Europe

Old Town Market, Kraków

I had first come to Kraków on business in 2000, the same year Kraków was named a European Capital of Culture. It was winter and bitter cold with a light dusting of snow softening the sounds of what was already a quiet medieval off-season town that hadn’t found its tourist stride yet. I didn’t think much about traveling to Poland when I left on the trip, but I left vowing to return someday. I distinctly remember my first serving of crimson borscht, the comfort of fresh pierogis, the sharp bite of kielbasa with mustard, the sour pucker of a sauerkraut salad, and the hot sweetness of a Grzane Piwo or two.

I loved my short time in Kraków and knew Tawny would love it too. As I had been here on business I didn’t have a chance to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau and I felt my trip was incomplete. I vowed to return someday. And that day started today.

We arrived in Kraków early in the morning thanks to the ungodly hour of a Ryanair flight from Berlin. Luckily our Airbnb (Newcastle – Luxury Old Town Apartment) was ready and waiting for us. It couldn’t have been more conveniently located just steps from St. Mary’s Basilica with a view of the Wawel Castle. It was our first stop. Unfortunately, we found that the famous St. Mary’s Alter by Veit Stoss was currently being restored and wasn’t viewable. But we could hear the hourly golden bugle playing from our room from early morning until late into the night.

After viewing St. Mary’s we split up to explore more of Kraków. Clara and West headed to one side of Market Square (the largest medieval square in Europe) and we the other. We entered the Sukiennice (once the global center of international trade, now more a touristy set of indoor booths selling trinkets to the tourists) to expore treasures like amber from the Baltic Sea, carved wooden boxes, pisanki, and a variety of other souvenirs. We bought a few keepsakes and then strolled the square exploring up and down side streets within what was once a well-fortified walled city.

As we relaxed into the day at a sidewalk cafe Clara and West contacted us. They suggseted a bar for us to meet at on the way to Kazimierz – The Jewish Quarter. We caught up with each other and decided to find nearby Record Dillaz!!! record store to see if we could find some items on our list before dinner. Tawny found a somewhat rare original pressing of Prince’s first album in great shape and added it to our collection.

We then found Alchemia, a vegan and vegetarian-friendly bar, and restaurant that looked good. Unfortunately, for all the health consciousness on the menu, the thick haze from the smokers left us choking as we tried to find a table. We couldn’t find one, and we couldn’t take the smoke. We headed next door to the restaurant only version where we could enjoy some interesting variations on hummus dishes before heading back to our apartment. We had a long day planned for tomorrow with an early tour out to Auschwitz-Birkenau followed by the Wieliczka Salt Mine, and we wanted to get our rest for would prove to be a somber and emotionally draining day.



Categories: Europe, Krakow | Leave a comment

Checkpoint Chuck: Berlin Day 3

Part of the impetus for our Eastern European itinerary (Berlin, Krakow, Vienna, Prague) was to visit places with strong sociopolitical significance. Politics have social conseqences people! Where better to understand that truism than learning of the extreme social consequences the political rise of Nazism, the resulting Holocaust, and subsequent Cold War? Given the uncanny and chilling parallels between Trump‘s rise to power and that of Hitler’s, it was a trip we felt we needed to make.

Our day began at the epicenter of the both the height and end of the Cold War: Checkpoint Charlie (now reduced to a photo opportunity where you can get a McFlurry off the Euro menu).

Would you like fries with your landmark?
Looking East

We knew Checkpoint Charlie would be disappointing but it would only have been more disappointing to have avoided it all together. Howver, the nearby Mauermuseum Museum Haus Am Checkpoint Charlie proved an interesting distraction from the rain. For all it’s eclectic, eccentric, and discombobulated curation is an important center and collection of artificts for preserving Berlin’s history, the Wall, the Cold War, and the pursuit of freedom, be it individuals and families escaping the DDR by slipping under the Iron Curtain, or by documenting organized politial struggles around the globe.

After the Mauermuseum we headed across the street to the Die Mauer Asisi Panorama. It was a pretty amazing work of art by Yadegar Asisi. Asisi created this massive 18-meter high perspective photo recreation of a ficticious day in the life of the Wall in 1989, looking East fromt the West. When you enter the room, and climb up to a 4-meter high viewing platform you get this curved perspective view that puts the panorammic photo into three dimentions. You truly feel you are there with the introduction of lights and sounds.

After Die Mauer Asisi Panorama we had a quick lunch at nearby Yarok Fine Syrian Foods from Damascus. Typically I wouldn’t mention this except this place had, hands down, the best and most fragrant falafal I have ever tasted. We all agreed. It was amazing. Go there.

The restaurant was right across the street from the Topography of Terror museum (which I’ll blog about later) located on the site where the State Secret Police (Gestapo), SS, and Reich Security had their offices. We spent a few hours there looking throught the meticulous documentation of the atrocities of the Nazi terror machine.

To lighten the mood we headed to Alexander Platz for a walk around the bustling area and then started walking towards Friedrichshain and found ourselves in Volkspark Friedrichshain Berlin’s oldest park. We walked around the park enjoying the nearby neighborhood, curious statues and found great cafe in the park were we enjoyed a sunset glass of wine.

We ended our evening at Feuer and Flamme, a fondue restaurant in Friedrichshain.

Categories: Berlin, Europe | 1 Comment

Flea Market & a Casting Scout: Berlin Day 2

Most German businesses are closed on Sundays. That left our cold and sunny Sunday with only the touristy options open most days of the weeks such as the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag Building, Siegessäule (Victory Column), and Tiergarten, and the Holocaust Memorial. We had €5 unlimited über rides around the city all weekend thanks to our helpful über driver from the night before who had given us a “Heyber” promotional code! We called an über and headed out.

We didn’t plan far enough in advance to visit the Reichstag dome (which requires registering for tickets early in the day) so instead, we went to visit Brandenberg Gate and then walked to the nearby Holocaust Memorial (which I will blog about in another post). After that sobering experience, we needed some Frühlingsgefühle and Geborgenheit. We decided to spend the rest of our Sunday in the flea market at Maurerpark. To our surprise, the über dropped us right in front of the photobooth from the night before. The empty lot and park across the street had been transformed overnight into the largest flea market we’d ever seen. It was teaming with hoards of humanity and countless treasures waiting to be discovered.

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We spent our afternoon rummaging through bins of artifacts, tables of bric-a-brac, endless record collections and exploring local arts and crafts booths. This was punctuated by several trips to the Schönwetter* Biergarten to drink, eat pizza and fill up on currywurst before hitting more bins, sorting through more vinyl and hiking a short hill to explore an old section of the Berlin Wall and watch local graffiti artists applying their skills.

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From the hill, we could hear artists performing below and we walked amongst beatboxers, brass bands, street performers, and pick-up basketball games as we made our way back into the flea market for another round of shopping.

As we sat at the Biergarten a woman approached us and asked if West had ever modeled before. West had bought a new vintage jacket (one Clara had found and insisted he buy) and he was looking very cool. She introduced herself at Valeria, a casting scout working for photographer Mark Peckmezian (instagram) (webberrepresents). She insisted Mark would like his look and would probably like to photograph him for a new portrait series he was doing for n-o-o-n (a UK publication) with stylist Brian Molloy.  We told her we were heading out of town on Tuesday and would only be back to Berlin breifly in about a week. She told us the photo shoot would be on April 3 and 4th and as luck would have it, that is when we’ll be returning. She emailed us later that evening and put us in contact with the agency to make arrangements. We are planning on taking an earlier train back from Prague to make it in time for the shoot.

As Valeria left us and long shadows emerged from vendor booths of weary buyers and sellers and the air settled in a chill around us, we turned ourselves towards Prenzlauer Berg in search of dinner.

Tawny found a great restaurant nearby called Montraw listed as one of Berlin’s Top Ten where enjoyed a fantastically innovative meal.

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It was a perfect meal to end a perfect day in Berlin. One could see how easy it could be to become a Berliner.

Categories: Berlin, Europe | 1 Comment

A Sexy Hotel & Paul’s Boutique: Berlin Day 1

I had been to Prague and Vienna in the early 1990s, as well as Berlin and Krakow in 2000. I had always wanted return and to take my family there. And so, we decided to take Clara’s two-week spring break in Eastern Europe as a family (with West, Clara’s boyfriend joining us). Our itinerary included Berlin, Krakow, Vienna, Prague, and short stayover in Reykjavík on our return home.

Berlin received us before noon, courtesy of Icelandair‘s early arrival. It was a sunny Saturday morning and although we were exhausted from the long flight, we were excited to start exploring the city.

A taxi wound us through the streets of Berlin to the hotel Provocateur, where we found our rooms would not be ready until after three-o-clock. A shower and change of clothes from our trip would have to wait. The helpful hotel staff pointed us towards nearby Kurfürstendamm, the local shopping district. Shopping sounded fun so we headed off in that direction to find stores and something for lunch. Unfortunately, Kurfüerstendamm disappointed us for shopping since most stores were either large multi-national chains or luxury goods which held little interest for treasure hunters like us. We steered off  off the beaten path of polished boulevards and lavish window displays and wove ourselves up and down side streets in search of a more authentic Berliner experience.

We stumbled across a quaint little restaurant filled with local pensioners called Café Maitre Munch. It proved our first taste of Berliner food to be a win (although the green and overly sweet Berliner Weisse was far too much for our taste).

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After lunch, we headed back to our hotel to shower and change. Our rooms were ready and better yet we had been given an “upgrade”. We picked this hotel because it was part of the Marriott collection and had booked it through the Marriott website. Perhaps we should have looked more closely at the Provocateur’s website first. While the hotel was certainly small and intimate…that intimacy took on new meaning as we found it was listed as a “sensual” hotel. We entered our red velvet ensconced rooms and were greeted by ample mirrors, erotic art books, the latest German edition of Playboy (they still print full nudes in Playboy Germany BTW), unmentionables availabe in the mini-bar, and a switch on the wall for something called “Provocateur mode”. Of course when we discovered that we had to flip it on.  The lights automatically dimmed, some sexy music came from hidden speakers in the walls, and then artsy black and white risqué moving images were projected upon the wall from a hidden source in the wall. We laughed it off, but with two seventeen-year-olds traveling with parents, it was….awkward…

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As soon as we could differentiate our blushes from our velvet curtains, we caught an über to trendy Prenzlauer Berg to visit Paul’s Boutique (not Paul’s Boutique) – a major mission for our Berlin itinerary. It did not disappoint. Paul’s was an overwhelming assault of visual stimulation and vintage picking which helped fend off our mounting jet lag.

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After a few prized purchases at Paul’s we headed down the street of hipster bars, beergardens, cafes, and vintage boutiques in search of more treasures. We found OYE – a record store on our list of places to visit. It proved fruitful in producing a dozen or so 7″ 45 rpm vinyls for our new juke box back home. As we strolled the streets looking for somplace to eat we came across a seemingly abandoned photo booth sitting in front of a large empty lot on the edge of the neighborhood. Clara and West did a photo session.

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We topped off a rather long day (which started on Friday morning in Seattle and it was now 7pm in Berlin on Saturday) with a traditional German meal of beer, pretzels, schnitzel, and stuffed peppers at a beer garden called Georgbraeu Brauhaus we found near Alexandererplatz before nodding asleep in an über on our way back to the velvet couches and curtains of the Provacateur for a much needed sleep.

Categories: Berlin, Europe, Vienna | 2 Comments

Gargoyles of Notre Dame

When I was around 13 years old my mother and her friend Ingrid took me to France and Paris to visit our exchange student Eric. My most memorable experience was walking amongst the gargoyles of the towers of Notre Dame.

We tried 3 times to visit the towers but the lines were so long during the day we didn’t want to wait in them. However, on our last day in Paris I woke my family up early and eased the early rise with an offering of a cafe au lait for Tawny, a chocolat chaud for Clara, and croissants for us all. We headed down through the Left Bank to queue up, thinking we were late. Although, when were arrived there were only a few people there. We were a bit confused. Apparently the towers opened at 10am. It was 9. 😦 We waited in line, only 4-5 people back from the front. Great position! However, it was cold and we had only packed for Greece, so we were cold too. Then the wind started to blow. And then it rained. We were drenched by the time the doors opened at 10 and we made our way up the towers. The only condolence seeing how the gargoyles work as rain spouts they were designed for.

The towers of Notre Dame (celebrating its 850 year anniversary) have always held fascination for me. From that first experience I was entranced by the gothic architecture, the tormented gargoyles adorning the turrets, the ornate embellishments with their symbolism and hidden meanings.

And the view of Paris…spectacular. As we walked out on the towers the skies parted and the sun shone through. A glimmer of hope for the tortured souls eternally trapped in a gothic purgatory spewing water from the ramparts of Notre Dame.

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Categories: Europe, Paris | 1 Comment

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