Monday, December 19, 2011

San Francisco, Here We Are...Again!

Home Again!

We have moved into our temporary furnished flat in Noe Valley.  And it is so good to be home!

We decided to abandon our plan to live in New York for a couple of years.  This is for a number of reasons, one of which is that if we stay here, then we foresee one more moving day in the future.  I will still do research in New York, Boston, and Washington, but in multiple trips over the next couple of years.  The first one will be to New York for four weeks beginning in late April.  It will cost more, but after sixteen months as quasi-nomads, we are ready to settle down again.  We got very lucky in our apartment search.  We rented a flat in Noe Valley not far from where we are now.  If you are not familiar with the terminology here, "flat" doesn't mean "apartment" as such.  Here, a flat is a dwelling consisting of an entire floor of a residence building.  So we have a 3 bedroom, 2 bath floor which is above another flat and a combined garage at street level.  We get two parking spaces in that garage, lined up in tandem.  We move in on January 2.  Home!
Our new neighborhood is in this view from Twin Peaks toward the bay.

And of course, this marks the end of Walkabout 2010-2011.  We will write a closing entry to this blog after we settle down and distill our thoughts.  But an off-the-cuff thought of the moment, because we are often asked what was the best part of it?  Antarctica was in a class by itself.   I most enjoyed Cape Cod, Santiago de Chile, and our second stay in New York.  In a way, I am sorry that we won't be living in New York for those two years.  I hasten to add that overall, I still prefer Boston to New York and that I prefer San Francisco to either one, and to Paris and all the rest.  Looking back on it, I wish we had spent more time in Buenos Aires than we did.

It has been a fun year and a half in our lives, but we know that we will have as much fun in our future as we have just had.   Penny and I are lucky that way.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Home for the Holidays

Where did the time go?  Before we knew it, it was time for us once again to pack up and move along.  This time back to California, right back where we started from.  I got some more work done in the National Archives and the New York Public Library collections.

We went out to JFK airport using the car service that we have used before, giving ourselves plenty of time to get there.  A good idea in New York!  Of course, because we did that, there was practically no traffic and we had a long time at the terminal before boarding the flight to San Francisco.  Had we been on a tight schedule...well, you know what would have happened.

The flight was on time and Charlie met us at the airport with our car.  We went to get his car and then to stay in Oakland with Shawna, our niece.  On to Medford, Oregon, the next day.  David flew in from New York on Wednesday evening.

Priscilla and the family outdid themselves with the Thanksgiving banquet.  Twenty-nine adults and five children!

On Thursday, Penny and I go back to San Francisco for six weeks.  In a temporary apartment, in Noe Valley.  We no longer have our rented house in the Sunset.  Just our storage unit.  Since our plans have evolved and we are headed back to New York in late January, we will be spending a lot of time reorganizing our storage unit and getting out the things we want to take with us for the five weeks that we have given ourselves to find an apartment.  Think warm clothes.  We arranged the walkabout thus far, to be in places where it was warm. So my San Francisco sweater collection is mostly stored.  You get the idea. So much for endless summer!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The City That Never Sleeps

We have very much enjoyed our time in New York so far.  It is hard to believe that it has already been three weeks.  The weather was quite warm when we got here, and then it turned cold.  There was even a snowstorm! But now it is warm again!

Halloween was a fun day.  We traipsed around Manhattans's Upper West Side.  Kids were out trick-or-treating and the businesses along Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue all had candy for them.  As it got later, the costumed children then went to houses.  Penny and I went to David and Louis's to help hand out candy.

This started out as a research visit to the New York Public Library.  But as I worked through archive and library catalogs on line, I realized that the sources in the Eastern United States for what started as a California history project are very extensive.  So Penny and I decided to move back east for a year and most likely two.  New York was the logical choice because the sources are in New York, Boston, and Washington.

So our five weeks here also became a prelude to the apartment search.  Penny has done a great deal of research on line, and so we arrived with a good base of knowledge.  It should work out well when we come back in late January.

I have been to the National Archives facility in New York, and also to the special collections of the New York Public Library.  Some success, and it helps to know where things are, what are the required protocols, and so on.

On November 11, we watched the Veterans Day Parade up Fifth Avenue.

And some pictures from our wanderings checking out neighborhoods:

Friday, October 28, 2011

New York, New York!

So here we are, home again!  Or at least, in New York again!  It feels good to be back in the States.  And to be near where David is.  Three blocks away, in fact.  We are staying at Dupuy's Landing Guest House on W. 22nd Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues in the Chelsea district of Manhattan.  We will be here for five weeks before heading back to California for the holidays.

What started out as a two-week visit to do some quick research in the New York Public Library has grown by leaps and bounds.  I had figured to go through historical newspaper files from the first decade of the nineteenth century, looking at files held by NYPL but which they require researchers to access from on site.  Between that and David being here, we put it into the walkabout itinerary.  Penny quickly discovered that the price for a full month at Dupuy's Landing wasn't much more than for just two weeks.  One thing about being on walkabout and having no home is that the calendar must be filled up, and so we reserved four weeks.  Then we were able to get a fifth week at the same rate, which will bring us all the way to Thanksgiving.

So, Here We Are!!

That's not the half of it.  By last summer when we were in Paris, it became apparent that my research needs in the eastern US were much more extensive than I had thought.  I will need time in Boston, New York City, and Washington DC.  NYC is in the middle of those.  We decided to move to New York for a year, and likely for two years.  This five-week visit has now become a reconnaissance for the apartment search next year.  Penny has become very knowledgeable about the on line real estate market for flats and such, and we plan to walk different neighborhoods to see what we like and what we can afford.

Penny went to a Gillibrand for Senate campaign breakfast and had a very interesting time.  

We haven't been out taking photos much yet, but another post will add some of those.  In the meantime, here are a few that I took out walking in Chelsea and through Chelsea Market.
Looking north along 10th Avenue
Inside Chelsea Market, which is a rehabilitated Nabisco facility
Looking across the Hudson River toward New Jersey
A new use for an older building.  Note the street signs built into the side of the building.
The High Line is a pedestrian walkway built along what was once an elevated railway.  

In the background is London Terrace, a full-city block apartment complex built in the 1920s.  David and Louis used to live there.  It is expensive, and has almost no 2 bedroom units.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Visiting friends in Switzerland

Susan, Michael, and Anina are dear friends who live in Switzerland.  Penny has known Susan since they lived in Bangkok in the 1950s.  Susan's father was English and her mother Estonian.  She and her family now live in Steinhausen, a village in the canton of Zug.  They are wonderfully hospitable people and it is always a joy to visit them.  We just relaxed together, ate raclette, and went for a drive in the countryside.

We did have a bit of trouble getting to their house this time.  We drove from Strasbourg, and since we had a great deal of time, we took a scenic detour through Germany's Black Forest.   The road signs in Switzerland are not as easy to use as are the French ones.  Our Swiss friends were not overly thrilled to learn of our opinion in this matter, but they got over it!  ;-)

Fancy car, huh?

We sadly took our leave and drove to Melun, outside Paris.  There, we had reserved a hotel room by the A5 autoroute to enable us to get to Charles de Gaulle Airport tomorrow for our flight to New York.

Alsace in the Autumn

We took the train to Strasbourg, France, from Vienna.  We chose a night train so that we would arrive in the morning.  The easiest connection was via Zurich with a change there.  We had a three hour layover in Zurich.  Ordering croissants in German is more difficult to do for us than it is in French, but we managed.  Using the restroom cost two Swiss francs, which is more than two US dollars at the current exchange rate.  Switzerland!  Everything is expensive.

We stayed nine days at a very pleasant bed and breakfast just outside of Strasbourg.  Strasbourg itself is a very pleasant and pristine town, and is the seat of the European Parliament.  We visited the city itself on Sunday, and had a nice French dinner.  An American couple stationed at Wiesbaden, Germany was at the next table and we had a very enjoyable chat with them.  Alsatian specialties were also available, which usually means andouillettes and choucroute.  Translation:  sausage and sauerkraut.

We had a rental car for this time, and so we were on the road again.  On the road again, in the French countryside, listening to Car Talk podcasts through the radio.  We have always enjoyed doing that during our visits to France over the years.  We took several drives around the region.  We visited the French national railway museum in Mulhouse and that was interesting.  Perhaps you remember that we visited its British counterpart in York a few months back.  They had some interesting locomotives and wagons.

We drove back to Strasbourg along the wine route, and stopped for lunch in a small town.  Rouffach seems a prosperous place, which is not surprising for a place that produces wine and caters to a flourishing tourist trade.  We had tarte flambee, also called flammekuchen, which is another Alsatian specialty.  Kind of a pizza. Bread dough rolled out thin, baked with various cheeses, lardons, and pearl onions.  Good stuff!  

As you can see from these pictures, much of Alsace has a Central European look, with architecture much different than is typical elsewhere in France.  The signs are pure French, and I didn't see any evidence of widespread use of the Alsatian language.  That is different than to the south in Languedoc, where the Oc language appears along with French on many signs and in usage.  (That one is a Romance language, much like Catalan.  Alsatian is a Germanic language with that grammar.)

You can visit some remnants of the Maginot Line of forts.  France built them after the First World War as a wall against another German  invasion.  It only went from Switzerland up to Belgium, and when the Germans invaded in 1940, they came through Belgium.  The forts look very much like some of the coast artillery forts built to protect American port cities.

Some of the leaves were beginning to change color.  It was pretty, but we seem not to have seen it at its height, and so it wasn't as beautiful as what we saw last year in Massachusetts and New York.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Wien Wiedersehen

October has finally arrived, and the European sojourn part of our walkabout has come to an end.  Tomorrow, we return to the tourist mode.  We leave Vienna on the train for a nine-day in a B&B in Strasbourg, France.  We don't head back to the United States for two more weeks, but we won't be cooking for ourselves again, until we get to New York.  So, we become tourists once again.

Penny and I got back from Budapest two weeks ago, and returned to the small flat in the 5th district (Margareten) that we had rented for the month.  It is located near the U-Bahn #4 line, at the corner of Diehlgasse and Arbeiterstrasse.  Not far from the place where we stayed at first because of the gas leak in this building.  It is listed as a one-bedroom, which it is, sort of.  It is really a studio with a separate kitchen that contains a breakfast table.  No freezer, no microwave oven, but the refrigerator is big and the kitchen counters are adequate.  No problem!

We took daily exercise walks that really got us around the city.  I tended to follow different big boulevards or streetcar lines, and then turn around and come back.  Sometimes I rode the U-Bahn to get to a starting point. Probably the most scenic path was along the Danube Canal going north from Schwedenplatz, and that would be the one I would choose for a daily jaunt if we lived here.

Vienna is nothing if not a great city for music.  We had been to the operetta three times at the Volksoper before we went to Budapest.  Last week we went to the Stadtoper (State Opera) and saw Mozart's Don Giovanni.  It was excellent!  But what else would you expect in Vienna!  

Last Saturday, we went out to the 19th district for a Heurigen show.  This is a live cafe performance of light-hearted Viennese music.  Totally light.  Totally schmaltzy.  Totally wonderful.  What fun!  The tenor turned out to be from New Orleans.  We opted for the wine and cheese plate option and passed up the dinner plate option.  We realized that we had made a good choice when we saw the plates coming up from the kitchen.  By all means, if you come to Vienna, you should go to a Heurigen show.  Unless you just hate music, but if that were true, then why would you even be here?  Unfortunately, we left the camera when we headed out to the show, so we don't have any pictures to share.  Sorry!

Penny and I went to Schonbrunn Palace again to enjoy the park and gardens.  We also visited the coach museum, which displays some of the Habsburg imperial vehicles.  We have been to several things like this in other cities, and this one did not disappoint.  The coronation coach is there, which they had to ship all over the empire because the Austrian Kaisers had ten different crowns, and so they were also Kings of Hungary, etc.  Each one required its own coronation, in each capital.  Also present was the car in which the last emperor was carried into exile.  That dull olive green color was reserved for the use of the imperial court.

Oh yes.  They used to drive on the left in Austria, and I assume throughout the empire before it was broken up during the post-World War One peace process.  When Hitler took over in 1938 and annexed Austria to Germany, he made them change to right-hand side driving like in Germany.  There were probably so few cars then that it was easy to do.

Apple strudel.  A signature dish for the region, and they make a very good strudel at Schonbrunn.  I took a copy of the recipe for anyone who wants it.  Now I prefer cheesecake to strudel (wink wink) but that was not an option on the menu.  The strudel was very good, and we also had a great time chatting with Jeff and Michelle at the next table, who turned out to be from Tampa!

The Stefansdom, or St. Stephen's Cathedral, is the traditional center of Vienna and the site of the Austrian primate's cathedra.  Like Bavaria in southern Germany, Austria is a Roman Catholic country.  It's an impressive church.  We had been inside with a tour group when we took a Danube river cruise a few years ago, so we didn't go this time.  It is a large building, but the plaza around it is small and so it is difficult to get a picture.  At least with our camera.  They are in the process of cleaning the grime off the outside, which is very much needed!  It will be interesting to see if it transforms the appearance the way the cleaning of Notre Dame did in Paris.

So farewell to Vienna.  Great music, and a high quality of life.  There is great public transport available at a reasonable price.  Rents are clearly lower than, for instance, in Paris.  Supermarket food prices seem comparatively lower than elsewhere in Europe.  The cuisine is nothing to write home about, tending toward bland, heavy meat and potatoes dishes.  Wine and beer are good, but other places do as well or better.  Vienna's architecture is easy on the eye and it is a pleasant city for walking.

All in all, though, for me, the whole doesn't quite equal the sum of the parts.  I have had that feeling for quite a while now.  I think it comes down to this:  I prefer a different ambience.  I like France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal more than other places that I have been on this continent.  It doesn't mean they are better, but I personally find those locales more enjoyable on a daily basis than the ambience that I find east of the Rhine.  I include the Netherlands as being east of the Rhine.  Just my preference.  I am glad we came.  I am glad we stayed.  But I wouldn't particularly want to do a second long sojourn here.  That doesn't mean that I don't recommend it to someone else with different preferences.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Budapest Interlude

A four-day jaunt to Budapest.  The Hungarian capital had been one destination in our plan to travel by rail to Eastern Europe after leaving Paris.  But carrying heavier luggage, we opted for a month in Vienna after an apartment in Verona proved so expensive.  We had been to Budapest before.  We spent one day here while on a Danube cruise, and Penny came back for a couple of days when she and her mother took a different cruise on that fabled river.  Cruise ship stops are what they are, but they can't really do justice to so many places.  We had always wanted to come back and see more.

Penny found a 19 euro fare on OBB (Austrian railways) for each leg of a round trip from Vienna.  That is such a good price that we could hardly afford not to go.  Reasoning like that can lead to so much trouble, can it not?  But it didn't.  We stayed in a B&B called Budapest Rooms, where Balasz was one of the nicest hosts we have met in any of our travels.  It is easy to understand why he gets such glowing recommendations on

Our train left Wien Meidling station on time and arrived at Budapest Keleti a little behind schedule.  We had paid a few extra euros to reserve seats, but they were occupied when we boarded.  Those passengers weren't about to move, and seemed quite annoyed that we would ask for our seats.  As there were open seats elsewhere in the car, we decided not to make a scene and sat elsewhere.  In a similar situation on the Dublin-Belfast train, they moved out graciously.  Not on this one!

As we were traveling light and the B&B was little more than a mile from the station, we walked directly there. We decided we would not buy any public transit passes because everything that we wanted to see was so close, and this was a good decision.  Unlike the case in Vienna, they would not have paid for themselves.  Afterward, we also learned that Budapest has a significant problem with gypsy cabs gouging tourists.  Again, not a problem for us because we never took a cab anywhere.

Budapest consists of Buda on the right bank of the Danube and Pest on the left.  It is the capital of Hungary, as it was the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary in the Austro-Hungarian Empire before the post-World War One peace conferences broke that polyglot polity into linguistic-based states.  It was also at one time the northwestern-most city permanently under Turkish rule.  Hungarians are a unique people and their capital reflects that, but at the same time Budapest seems a very cosmopolitan city.  The janissaries are gone, but you can get a very nice kebab almost anywhere.  Or a Big Mac, should you want one.

It is a stately city, and it looks in many ways like Vienna.  Not surprising when you think about it.  Hungarian food is good, but tends to run toward meat and starches like most places in Central Europe.  Restaurants accept Euros as well as Hungarian florints (HUFs) but they use an exchange rate that is very favorable to themselves.  It is probably worth it to get HUFs from an ATM, but try to gauge it so you don't have many left when it is time for you to leave.

They don't seem to have heard that smoking kills.  Cigarettes everywhere, without regard to the health or sensibilities of anyone.  So be aware of that when you get here.

Our short visit ended without incident and we returned to the Budapest Keleti station.  There was no problem with our seats this time.  In the next pair of seats were two Americans with open tickets.  They had been brought from their hotel and "helped" into their seats by porters of some sort, who refused a tip in Euro coins. They insisted on paper money, and the gentlemen didn't have any note smaller than a ten.  So they gave it to him.  That is a fourteen dollar tip.  There does seem to be a tendency to fleece tourists as brazenly as I have seen anywhere.  But even with that, Budapest is a great city to visit.

One of many commemorations of the 1956 uprising against Communist rule and Soviet occupation.
The Hungarian Parliament building sits on the left bank of the Danube.
The Dohany utca (Street) synagogue is the second largest in the world, after New York's Temple Emanuel.
Looking across the Danube to the Pest side.

The royal palace at night on the Buda side.