Posts Tagged With: travel

Budapest 2016 Revisited

Of all the countries we visited this summer I was most excited to go to Hungary. I suppose my interest was because I’d never been to a country that had been behind the Iron Curtain. I had no idea what to expect, but Budapest turned out to be exactly what I had expected.

Before going people asked why I was so interested in going to Hungary I had some amorphous thoughts but couldn’t articulate them. After visiting Budapest and riding through the city seeing the grungy buildings with plaster falling off, crumbled buildings here and there, people going about their lives, I realized this is exactly what I expected. A former Soviet Bloc country rebuilding itself. Among the decaying and crumbling buildings were of course restored and maintained places of national pride as well as new construction.

One of the points of pride we visited was Buda Castle (I had no idea Budapest was formed by the union of two towns). Below are some shots of the street leading into Buda Castle.

It was difficult to get a shot of the whole castle given the small space and increasing number of people. Moments after we arrived at the castle two tour buses unloaded.

Couldn’t resist….

Of course after taking this I noticed my group and moved on, and I had no idea where.  Oops.

The view from the castle was awesome:


From the castle we headed to the Pest side of Budapest and along the way passed this


…which looked really awesome, but alas was  not one of our destinations. Instead we went to the city center for some lunch were I found this, and did that:

…but didn’t buy this:


We also took a sweet river cruise:

We also went to a bath house which was awesomely relaxing:

The morning we departed Budapest we visited another of what would become a theme of our trip, a public market….


…where we bought some snacks for the road and last minute souvenirs like this sweet fridge magnet:


Wish I could read Hungarian 😦

And of course no trip for me would be complete with out at least one amusing sign…


…and random photos from a rest stop on the way to our next destination:


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Of Travel and Poorly Drawn Penises

Day 1 began VERY early, before 4:00 am CA time for most of us, and ended VERY late, 8:00 p.m the following day, London time. I checked in to my hotel the evening before departure and received a room key with the number 13 on the fob and thought, “Huh, that’s interesting.” Interesting because I was wearing a German soccer jersey with the same number that I had purchase in my last trip. I bought it because our Fat Tire bike tour guide in Berlin was wearing the same jersey and explaine that he chose it because The player with that number had an average German name, Muller (like Smith in the United States), and was the teams most average player; which I found amusing. Wasn’t sure how arriving in London wearing that shirt would go over. (Story note: as I was listening to Albert King, “The Hunter” as I was writing and just as I wrote “London” he sang the same word!)
The next morning, we began our journey with a flight to JFK with a short layover then on to London. The flight was uneventful save for the terrifying turbulence coming in to JFK (one kid threw up) and another odd coincidence. I decided to watch a movie from the in flight choices and picked ‘Sisters’, which was not a wise choice. The only detail pertinent to this story from that movie is that at one point a giant penis was painted on a wall of a house.
After the movie I was looking around at what other people were watching and on a screen not too far from me was another large penis painted on a blue van; which I discovered was in the movie “Vacation”, which was also not a good choice. What are the odds?
Then we arrived in London:

And answered many questions that were surprisingly difficult to answer from customs officials, questions that seemed to have obvious answers yet the person I had clearly doubted my sincerity.

“Purpose of your visit?”

“Uh, leisure.”

“What are you going to do while you’re here?”

“Oh, tourist things, see the sights.”

(Rolls eyes) “What sights are you  going to see?”

“Um, Wesrminister Abbey, Trafalgar square….”

*sigh* “Are you travelling alone?”

“Nope, I’m with a group of students and teachers.”

“What kind of group is it?”

“Holy crap lady, let me in!”, I thought but did not say, but that is pretty much how it went, with MANY more questions.

Once we all ran the interrogation gauntlet we mosied to the Underground, walked several blocks and checked into our temporary residence, where we saw this:

Can’t come to England ant not get a photo of one of these. After about an hour though very tired, we hit the town. First stop was the Houses of Paliament:

Followed by Westminster Abbey:

…where this happened:

…and through us Californians for a loop! From here we headed to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery to round out our day:

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T minus 2ish

Part of living in the house you grew up in is that you put off sorting through the boxes of family photos, movies, and slides for extended periods of time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps you’re meant to go through the records of yours and your family’s’ life at the “right” times. The trick is to recognize those times.

Rummaging through one of the plethora of boxes documenting my family’s life I came across this:



…which is apparently part of the record from my Dad studying at the Mozarteum in Austria one summer; note the tuition. Discovering this of course conjured up memories of the tales he would tell of that time including the time he taught his landlady how to make “American” hamburgers. Before he could he had to go to a butcher to explain how to grind the meat, then to a baker to describe how to make the bun. Too bad he didn’t have a cell phone; coulda just shown them photos!

Since one of our destinations this summer is Austria, I’ll be taking this with me so Pops can “travel” with me.

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Day 8: Atrocities

This day started with a visit to a concentration camp. The camp is called Sachsenhausen and is located in Oranienburg, Germany about 22 miles north of Berlin. We had to walk from the train station to the camp and along the way I was struck by how ordinary the town was. Some of the houses we passed very near the camp looked like summer homes and all were very neatly kept. I also found it interesting that there were markers posted every so often with stories of the camp. I had wondered how Germans dealt with the legacy of the Nazi’s, I felt it would be under the rug somewhat but I was wrong. Entering the camp was a bit surreal and seeing the “Arbeit Mach Frei” on the gate was unsettling. Again, nothing makes history more tangible than travel. I have taught about the Holocaust, but to see the actual places where the plans were carried out is powerful. This camp was smaller than I had expected then I realized it was built in a populated area. We had a limited amount of time there so I walked faster than I wanted but covered a lot of ground.

After snapping some initial photos I walked over to one of the barracks that is now a museum. Of the many photos and artifacts that were in the museum I was most affected by the actual logs of people who had been sterilized; it was a stack of journals about 4 feet high.  The fact that the Nazi’s kept such meticulous records is disturbing; no, it’s more than disturbing, it’s shocking, offensive, and unfathomable. I go to the end of the barracks and panicked momentarily because I couldn’t find the exit, I had to get out. Luckily I found the exit relatively quickly.

Following the barracks I walked over to the pathology building and mortuary where medical experiments were conducted.  They actually had to design and construct a building for that purpose.  I then wandered the grounds first coming across mass graves and a wall with commemorative plaques from other countries, and finally toward the memorial erected in the center of the camp.  Upon exiting the camp I briefly stepped into the main museum and was met by an actual Nazi uniform which shook me a bit.  Overall a sobering experience.

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Day 7

It was a fittingly rainy day to visit the Wannsee House and Potsdam.  The Wannsee House is where the Nazi’s planned the final solution.  It is now a museum and educational site. What struck me the most was the beautiful setting of the house; a country retreat overlooking a beautiful lake.  The juxtaposition of the setting and what occurred inside the house is, well, bizarre. It was also very unsettling to see photos of Hitler in Germany.  I had several ‘shaken to the core’ moments, very similar to seeing the Vietnam memorial for the first time, or seeing the planes slam into the twin towers; a very visceral recognition, understanding, and acceptance that this was real, it actually happened.

It was apropos for us to visit the location of the Potsdam Conference after the Wannsee House.  The place in Potsdam where the conference was held was at least equal to the beauty of the Wannsee House.  I spent my limited time wandering the grounds rather than taking the tour of the building inside. It was moving to stand on the same patio where Churchill, Wilson, and Stalin sat following the war.


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Day 6: Landscape of the Dead

We had several hours to hang out in Paris following our visit to Normandy. We decided to spend that time meandering through Père Lachaise Cemetery.  Our goal was to first find the burial location of Jim Morrison but as we wandered I was both awed and amazed at the grave sites we were passing through. The cemetery felt a bit surreal which is  not unusual, but at some points it seemed we were passing through an abandoned city. I wouldn’t have been surprised if we had seen the door to one of the tombs open and it’s occupant step out as if to pick up the morning paper.  This place definitely had conveyed the atmosphere of a Tim Burton movie. Many of the tombs/crypts showed extraordinary craftsmanship and artistry; they were truly amazing. We eventually found Morrison’s grave as well as Oscar Wilde’s and they had one thing in common, other than being burial places, barriers to keep the public away. The barriers are close to the sites so they are easily viewed but apparently people were endangering the sites with their attempts at showing appreciation/reverence. I can only guess what people were doing to Morrison’s grave, maybe leaving too many objects, maybe adding graffiti, the story for Oscar Wilde’s was more clear.  At some point for visitors to Oscar Wilde’s grave it became a tradition to kiss the headstone. (“Headstone” in this case is  a bit of a misnomer, as it is really a huge sculpture.) His descendants felt that the abundance of lipstick prints was both damaging and not entirely appropriate so they had the headstone cleaned and surrounded by a glass wall.  Intrepid fans have found ways to still smooch the stone however. This was definitely an unexpectedly pleasant and enriching experience.



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Day 5: Normandy

Day 5 started with a very early bus ride to Normandy with a smarmy bus driver, I’ll save further descriptions of him for another post.  One of the reasons I took this trip was to be able to go to Normandy.  As with most memorials I have visited, nothing really prepares you and you’re surprised by what affects you and how you’re affected. There is nothing that can convey the shear number of casualties other than visiting Normandy.  As I walked among the marble crosses and stars of David I began to think of my uncle who survived D-Day.  He was a bomber pilot who volunteered for extra sorties beyond his assignment.  While reflecting on his bravery and contribution to the war effort I was reminded of my dad who passed in March. They both led long, charmed, amazing lives.  I walked, bringing them with me, feeling the weight of the place; couldn’t help but weep.

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Epic Day 2

1) visited Anne Franke house.
2) visited diamond factory.
3) took canal cruise.
4) [here comes the epic part] myself and a few other students separated from the main group to duck into a supermarket and buy some Speculoos, mmmmm. We agreed to be quick and run to catch up with the others by the Dam (cathedral). We were, and we ran, but the large group was not where they said they’d be. As I walked the square to find the rest of the group, the students who were with me stopped to watch a juggler. Upon my return from not finding the rest of the group the following happened:
a) one of my students was selected to assist the juggler
b) he snapped a whip near her face.
c) he made several funny, slightly off color, full of innuendo jokes
d) for his finale he swallowed a sword then juggled a torch, a large knife and a baton then had my student pull the sword from his mouth.
5) After the juggler we decided to walk to the Red Light district, just to say we had, and ran into the tour leader who said everyone had 30 minutes to wander/shop around, so we wandered down to the Red Light district and saw some, uh, interesting stuff.
6) we rounded the corner from the interesting stuff and saw a condom store, complete with unrolled samples in the window.
7) we stepped into a gift shop and one of my students found penis shaped salt and pepper shakers.

To recap: my student assisted a sword swallowing juggler, we visited the Red Light district and saw a condom store, then found penis shaped salt and pepper shakers.

Did I mention the kids who were with me were all girls?

I’m so fired.

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Netherlands Post Visit – Fini

Alas I have run out of pictures to share from the Netherlands so this will be my last post until I venture abroad again; hopefully in the near future.  I will be continuing to post on my other blog which has photos from my adventures in California.  I’ll leave you with a few of my favorites from the Netherlands.

One of my favorite ventures was to the ‘Heineken Experience’, not just because 3 beers were included with the admission price, and there was a horse that shared my name, but because it was  a great place to people watch and I got to personalize an actual bottle of Heineken. The end of the factory tour is set up like a club, disco lights, loud music and table games so people are behaving as if they’re in a club.  One guy in particular caught my attention because he was having his wife circulate around the room collecting all the unfinished beers and pouring them into his glass.  Yep, he was getting hammered.  I happened to be leaving the factory at the same time they were and they were trying to collect their free gift, which could only be collected by visiting the factory store in a different part of town.  Heineken provides a boat from the factory to the store but the last boat of the day had just left; Mr. Hammered had difficulty understanding this, I felt bad for the employee that had to try and help him understand.

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Netherlands Post Visit – Utrecht

Just a few photos taken as I wandered the streets of Utrecht.

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