.

In Paris we ended up at Gare d' est around the corner from where we stayed last year, so we booked a room at the nearby Ibis Chateau Landon. We ate in the hotel that night, but had lunch the next day at the brasserie by the same name, Le Chateau Landon, that we frequented last year.

Connie was somewhat amazed that the manager of the brasserie remembered us from our trip last year. We had a four-cheese quiche and a fresh salad with Dijon dressing, good bread and a jug of Bordeaux house wine at what I think of as my local bar in Paris.

With luck, I got a two person cabin on the train for that night. I was very pleased with myself because other connections from Zurich and Milan had been booked up.

We took the night train out of Paris Gare d' Austerlitz and Connie was a bit leery of whether she could sleep on the train or not. I thought since she seemed to sleep well enough on day trips with her head against the window that having a bed would be OK, since the rails here are so smooth.
Boy, was I wrong. The rails may be smooth but the rolling stock is very modern on most of the day trains. The rolling stock on the sleepers is much older and every weld on the rails told its tale, as did joints, switches and other imperfections, not to mention starts, stops, passing high speed trains and tunnels. If I lay on my back my belly actually shook like the proverbial bowl of jelly. I got a little sleep, but Connie could not.

We got to our Bed & Breakfast at 10 a.m., showered and slept. I went down the hill for sandwiches, while Connie slept. We ate and we slept some more. We went to dinner, but they don't open restaurants until 8:30, so it was sandwiches again at a bar and up the hill by little bus where we will sleep more. The B&B is run by a delightful young lady with a 18-month old and a large puppy. It sits almost at the top of one of the tallest hills overlooking Barcelona. It takes ten minutes to walk to the nearest market and 15 coming back , allowing for rest stops and if you go up the stairs. I've done it once. Down isn't so bad, but if the bus is running from now on, I wait. If not, I'll get a cab. If I lived here, I'd get a motor scooter.

However, we watched the light pass into night while overlooking the city from the balcony as all the lights came on and lighted cruise ships passed by out on the sea. The little bar where we ate this evening the owner insisted we have coffee with brandy in local fashion after our beer and chorizo sandwiches. It was his treat and something we haven't experienced elsewhere, so Connie was rather charmed by that.

More on Barcelona later.


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