When words fail (and pictures, too).

We had decided to spend a few days in Vienna on our own before joining up with the tour group in Prague. Everything had to go exactly right. LAX –> CDG on time! CDG –>VIE on time! Red Cab, a European facsimile of Uber, waiting for us as promised. Check in at the iconic Hotel Sacher was friendly, courteous and, oh dear, just a little shaky – be advised that they are currently under a major room renovation and the pickings are slim. We ended up changing our room twice, which put us up against the clock. We were late, late for a very important date!

Hotel Sacher lobby, later in a more leisurely moment:

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A helpful staff member ushered us through a back hallway into a booth at Cafe Sacher where a line of at least a dozen people awaited out front waiting for their chance to sample a slice of the prized Sachertorte, the chocolate layer cake upon which the Hotel Sacher’s laurels rest.

Wikipedia photo:

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But we had no time for dessert; just a quick wurst and off we went, taking fifteen confused and slightly panicked minutes to find a destination supposedly four minutes away. (Traveler’s note: we spent much of our time in Vienna being hopelessly lost.) In retrospect, how we could fail to find a venue as imposing as the Spanische Hofreitschule (that’s Spanish Riding School to us non-German speakers) is beyond me.

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Several re-routes later, we finally found the box office and claimed our tickets for A Tribute to Vienna, a combined performance of two of the city’s most cherished traditions: the Lipizzaner Stallions and the Vienna Boys Choir. We just happened to be arriving on one of the dates for this performance, which only occurs a handful of times throughout the year. The scene in the box office was chaotic; we later learned that a computer glitch had canceled out some or all of the purchased ticket orders for the evening and it was only through the protracted efforts of our travel agent that ours was restored. Blissfully unaware of the reason for the delay, I gazed out the window while we waited in line and caught one of my favorite travel moments of the trip – choir boys relaxing before their performance:

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We sank into our seats just as the lights were being dimmed and took in the magnificence of the show arena, all dirt floor and glittering chandeliers. Not a great photo but the best I could do:

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And then the magic began, but the photos ended because of course you cannot be allowed to snap pictures while these magnificent creatures leap and prance in a most precariously precise achievement of choreography. Such an incredible sight that I simply have no words, but alas, I also have no pictures for you except for those courtesy of Google.

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The Vienna Boys Choir sang sweetly, but it was the Lipizzaners we will remember. As heavily muscled as a workhorse yet with the agility of a circus dog, each horse perfectly attuned to its rider, who calmly doffs his hat to the audience at each entrance and exit. At least a few members of the audience (me!) were brought to tears and it made our twenty-four hour travel saga well worth the effort. If you ever get the chance to see them, GO! It is a memory I will cherish always.

We walked back through darkened streets to the hotel after the performance (only slightly less lost) and wondered what awaited us next in this historic city…

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Prologue.

We were out of pocket for most of September. Home now, and jet lag is finally in the rear view mirror. I can’t wait to tell you all about, but first I have to fill you in on the trip parameters.

This one was planes, trains, buses and a boat!

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Five countries in a leisurely three weeks.

Group travel, which was a first for us independent-minded cusses.

13,000 miles and a zillion calories later, here’s how it began:

The CE is plagued with Mal de Débarquement syndrome, which rules out ocean cruising. But we love the water! He was just sure he could handle a river cruise (more on that later…)  which wouldn’t involve the pitch and roll of an ocean liner. So I did some research back in 2017 and put us on a waiting list for a Danube cruise with Tauck, a tour company with a storied past and high marks for its quality excursions.

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The youtube video won’t embed but you can copy and paste the link:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXizNPIAME-oLyobV00KQJQ

In late May of this year, I was notified that a spot had opened up on a Tauck M.S. Joy September cruise from Prague to Budapest. We had 48 hours to decide. Using the increasingly relevant “you’re not getting any younger” yardstick, we decided to go for it.

But not without trepidation. We grew up back in antediluvian times, i.e. before Google maps erased all the country borders and one closed one’s eyes and spun a globe to imagine a fantasy destination. For a generation, an Iron Curtain hung over parts of Europe and they were effectively erased from view. I can’t say I ever thought about going to countries that had the audacity to change their names, e.g. what used to be Czechoslovakia, or visiting a place as unknown to me as Hungary. But after reading Selden Edwards’ The Little Book a few years ago I did begin to dream a bit about Vienna.

And who wouldn’t want to see the Danube?

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But but but getting out the actual passports! And going on a tour with other people! It all seemed rather daring. Well, until we arrived at CDG for our our connecting flight and the first thing we saw was a Starbucks. It’s a small world after all…

Next post: on to Vienna

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A truly fine feathered friend.

The day before we left town, Pippa popped up to visit with me as I was wiping down a roost bar. She knew she could count on extra treats from me when it was just the two of us in the coop. She was such a little thing. I could scoop her up and hold her in the crook of my elbow while I fed her scratch from a paper cup.

Little Pippa as a baby chick:

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I noticed that day how white and wizened her face had become. And I had noticed how she lingered on her sleeping shelf later and later each morning. Yet she could still be so perky, sauntering around on her snowshoe feet. Yes, seven years is a long-in-the-tooth hen (if hens had teeth) but I never dreamed that this would be the last time I held her.

Pippa as a young hen – Mille Fleur D’Uccles become progressively more speckled with each molt:

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We were half a world away when the text popped up on my screen. “I’m worried about Pippa,” said our friend, Tammy, who, with her family, was so kindly house sitting for us while we were away. We were en route to an elegant reception and dinner as our travel  drew to an end in Budapest but I was instantly transported to home and the coop and the  papery touch of Pippa’s spangled feathers and her raspy cluck and the painful memory of the various hens we have helplessly watched in their last hours. Later, I gazed out a window of Budapest’s gracious Akadémia Klub and watched the sky deepen from pink to smoky blue over the river Danube and thought of sweet Pippa and poor Tammy as she valiantly attended our little hen in her last hours.

We have lost four pets in six months and we are so very grief-tired. It seems a peculiar term today, the fourteenth century phrase “animal husbandry”, but it manages to imply the bond and the responsibility we assume when we take on the day-to-day care of pets or livestock. Their utter dependence upon us for their welfare requires a pledge of fidelity from us for their care and feeding. We will always feel sadness that we were not there with Pippa at the end, but we are so very, humbly, grateful that our fellow chicken keeper, Tammy, was there to stand vigil and serve as a gentle guardian to our little hen on her stygian journey.

Pippa as we will always remember her:

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Just after we left on our trip, when sleep was even more fitful than usual given a nine-hour time difference, I sank into a vivid dream in which Tammy and I were frantically trying to manage some undefined situation with a hen. I was bringing one to her or she was giving one to me or something of the sort, but there was a terrible urgency to the exchange and I woke suddenly with a strong sense of unease. At the time I chalked it up to general travel anxiety, but now I wonder if I knew deep down that Pippa was soon to leave us. There is such a cheerful rhythm that pets bring to our lives; their loss is a palpable one. Farewell, little Pippa-squeak, I hope your spangles are shining brightly somewhere in the cosmos.

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If it’s Saturday, this must be Budapest.

Woke up to this – can’t wait to explore! More next week…

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Having the wurst time ever.

Dateline: Central Europe. On the road, literally, and going on a solid week of intractable jet lag. And though I am apparently constitutionally unsuited to travel, I couldn’t be happier! We’re seeing lots of new sights but the schedule and the Internet are not cooperating today (and next week may not look good either.) So the best of Vienna will have to wait but here’s proof positive of the wurst (from the famous Café Sacher):

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Oldsters In Seattle: The Artful Codgers

Hey, if we were young we would be out in kayaks or hiking Mt. Rainier. But we’re old and, um, truth be told, a little decrepit. But – we’re not dead. (yet). So we wanted to have some fun in Seattle and we found it times three

Nestled just next to the Space Needle is Chihuly Gardens and Glass. I wasn’t expecting to be wowed since just last summer we saw a great Chihuly exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden. But this was something special. I would fly to Seattle again just to walk through this visual feast. I think my favorite was the “Persian Ceiling” But the Glass House was also spectacular.

The Nordic Museum was a very “chill” surprise. It’s located in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, which attracted Nordic immigrants in the late 1800’s, when a whopping one third of the population of these countries emigrated. The museum’s design is a celebration of clean lines and the exhibits range from folky to whimsical to avant garde. Definitely worth an hour of your time. And I seriously now want a pair of reindeer slippers.

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A bonus add-on is that you are just a few blocks away from the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks and fish ladder and the Carl S. English, Jr. Botanical Gardens. So fun to watch the boats large and small navigate through the locks, then wander over to see the salmon manage their own navigation through the fish ladder, which Chittenden thoughtfully designed concurrently with the locks between 1911-1916.  Thanks a lox!

Later that day we slipped into the Seattle Art Museum just before closing time. It’s a manageable size with an interesting focus on Native American art, a few classical jewels (notably Childe Hassam, Albert Bierstadt) and a penchant for a little shock value here and there. All in all, a very satisfying almost hour before we were shooed out the door.

I gotta say, though, I’ve had some mouse-induced nightmares since that day. Entitled Mann and Maus by Katharina Fitsch, whose quote may explain a lot: “I am concerned with the point where you start to wonder about the existence of things.” A paean to phenomenology, perhaps?

Vermin visions aside, Seattle was great fun, even for oldsters like us. Art, coffee, food, flowers, sunshine and water, water everywhere. So much to love.  I hope we’ll be back sometime soon.

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Sleeveless in Seattle

I dunno. Someone told me it rains there but they must have been mistaken. We spent four spectacular days bathed in sunshine and warm temperatures. No sleeves required. It was my first visit, so we worked hard to put the T in Tourist there – strayed not one inch off the beaten path.

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And wasted no time discovering our new favorite brand of coffee. Move over, Starbucks, Fonté is sooo much better!

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Yes, of course, we went straight to the Pike Place Market. The CE spent so much time over there I thought he might become a professional fish thrower.

Next order of business was the ferry to Bainbridge Island. Blue sky and sunshine all the way.

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Didn’t get far, though. Attractive nuisance hazard almost as soon as we stepped off the ferry.  Just my luck to be married to a rug collector…

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We went totally tourist for dining, too. First evening we walked over to Place Pigalle:

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Next evening, the popular Matt’s in the Market:

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Great meal, and an amazing crème brûlée for dessert. Those cherries! That sauterne!

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My favorite dining experience was The Pink Door, where we sat on the terrace under an impossibly blue early evening sky. The restaurant is purposely a little hard to find. No sign, but if you pay attention you’ll find it:

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Salad, pasta and a lovely pavlova. Perfect meal!

Inside the restaurant is a wonderful succession of dining rooms large and small. I loved the bar art:

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When we weren’t eating, we worked hard to earn our Seattle tourist badge. We dutifully walked over to Nordstrom. And yes, of course we went to the Space Needle. We grumbled  a little about the long line but it was absolutely worth it! Great fun and yes, more blue skies.

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But that’s not all – there’s more! Watch for Seattle, part two next week…

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