Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Weekend in Budapest

Last weekend Celia and I made a 4-day trip to Budapest. I don't remember how long I've wanted to go there; I was anticipating elaborate architecture and jewel-colored thermal baths. For the baths, the Hotel Gellert Spa did not disappoint. A thermal spa isn't much like Canyon Ranch. Instead of calesthenics, you sort of laze around in water that is geothermically heated and supposedly the minerals in the water are good for you. What do I know. In any case we managed the language barrier (Hungarian? Koskonom means thank you. That's all I could retain) we booked massages and a manicure for me, a pedicure for Celia. The manicure featured all sorts of sparkeldy nailpolish, I chose pink. I am looking at it now. It is fairy princess my little pony pink.

Our hotel, Soho Boutique Hotel, was on the Pest side of the river. The hotel, newly finished in August, was staffed with handsome young men whose English was perfect. They encouraged us to ask for recommendations and advice, which we did several times a day. Very helpful, very nice room, great breakfast, I recommend it.

So we mostly wandered around, maps in hand, or took one of the four transport modes: Underground, Tram, Street Train, or bus. Like most european cities, Budapest has a lot to teach the US about public transportation. Otherwise the cars all seem to be burning diesel fuel which made the air kind of nasty at rush hour. The city is all you think it is: cosmopolitan, ancient, elaborate-amazing, and there are remnants everywhere of the Soviet era. Fabulous food. We shopped at tiny grocery stores also every day for snacks and mystery food.

We visited more museums than I will remember here: The Textile Museum, the Applied Arts Museum (in a fabulous tiled art nouveau building), the National (art) Museum, the History Museum, the Jewish Museum... the Castle, the embassies, the bridges (all), the Central Market (see photos). Well. Here are the photos:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Museums and FOOD

A couple of days later Celia and I visited the German History Museum in Berlin on Unter den Linden. We dallied at the ancient history part, not realizing that history goes all the way to uh... something like yesterday... so I advise anyone visiting Berlin to go to this museum more than once!

Later that day Birgit Heitfeld had arranged a German cooking lesson for the gang at the Kochbox in the Kulturbrauerei complex in Berlin. We spent the afternoon cooking klöpfen, kartoffelsuppe, several kinds of meat I don't know what, two kinds of sauerkraut... well I don't know what everything was called. But it was a hit with everyone. Some pics:

Haus am Waldsee, snow magic

My daughter Celia came to Berlin from New York last week. She's interested in art and art history so we spent 10 days looking at art and otherwise doing a lot of walking through two fascinating cities: Berlin and Budapest. The day after her arrival, we went to see a show at Haus am Waldsee that featured work by Carla Guagliardi and Simon Faithfull.

I know Carla from the last time I was in Berlin. This quarter she's in Brazil, but she told me about her show at Haus am Waldsee, a contemporary art space in a sprawling old house in Krumme Lanke, a suburb to the west of Berlin.

Her work has to do with the passage of time, and the evidence of the passage through the change of elements (loss of air, for example). The pieces are poetic yet they involve a physical sort of inquiry... I will show some photos here. Great space also. Hi Carla!

Photos: Large planks weighing on latex balls, filled with air; Glass water vessel suspended between four corners of a room; latex balls and rubber bands

After a cappucino at a cafe on Mexicoplatz, we bundled up tight and took a walk to the Schlactensee. Celia wanted to sample the Glühwein, so I was a good sport and joined her. The See was iced over, snow covered, with more snow falling. Despite the weather, or probably because of it, there were a lot of people walking around/on the lake, taking a lunch at the cafe on the shore, etc. We did also see many dogs. I think I mentioned before, and others have noticed it, German dogs are sooooo well behaved. Grocery stores have assorted dogs sitting outside, not leashed, waiting for their masters. Not distracted at all by any passers-by! Also the children are well-behaved. It's true. But none are parked outside the grocery.

Not to wear anyone out, but later that night we had Tapas in Berlin Mitte at a restaurant across from the Clärchens Ballhaus, where afterwards we went to a concert in their famous Spiegelsaal. This photo is pretty dark, but you can get a better view on their website.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Potsdam Adventure

On Sunday six of us set out for Potsdam, with the idea that we'd rent bicycles at the train station and wheel around town then up to Parc Sans Souci. Turns out we couldn't find bikes to rent (could it be because it's winter?) but we found the 695 bus and hopped a ride to the park. Parc Sans Souci is huge, and houses a number of palaces and assorted other buildings dating from Friedrich Willhelm II (Frederick the Great). Friedrich II was a fan of Italianate and French architecture as reflected in the two big palaces - the yellow building "Sans Souci" with happy students in front, and the pink building "Neue Schloss." Other buildings included the Chinese House, also constructed during FII's time, and the Orangerie (more students: Kat, Karla, Nathan, Ruth, Teesha) which was a gigantic greenhouse where exotic fruits were grown for the royal household.

We walked the grounds for 5 hours! Afterwards, we sought out a French bistro on a backstreet in Potsdam town for a beer... then wandered around before giving up and taking the 695 back to the station. Truly a wonderful day.

I just heard the radio weather forecast: it's going to snow! I'll go out for a run now before it gets too bad...

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Chillin in Chilham (bad pun)

Last weekend I spent a wonderful long weekend with my longtime friends Lesley and Brian Strange in the UK (students went variously to Florence, Rome, and Amsterdam on "free weekend" trips of their choices). I've known Lesley and Brian since the late 80's when I lived in Shaker Heights, Ohio. They rented a sweet 14th century cottage in Kent, in a village called Chilham. Thus the bad pun. Our goal for the weekend, besides cooking, eating, drinking, and watching videos, was to make a pilgrimage to Canterbury using one of the overland hikes in Brian's tour books. Successful in all ambitions, we had a memorable weekend with the following highlights:

1. Saw "Woman in Mind," a play starring Lesley's friend Martin Parr at London's Vaudeville Theater. The director, Alan Ayckbourn, was in the audience but we did not meet him. However Martin joined us at a cozy pub afterward. The first photo is Lesley and Martin:

2. Went shopping for provisions at the Borough Vegetable and Fruit Market and Billingsgate Fish Market (notice the hare and partridge)
3. Our cottage, "Orion," is on the left
4. Ate - it's true - lobster, oysters, sole, squid, mixed game pie, 3 pounds of French butter. It was the best lobster I have ever tasted.

5. Wandered off to Canterbury (11 miles!) over hill and dale, and through a flock of sheep and lambs
6. Watched videos that I chose. "Downfall" was popular, not so "Trainspotting" and a Lars Von Trier film whose name I forget. I liked that one though. Ate popcorn. 2 more pounds of butter.

6. Returned during a snowstorm
7. Was snowed in! Heathrow closed down altogether. There was at least 6" of snow!
8. Took the train back through the Chunnel, Brussels, and Cologne. All's well that ends this well.

Tomorrow, the group goes to Potsdam, where we'll attempt to rent bicycles to ride to Sans Souci...