Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Summer Road Trips, Had Me a Blast! Part II

Less than 24 hours after returning to Vienna from our Prague adventure, we were on the road again.  Krakow was our destination for a long weekend visit.   Poland.  Land of some of my people.  Although we are not sure exactly where our Polish people emigrated from (paging the research department!), the food brings a flood of happy thoughts of my Italian Grandmother cooking Polish specialties, learned through marriage into the Slavic clan.  

This union of Italian and Pole makes sense in the context of Bona Sforza, the Italian royal who married Polish King Sigismund the Old in the 14th Century.  The Queen brought Italy and Poland together,  helping to incorporate Italian foods and artistic styles of the Renaissance into the Polish Court.

Italian poet Gianbattista Guarini wrote of the connection:

"I luoghi sono ben lontani, ma gli anni son vicini"
"the places are so far away, but the spirit is close"

I get it.

Krakow has much of the "hipster" vibe of Prague, only less densely packed with tourists.  We visited 2 UNESCO World Heritage sites:  Historic Centre Krakow and Wieliczka Salt Mine.  We are talking important Polish sites since at least the 13th Century.  The concept of being "close enough to touch" these connections to the past will never cease to amaze and inspire.  The medieval city center boasts the largest market square in Europe, Royal Wawel Castle complex is still partially surrounded by its walled fortifications, and the Kazimierz district forms part of the historic and tragic Jewish ghetto.  Krakow is also a University town with former students ranging from Copernicus to "hometown" Saint, Pope John Paul II.

St. Mary's Basilica

Cloth Hall

Cloth Hall Market

Saint John Paul II

Wawel Cathedral Complex at the Castle

St. Florian's Gate

St. Kinga's Cathedral in Wieliczka Mine (all made from rock salt)

We also continued educating ourselves and our 10 year old about Hitler and Nazi atrocities, by visiting parts of the Jewish ghetto.  Polish Jews lived in Krakow from the 13th century until Nazis forced more than 65,000 men, women and children into the Podgorze ghetto and systematically orchestrated their deaths there or in concentration camps, like nearby Auschwitz.  Even the Old Jewish Cemetery (established in 1535) was destroyed by the Nazis.  Tombstones were demolished to make paving stones for the camps.  Much of what is viewed today is post-war restoration.

Remuh Cemetery-Old Jewish Cemetery

Building in Kazimierz

Memorial to the 65,000

Oh Krakow.  We did not have enough time to fully appreciate all of your gifts.  We will return.  Our desire for pierogis and golumpki (aka piggies), along with a breaded pork chop and an ice cold Tyskie is far too great to keep us away.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Summer Road Trips, Had Me a Blast! Part I

The travel bug bit and off we went on a road trip to Prague.  With the promise of cold Czech beer, you don't have to ask me twice.  Of course, it was hotter than hell and the city was packed with tourists, but dodging sweaty bodies on Charles Bridge is half the fun.

Bridge of People, A View from Above

Our Street View Toward Charles Bridge

Night View to Prague Castle

This visit we used Airbnb to secure an apartment and were thrilled with the accommodation.  It was located in the heart of the Jewish Quarter, directly across the street from Maisel Synagogue.  With news of the day reporting escalations in the fighting between Israel and Gaza, our time spent in the Prague's Jewish Quarter was a sobering reminder of those Jews who were murdered for being.  Slaughtered for existing.  Eerily similar to the way Hamas views the Jews in Israel today, a point not lost on us.  Prague's Jewish Quarter, with its six synagogues, town hall and cemetery was not destroyed by the Nazis.  In fact, Hitler's original intent was to gather Jewish artifacts, relocate them to Prague and create a morbid museum of an "extinct race".  Evil stuff.  If you have the opportunity to tour, spend one whole day in the Jewish Quarter, you will be moved by the experience.

Our Apartment View to Maisel Synagogue

Since this was our second visit, we knew all of the tourist spots.  This was especially important since we were taking visiting family on her first tour outside Vienna.  It was exciting to see the city through her eyes.  We even went "camp" and booked a ghost tour, only to discover more spots worth visiting again.  From the food to the views, what a fun city to explore and photograph.

Paying Close Attention to the Ghost Tour

View from Strahov Monastery

St. Vitus

Wenceslas Square

Dancing House by Frank Gehry

Street Food

The Crew

Prague is like that really hip friend you might not see for some time, but when you do, the conversation flows and the fun doesn't skip a beat.

Until We Meet Again

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Thoughts on Leaving and Beginning

Just returned to Vienna from our first home leave.  We are beginning our second year as an ex-pat family.  It has been quite the adjustment.  With that said, I have some random thoughts to share.

Home Leave

Let's talk about reverse culture shock!

We were surrounded by Americans speaking loudly and we could understand every.single.word.  Americans are a loud, animated and happy people (on the whole) and it was fun to be back in the thick of everyone's conversation, whether we wanted to hear it or not.

From old city to the old pueblo, home is where the heart is.  We returned to Tucson, Arizona, a smaller, less urban place compared to Vienna.  Tucson was our home for more than 16 years and a place of beauty, not to mention superior Mexican food and Dairy Queen ice cream.  More importantly, a place where we  reconnected with family, friends and the beauty of the desert southwest.  Seeing our former house for the first time in a year was a shock, but knowing home is wherever the 4 of us are together helped me through seeing the horrific landscaping and ugly metal javelina near my old front door.

American toilets.  Need I say more?  Of course, I doo.  Stay tuned for "Abdicating the Throne."

A shopping spree, you say?  I'm all in.  God Bless the USA-for so many reasons.  We are a land of choice, sometimes overwhelming choice.  From products, prices and clearance sales to 24 hour super stores and mega malls.  I can not tell you exactly why shopping on a Sunday in Target triggered a torrent of happy tears.  The constraints of shopping in Vienna gave way to a binge, along with the credit card bills to prove it.  When it comes to shopping American style, you really don't get it until you don't have it anymore.

Vienna:  The Second Year

We had not been back for 48 hours before we were yelled at for getting stuck behind locked gates on the grounds of The Belvedere after dark.  Oh how I missed being yelled at for some kind of infraction.  I've decided to respond in Spanish.  Or English.  Or Spanglish.  Bueno asshole!

The smoking, the staring, oh my. Vienna can be an ashtray and I did not miss that one bit.  The smoking habit here is disgustingly rampant, from the cigarette butts littering the city to wafting smoke across your face in public spaces and restaurants (even the so-called "no smoking" areas).  We've also returned to a place where people watching is taken to another level.  It's one thing to surreptitiously give someone the once over, even offer a compliment on an item of clothing or piece of jewelry.  In Vienna, you will be carefully evaluated from head to toe and back again.  In a very obvious fashion.  You can make the choice about a response:  return the stare with the same level of judgement, return the stare with a quizzical smile or ignore.

Keep calm and carry on.  Ultimately, it is wonderful returning to city life where you can step out the door and into a vibrant cultural scene every day.  Compared to other European capitals, Vienna is a safe place, a lively and beautiful city with concrete jungle mixed with glorious green spaces.  We have access to convenient public transportation and clean (delicious!) water straight from the tap.  I believe everyone should live in a large city at least once in their life.  What one loses in wide open suburban living,  one gains in urban perspective.  It is an important perspective to have.  We are fortunate to live here.

I know the fog of ex-pat confusion and culture shock will continue to dissipate as our second year progresses and we will make the most of what has been the adventure of our lifetime.  We were so happy to welcome family and friends who visited during our first year and certainly hope the visits will continue.  Perhaps, I will impress you with my German language skills and knowledge of the city.  If anything, I can help you order a cocktail, secure a seat in the least smokey section of the restaurant and stare down a gawker with my well-honed stink eye.  Prost!

Looking forward to year two of A Vienna Waltz

Monday, July 14, 2014

Porcelain Addiction

Porcelain addiction.  It's a nasty little habit.  Figurines, china, coffee services with those dainty demitasse cups, I own all of it.  In June, the Vienna Porcelain Manufacturer Augarten opened their "Swinging Teatime" exhibit, showcasing porcelain design during the 1950s.

A very brief history of Augarten:   Wiener Porzellanmanufactur was the second hard paste porcelain factory in Europe (Meissen in Germany was first).  It was in business from 1718-1864, closed down and re-opened in 1923.  For porcelain collectors, look for the "Old Wien" markings, an upside down beehive underglaze and consult a reference book (or appraiser) to be sure you are not purchasing a reproduction.  The Augarten Museum is located in the baroque Augarten Park (2nd District) which is also home to the Vienna Boys Choir and a view to a couple of WWII triple A towers (anti-aircraft artillery).

Interestingly, the promotional brochure offers this description of the collection:  "the goal of 1950s design was to ban any kind of restriction or heaviness and promote an everyday culture filled with dynamic joie de vivre - to which porcelain was naturally destined to make its own special contribution"  Cynic that I am, my take away message is:  "the goal of post WWII Austrian culture was to forget the Nazi past ASAP, so Augarten created porcelain to reflect movement into a modern, more vibrant era."  I get it, when compared to the Nazi prescribed porcelain designs, this evolution in style was good for the spirits of the post war Austrian host and hostess.  During the war, Augarten came under control of the National Socialists and was tasked with developing a baroque service for Hitler.  At the same time, the National Socialist ideology embraced the "perfect heroism" of antiquity as both an ideology and design trend, therefore, recreation of a Roman ceramic "terra sigillata" or sealed earth led to the production of terra cotta looking porcelains.

 "Terra sigillata" porcelain from the National Socialist days

In contrast, porcelain designs of the 1950s brought forward pieces to celebrate color, style and social activities.

It was a special treat to tour the exhibit with my Mom, our Vienna visitor.  She probably did not realize that she was creating an addict while dragging her tween around places like the Lenox Factory and Flemington Glass or telling me that the Lladro figurines at Grandma's were made in Spain as I jetted off for Summer abroad in 1981.  My Mother-in-Law, Mary Lou, introduced me to the beauty of Rosenthal with her 1960s Bjorn Winblad pattern, Romance.  Perhaps at the core, it all started with the story of a Grandfather I never met, working the docks and bringing home several pieces of Wako's Golden Maple after a shipping crate "broke" open at the pier.   Decades later, while on a business trip, I was thrilled to find more Golden Maple in a San Diego antiques store and proudly gave Grandma more pieces for her set.

Now, if only I could afford a replica of Josef Hoffman's 1929 "Melon" service, form no. 15.  Hoffman (1870-1956) was an architect and member of the Vienna Secession and Wiener Werkstatte.  The Augarten Museum shop sells a "new" Melon service that will run you around 1,866 euros ($2,540).  Oh, plus the tray at 604 euros ($822).  It really isn't a "set" unless you have the matching tray, right?  And maybe four cups and saucers instead of two....just in case you have a larger group over for coffee....or one breaks.  Ugh.  I'm feeling a bit shaky.....I need a fix.....porcelain addiction can be very costly.  Let me know if you see this at a Yard Sale, will ya?

Original "Melon" service (partial) next to demitasse cups and saucers

Melon reproduction for sale.  Good thing it is in a locked case.