Monday, March 27, 2006

VIENNA, Weeks of March 13th & 20th

March 13: Below freezing again with a strong wind so the wind chill was significant.

March 14: Woke up to snow again! Seems like it will be a light sprinkle.
Mary is tutoring a Turkish graduate student in English in our apartment.

March 15: Because of heavy teaching day and Mary’s tutoring in English went to a Turkish restaurant. We love lamb. I had an Adana Kebap and Mary had a small piece of lamb boiled in some kind of sauce—both were very tasty.

March 16: Kathleen and Stefan arrived. Getting to the Vienna airport is really easy. You can go by bus or a direct train. Took them to Figlmüller’s for Wienerschnitzel. Even our son couldn't finish his wienerschnitzel. Mary and our daughter shared one.

March 17: Went to the Hofburg and bought tickets to see the kitchen collection and apartments of Kaiser Franz Josef and his wife Sissi. The cutlery, cooking utensils, and serving ware was extensive. Serving 60 people took an entire bureaucracy. Also when the royal family traveled they had special trunks for the variety of utensils and tea services which they would pack and ship. Once a year before Easter, the Kaiser would wash the feet of 12 poor people. They were supposed to get cleaned up before the Kaiser washed their feet, but I still thought it was a very interesting ceremony and not one that other Christian monarchs did to my knowledge. The apartments were very interesting to go through and see how the royal family lived. There is also a museum on Sissi who was Franz Josef’s wife. She was very beautiful and was assassinated just before the turn of the century. She has become a very tragic figure.
That evening we were invited to a dinner party. We bought chocolates for the host (guest are supposed to bring something) and when we arrived there was a “butler” who took our coats and then served appetizers. About 12 people were there and we sat down to a formal dinner. The butler served, women first. There was about 10 pieces of cutlery and they were laid out differently from a formal American dinner so I watched my neighbors to see what they picked up for what. The first course was smoked salmon, water cress(?), and I think a dill aspic. Soup came next—it was like a beef bouillon with noodles. The main course was a pork roast that had been cooked in a bread roll with spinach (potatoes and vegetables accompanied it). Dessert was something similar to a chocolate cheese cake. Coffee ended the meal. Most people spoke German, although they knew some English. An ex-foreign minister and his wife were there, a “retired” opera singer, an Iranian businessman and his wife, a single Iranian businessman, and two other Austrians. Few people knew each other, but everyone was supposed to visit with gemütlichkeit. One Austrian engineer told me the US did not land anybody on the moon, although they had put men in space. It has something to do with lead or metal. I asked him if he thought it was a Hollywood production, but I am not sure he liked this idea. On the way out I saw people putting 10 euro bills on the table. I found out later that guests are expected to tip the butler. Snow flurries were coming down when we left about 11:30PM and caught a late night tram.

March 18: Went down to Naschmarkt and saw the stands with all the flea market stuff. It is hard to know if anything is a good antique buy or if it has been stolen. It is very crowded and a woman we know says she has had four friends who have had things stolen there (pickpockets, etc.). Got a lamb kebap from Nura who was very friendly. Everybody is trying to sell you stuff or get you to buy whatever food item they are selling. The variety is remarkable. Walked over to the Secession Building, which is called the “cabbage head” because of a round sphere like work of “art” on top of the building—saw an exposition of graphic arts. It was disappointing considering the price. Went on to Karlskirche—you have to pay 6 euros to get in, but it was well worth it. It is a beautiful church, but also they are doing some renovation and we were able to ride an elevator up into the dome. You could see the dome paintings from just feet away. Also you could walk another 100 feet or so up steps (only 10 people at a time) and get right up to the very top and overlook all of Vienna. The church also had a museum with reliquaries. I got a picture of a reliquary with a drop of St. Thomas’s blood and one with a bit of the intestine of St. Charles Boromeo. To get a bit of a rest we stopped at Café Schwarzenberg for coffee, hot chocolate, and tea. It is an older café and has a 19th century charm to it.

March 19: Went to the Prater and rode the Riesenrad—a huge ferris wheel that has appeared in many movies. Walked over to the Danube—it was a beautiful day with a blue sky. Huge crowds were out walking and we saw many children playing in the park. Stopped to see the Pfarrkirche (near Mexico Platz) before boarding the underground for home.

March 20: Went to class while everyone went out to look Schonbrunn and other sites.

March 21: Got up at 4:30AM to take Stefan and Kathleen to Südbahnhof for their trip to Prague. Bought them some travel food for the 4 hour train ride and I assume they arrived. On the way home stopped in and got some apricot krapfen and fresh-baked semmels for breakfast.

March 22: In my graduate international relations class I have a fellow who works at the Afghani embassy. He got into Austria on a fake Spanish passport by going from Afghanistan to Moscow to Odessa (Ukraine) and then into Vienna on the false passport. He then requested political asylum and since he came from the Ukraine, Austria could not send him back (I don’t know all of the immigration rules and treaty issues—if he had come from Russia, Austria could have sent him back). It is interesting because he does not like the Austrians. Also he wants to redefine democracy to suit his Islamic purposes—I told him he was a postmodernist because of how he handles language and definitions. I have a Ukrainian in the class who really likes to argue with him. Everything is good-natured (so far!), but we shall see where this goes in the next few weeks.
The weather is warmer and the sun has been shining. It is really pleasant to be out.

March 23: In the evening there was a reception for prospective students. Employers of graduates spoke (from OPEC and private industry), faculty, alumni, and students. It lasted about 30-45 minutes and then they had a food reception to visit and talk. The student body president spoke—he is from Zimbabwe and did a great job. A question was asked by one female African student of a graduate (from the Middle East) who was working for an Austrian company and had just hired a recent graduate. She seemed to imply that Middle Easterners just hired Middle Easterners, but the newly hired student was from Moldovo so her implication was wrong. However, I sensed a bit of possible resentment that Middle Easterners were just a “clique.” A Venezuelan-Israeli student also spoke about whey he was studying at the International University. It is truly an international group.

March 24: Walked through Spittalberg looking at shops—many are still closed waiting for tourists. There is a lovely shop that sells jewelry made by local artisans—it is cheaper than the Graben shops and has really beautiful work. Did some shopping at Müller’s—it seems to have more reasonable prices. It is hard to compare it to an American store—it doesn’t sell clothes, but has toys, perfumes, candy, CDs, etc. Stefan found some good chocolates for friends and Kathleen found some toys for her niece that were unique. Walked down Mariahilfer strasse and then home. Went out to dinner at a neighborhood restaurant which was really quite reasonable and had a great atmosphere. Between us we tried cordon bleu, wiener gulasch, and broiled fillet of fish. All of it was great. Walked down to the Ring to take pictures of the buildings lit up at night.

March 27: Went to the Kunsthistorischer Museum today. It was rainy so it was a good day to be inside. Spent about 6 hours looking at most of the paintings. The emphasis is on Italian, German, and Dutch paintings. Also visited the Egyptian and Greek-Roman exhibits. On the way home stopped in at the Siebenstern Restaurant with Kathleen. Stefan and Mary had gone to a concert at the Jesuitenkirche—since I have been fighting a cold I elected not to sit through a cold concert (Kat was quick to opt out). I had cream of garlic soup (excellent) with cubes of garlic toast floating on the top and roast pork with a dumpling and sauerkraut. Kat had roast pork as well, but for an appetizer tried the garlic bread—a large slice of rye bread with garlic, butter, and chives on it (excellent). It is a local restaurant and was quite crowded. Mary said the bedroom reeked of garlic that night.

March 26: Fighting a sore throat so stayed in and watched it rain. Went for a walk in the evening and purchased a pistachio Italian ice. Daylight savings time came last night so it is lighter in the evening. I think some cafes are starting to open up on Sunday afternoons now.

Monday, March 13, 2006

VIENNA, Week of March 6

March 6: Attended an exhibition in the International University by an Iranian artist, Mehrdad Sadri, who came to Vienna in 1985 and has been granted honorary Austrian citizenship, whatever that means. His pictures are very monochromatic, modernistic, with some nudity so I don’t think he is a conservative Muslim. The IU president made the introductions, a local government official spoke, and a music professor played some piano pieces which he felt reflected the paintings’ themes. There must have been 200-300 people there.
March 7:
March 8: Went to the vegetarian restaurant and had misosuppe with noodles and vegetables. Mary had the curry plate and I ordered a somosa (sp)—like a ball of bread filled with curried flavored stuffing and bits of vegetables. Had kräpfen for dessert. A very busy class day. There are distinct differences of opinion between the secularists and the Muslims—so far no blows have occurred.
March 9: Woke up to another blizzard!
March 10: Walked over to Berggasse and visited the Freud museum. In some ways it was the least visitor friendly. You had to buzz the bell to get in the main door and then you walked up to the second floor where his Vienna apartment was and had to buzz again before a person came to the door to let you in. There are really only three rooms that are similar to how they were when Freud lived there. The rest of the apartment was used for a gift shop, painting exhibition, and library. I debated whether the $7 per person entry fee was worth it. However, you did get a good feel for Freud’s family life. There was also an interesting video that showed old film clips. I think the museum gave you a good feel for his life and life before World War II in Vienna until he had to flee the Nazis. All of his sisters perished in the concentration camps. Later we went inside the Votivkirche. Stopped at a neighborhood restaurant which supposedly is a cheaper version of Figlműller’s. It was cheaper and the serving size for the wienerschnitzel was just as big. It was crowded with locals, some of whom brought their dogs in with them.
March 11: Went shopping to have food for Sunday. At 1PM a bus was leaving from the International University for a faculty dinner in Bratislavia, Slovakia. I think around 18 faculty went (some with spouses). We were headed to an Armenian restaurant at a shopping mall in Bratislavia. After the bus driver stretched a 1 hour trip into 2 hours (he didn’t know where he was going), we finally reached a “shopping palace” – it did not look like much on the outside, but when we went in, it was as modern as any US shopping mall. Every store imaginable was there. We went into a large department store with supermarket and bought some dumpling mix. We were trying to use up our Slovak crowns, but really didn’t see a lot of goods we wanted or couldn’t buy in the US. Finally went into a toy store and found some lovely wooden puzzles and lovely porcelain dolls (about $4 each). From there we joined everyone at the restaurant. We were given our meal options (individuals were supposed to pay for their own drinks). We watched as a “dot-the-i, cross-the-t” German who works at an international organization “took over” trying to organize how the waitress took the food orders! I don’t know the Armenian names for what we ate, but it was good. The meat was a grilled pork chop kind of cut. Sat across from a Czech who also teaches international relations and we had a really interesting conversation about his work many years ago as an interpreter for the US embassy.
March 12: Snowed overnight again with maybe an inch or two on the sidewalks as we went to church. Had our Turkish friend over for a late lunch.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

VIENNA, Week of February 27th

February 27:
February 28: Went to hear the Counselor for Economic and Political Affairs from the US Embassy speak on “The Chinese Economic & Political Challenge” (especially the implications for the US & Europe). Maybe 30 people were there. Nobody tossed him any tough questions. Afterwards I went up and introduced myself and inquired whether he would come speak at the International University since I am having my graduate class look at emerging China and its implications. I have a Sudanese student who told me “millions” of Chinese are in Sudan (obviously exaggerating, but he obviously felt there was a very large number). The Sudanese student seemed concerned about the heavy Chinese involvement and I was curious about how far China is moving into the underdeveloped world. The speaker minimized this issue when I asked him about it. However, he said he would be happy to speak to my students. We chatted a bit longer. Also met the Public Diplomacy Officer who said to email her about materials I could use in some of my classes. Her husband is from Texas. I should probably have contacted her earlier.

March 1: Midterm grades are due on the 8th. It is much like home—some students are doing outstanding work while others are a bit lax in meeting some deadlines! I sense that students from wealthier families or whose nations are footing the bill are the lax ones. Those who face challenges are really serious about getting ahead and excelling.

I was invited to join the President and Academic Dean at IU and some other faculty to meet a female business professor/administrator from London Metropolitan University who was visiting. IU and London Metropolitan University are exploring a relationship. Great Britain certainly has a different perspective of business majors—she kept referring to the business program as a vocational degree. Met my evening graduate class for the first time and am glad it is small. Students come from: Libya, Afghanistan, Japan, Croatia, and North Korea (refugee from some years past).

March 2-5: Prague, Czech Republic, Trip. Got up at 4:30 to catch a 6:08 AM train from Vienna to Prague. We arrived in Prague about 4 hours later, changed some money at the ATM, walked over to the public transportation information booth, and bought tickets to take the yellow line Zilicin train to the Jinonice stop. Our Pension was near this stop (actually it was a bit of distance from the stop, but the price was right!). Left our suitcase and back packs and met Pane Berankova. I discovered ATMs give big bills in Prague and it is hard to change them for small purchases, but fortunately, I had enough small coins to get tickets on the underground. At the pension the lady of the house warned us about pickpockets and recommended a 3 day ticket (unlimited rides for 3 days) for the trams/subway. The automatic ticket machine for our trip back into town from the Pension would not take bills so I had to go into a Tabak shop and buy the tickets. Took the underground back toward the city center and got off at the Mustek stop and as I came up saw Vaclavske Namesti and the Narodni Museum at the far end. This is the square where all demonstrations take place such as when the Czech ice hockey team wins a gold medal in the Olympics. In spite of some very “generalized” directions quickly found the restaurant “Cesky raj” recommended by Kathleen M. Went down the stairs and had a delightful meal of Czech onion soup, roast pork, dumplings, and sauerkraut (cibulcka polevka, veprova pecena, knedliky a zeli) at a reasonable price. Checked out ticket prices for the opera, but all we could get was 3rd row seats at a price we didn’t want to pay. So we started walking through the Old Town (Stare Mesto) toward Charles Bridge and Hradcany (castle). We stopped at a variety of shops along the way selling crystal, matryoska dolls, t-shirts, caps, etc.). I was tempted to buy a t-shirt with the phrase “The KGB is Still Watching You,” but I didn’t give in. I think that all the shops in the center of the city are run by Russians. Somehow I couldn’t get into a Czech mood with all this Russian music playing when we went in to shops—they all had a deal, but the deals all seemed to be the same price. Finally made it to Charles Bridge and discovered TOURIST HORDES from all over Europe (but Italians and Germans seemed to dominate, although I saw a number of Brits as well)—this was in winter in 30 degree weather! I think I heard more German, Russian, and English than Czech while we were in Prague. Looked at the stalls of “starving artists” as we crossed the bridge and headed into Mala Strana and up the street to Hradcany (Prague Castle). Also there were a number of beggars along the way hoping for some small change. Hradcany is on a bluff overlooking the city so we took in the awesome view. On the way down, besides stopping in shops that didn’t appear to be run by the Russian mafia, went into to a caffeeteria for something hot to drink and a Prague Ball (for me, like chocolate cake only in a round ball about 3-4 inches in diameter and a yoghurt cheesecake for Mary). Sat and tried to warm up. Walked back across the Charles Bridge enjoying the night lights in the cold weather. We bought some tickets for a concert in St. Clement’s church for the following night. Since we had been going since 4:30AM headed back to the Pension about 8 and got warmed up with showers and feather quilts.

The next morning for breakfast the pension served a typical Czech breakfast (in our room). We had rohlikhy (rolls) and rye bread. In addition to butter and jelly, we were given cheese and fowl pate for our bread. Czech breakfast rolls are delicious with butter and jelly. Headed back down to the city and took the underground to Hradcany. The Prague yellow line underground leaves a lot to be desired compared to the Vienna underground—I think the yellow line was the first line built and has a neo-Stalinist feel, even down to the cars. The cars have seating for about 30-40 people and according to the sign, standing room for over 200! The ads were interesting—I saw several for the HBO special on Rome which basically advertised the series as a sex series. I tend to get turned around when we get off these underground stations unless I see a familiar landmark so at the Hradcany stop went in the opposite direction after getting off the underground. However, we ended up walking by the residence (mansion) of the American ambassador (where in 1973 we had been invited to a Christmas party). The Czech police guard gave me directions and we headed back in the correct direction. Went past the Israeli embassy which was even more well-guarded than the American embassy. Walked into Hradcany amidst many large groups of German and Italian tourists. Got a ticket which allowed us to see St. Vitus Cathedral and a number of other sites. When we were here under communism, almost all of this was free—now capitalist Czechs are charging for almost everything, even to go into a church (however, even the Viennese are doing this at some churches so I can’t blame the Czechs for trying to get a bit of money from the tourists). After seeing Hradcany and St. Vitus (I think St. Vitus is one of the most beautiful Gothic cathedrals in Europe), took the tram to where we lived in Prague almost 35 years ago when I was in graduate school. The Stalinist housing has been “dolled” up—so much has changed. The neighborhood department store seems to be run by Asians, but the grocery store was packed (with both people and goods). Took the tram back down to the center where we had spied a fish restaurant with specialties from Iceland. It was bit pricy, but went in and I had Icelandic cod. It was good, but I am not sure it was worth the price. It also started to snow! It was beautiful walking through old city streets at night with heavy snow flakes coming down—you could almost imagine what it was like in the Middle Ages if you could ignore tourists and outdoor cafes with their gas heaters going. It was almost a blizzard. We looked in a number of shops because we had some time before our concert and were also trying to stay warm. This was the only time we met a policeman who asked what we were looking for when we went into a deserted passageway—he must have been there for some reason. Went into to St. Clement’s and heard a lovely repertoire of organ/violin music from the major composers. The church supposedly has excellent acoustics. The only thing making it somewhat unpleasant was that it was freezing inside the church—you could see your breath. The concert went 70 minutes which was enough for flavor. Headed home to warm up through the heavy snow which was falling.

Woke up to snow, snow, snow. After breakfast took the underground and tram to Vysehrad. We hiked up a snow-covered path to a lovely view and only a handful of tourists. The church and fortress area is one of the more beautiful places in Prague and doesn’t suffer from a “touristy” flavor. Vysehrad was built high on a bluff overlooking the Vltava River. Paid 50 cents to tour the church and actually saw Czechs there. Walked down to the street along the river, looking for the house of embassy friends of many years ago. Then took the tram over to Panska Street to see the Mucha museum—both of us like art noveau. It was a smaller, but delightful museum. Again, there weren’t the crowds that we faced in Hradcany. Went back to “Cesky raj” for dinner (had the same meal once again) and then walked over to the Jewish ghetto. It was closed on Saturday so looked around on the outside of the buildings. Next went into St. Nicholas Church, which was Roman Catholic until the Hussite religious reformation. The Hussite Church kept Roman Catholic ritual, but had a more Protestant theology. Walked back with the tourist hordes to Mala Strana and then up to Strahov monastery (near Hradcany) and overlooks the city from a slightly different angle. A mass was being held so didn’t walk through the church, but we walked around and again spent time looking out over Prague. In walking back we decided just to get a small meal and looked at a number of restaurant menus. Saw one outdoor restaurant where the server would drink out of the pitcher that he would use to fill the glasses of customers with some kind of cider-like drink. I watched him do this several times, although it would have been hard for the customers to see what he was doing. I guess what you don’t see is okay. Finally picked a restaurant, because it had ovocne knedliky on the menu. Went in and I ordered the Selska omleta (Farmer’s omelet), because I thought it would be lighter (I knew what was coming with the ovocne knedliky). It was a beautiful little restaurant lit with many candles and the ceiling was arched. Also with the snow and cold, it just seemed like a warm place to be. When we went in, only a group of Italians was there. It never got very busy so I don’t know how it stays in business (of course, I am sure as more tourists come with the warmer weather, it will be busier). My ovocne knedliky came (two in number about the size of a fist)—these are dumplings boiled with fruit inside. The toppings can vary, but normally there will be a generous sprinkling of cinnamon on top—these came with whipped cream and chocolate drizzled across in addition to the cinnamon. Strawberries were inside the knedliky and some raspberries were on the plate. Two was all I could handle, although in my younger days, I think 16 was my record. Walked back through the snow to the underground and off to our pension.

Got up to egg omelet covered with onion in addition to the breads. Headed off to the train depot to get back to Vienna. I had only seen one, maybe two incidents of petty theft (in Vienna, I have never seen anything resembling petty theft). However, in rushing to the train, I gave my tickets and seat reservations to a female train conductor to ask about the correct car to get on. I went on to our seats and couldn’t find our tickets and realized I had not got them back from her. When I went back she said I did not give them to her so I had to purchase return tickets quickly—I am sure she could sell the tickets for a profit. Made it back to Vienna through the very beautiful Moravian hills covered with snow. Next time I want to just rent a car and drive through the small towns of Moravia and see the castles and churches. Prague is too touristy, although I think everyone needs to see it once. It rivals some of the Italian cities in beauty and you can even speak Italian in Prague if you wish.

I did make one purchase—two watercolors sold by a starving artist on Charles Bridge. I feel bad because the pictures I liked best were done by a young Russian lady so my Czech souvenirs have a Russian origin. The mistake Brezhnev made in 1968 was to send in Soviet troops; if he had sent in Russian capitalists (or maybe the Russian mafia), they would have done a better job of turning Czechoslovakia into a Soviet satellite. I am going to talk with a Czech professor I am getting to know at the university to see what his take is on what is happening.