Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A busy day

It was a busy day from the get-go today. I'm glad we slept late to start it off. First off was a treat for myself - the wireless mouse for the laptop was in its death throes, so I decided to retire it. I got a new one, and it's working just like it's supposed to. This year's flu shot came next - a longer wait than hoped-for - but it didn't hurt all that much. Voting early in our special state senate election took less than 5 minutes. And I felt good about both those things.

I did something today that I haven't done in a long, long time. I agreed to serve on the board of an organization. This is the Board of the Friends of the Library (the Chattanooga/Hamilton County Library). I haven't taken on such a responsibility in a long time. We spend so much time travelling that I haven't wanted to make a commitment that I couldn't keep. I do think this is a great organization, and I hope I can make a contribution. I certainly appreciate their giving me the opportunity to serve our community.

We had fun this evening. The UTC (University of Tennessee Chattanooga) men's and women's basketball teams (The Mocs) had their Blue/Gold games tonight. More than games, these are really scrimmages to introduce the teams to the fans, and get the fans excited about the upcoming season. We were already excited, but it's fun to do. The opening exhibition game is againse Lee University on Thursday.

Obit: Robert Goulet died today, 1933-2007.

Today's photos is one of John's - a fountain at a restaurant in Prague.

Monday, October 29, 2007

We're not sissies!

Autumn in Tennessee is so special! We had bright sunshine - the high for the day was in the mid60s - and they're predicting patchy frost overnight. To me, that's just about perfect!

Today was mostly a typical Monday. Swimming, coffee, Wal-Mart, washing, and bridge. The cards weren't too great, but the game is always good. I just wish we could find some more bridge-players.

We watched "The Queen", with Helen Mirren and James Cromwell tonight. What a great movie that is! Mirren is incredible. She truly was The Queen. I've always liked James Cromwell, but he played Prince Philip to perfection. If you haven't seen this one, check it out.

John went to the orthopedist because of problems with his shoulders. Exam and x-ray showed arthritis and bone spurs, probable bursitis and tendinitis in both shoulders. The doc told him that there didn't seem to be any problem with the rotator cuffs (surely was glad to hear that!). He got cortisone injections in both shoulders, and was given instructions for exercises. Also, no rowing for two weeks. He did the exercises this afternoon, and probably overdid. He said that by tonight, the pain was worse than ever. I hope he'll be better by morning, and will take it easier on the exercises tomorrow. Pain really ain't fun, and, as they say; Getting old isn't for sissies!

Today's picture is of St. Mathias Church in Budapest, Hungary.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Writer's block

This has been a real "vege-out" day for me. John was good and took two walks - on the Riverwalk and out in our neighborhood. So I'll just post photos of people from Prague, Budapest and Vienna.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Computer games

What games do YOU play on the computer? C'mon now - fess up! You know you play games. We certainly do, and I'm sure we don't even scratch the surface of the number and variety of games that can be found. I'll admit righte out that we don't play the shoot-em-up, action games. Some of the games that I play have a timer so you know how long it takes you, but I don't like to play against the clock.

OK, you say, "I don't waste my time playing games on the computer." Questions: Do you play solitaire with cards? Do you work jigsaw puzzles? Do you work crossword puzzles, jumbles, crostics, cryptograms, or sudoku in the newspaper? Do you play bridge? hearts? Do you play backgammon? Do you play dominoes? Do you play Rummi-Kub? Do you play scrabble? I'll bet you do.

Surprise! You can play ALL these games on the computer, on-line or purchased from the store, or maybe they were already installed when you bought your computer. Check it out! You'll be amazed at what you can find. And how much fun they are. You can play them by yourself or find people all over the world to play with and/or against.

Like the sound effects? Turn the sound up on your speakers. Hate the sound effects? Turn the sound off. I love playing solitaire when I don't have to pick the cards up, shuffle them, and redeal the layout. And no erasers needed for the pencil puzzles.

The experts tell us to "use it or lose it". This goes for our minds as well as our bodies. All these games exercise the mind, keeping it well-oiled and active. I've even found a word puzzle that is based on the news of the day, so I have to keep up witih what's going on in the world, as well as figure out missing words.

Look around and see what you can find. It's worth wasting (or investing) a few minutes. And I'd love to hear what kind of games YOU like to play.

Today's picture has nothing to do with puzzles. It's another photo from Prague - what a lovely city this is.

Friday, October 26, 2007

No painting today

I went to the doctor this morning. Nothing specific - just needed an Rx filled and they said they needed to touch base with me before that. Not a problem. Just a weigh-in (LOST 10 pounds - don't know how that happened - unless all that walking in Europe), BP check (130/70), chest listening, and chat. We really do like our family doctor and feel that he takes very good care of us. He's very conservative and doesn't order lots of unnecessary tests or meds, but is quick to refer us to a specialist if it's needed. He noticed a jump in John's PSA value over a year's time, and referred him to the urologist. And, of course, this got the prostate cancer diagnosed and treated at a very early stage.

We got our usual good workout at swimming this morning. Our instructor loves to work us hard and get our heart rates up and to forget about the cold water.

I enjoy talking to a friend from the swim class this evening. She's been in NYC helping to take care of her new (and first) grandbaby. She just wanted to chat and let us know what she's been doing. Her daughter and son-in-law are getting ready to open a coffee shop. A plug for any readers in Queens - watch for Espresso 77, at 77th St. and 37th Ave. It'll be a good one.

I hated missing going to Studio 2 this morning - I can't remember the last time we were in town and I didn't go on a Friday. I'll have to make up for it and talk more when I'm there next week. And maybe even paint more. That would be a good thing. When Vicki gets her co-op gallery going, I'm going to have to be more productive, to have new paintings to show. Betsy called tonight and said she enjoyed seeing photos of my paintings. I just thought - I have photos of paintings that no longer exist. One of the joys (or curses) of acrylic painting is that it can be painted over (and over, and over). I may look at something and decide it just doesn't work, and I'm just as likely to completely cover it with new paint and start again. Always interesting!

Today's photo is an artist sketching on the Charles Bridge in Prague.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

We got to sleep late this morning - at least late for us - between 7:30 and 8 a.m. It was NICE! I'm glad we're finally learning how to do that, AND to have the opportunity to do it from time to time.

A special early morning surprise was a call from a SeniorNet friend who lives in Chattanooga. We've been communicating on line for more than a year, but this is the first time we've actually talked on the phone. We're working on it, and I'm hoping that we'll actually meet in person before too much longer.

We had lovely weather today. I do love the cooler weather, and our high was 64. John's not too happy about it, but then he has to listen to me complain about hot summer weather. He's had to change to his "winter uniform" - jeans and a sweat shirt. I got out a sweat shirt today, too - and it felt good. We haven't turned the heat on yet, though.

As they burn out, we're gradually changing our light bulbs from incandescent to fluorescent. I'd prefer more wattage than we're able to get from the fluorescent at this time, but I'll get used to it. It's certainly one of the easiest things we can do to decrease our energy use.

I've e-mailed a cousin and an old friend in Houston about our going to be there for my 50th Rice reunion. My cousin will be out of town that weekend, but we'll be seeing her in January in any case. It'll be an interesting weekend in any case.

The doctor's office actually called me this week to make me an appointment. I had contacted the pharmacy for a refill, and the doc said I needed to be seen before getting the refill. I am glad that they're keeping track of things like that. It's surely good medicine. I will have to miss painting tomorrow, but I guess I can handle that. It has been a while since I've been in for some routine stuff, so I guess it's a good thing.

Today's picture is of Prague's red tile rooftops.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

October Miscellany

We had lots of varied weather today - showers, sunshine, coolness - a lovely fall day.

The images from the aftermath of the fires in California are just awful. I can't imagine being in such a threatening situation.

Cheney's family tree: Click here for a wonderfully nasty editorial cartoon. And click here for another one on the same subject.

We got our 2007-08 basketball tickets for the University of Tennessee Chattanooga Lady Mocs. We are ready for the college basketball season to start. The only game we'll miss is when the Lady Mocs play the Lady Vols - but I guess we can handle that. We won't miss any of our home games, and I guess we'll get to one of the tournaments in March. We'll have to choose - the Southern Conference (UTC) Tournament is in Charleston the same weekend as the Southeastern Conference (Lady Vols) Tournament in Nashville. Oh, well - we don't have to make that decision yet.

We also got notification that our tickets to the remaining Chattanooga Symphony season have been processed and are being mailed out. John figured it out that there'll be no conflicting dates between the Symphony and the Lady Mocs. We'd hate to have to make such a choice.

Today was oil/acrylic painting day at Studio 2. I worked on 3-4 different paintings. I do have a good time "playing in the paint" with the acrylics. And occasionally I come up with some results that please me.

Today's picture is of some folks enjoying an al fresco lunch in Prague.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

FOUR inches!

We've had 4 inches of rain in the last three days. And we still have more rain predicted for the next couple of days. That's almost more rain that we've had total since last spring.

Of course, it's all relative. At least we're not on fire. The fires in CA are just incredible! Our family out there (John's sister and BIL in Torrance; granddaughter Alison in San Diego) are out of harm's way, thankfully, but of course being affected by the smoke and winds. We do hope they'll get some relief soon.

Click here to read an article in the New York Times about SeniorNet. I talk about SN all the time, and this has a great piece about what's done in the SN centers around the country. I wish we had one here in Chattanooga, but there are several of us here who participate in the on-line Discussions. Check it out sometime - SeniorNet . It's free, although paid membership is optional and always welcome.

I've got lots of knitting going on right now. Usually, I try to finish one project before I start another - and now I have four going on at one time. As always, I have a pair of socks going, and that's the one I need to finish first. After all, I have orders for two more pairs already. Then there's the sweater that Kate asked me to do for her. Well, that's not quite true. She told me about it, and I volunteered to do it. Well, maybe she did whine just a little bit. Last week, Vicki asked if I would knit her a V-necked sleeveless sweater. Piece of cake, right? So that's on the needles, too. And, of course, the major project is the afghan I've started for a wedding present for Matt and Amanda. But I have until May to get that done. Guess I know what I'll be doing on the RiverBarge while watching the rivers go by.

Now that I've covered the trip, I guess I need to find something else exciting to do to write about. Y'all stay with me while I work on that.

Today's photo is a rose in Prague.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The end of a great trip

On our last full day in Vienna (and of the trip), we decided to right the tram around the Ring Road and get off to check out things we hadn't seen before. Our first stop was at the Parliament Building. Tours in English were available, so we booked one, then walked across a small park to the Rathaus (the City Hall). The Rathaus wasn't open for tours on that day, but we walked around the park and took pictures until time to return to the Parliament Building.

This was our first bilingual tour, and the tour leader did a great job of doing part of the spiel in German, and then repeating in English. The architect who building the building loved everything Greek, so everything about it is Greek. About half of this huge building was destroyed during WW2. The main, semicircular, now-ceremonial chamber remained intact. Amazingly the Bohemian crystal back-lit ceiling survived the war. The other chambers for the bicameral legislature are more functional, but not nearly as elegant.

We had not gone through St. Stephen's Dom and Platz, even though it was right in our neighborhood. So we headed there next. St. Stephen's Dom is a huge, soaring, Gothic cathedral, and is badly in need of restoration. There is scaffolding on the exterior, so work is being done, but the interior is very dark and gloomy. The building of these cathedrals was quite a feat.

We spent the late afternoon packing for our early pickup, then went for dinner. We've always eaten in neighborhood cafes and restaurants, and the food has been exceptional. We finished up our last evening as most of the rest of them - playing bridge. For the three weeks, Al just beat out John for high, Ann was third, and I had less than half as many points as any of the others.

Our flight home was reasonably uneventful. Ann & Al had some trouble getting from Atlanta to LAX, but eventually did (although their luggage didn't). What a great trip this was! We really aren't big city people, but these are three spectacular cities, with SO much history. We can certainly recommend this trip, and any other trip with Untours.

Today pictures are John's and mine - the Crystal ceiling in the ceremonial chamber of the Parliament Building, the Rathaus, and St. Stephen's Dom.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Another gorgeous day..

On another gorgeous day, we took the Metro out to Schonbrunn Palace. These palaces are just incredible - huge and beautifully constructed and decorated. Obviously no expense in money or workmen was spared. We all enjoyed our tour through the rooms, and walking through the gardens.

On our way back to town, we stopped to walk through an outdoor City Market. The stalls were mostly operated by Turkish and other middle Eastern vendors. It's always fascinating to see all the produce and goods offered for sale. We ate lunch at one of the cafes there, and got some bread and cheese for breakfast.

After dinner, we took the tram to the Musikverein for a concert by the Vienna Mozart Orchestra. The hall is worth a visit just for itself - fully decorated with carvings and gilding. Reportedly, the acoustics are the best in Vienna. What fun when the orchestra members took the stage in full period (18th Century) dress - white clubbed wigs, black pumps with buckles, white hose, black knee breeches, and brightly colored frock coats (ivory, green, turquoise, blues, red, gold, etc.) The program was all-Mozart, of course. The encore was a medly of, what else, famous Viennese waltzes.

Today's pictures are John's - the Schonbrunn Palace from the gardens and a display at the City Market.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


The next day was surely one of the high points of our whole trip - attending the performance at the Spanish Riding School. We've all heard of the Lipizzaner horses, and their fancy steps and their leaps, the "Airs Above the Ground", and we've probably seen them on TV. But I never would've expected to be seeing the real thing - AND in Vienna! Ann ordered the tickets months ago - as soon as we made the reservations for the trip and had specific dates.

We arrived and climbed a LONG marble staircase to find our seats in the single row around the railing of the balcony overlooking the arena. The arena floor was covered by carefully raked tanbark, and lit by crystal chandeliers and the large windows on the long sides of the space. The arena is longer and slight wider than a basketball court. We were able to take lots of photographs before and after the performance, but no photography was allowed during the event.

I know next to nothing about horses, but even to this totally ignorant eye, these animals, their riders/handlers, and their training is amazing. There were about six "acts", beginning with a group doing simple maneuvers, probably some youngsters getting actual performance experience. One act was one horse with his handler walking behind or just off the hip, using long reins. The handler put the horse through all sorts of gaits, but all done at the man's walking speed. The final group were the most experienced horses and riders, doing a "dance" that rivalled the precision marching of any college marching band. What a special experience!

For dinner, we headed out to a wine-growing area to a recommended restaurant. The focus was definitely on the wine. We sat at long tables in a cobblestone courtyard under grapevines. We went through a buffet line for our meal - pick what you want, and then you're charged by the weight of the food. It was an excellent "country" meal. The wine-drinkers opted not to try "sturm", the newly bottled wine from this season. We'd been told it was very, very sweet, and had a huge alcoholic content.

Today's pictures are from the Spanish Riding School - from our seats before the performance, and from the floor level afterwards.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A day in the Wachau, Austria

Our Untours-provided day trip out of Vienna was definitely one of the high points of the trip. We took the train to the small town of Melk, where we were met by Norbert, our self-named "un-guide". What a charmer this gentleman is! He first drove us to the Abbey in Melk - definitely "super-Baroque" in design.

We then drove through the Wachau Region of Austria along the "left side" of the Danube. This is an area of gorgeous scenery, lined by wide, level bicycle trails, terraced vineyards, and small towns with cobblestone streets. We even got off of the main road and drove along some of the roads intended for bicycles. One of the towns was Willendorf, which is where the Venus of Willendorf was found. I've seen photos of this prehistoric fertility symbol, but didn't really realize where it was found. Ann and Al had seen at the Museum of Natural History in Vienna.

Norbert stopped and to let us walk through the town of Durnstein. The town lies on a land-step above the Danube and below a huge ruined castle. This is where Richard the Lion Hearted was held captive for many years. There are lots of tourist shops in this town, and part of the roads is lined by vineyards.

We crossed the Danube and went up into the hills on the other side of the river. There have been settlements in this area for over 2000 years. Norbert showed us a remnant of a Roman road, where the grooves of the wagons can still be seen. He drove us through beautiful hills and farmland, with occasional vistas of the Danube and an occasional abbey on a distant hilltop.

We finally arrived at an Inn for our special lunch - an amazing 5-course meal - which took almost 2 hours. On the way to the train station, Norbert stopped to show us one more charming village church, with amazing gilded and carved wood altars contained in a tiny building. The train and metro got us home about 7:30, and we could just savor the day.

Today's photos are of shopping in Durnstein and of grapes from the Wachau vinyard region.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Vienna museums

Our first full day in Vienna was our second rainy day on the trip. We had our orientation meeting and arranged to do the Untours-sponsored event - a day-trip out of Vienna. We also ordered tickets to a concert by the Vienna Mozart Orchestra.

After the meeting, we went looking for the Hofbrau and the Spanish Riding School to pick up our tickets for a performance of the Lipizzaner horses. This is the one things we arranged before the trip. After picking up the tickets, we went in different directions. The rain picked up, and we managed to get ourselves lost before we finally got on a bus and found our way to the Leopold Museum. We saw a lot of Hungarian and Austrian artists, and got reacquainted with some other ones. We refreshed with some coffee at the museum, and went through another floor. Finally our feet gave out, and we headed out. By now, the rain had moved out, and we did an exploration ride on the trolley around the Ring Road.

More rain the next morning, but it finally slacked up. We headed out to go to the Albertina Museum. This was definitely a high point. The art is in a new building; royal rooms are in the old palace part of the building, with all the gorgeous rugs, parquet floors, chandeliers, etc. Click here to see the Albertina Museum web page. The sun was shining brightly when we left the museum. Our second museum that day was the Kunst Museum - the very old museum. It's a gorgeous old building, with some great stuff. They have a Vermeer, which is always special. And 8 Rembrandts (4 portraits and 4 self-portraits).

By now, my knees were really hurting, so we called it a day. There was some more rain while we were eating dinner, but it didn't keep us from finishing the day off with some bridge.

Today's picture is of the courtyard outside the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Budapest to Vienna

Our next museum was the Budapest Art Museum in the City Park. This is a huge museum,and we spent nearly the whole day there. There was a special exhibit about Pre-Incan cultures in Peru, with marvellous artifacts. And even the rest of the museum was spectacular - the permanent collection - another special exhibit of engravings - and the building itself. Click here for a picture of Durer's engraving "St. Jerome in his Study". The reproduction, of course, doesn't do it justice.

Another find at another museum was other work by Gustave Klimt. We're familiar with his Art Deco paintings of women, stylized, with lots of gold paint. Imagine our surprise at finding Study of a Blind Man. What a gorgeous portrait this is!

Our transfer to Vienna was a 3-hour train ride. Our apartment, again, is wonderful - right in the middle of the St. Stephen's area - the heart of Old Town. The building was built in 1902, and had been recently renovated, with very contemporary interiors to the apartments. The lobby, marble circular stairway, and Art Deco elevator remained as charming as ever. Our apartment even has a computer and internet hookup. We had a fantastic wiener schnitzel for dinner - our best yet.

Although we'd been assured before we left that our ATM card would work, it did not in Prague or Budapest. We managed to get buy, but it was very frustrating. It was quite a relif when it DID work in Vienna. We've been having words and lots of phone calls with our bank since we got home trying to find out what happened. So far, they've not been able to trace the problem.

Photo today is of the staircase and elevator at Riemergasse 8 in Vienna.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Two more gorgeous days in Budapest

Another gorgeous day in Budapest. John didn't want to spend another gorgeous day inside museums, so we headed off to take the cog railway up into the hills and ride the Children's Train. What fun that was - to see these youngsters in their uniforms, handling all the responsibilities of their jobs. On this sunny Sunday afternoon, the railway and train were full of families with small children on outings. Ann and Al thoroughly enjoyed their day at the Museum of Natural History and Museum of Applied Arts.

We went further afield for dinner this night, and took the Metro to an area near the Opera House to a pedestrian esplanade that was lined with restaurants. We ate outside, of course. Each chair had a blanket draped over its back, so patrons could wrap up if it got too cold. We saw this many times in all the cities.

The next day, we walked to the nearby St. Stephen's Basilica - one of the Budapest landmarks. I overheard a guide saying that the gorgeous stained glass windows were only 2-3 years old - they had been redone using the old windows as patterns. We walked toward the Parliament Building looking for various pieces of public art that we had seen from the trams. There are so many squares with old and new sculpture.

The most moving piece was a memorial to Jews who were murdered by Hungarian partisans in 1944-45. The Jews were lined up on the riverbank, shot, and pushed into the Danube. The 2005 monument consists of 60 pairs of shoes, cast in iron, lined up along a stretch of the riverwall. It is heart-wrenching.

We finished our day with a trip to the City Market, and an evening concert by the Danube Folk Dancers. Another great day in Budapest.

Today's pictures are from the Children's Train and of the Shoes Monument.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A day out of Budapest; making lasagna at home

Our trip out of Budapest was an all-day excursion to the Bend of the Danube, and the towns of Szentendre (St. Andrew's), Visegrad, and Esztergom (Stephen). What a lovely day this was! We had great weather. We reached Szentendre early, fortunately - the main groups of tourists arrived about the time we were getting ready to leave. Szentendre is a charming town of hills, cobblestone streets, little shops, and galleries. Mostly we wandered around on our own. Ann, Al, and I arranged to go through the museum of a Hungarian potter, Margrit Kovacs. She decided to leave her clay sculptures and money for a museum to Szentendre, when she died in the 1977. Her free-standing sculptures and wall pieces are wonderfully figurative with faces (I realized later) are taken from Medieval altar pieces and paintings.

Our next stop was Visegrad and a wonderful ruin of a medieval castle that had been overgrown and lost until 1932. It's still being excavated and restored, including a great citadel on top of the hill behind the castle. We also ate lunch at a lovely country restaurant overlooking the citadel.
Esztergom is a town built on a bluff overlooking the Danube, with Slovakia on the other side. Built on the bluff is a huge basilica, one of the largest in Hungary, built from 1822-1869.

After we got into Budapest, we got caught in a mammoth traffic tie-up, caused by a motorcycle/bicycle event ,causing streets to be closed. It took about 2 hours to go what should've taken about 20 minutes. Our guide finally let us out near a Metro station, trusting us to get home by ourselves.
At home today, it was a busy day. I went to the grocery store, and got all the ingredients for making lasagna. That's a major event around here, since I make it in huge quantities. The sauce simmered all afternoon, and assembly started right after supper. When it was all over, we had nine 10x10 pans of lasagna. It was amazing - I don't measure anything...just start cooking, and then see how it comes together. I wound up using every bit of the sauce I had made, all the cottage cheese, and almost all the lasagna noodles. I don't know how that works out. The trickiest part was making enough room in the freezer to get the pans in. Once they're frozen, they can be stacked. Three of them are actually spoken for. I'm glad I don't "cook" very often.
Today's pictures are of the entrance to Margrit Kovacs Pottery Museum and of the Citadel in Visegrad. (I don't seem to be able to post any photos tonight - I'll try to add them later.)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Budapest Castle

We caught the trolley right outside our apartment this morning, and rode across the Danube and up into the Buda Hills to the Budapest Castle and Old Town. This covers a huge area on the hilltops, and has great views of the river and Pest (including our street).

In all these wonderful old European cities, there are layers and layers of previous inhabitants. Each new group or generation builds in the same places, on top of the remains of older stuff. There are a number of places in the Budapest Castle where partially excavated Roman ruins are visible. At least we assumed they were Roman ruins - large expanses of stone rooms - there was no signage giving information. We didn't take a tour of the castle - just walked around. The buildings are in various stages of restoration - clean and shining - dark and dingy - shrouded in scaffolding. But it is magnificent. Several of the churches have the gorgeous, colorful, patterned tile roofs.

We went looking for the only monument in Budapest dedicated to a Muslim. I didn't get there because the hill was too high for me, but the others saw it. This man was responsible for bringing rose bushes to Budapest, and his monument is a low building with wonderful rose gardens. Unfortunately, the roses were past their prime, but interesting nevertheless.

We didn't take a boat trip on the river in Budapest. We looked at some of the companies and their routes - they didn't go any farther than the areas we had seen from the land side. We have had gorgeous weather, so have gotten to wander at will. The city is very open and easy to explore.

Today's pictures are taken at the Castle. First is of the Chain Bridge across the Danube with our street going away from the river to the right of the Pest end of the bridge. Second is part of the restored and cleaned Fisherman's Bastion at the Castle.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Getting started in Budapest

On our first full day in Budapest, we started to just explore and get a feel for the layout of the city. The Danube runss through the center of the city. Buda (the hilly city, the older city) is on one side, and Pest (the flatter, the more commercial area) is on the other.

We took the trolley into Buda to ride the cog railway up into the hills. We got some glimpses of houses through the trees, but not a great vista that we had hoped for. The Children's Railway runs further uphill from near the end of the cog railway. This unusual railway was started under Communism, to train youngsters to grow up to run the railway system. Now, the kids go to a regular school, but also run the railroad as a tourist attraction. They are about 10-14 years old, and do everything except the actually running of the trains. Ann and Al went on to wait to ride the Children's Railway - John and I headed back down on the cog railway.

We eventually wound up a the City Market. What a fantastic place - two huge floors of booths selling produce, meat, bread and pastries, tourist items, prepared foods to eat at stand-up tables, wine, clothing, table linens. We didn't begin to cover it all. We decided to eat at one of the stalls, and found "langos". It basically a fried Hungarian flat bread (like Navajo fry-bread!), and you can get it with almost any kind of toppings. We had a traditional topping - butter and garlic. Yum!!! Travelling is just as much about trying local foods as it is about seeing the sights.

Today's pictures are of a man sleeping in the sun at the cog railway station, and of some produce at the City Market.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Rain and moving

On a rainy day, we took our umbrellas and headed off for Stare Mesta - Old Town in Prague. Charming narrow streets paved with cobblestones. The rain slacked up, and we looked through some of the glass shops, and an open air market. After lunch, the rain picked up again, so we decided to head home. This was our last day in Prague.

The next morning, we were picked up and taken to the train station for our transfer to Budapest. We had to schlep our bags more than we would've liked in the train station, but eventually got settled, and had a nice 6-hour train ride through the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary.

Our smooth transfer in Budapest landed us at our nice apartment on a busy street in Pest - centrally located near the river, the main transfer Metro station, St. Stephen's Basilica. Our 5-story building was an old one, with a locked door leading into a courtyard. The apartment had been recently redone, very contemporary, 2 bedrooms, 1 bath, living room, kitchen/eating area, and a washer/dryer. We had been planning for this one, and started the first load of wash that night before we left for our orientation meeting at a nearby cafe. After the meeting and dinner, we spent a long time trying to get the dryer to work. It never did, though, and we wound up hanging our wash to dry on a drying rack in the living room. It worked!

Today's pictures are of a rainy day in Prague, and a wonderful painted building in the Stare Mesta.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Music, music, music!

On our next day in Prague, we took a trip out of town - to the town of Kutna Hora. It was a nice small town, although larger than we had expected. It was a lovely sunny day, and we enjoyed walking around the town, looking at churches and at the vistas from higher areas.

It's a shame that we had to go to the wonderful old European cities to hear such great music and remind us that we have this all the time, right here in our own backyard.

We went to the Chattanooga Symphony's opening concert tonight - an American Masters program - Charles Ives, Ferde Grofe (Grand Canyon Suite), Duke Ellington (New World A'Comin'), George Gershwin (Rhapsody in Blue). Great piano solos by Leon Bates. A great program.

The Symphony programs always open with the Star Spangled Banner. It is thrilling to hear it orchestrated, played at the proper tempo, with the entire audience singing along, loudly and confidently.

Today's picture is overlooking the town of Kutna Hora, Czech Republic.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Museum day in Prague

We headed out looking looking for the Prague Museum of Decorative Arts. We learned a long time ago in Norway to look for that sort of museum. This type museum is a collection of designed items like furniture, household goods, appliances, tableware, dishes, textiles, jewelry, machinery, clothing, glass. This type of museum is a must for us. There was a special exhibit of Moser glass - a famous Czech art glass. Here's a link to some of it. Click here for some information about Moser glass.

From the museum window we could see into the Jewish ghetto cemetary, another interesting piece of Prague history.

At a neighborhood cafe, we had garlic soup and potato soup. And finally found what Al had really been looking for...Topinki. Topinki is Czech garlic toast. I can't find a recipe in English, but it's coarse rye bread, toasted crisp and dry. Then the toast is heavily rubbed with a peeled garlic glove, all over, then buttered while warm. It is SO good! And today, at a new local bakery, I found some rye bread that will be suitable to use for topinki. I'll be stocking up on garlic.

Our afternoon was at the Veletrzni Palace. The book described it as a big ugly building with lots of art. Actually, it's a HUGE ugly building, with lots of interesting art, painting, sculpture, 19th & 20th centuries. All told, five floors of exceptional art.

We had another great dinner. Ann comented that at home, we'd NEVER go out, planning to walk two blocks to catch public transportation, and walk three more blocks to eat. It just wouldn't happen.

Today's picture is from the riverboat of some of the Prague buildings lining the Moldau River and the Charles Bridge.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Exciting day in Prague

Another day in Prague was a very busy one. We went to the National Museum - not art - but more of a natural history and history museum. It's a huge museum, but the displays were very antiquated. Since Ann is a docent at the LACounty Museum of Natural History, she's gotten us to be pretty critical of museum displays and signage.

We spent some time in Old Town (Stare Mesta), walking around the narrow cobblestone streets and check out some of the shops. Our Idyll-sponsored event was that night - a chamber music concert of Mozart at the Prague Mozart Museum. It was a much longer walk from the trolley stop than I was comfortable with, ending with a very steep block-long walk up to the venue. I was NOT a happy camper by the time we got there. But the string-trio concert was exceptional, and it's hard to be grumpy when you're listening to Mozart.
We walked to a nearby beer hall for dinner, and had delicious goulash, served in a bread bowl. Superb!

Then it got really interesting. We headed home on a different trolley, which was fairly crowded. We were sitting separately, and I missed the stop. John, Al & Ann all got off at "our" stop, and I sailed blithely on. The panic started at the next stop when everybody got off, and the driver indicated that this was the end of the line and that he was leaving. Oh, my god!!! What now?!? I couldn't find anybody around who spoke any English. I debated walking back, but had no idea of how long it would be. Then I realized that others were waiting for a trolley heading back in the other direction, so I decided to wait for that one, too. Just about then, dear sweet wonderful John showed up - walking up on the other side of the street. He said that he just hoped that I had gotten off, or that the end of the line wasn't more than one stop (which it wasn't). Anyway, I was rescued, and within a few minutes, a new driver showed up, and the trolley headed back toward town. We got on for that one stop, and walked home. Ann and Al came up right behind us - they had gotten lost, too, walking from the trolley stop to home - making a wrong turn.

Fortunately, we were all home, safe and sound, and really tired. And this was probably our hardest, most exciting day of the trip.

Today's picture is of marionettes hanging outside a shop near the Charles Bridge.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Prague Castle

In all three cities, we had great fun discovering the public art on the streets and in the plazas. From the boat, we saw one up on the bluff that took a while to figure out. I finally decided it was a huge metronome, slowing ticking out a rhythm. With a bit of research, I found out that it is, indeed, called Metronome. A Soviet statue had been on that site during the Communist era. When it was removed, the Metronome was erected to occupy the space. Now there are mixed feelings about this sculpture and, according to our guide book, it may not be there too much longer.

We had read that garlic soup was a traditional Czech dish, and we couldn't wait to try that. The first we got resembled what we call French Onion Soup, with some white cheese in the bottom of the bowl, and large toasted croutons floating in the top. We had other variations, too, as well as a creamy version. It was all good!

The next day we went to Prague Castle, a huge complex of buildings. Central is the St. Vitus Cathedral - all sorts of soaring Gothic arches and stained-glass windows. We tried to watch the changing of the guard, but it was very hard to see anything, and certainly did not compare to other "changings of the guards" in pomp and circumstance. We had lunch at one of the cafes in the castle area.

Further touring brought us to an area where some bishops had been "defenestrated". This is one of the odd words that I remember from having taken French. "Fenestre" is the French word for window, and to "defenestrate" someone means to throw him out the window, presumably to his death. I loved getting to explain this to the group. The really funny thing, though, was that the bishops were not killed - they landed in a pile of manure. History can be SO funny!

Today's picture is one of the stained glass windows from the St. Vitus Cathedral.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Thursday in Prague

Prague is a lovely old city. Many of the old buildings have been (or are in the process of being) cleaned and restored. The Old Town is charming - with it's narrow, twisting streets opening into small squares, cobblestone paving. As in most European cities, parking and general traffic are horrible for cars, so the public transportation system is definitely the way to get around. A transit pass is one of the services provided by Untours, so we were able to get on and off any of the modes of transit as much as we wished. I also found out that people will immediately offer a seat to anyone with a cane. And I always travel with my cane.

The trams and buses do stay on more major roads, so we had at least a block + walk to a tram in any direction. I will say that I walked more in the three-week trip than probably in all of the preceeding year. Of course, it was good for me, but I did take a lot of acetominophen.

After our arrival day, and getting settled into the apartment, we talked about what we'd like to do, and got to bed early. On the second day, we had our Untours information meeting. We got lots more general information and suggestions. The Untours event for the week will be a chamber music concert, with a string trio playing Mozart. After the meeting, we walked a couple of blocks to the base of the funicular, heading up the bluff to a viewing tower that overlooks all of Prague, especially the Prague Castle. Midway of the track is a restaurant, so we stopped there and had some lunch. Once at the top of the funicular, the views were awesome.

We walked toward the tower (built at the end of the 19th century and based on the Eiffel Tower). After buying tickets, we found it meant climbing the stairs to the top. Well, that certainly let me out, so we started looking for an elevator. There was one, but only for the handicapped (there's that good ol' cane again - my magic wand). Then they told it was also good for anyone over 70!!! So we all squeezed into the tiny elevator and zipped up to the top. What an incredible sight to look out over all the red tile roofs of the city, seeing the Moldau cutting through the city, the layout of Prague Castle.

After we went down, we headed toward the end of the Charles Bridge - once the main bridge over the Moldau, but now a pedestrian bridge - a place where Czechs meet to walk, talk, and enjoy good weather. It was packed - vendors, craftsmen, artists drawing caricatures, musicians, etc. Lots of fun to walk across and check everything out. It was still relatively early, so we decided to take an afternoon boat ride. It was interesting to see the city from the water, but disappointing in that there was no narration to go along with the ride.
We headed home, then walked a couple of blocks to a neighborhood tavern for a great dinner. The servings are huge, so we're having to learn how to order. A very full first day!

Today's picture is from the tower, showing the rooftops of Prague.

Happy 50th!

Not much thinking about our trip today. Sue and Wanda had scheduled the party for Margaret's 50th birthday. Her birthday is tomorrow, but today worked better for everybody.

Folks started arriving here at the house before noon. Sweet Betty brought over a breakfast casserole to have in the morning. Sue, Margaret, and Wanda went over to Vicki's to get things ready. We waited for others to come to give directions. Kate and Jean came, then Don and Flo Jean. I headed out with Don & Flo, followed by Kate and Jean. Then John and Bobby came.

The table and food all looked really nice at the shop. A couple of Margaret's friends from work came, Beth, Lisa, & Kimberly, John & Sylvia from here in town. Allen called to talk to the Birthday girl. And Vicki even got there. We had a great time eating and talking, opening presents and cards, and laughing.

When it was time to leave, we cleaned up, and headed to the breakfast room at the motel. Lots more laughing and talking, with a TV this time to watch the end of the TN/GA ballgame (TN won!). Finally we got hungry again, and Wanda ordered and went to get pizzas - a great idea!

What a good day this was - and I'm sure the birthday girl enjoyed her party. I know I did.

Today's picture is of Margaret opening her cards.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Arriving in Prague

Up at 5 this morning. I do hope we get our body clocks adapted soon. It's now 11:15 p.m., and maybe I'll be able to sleep until at least 6 or so.

I have the Classical digital station on the TV, and they're playing music by Antonin Dvorak. Dvorak was a Czech and was born and died in Prague. He's always been one of my favorites.

Our apartment in Prague was in a neighborhood a bit out from the City Center. There were small shops and restaurants nearby, but mostly we had to head to the tram stop to get to visit museums or Old Town or other places we wanted to visit. The apartment is actually the home of a lady who "rents" it to Untours occasionally. She needs the extra income, and moves in with a friend or family while tourists are there.

It was very nice, on the first floor (in Europe, that's what we call the 2nd floor), so only one flight up. There was an elevator, which was great for getting the luggage up and down, but mostly we walked. The space included a large entry hall, living room, full kitchen with eating area, two bedrooms, and one bathroom. Untours furnishes enough food for breakfast the first morning, but we did go out to dinner that first night. The Untours people met us at the airport, got us into a cab to go "home", where another staffer met us to explain the apartment and to give us our transit passes and other information. We did get out for a short trolley ride, and wound up eating at a neighborhood restaurant.

Most of the places have someone who speaks English, as well as menu items listed in English as well as Czech. So it's not hard to get food. One great European custom is posting a menu outside each restaurant. This gives potential patrons a chance to look over the menu and prices to be sure it's where they want to eat.

We got some tentative planning done for the week, and then collapsed to recover from the overnight plane ride.

Today's picture is from our apartment window of the building across the street.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Jet lag...

We're finally home, and I can return to writing. We got home about 9:30 last night, after a 10-hour flight from Prague and a 1-hour flight from Vienna to Prague and the 2-hour shuttle ride from Atlanta back to Chattanooga. Poor Ann and Al had to go on from Atlanta to LA.

We had a great time - as always. Our bodies are 6 hours earlier than local time, so it'll take a while to get that back in synch. But the wash is done, and I've been to the grocery store.

I haven't had time to download the photos, but will get that done before the weekend. Margaret's 50th birthday party is going to be at Vicki's gallery on Saturday. Fortunately, we're just guests at this one. Sue and Margaret's sister-in-law are the hostesses. I don't know who-all is going to be there, but most will be coming in on Saturday sometime.

We spent one week each in Prague (Czech Republic), Budapest (Hungary), and Vienna (Austria). These are lovely old (but still vibrant) cities with so much to see and do. They have great public transportation systems, so we did a lot in the "old towns" using trams and subways and our feet. I've probably walked more in the last three weeks than in the last year - and used up a lot of acetominophen. We rarely had any "down" time. We were staying in very nice apartments, but there was no place except inside to just sit and "veg out".

The museums, art, natural history, historical, musical, cultural, abounded. We heard a string trio playing Mozart in Prague; went to a folk dance performance in Budapest; and heard the Mozart Orchestra, dressed in period costumes, play an all-Mozart concert in Vienna. We ate goulash, wiener schnitzel, and sausages in three countries.

We played a lot of bridge - nearly every evening. We changed partners after every rubber, and kept a running score. On the last night, Al beat John out for high, and I was very low - no more than half what the others had - terrible cards the whole time.

It's good to be home - at least for a little while.