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.