BootsnAll Travel Network

Hamburg and Lueneburg

July 19th, 2010

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July 17

When I arrived at the Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, Pat (fellow conference attendee in Dnipropetrovsk last year) was waiting on the platform.  She walked me to her car and asked what I wanted to do next. We could go to a museum, walk around, whatever suited my fancy. It was over 30 degrees C (close to 90), so I said walking around might be better later in the afternoon. She then said she had an idea—there was an immigration museum in Hamburg a few S-Bahn stops away from the train station that her other American acquaintances seemed to like. Would I be interested? My eyes lit up and my smile grew wide as I explained how I had debated whether to go to the one in Bremerhaven but missed out. I was pleased to have another crack at such a museum.

We took the S-Bahn to Ballinstadt, named after the man who developed the main industry of steamer ships, cruises and the like.  We paid our 12 Euro entrance fee (ouch!) and seemed to be the only ones at the museum. The buildings and artifacts inside all seemed to be reproductions of the original buildings, checkpoints, and beds emigrants had to use. There were a few pictures of how it used to be but very few original artifacts. Thus, it didn’t feel as organic or historic as Ellis Island; to borrow a phrase from Ellis Island itself, I felt no ghosts there. Still, it was interesting to read about the hassles immigrants—especially Russian immigrants—went through to leave Hamburg and to see the continuity between departure there and arrival in Ellis Island so many decades ago.

After Ballinstadt, we took the S-Bahn one stop past the main train station to the Rathaus (city hall).  When we came out, we could see stands and paths set up for the weekend’s triathalon.  We entered the Rathaus and took a brief look around. It was too late to get a tour for the day, but the foyer alone was gorgeous.

From the Rathaus we walked through one of the older streets of the city—one of the few to survive the great fire in the 1800s and the war—to St. Nikolai Church. The church had an elevator that took us to the top of the bell tower and allowed a view of the city.  When we got back down to earth, we started walking towards the Hafen City, an area of newer apartments, offices, and shops.  Along the way, Pat stopped to point out a Breton (northwest France) restaurant, Ti Breizh, that she liked.

Suddenly, I was in a mood to eat. I’d never eaten in a Breton restaurant before. Plus, you could sit outside on a small boat landing with a view of the canal and St. Nikolai church.  I had what I think was a whole- wheat or buckwheat crepe served openface with Elemenntaler cheese and spinach, plus a glass of hard cider from the region. The cider tasted a bit too earthy or fermented, but as Pat predicted it tasted better after the first few sips.

After dinner we headed to the Speicherstadt, the old warehouse district.  I saw endless rows of redbrick buildings with identical facades. Pat said many of the offices in this area are carpet dealers. She also said these buildings are not allowed to be used as residences after a tragic flood killed hundreds of people in the 1970s.

From Speicherstadt we walked to the newest part of the waterfront, Hafen City. We saw a music hall under construction and over budget. They had a statue set up with a listening area where you could hear samples of different music that can be heard at the conference hall. That made me want to hear something at the concert hall. Maybe another time.  We walked past the offices of Unilver (soap and food products conglomerate) and gazed on the boats coming and going in the huge harbor.

After a stop at Hagen-Dazs, we walked back to the car and headed to Klein Flottbek, the neighborhood in the western part of Hamburg where Pat lives. Along the way we passed through the famous St. Pauli neighborhood (Reeperbahn), a street lined with neon signs for bars and girlie shows. I was glad I was in a car.  Paradoxically, it is also where the Beatles started to become famous. Pat pointed out a statue comemmorating an early Beatles performance there, and said there was also a museum in the area.

After 10 p.m. but with the sun not quite down, we arrived at Pat’s flat, the upstairs part of a house with a large plot of land and lots of flowers and trees.  Pat said she would live in Hafen City if she could, but after seeing her flat I don’t see how she could trade one for the other.

June 18

Pat laid out a typical German breakfast: Broetchen (small bread rolls), meat, cheese, butter, fruit, and jam.  After breakfast, we got in her car and braved the Elbtunnel, a tunnel under the Elbe river which can be as busy as any bridge or tunnel in Mannhattan or Boston.  Somehow, it seemed we had it better than the cars on the other side. Pat said they were either Germans or Scandinavians heading to the beach or to the nearby Scandinavian countries for their holiday.

About an hour later, Pat parked her car and we walked towards the center of Lueneburg.  Like Bremen and Hamburg, Lueneburg was a member of the Hanseatic League, a group of cities that centuries ago cooperated in trade and business.  Although the city looked small and quaint now, a tour of the Rathaus indicated how powerful the city had been. It also must have had a lot of money to afford the intricate wood carvings and paintings inside.  We also saw three churches in the small town.  One had a wedding in progress so we couldn’t go in. My favorite had, in addition to the traditional decorations, an exhibit of lithographs commemorating the first seven days of the world.  Each was a unique mixture of bright colors, moons or suns, and Hebrew writing.

We had lunch at a cafe Pat knew, a former movie theater converted into a cafe.  It was Pfefferling (wild mushroom) season, so we split a Flammkuchen topped with mushrooms in addition to ham, cheese, and onions.  It was delicious. After lunch we walked and found a coffee roaster, a rarity in Germany according to Pat.  She bought a bag of coffee that smelled great the whole ride home. I saw some petits fours in the window and decided I had to have one. I was unpleasantly surprised when it was rung up to find out that it was 2.40 Euros for one.  I planned to have it then and there, but Pat said she wanted to show me a chocolate place that served chili chocolate. She was stunned to find it closed, even though the sign in the window said it should be open for another hour. On our way out of the city, though, she was able to find another chocolatier that had it. The chocolate chili ice cream was rich, creamy, dark, with a most unusual kick in the throat.

By the time we got back to Klein Flottbek, it was after 5. Pat decided to cook dinner at home (chicken and salad with lettuce from her garden) while I checked my email and did a load of laundry. She served dinner with a white wine from a winery between Frankfurt and Stuttgart that she had visited once and now bought from regularly.  I made a note of the name in case I have a chance to go there myself sometime.

After dinner, Pat took me on a walking tour of the village and along the river. She pointed out the massive hanger of the Airbus factory across the river. We also saw signs for a “Venice in Hamburg” festival at the waterfront, and made a point to go see it the next day.  Back home, we split the petits fours and I concluded it was definitely not worth 2.40 Euros.

June 19

We started our morning by walking through the local park to the waterfront. It turned out the tents for “Venice in Hamburg” were set up very close to the turning point for the cyclists in the triathalon.  The tents themselves were not very impressive—a few food stands, clothing stands, and jewelry. FYI: “Jewelry” in German is called “Schmuck”, a word which still gives me pause because in Yiddish it’s a word for a jerk or an idiot.

Pat had said the ferry we wanted to catch left at :04 and :34 after the hour. I looked at my watch and saw that it was 12:00.  I suggested we cut our tour of the last stand short to catch the next ferry, because there wasn’t going to be enough to do in the area to kill another half hour. We walked briskly and made it about one minute before the gangplank closed.

We headed upstairs and stood for the two stops to our connection point. We walked back down the stairs, over to the waiting ferry, and up the stairs again. Suddenly, the ferry driver’s voice boomed over the loudspeaker a couple of feet away from us in German: “In oder aus! Ich habe einen Fahrplan!”  (“In or out! I have a timetable.”) Apparently some people downstairs were trying to hold the ferry up to wait for someone.

We rode down the river, past the “museum harbor” of old ships, the fish market where people who have been partying all night go for an early breakfast of “fish broetchen”, and arrived at Landungshafen.  We got off and skirted the road blockcades, people with noisemakers cheering on the triatheletes cycling by, and the debris of broken glass left on the bridge by Saturday night revelers. We ended up in a neighborhood of Portuguese/Spanish restaurants.  Pat identified one that looked divey but good. For 4.90 Euros we each got a plate of diverse tapas:  herring/sardines, zucchini, carrots, eggplant, two sausage dishes, and moist bread.  One of the sausage dishes, in peppers and red sauce, reminded me of the Cajun dish jumbalaya.  There was a lot of oil left on the plate when I was done, but it was olive oil so at least it was healthy. 🙂 For dessert, we had a typical Portuguese tartlet that was like an egg custard in pastry.  Yum!

We walked towards the Rathaus and found out the last tour was leaving in a few minutes. Pat inquired further and found out that there was an English tour leaving in 20 minutes.  Our tour guide, though dressed entirely in black and looking anorexic, did a good job of explaining the history of the city hall and its ornamentation.  Apparently the first city hall had been blown up in order to try to stop the great fire. To quote her, “it was a good idea, but it didn’t work.”  This rebuilt city hall reflected a 19th century style, and I was glad I had seen both this city hall and the one in Lueneburg to be able to appreciate both more fully.

The added bonus in Hamburg, though, was that we saw city employees setting up for a press conference. There was a big vote in the city that day (German elections are always on Sundays) to determine whether to reform the elementary school system. (I heard the next morning that the measure didn’t pass).

From the Rathaus we went around the corner to the Bucerius Kunst Forum (Bucerius art museum). Once again, Serendipity was on my side. I had contemplated going to one of the two art museums in Bruges, but I was a bit sleepy and it was too nice out to be in a museum. But here in Hamburg there was a small exhibit of art from Antwerp—Brueghels, Rubens, van Eyck, and Jordaens (a new name for me). The exhibit was very small, but it was a nice treat.  And they had a free Sunday newspaper (Die Welt), something I had just been thinking I’d been missing.

We came out of the art museum just in time to see the first groups of runners crossing the finish line while the crowds in the stands cheered and a man from NDR2 gave commentary. We stayed until we heard him announce in English that an Olympic gold medalist was crossing the finish line. We got on the S-Bahn to Klein Flottbek, surprised that we had spent 5 hours downtown already. When we got back we read the paper and had tea.  Pat called her friend Monica, who met us for dinner at a local pub. Pat had said it was reasonably priced, but I think she must have been referring to her salad. I got what looked like the most bang for the buck, a “pfannfish mit Dijon-senf sauce und Bratkartoffel” (pan-fried fish with a dijon moustard sauce and fried potatoes) for 16.50 Euros.  I was completely and pleasantly surprised to be served a small silver-and-copper, professional grade pan with three pieces of grilled fish on a bed of oily potatoes fried in onions and bacon.  For dessert, Pat and I split an apple streudel with ice cream and raspberry sauce.  An expensive by tasty way to end part one of my Germany journey.

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July 14-16: Bremen

July 19th, 2010

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July 14: Arrival, check-in, and first night’s dinner


When I arrived at the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) at 7:45 pm, I was surprised to see that it was fairly busy.  I walked out of the train station and saw Aldi (the German discount supermarket) and was happy one was nearby.  But the area didn’t look the way I imagined from the city map or the directions given by the hostel. I saw a police officer and asked him where An der Weide street was. He directed me back through the station to the other side; I had gone out the wrong exit.  Once I realized that, I was fine.

I was staying at Hostel Posty, where I got a private room with a shared bath for 28 Euros a night.  It was on the 4th floor, but they use the British system so by American counts it was on the 5th floor. There is no elevator, and no air circulation in the stairwell. It reminded me of the 5-floor walkup (plus stoop) the newlyweds in New York in Neil Simon’s play “Barefoot in the Park” lived in. Like the mother in that play, by the time I got to the entrance of Hostel Posty I felt ready to pass out.

On the bright side, the hostel is super clean with all the Ikea furniture comforts of home.  It has a great outdoor patio to get some fresh air and eat or drink. The man who checked me in was very nice, giving me a map marked with all the important places in town—a bakery, an Irish bar, Aldi, and the shortest walking route to the Altstadt (Old Town).

I refreshed myself in the shower—a sandblaster with Navy-style timing–and walked downstairs. I walked on the street past the punks, the casinos, the adult shops, and kebab houses until I saw the first signs of Old Town.  I was tired and hungry, so I stopped at the first outdoor cafe I saw.  I sat for several minutes but no server acknowledged me, even after I said “Entschuldigung” (excuse me).  I felt invisible. I realize I am in a different country with different approaches to service. In fact, I read recently that some countries feel good service is defined by leaving the customer alone to eat in peace. But in that moment I had no desire to be culturally sensitive; I just wanted to eat.

I left the table and walked onto another street with outdoor cafes.  The street seemed almost deserted; the two pasta places I saw had only a few diners each, and no one seemed to be walking around.  I saw a sushi place and realized 1) I’d never eaten sushi outside the U.S. or Asia and 2) it might make a nice light snack.  I walked in and sat on a stool as small plates of sushi whooshed by. I wanted to order one of the combo plates on the menu I’d seen outside, but again it seemed no one could see or hear me. I thought about leaving again, but I was starting to see a pattern and besides, I was determined to eat sushi at that point.  Thankfully, a man next to me called out in English and got someone who also spoke English to help me order. It turned out he and his friend were pilots from California who fly a businessman around the world. The sushi I got wasn’t the best in the world, but it didn’t kill me, either. And the dinner conversation I ended up having was nice.

July 15: Touring Bremen


I slept in until 10:30. I was too tired to walk to Aldi for yogurt to go with the muesli I had bought in Mainz (read: I was too lazy to walk up those stairs again).  Instead I had two cups of instant coffee (free from the hostel) and decided to get ready to head out to the waterfront to have a nice big fish platter for lunch.

On the way I ended up running into the pilots again; this time they were looking for Thai food. I started to help them but we didn’t find anything good, and I decided I should continue on my way.  I saw the Notre Dame (Unsere Liebe Fraue) church and the market square.  Then I saw a sausage place (Martin Kiefert) that seemed to be pretty popular. I had a currywurst (sausage topped with ketchup and curry powder) and an apfelschorle (apple juice diluted with water).  After lunch I visited the St. Peter cathedral and then walked down the incredibly narrow, red-bricked, and cute Boettcherstrasse. I saw restaurants with special “Matjessaison” menus, and made a mental note to try whatever it was for dinner later.

When I got to the Schlachte (waterfront), there was a boat tour leaving in 20 minutes.  It seemed like the thing to do in Bremen, so I forked over 9.80 Euros and climbed on board. It was in the 70s and sunny so it was good weather for sitting outside.  I was surprised how little we saw in 75 minutes for that money. We went up and down the Weser river, and the highlights seemed to be one old church, the Beck’s and Kellogg’s factories, a place where U-Boats were constructed, and pipes for the Gazprom (Russian) pipeline to Greece. If there was more about Bremen sights and history, I didn’t know it because the German used to explain it was over my head.

As soon as I got off the boat, I walked over to the Beck’s Brewery to take a tour.  When I got there, I was disappointed to find out you need to make reservations in advance; the tour for the day was already full. 🙁 If I had known that, I may have pushed myself to go to the Auswanderhaus Museum (Emigration Museum) in Bremerhaven. But I didn’t want to spend all my time on a train, and at least I got to enjoy the smell of beer brewing. Unlike Miller which smells like sweet potatoes, Beck’s smells more like corn. Still, I was reminded of my California home.

I walked away from Beck’s and the nearby Dallmyr coffee factory (which also smelled good) and past two modern art museums towards the Schnoor neighborhood, the oldest neighborhood in the city. Though my first thought at hearing the word “Schnoor” is the Yiddish word “Schnorrer” (beggar), this neighborhood seemed so charming and well-kept I almost couldn’t stand it.  I sat at a cafe and enjoyed a strong latte macchiato and a slice of Apfelquarktorte—a cake with baked apples and soft cheese.

From Schnoor I walked into the Ostertor-Viertel, which was supposed to have some nice bars. But it seemed very sketchy so I started following bike path signs to the train station until I knew where I was again and could find my way back.

After dropping off some groceries, checking email, freshening up, and changing clothes, I headed out again for dinner. Again too lazy to walk all the way to Boettcherstrasse or the waterfront, I ended up at John Benton, a restaurant on the market square. I had their special of Matjes with a baked potato, mainly because there was a third item mentioned I didn’t know in German and I wanted to know what it was.  I was extremely disappointed to find out that Matjes is herring, and the third word was a garnish consisting of a small tomato slice and a small sprig of lettuce.  The herring itself was tasty, but the whole meal was not worth over 8 Euros.  I also had a Beck’s which was just okay.

I walked from there to the waterfront one more time, and this time I understood why the other streets were empty. Everyone was here, enjoying their meal in a cafe or a beer in a beer garden with a view of the river. I had one more beer, a Haake Beck (basically, Beck’s) and a small pretzel while I sat at a bench surrounded by people eating, drinking, chatting.

July 16: Departure

In the morning I had a full breakfast (muesli plus yogurt and coffee). After checking out and dropping of my bags at with the owners, I went to buy my train ticket and lunch. I had seen a Bagel Brothers shop on my walk back home Thursday night, and had decided to treat myself to a sesame-bagel-lox-cream cheese-onion-tomato sandwich for the paltry price of 3.80 Euros. After all, I don’t know how long it will be before I see one of those again!

After lunch I walked back to the hostel. As I got close, I realized I didn’t want to sit for an hour indoors. I wandered and found a lovely residential neighborhood, and an elephant statue that was an anti-colonial memorial.  Finally, I came back to the train station to say goodbye. The desk clerk (possibly a co-owner) asked if I was going to the train or the airport. I said train. She led me through a hallway to an elevator that took me directly onto Platform 1! It was one of the nicest sendoffs I’ve ever had by a hostel.

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Brussels in a Day

January 8th, 2010

Getting there is half the battle 

When I boarded the train in Mannheim headed toward Frankfurt Flughafen (Airport), everything seemed to be running smoothly for a change. (My former roommate Bethany was not so lucky—her train was running about 45 minutes late).  When I arrived in Frankfurt, however, I was told that my train to Brussels was not running. Instead, I would have to take another train to Koeln (Cologne), then a third train to Aachen (on the German-Belgian border), then take a bus to Brussels.  Frankly, I was pissed.  I had paid 89 Euros for the comfort of the ICE, not to be stuffed into a bus. The train to Koeln was overcrowded and I stood for half the ride.  Eventually, I sat next to a young woman from China who studies Biology in Liege.  She said this type of cancellation happens quite often, especially in winter. I swore to myself if I ever had to take a train internationally again I would try to take the Thalys train instead because it’s not run by Deutsche Bahn..

It took a while for everyone in Aachen to board the buses and find a seat.  We finally took off around 9:30 p.m., around the time my train was originally scheduled to arrive in Brussels.  We arrived two hours later.  The only good part of the trip is that on the ride in I saw sights I knew I would want to return to later. 

Because it was so late, I was tired, the streets were icy, and I had no idea how far the hotel was from the Metro, I ended up taking a taxi (12.50 Euros) to the Hotel Queen Anne. The taxi driver was nice, and told me that if I knew English, French, and German I could get a very nice job with the European Commission, with my salary paid by both the EC government and “my” national government. 

 Meeting Goliath, I mean, the European Commission 

After enjoying the free breakfast at the hotel (eggs, bread, deli meat, cheese, coffee, and juice served buffet style), I meandered towards the Place de Brouckere Metro station.  Along the way I discovered the Place des Martyrs, a monument honoring those who died fighting for Belgium. I also found a charming street leading to the opera house. I tried to scope out a place to have mussels and a bier for dinner, but was surprised to see that most restaurants served only steaks, pasta, fish, and pizza. 

I finally got on the Metro and took it to Shuman, per the instructions on the European Commission Education Culture and Audiovisual Executive Agency (ECAEA) map. When I got off, I took pictures of the grand European Commission administrative offices I had seen last night—the Berlaymont 3000-person building. On the outside was a huge banner wishing happy New Year in 20 languages of the EU. Across the street was another building with a banner in English and Spanish welcoming the new Spanish president of the EU. 

The area around the Berlaymont building was under construction, but I managed to find the bus to the ECAEA. I got off in the fairly residential area, went inside the ECAEA office, and asked the security guard where the library is.  He replied, “there is no library.”  Mind you, I had called and asked about the library the week before and was told it was closed until January 4. On the other hand, that entire exchange was in French so I may have missed something or miscommunicated along the way.  The guard told me the phone number I called and the address I had given last week didn’t match my current physical location.

The guard was pleasant about the whole thing. He first tried to call someone in the office who was an expert in the Bologna Process, but without an appointment no one (unsurprisingly) was available. He wrote down directions for me to the Info-Press center near Place Shuman. On the way out I grabbed three things sitting in kiosk, two of which turned out to be beneficial to my research:  the last Russian-language brochure on TEMPUS (the grants program that seeks to “modernize” education outside the EU), and two periodicals for civil servants in the EU. 

 Touring Brussels 

I caught the bus back to Place Shuman. I had no map on me and couldn’t find the street I needed walking around Berlaymont, so I went into the Metro station to look at a neighborhood map. I found the street I needed to take (Rue de la Loi) on the map, but the strange thing was there didn’t seem to be a second street on which to turn left.  This street headed straight into the Jubelpark.  Ahead of me was an amazing gate that made the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin looked small. It was flanked by the kind of long, columned buildings that an American can only see in the great cities of Europe.

I walked through the thin layer of snow to the gate and still did not see the street I was supposed to turn left on.  I did, however, see the military museum and the Autoworld museum.  At that point, I decided I wasn’t meant to find the Info Press center, and instead plunked down 6 Euros to see the Autoworld museum. I saw some of the first Mercedes Benz cars, a Model T Ford, and even the first Honda.  They had some more “modern” cars as well such as Cadillacs and T-Birds from the 1970s. I was disappointed to see that some of the cars on display were in really poor condition—some of them had rust, low tire pressure, cracks/dents, or all of the above. 

Following the guidelines of the map inside the park, I wandered out the other end of the park and headed in what I believed to be the general direction of the Grand Place (Main Square/Market).  Along the way I saw the first restaurant offering mussels—for 20 EUROS. WTF!?  I decided I’d better eat cheaper, and found a small sandwich shop with a line out the door (always a good sign).  I ordered the “Nordique” sandwich for 3.15 Euros—a foot-long baguette with “Philadelphia” (cream cheese), lox, and cucumber.  Yum! 

 Place Jordan 

I meandered until I arrived at Place Jordan, a cute square that seemed more lively than the quiet neighborhood I’d just wandered through.  I again looked at the restaurants and noticed a couple of them had a strange sign saying (in French), “we partner with Maison Antoine—frites accepted here”.  I thought maybe it was some kind of discount card, until I completed my circuit of the square and found the Maison Antoine, a 50+plus year old kiosk that serves frites (Belgian fries) topped with mayonnaise (or any other sauce you want) in a paper cone for 2.50 Euros. 

As I ate my frites with a little fork, I tried to find a map at a bus stop to orient myself to the direction I should keep walking in to get to the grand place.  It was at this point I began to realize that Brussels is a city of crooked streets that leave one more disoriented than a kid spun around for a piñata hit or Pin the Tail on the Donkey.  Fortunately, I had bought two metro/bus combo tickets (1.70 Euros each) at the de Brouckere metro station.  I used my second one to take a bus that was headed to the Namcourt, a place I remembered from earlier maps had a metro station. On the way I saw another bus sign for Bourse, a stop I knew was close to the main sights. I hopped on that but hopped off as soon as we passed by the Royal Palace, a building which was truly palatial.  I took photos of that, the Magritte Museum, and city view in the valley below.  I found the tourist information bureau and finally got a map of the city. It was at this point that I realized I had taken the wrong part of Rue de La Loi at Place Schuman.  But it was already nearly 3, and I didn’t think I’d have enough time to get to the Info-Press to get meaningful information and see the Grand Place all before dark. 

The Tourist Area

Instead, I half walked, half slid down the icy hill past the royal library to the maze of shops around the Grand Place.  I splurged on a gaufre du Liege (Belgian waffle), and a few minutes later I splurged again on hot chocolate from the Valrhona store (wow!).  I would have bought some chocolates there for my roommates, but the clerk was so officious and snooty-sounding, I felt too unwelcome to linger and look for more to buy. 

The Grand Place was truly grand.  I can’t begin to describe the guilded buildings and darker walls that probably saw bombing in World War II.  I used my map to find the Mannekin Pis, a fountain that looks like a boy peeing. When I got to where it should be, though, I didn’t see it. I looked  at a map on the corner and a group of people standing around and soon learned that the Mannekin pis is truly a little pisher.  My friend has a 9-month old who is bigger than that statue. I felt like we were all perverts for taking pictures of this little baby peeing.  [NB:  I heard about and later found a card for a similar statue built in the 80s of a young girl squatting and doing her thing, which I find equally disturbing.]

I got the hell out of there and back to the main road (Boulevard Anspach). I stopped at a supermarket where I got a liter of Evian for 54 Eurocents, and saw shopping baskets with wheels (very clever).  I walked all the way back to my hotel and collapsed in bed for a few hours.

 Lassez le bon temps moules (Let the good times mussels) 

Around 9 p.m., I realized I really should get outside.  I picked up a Brussels guide book in the hotel lobby, and found a place that is open all night. However, the stupid brochure didn’t have a map that showed clearly where the restaurant was, and I couldn’t even find the street on my map from the tourist bureau.

I started wandering back down the way I’d come up this afternoon hoping to find another good bar or restaurant.  I found another city map, and this one listed the street where the all-night restaurant, Si Bemol, is. I discovered that the restaurant was very close.  I took the dicey walk at night past the nude clubs down a fairly empty street, and found the restaurant. I almost didn’t go in, especially since the mussels were 21 Euros there, but there were signs outside in Spanish and there was 80s music playing inside. 

I sat at the counter of the small restaurant; there was only one other party in there.  I ordered a biere and was disappointed to be offered a Jupiter beer from a bottle. Apparently their tap wasn’t working.  The Leffe I ordered after that was equally disappointing. If I were going back there again, I would definitely stick with wine; their collection of was more impressive.

Once again I engaged in a culinary splurge and ordered the mussels.  I had figured out from some of the restaurants advertising mussels at “market price” that these mussels were pricey because they were so fresh.  I was given an aperitif of green olives and salami. I asked if that was traditionally Spanish or Belgian; the server replied that it was Spanish. Her mother was Spanish. 

The mussels came in casserole pot filled with the vin blanc (white wine sauce) and diced onions.  A metal bowl of steak fries was served on the side. The mussels were so fresh I could still taste the water they had been caught in.

After all the salt of the mussels and fries and the bitterness of the beer, I needed something sweet to cap off the night. I again splurged and ordered the chocolate mousse.  The server asked if I wanted it with crème fraiche. I said, “a la costumbre” (which I hope meant “as is customary). The cook then explained in English, “the chocolate is very strong. Do you want something [to soften it]?” I replied in English, “I like chocolate. Bring it on!”

The chocolate was dark, heavy, and should not have been eaten by one person. There was more caffeine in it than a shot of espresso.  I didn’t care.  It was good and I was enjoying it. Sated, I paid the bill and waddled back to the hotel.  I had an early train to catch in the morning. 

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Silvester in Heidelberg (New Year’s Eve in Heidelberg)

January 8th, 2010

Around 6:45 p.m., Peter grabbed the Rotkapchen champagne and the giant bag of fireworks and put them in the back of the Mercedes.  20 minutes later, we were in the city center of Heidelberg looking for a parking space.  The parking angels I’d prayed to seemed to have shined upon us, as we found a free space not too far from Bismarckplatz.  The weather angels were not quite as kind—it was raining hard enough that even Peter decided to use an umbrella. 


I didn’t know how far the restaurant was, but I figured there would be time to come back to the car for the fireworks and champagne before midnight, and suggested we leave stuff in the car.


As we headed towards the pedestrian street (Hauptstrasse), Peter asked me if I knew who Bismarck was. I said of course—he was the person responsible for unifying Germany [in the 1800s].  He replied that in Germany, Bismark is more famous for starting the social security system, a move which was designed to curry workers away from Marxist or socialist ideologies.


We hurried down the long Hauptstrasse through the rain and about half an hour later we arrived at Alte Gundtei, a Turkish restaurant famous for its lamb grill. (No one knows what “Gundtei” means.) On the way to the table we saw a group of Americans but I didn’t say hello to them; ditto for the Russian speakers at the table next to us. 


Peter’s friends were already waiting for us at the table:  Christiane, her husband Thorsten, and their 11-year old son Yannick; and Christiane’s brother Stefan and his friend Wolfgang. We shared a platter of appetizers and two bottles of wine. The stuffed grape leaves and hummus were fantastic.  I had Patlican Kebap, lamb grill with eggplant (in a tomato sauce).  Peter isn’t a fan of lamb, so he had beef kebap with mushrooms. It looked really good. 


Our waiter was in surprisingly good spirits.  When everyone but Thorsten had gotten their meal, the waiter said to Thorsten, “Oh, you wanted it for this year?”  Later he asked us if everything was all right.  We said yes, and he said, “Truly?” Then he told a story about a man who ordered a steak. The waiter asked if it was good and the man replied, “I’ve had better steaks.” The waiter responded, “Yes, but not in this restaurant.”


The restaurant closed at 10, just around the time Peter’s friend Christoph joined us.  We lingered drinking our Turkish coffee (in Germany called “Turkish mocha”), milk coffee, or Turkish tea in traditional glasses until the waiters began closing the blinds.


By that point (i.e. after Peter’s friends teased him for parking so far away and leaving the fireworks in the car), it was clear that we were heading not back to the car but onwards.  We first went to the Alte Bruecke (Old Bridge), which has a lovely view of the castle lit up in orange. Once again, my camera was crap at night and I couldn’t get a decent shot. More importantly, Christiane became nervous around all the people setting off fireworks on the bridge so close to us. It was decided that we should instead head up to the castle.


The Burgweg (castle path) was a 10 minute hike up stairs; I probably took longer to pause and catch my breath.  The castle itself was closed off for a private party, but there was an outlook near the castle where we could see the Alte Bruecke. Or rather, we could have seen the bridge if there weren’t already a ton of people standing at the edge of the outlook.


We parked ourselves around a bench a few feet away, and Thorsten opened the first bottle of champagne even though it was 50 minutes until midnight.  I’m not sure if that was because his backpack was getting heavy, we needed something to do until midnight, or if he needed an empty bottle from which to shoot off his fireworks. After a couple of sips, I couldn’t be bothered to ask.


Stefan and Wolfgang disappeared momentarily; when they returned they said they had found a path below the outlook where we could have an unobstructed view of the bridge and safely set off fireworks.  We packed up and headed down.  We started setting off fireworks slightly before midnight like most people were doing. Stefan used his radio-controlled watch to help us countdown to true midnight, at which time we took a more meaningful sip of our champagne and clinked glasses.


For at least another half an hour, we along with everyone in the region set off our own fireworks. I was a bit surprised there was no single, publicly-run fireworks in Heidelberg, the kind one would get in an American city on fourth of July.  Yet I also can’t deny or adequately describe the energetic beauty of thousands of personal fireworks set off in rapid succession over the orange lights of the Alte Bruecke and the Neckar river.  Even the rain that fell on and off couldn’t dampen the joy of that.  Peter said 1.3 Billion Euros were spent on fireworks in Germany alone for New Year’s.  In that moment, it seemed like money well spent.


Around 12:30, we started walking down the mountain.  We didn’t take the path the way we came, and there were good reasons why our path was the road less travelled. Part of the road had collapsed, and when we got to the bottom of the hill we found the big wooden gate was locked shut. Fortunately it was only wood and we could pull the door open just wide enough to squeeze through.


In the corner near the gate, Thorsten noticed a man was passed out. At first I thought it might be a homeless man, but he turned out to be a young American. Peter and I separately guessed that he was under 21 and enjoying his first chance to drink legally in Germany. He could barely stand up, but Thorsten managed to place him near people and we eventually saw him on his cell phone calling friends.


We walked on down the Hauptstrasse (main street).  It wasn’t crowded, but there were definitely people out in various stages of dress and drunkenness. The streets were littered with trash and broken glass. Some clubs had people lining up to get in. One of the most humorous names for such a place translates roughly into English as “Assisted Drinking Facility”. 


We made a big loop on side streets back to the Hauptstrasse and finally sat down in a quiet restaurant for a nightcap. I had gluehwein (mulled wine), and the others had beer or soda.  Yannick sat and drank his soda and built a house—not out of cards, but out of coasters.  Around 2:30, we finally headed back to the car and drove home.  It was the best New Year’s I’d ever had in Germany. Prost Neu Jahr!   

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Last Days in Germany

June 30th, 2009


June 22, 2009: Munich

From Salzburg I took the RailJet (Austrian ICE) train to Munich, and went one S-Bahn stop to Motel One Sendlinger Tor (the hotel chosen by Business Spotlight). I spent over an hour checking email (free wi-fi access in the lobby). I also looked up the address and directions to the Free Ukrainian University.

I walked down Sendlinger Strasse past multiple shops to the Old Rathaus Square. I found the Fraukirchen and basked once again in the pious beauty of its vaulted white and red-brick ceilings.  I walked on till I reached the university, then the Victory Arch: “Built in Victory, Destroyed in War, Restored for Peace.”  I checked my map and realized I had gone too far; I needed to get into and down through the Englisher Garten to get to the Ukrainian University. I walked through the park past the “Chinese Tower” as the rain poured down. I found my way to Pienzenauer Str. 15, but there was no school there. I was disappointed, but I still enjoyed my walk to places I’d seen in 2005.  I had forgotten how charming Munich was.

I came back out near the neighborhood where Peter and I had stayed on my last trip there. I found a place called News Bar that had happy hour, a rare find in Germany. I ordered a Cosmopolitan and a spinach soup that was so good I stayed to have their penne pasta with cheese, also excellent.  I read the local newspaper while the TV showed MTV reality shows.

As I was getting ready to leave,  a show called “Parental Control” came on. I saw man say (with German subtitles), “Hi, I’m Jay, I’m a DJ”. His wife Linda introduced herself. I realized it was my friend Nick’s friends Jay and Linda! The odds of that happening are astronomical, and I took a picture of the TV with my camera and sent it to Nick just to have proof that I wasn’t using Cosmo goggles.

June 23-25, 2009

Dinner in Mannheim

The presentation at Business Spotlight went well. I had lunch with Ian (the editor-in-chief whom I met at the conference in Dnipropetrovsk and who invited me to give the presentation there) at a nearby Italian restaurant. I caught the S-Bahn back to the hotel, picked my things up, and caught the ICE train to Mannheim.  When it arrived, Peter miraculously was standing right in front of the door of my train car.  He was able to carry my giant suitcase off the train.  We headed to his place and I had the usual tour of what’s been renovated in his apartment since my last visit, but not my usual stop at his parents’ house since they were on their usual trip to the Black Forest for a week.

After settling in, we set out for dinner. We passed by a Chinese restaurant that Peter said was good and that looked nice, but I wasn’t in a mood for German Chinese food. He then said there was a popular Greek restaurant on the Rhine that his parents often go to.  That sounded good to me. The weather was much nicer in Mannheim than in Munich; it was warmer and drier.  We sat outside and watched all the ships and barges floating down the Rhine as we ate our tzaziki appetizer (a thicker, less herbed version of what I usually get in the States), lamb salad (the lamb was perfectly cooked) and moussaka (also fantastic), and drank our beer.  Peter corrected me when I said “Weissbier”, saying that term is only used in Bavaria; in Mannheim it is called “Hefe-Weizen.”

A Day at a German School

The next day we headed to Peter’s school at the uneducational hour of 7:00 a.m.  Peter felt bad that I had to get up so early, and I felt bad that he and the students have to do that every day.  He introduced me to the principal (who greeted me in German that I understood), then took me to the spacious teacher’s room.  Peter was giving a test the first two periods, so I went to another teacher’s (Tina’s) class.  Even at 8:00 a.m. I was surprised that students who have had several years of English could not say three words without switching to German, could not say words like “three times a week” in something approaching English.  In all classes I was introduced as someone who spoke no German so the students would be forced to use English, but when one student asked me what languages I speak, I had to be honest and mention some German as well as Russian. One student then told me he was from Kazakhstan, but when I switched to Russian he
couldn’t say a sentence in that either.

Upon leaving that class I was reminded that in Germany, the teachers move from room to room and the students stay in one place.  I thought that was really strange, and Peter added that it really makes things difficult when you have to set things up.  During a 20-minute break I drank some Viennese mélange (coffee with sweet milk) from the vending machine (70 euro cents), and met a woman who teaches Russian. She would have invited me to her class, but it only meets on Fridays and I was flying out Thursday.

The second class I visited spoke more English, though I also did my activity where everyone goes around the room and says their name and their favorite word in English to open them up a little bit.  The third class was the most enthusiastic about “asking the native speaker” questions; they even asked me to stay an extra period.  On the other hand, there was so much talking among students (which reminded me of Ben Rampton’s research except they weren’t always focused on the topic at hand) I often had to shout to ask them to be silent and listen to each other. I soon understood why Peter was losing his voice!

By the end of this class I was happy that I’d “done some good” but ready to say goodbye to the school. Peter had some last minute business to wrap up though, so while he did that I browsed through Tina’s copy of the “Abi-Zeitung”, a yearbook for students who have finished their Abitur (grade 13 diploma, the highest of three diploma levels which makes them eligible to attend university). On the way out Peter also pointed out a wall painted in sections by graduating classes, a concept introduced by the principal to reduce graffiti.

Peter drove back to Mannheim, and I said I was ready to try the Chinese restaurant. I thought they might have a lunch special, but in fact they had an exquisite buffet for 7 Euros with recognizable and high-quality Chinese dishes, dim sum (sesame buns and potstickers), and something that resembled kim bap. Peter said on weekends they have a very popular buffet with fish as well.

Saarbruecken and France and Flammkuchen!

Satisfied with lunch, we went back to the apartment. After a brief rest, we got in the car and drove to Saarbruecken, where Peter’s friend Christoph lives.  Peter pointed out the sign welcoming us to Saarland, which said in German, “It’s beautiful that you are here.”  We also counted and realized I’ve now been in 9 of the 16 German Laender (states).  So in addition to seeing all 50 U.S. states I now have the goal of seeing all 16 German states.

We picked Christoph up at his place, and drove to a park on the Saar river. We sat outside in the warm sun at a bench and drank another large Hefe-Weizen.  That really gave me a strong buzz, but I managed to walk with Peter and Christoph to Saarbruecken’s castle, which wasn’t even worth taking a picture of.  At least the walk along the river was nice.

We turned right and headed into the center of town, a surprisingly hip yet architecturally historic area.  Christoph said many young people from France (12 km away) come into Saarbruecken to have fun.  That didn’t sound good for France, but Peter knew after all the times he’d told me about driving to France for flammkuchen (an Alsace-Lorraine thin crust white pizza) with his friends that it was a dream of mine to do the same, and he wanted to make that dream come true.

We walked back to the car, and 10 or 15 minutes after hitting the road, we saw an EU sign (blue background with gold stars in a circle) that said “Frankreich” (France).  We couldn’t stop anywhere to take a picture, but it was literally a sign that we had left Germany and entered France.  It took a few more kilometers, though, until we left Saarbruecken city and started seeing road signs in French.

We stopped in one town, but found no place to eat. Christoph saw a sign that the center of that town was another mile away. We got back in the car and found the center; Christoph wanted to park again but I didn’t want to park till I knew there was a place to eat. Poor Peter drove around a bit and we saw nothing open. Christoph knew a place in Saarbruecken that had Flammkuchen, and since this town in France seemed pretty dead, it made more sense to head back.

We drove back and saw the “Bundesrepublik Deutschland” (Germany) EU sign, but foolishly I didn’t take a picture because I’ve been in Germany so many times.  It was only later that I really understood the significance of that sign, that there was no more border control. These were two states in the European Union.

After stopping one more time to see a historical restaurant, we finally made it to Der Flammkuchenhaus.  And what a fortuitous thing it was that we came back to Saarbruecken.  Der Flammkuchenhaus was running a special on Wednesday nights, all the Flammkuchen you could eat for 9.99 Euros per person.  They even used the English words “all you can eat” in the sign.

Our first round I got a small ‘Elsasser Art’ (the classic Flammkuchen with bacon and onions), Christoph got the “Special” (all that plus some strange orange cheese), and Peter got the Champignon (classic with mushrooms). We agreed that of the three, the Champignon was the best.

It had taken so long to get the first round we ordered the next round as soon as our pizzas arrived. I got the tomato and basil, which was good but as Peter correctly said really wasn’t Flammkuchen anymore.  Ditto for Christoph’s olive and feta Flammkuchen.  Peter got one with potatoes, and said he learned today that you should never eat potatoes on Flammkuchen. He said the second lesson of the day was that two all you can eat places in one day is too many.

Our last round was dessert: a large apple Flammkuchen a la mode, and a raspberry Flammkuchen. The apple Flammkuchen was okay; Peter said he’d had better apple Flammkuchen in a different part of France (that place is only open on weekends).  I was quite satisfied with the raspberry Flammkuchen.

By the time we left it was after 10:30 pm, but the sky was dark blue rather than pitch black.  I slept most of the hour-long ride home. I felt bad because Peter was tired too and had to stay awake and drive, but I didn’t want to talk to him to keep him up because his voice was so hoarse and sore.

The Journey Home

The next morning, Peter dropped me off at the train station at 8 a.m. on his way to work. It was far earlier than I needed to leave, but I couldn’t have gotten myself with all my luggage on the tram and didn’t really want to pay for a taxi or hang out in the apartment alone. I plunked down 22.50 Euros for the ICE train direct to Frankfurt Flughafen (airport).

When I got to the gate for my Lufthansa flight, they were calling for volunteers to take a later flight because they were overbooked. The deal was either overnight in a hotel, or a same-day flight to New York with ground transportation to Philadelphia.  Both options paid out the same hefty voucher.  I had to be in Philly for things on Friday, so I chose the New York flight, as did three other people.  They also gave us a 15 Euro food voucher, which I used at a newsstand to buy more goodies to bring home. I went 6 dollars over, but still feel I got a bargain.

The three other volunteers and I went out passport control and exchanged our vouchers for Euros. One of the volunteers,Yasmin, helped me find the best exchange rate—still way lower  than the “interbank” rate, but better and easier than anything I could get in the States and hey, it’s still free money.  Later another volunteer said I could have the money credited to my bank card.  That would have been better.

I’m not sure how or why, but somehow when they rebooked me and another woman, Yasmin, they upgraded us to business class.  This meant before the flight we were able to sit in the departure lounge, a quiet oasis with soft drinks, champagne, beer on tap, grilled sandwiches, beef broth, fruit, and more.  On the way out I grabbed Izvestia (a Russian newspaper) and a Russian magazine, signs that there are some Russians who are doing very very well.  On the plane I got a seat that lies all the way down, and plug-in port for my laptop at my seat.  So much for being a poor and starving student!

We were all amazed when we got off the plane, got through passport control, and our bags were there almost immediately.  I thought for sure they’d be lost or waiting for us in Philadelphia.  Yasmin predicted correctly, however, that JFK did not get the message/email from Frankfurt, and had not booked a shuttle for us.  The ticket agent started calling around frantically and said one would be there in a hour. That didn’t seem so long to wait. When the car did pull up, it was a limo.  I’d never been in a limo in my life (I went to both proms in a minivan) and I have to say it was the coolest ride from New York to Philly I’ve ever had in my life.  Somewhere in my wicked, miserable youth, I must have done something good.

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June 20-21: Two Days in Salzburg

June 22nd, 2009

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I’m not normally a “Europe in 10 days, if it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium” person.  But when I had the opportunity to go to Munich and found out it was only 2 hours from Salzburg, I couldn’t not go and see as much as I could.

Day 1

I arrived at the Salzburg Hauptbahnhof (Main Train Station) about 5 minutes late; it looks to me like there is construction around the train station that is slowing things down.  I had found a cheap hotel somewhere on the Internet, and per the hotel clerk’s instructions I dragged myself onto Bus #1 (2 Euros) and took it to Braunhausstrasse, then walked a few meters down Maxglaner Hauptstrasse to the Hotel Astoria (58 Euros per night, including breakfast).  Although it’s slightly out of the center, the bus was a perfect orientation to the city. On the way I saw places I would want to return to later:  Mirabell Gardens; Mozart’s Residence (Wohnhaus); a walking street with tons of people on it; and a path and bridge along the river.

As pleasant and inexpensive as the hotel was, I soon found out it is not wheelchair- or heavy suitcase-friendly.  I had to go up several steps to enter the hotel, and even the elevator was down a set of stairs. Going down is easier than going up, though, so I took the suitcase down more steps, took the elevator up one floor, then took it down two more steps to get to my room.

I dropped off my things, freshened up, and looked at the free map and brochures I had picked up in the lobby. I was very tempted by Fraulein Maria’s Bicycle Tours, but when I called to make a reservation for the 4:30 tour there was no answer.  Instead, I took the bus again to Mirabellplatz. By the time I got off it was pouring rain and I was glad not to take a 3.5 hour bike tour! I walked first into a church that had been bombed in WWII and restored afterwards.  Then I crossed the street and walked around Mirabell Gardens. Even in the pouring rain it was beautiful. The fountains, the immaculately sculptured gardens, the unicorn statues, and the baroque figures were all breathtaking. I later read in a guidebook that the fountain was used in the filming of “Do-Re-Mi” in the Sound of Music, but I remembered the arched trellis better.

From Mirabell, I walked to Marktplatz (Market Square) and decided it was time for some coffee. I found a passage to an Italian cafe so Italian the server spoke to me first in Italian. I ordered an Americano (it’s embarrassing to order that, but I like coffee with some water in it!). I asked for a piece of strudel, but he suggested something else instead. It turned out to be a profiterole—fried dough with chocolate filling and cream on top. And I asked for one portion and got three profiteroles. Oy.

From there I walked to Mozart’s Residence, not to be confused with the house he was born in (Geburtshaus).  The residence museum cost 6.50 Euros, or I could by a combined Wohnhaus/Geburtshaus ticket for 10 Euros.  But they said I wouldn’t have time for both (it was already after 4 p.m.), and that the Geburtshaus is on the other side of the river. I decided just to buy the ticket to the Wohnhaus.

The furnishings inside the residence were rather basic, I imagine because they don’t really have any information on what his house looked like.  There was plenty of other things to enjoy though. There were original letters written by Mozart to his friends and family about things like his successful opera concert and the death of his mother in Paris. There was a small collection of pianos and pipe organs he had played on.  There were maps and descriptions of various travels around Europe with his family. There was an explanation of his relationship to father-figure Haydn.  Best of all, the English audio guide (included in the tour price) played Mozart selections as well as explaining his history.

After the tour of the Residence, I walked across the river to the Altstadt (Old Town). I saw the Rathaus (town hall), and lots of modern shops in old buildings.  I saw a well dating back to the 1100s. I saw the University Church.  I saw a place for dinner that looked interesting, but it wasn’t 6 p.m. yet.  I walked on and found another place with an interesting menu. I walked in and at the back was a bar shaped like a horseshoe, and not much bigger than a horse’s shoe. There was disco ball and music blaring. I thought about pulling up and having a drink, but there was no place even to sit. I started to walk out, and it started pouring rain. I came back and a middle-aged woman had given up her seat for me. I had some cheap wine and older-tasting beer, but it was worth it to watch the silver-haired, mustached owner turned DJ playing songs and dancing to them.

For dinner (on the silent recommendation of one of the horseshoe bar patrons) I went around the corner to another café for Flammkuchen. There were two choices; one was Schinken and the other I could not understand. I took the one I couldn’t understand, which turned  out to be hot peppers. Yikes!  That’s the last time I’ll take that one.

Day 2


By the time I was up and ready for breakfast, it was past the 9:30 bike tour time.  One of the places listed on the tour, though, was Hellbronn Palace. Using a brochure in the hotel lobby and the kindness of bus drivers and strangers, I found my way to the Rathaus bus stop and Bus 25 which took a relatively short ride out of the city to Hellbronn Palace.  I got there just in time for a tour offered in German and English. The tour guide helped me understand why Hellbronn’s nickname is “Lustschloss”  (The Humorous Castle).  There were a series of trick fountains that could get people wet, and canals lined with miniature mechanical dolls depicting daily life in Salzburg a few hundred years ago. On a hot summer day it must be delightful, but on a cold day with on-and-off rain it was a bit harder to enjoy.

After the fountain tour, I walked around the palace residence (absolutely lovely), and took the path down to the “Sound of Music Pavillion”, the gazebo where Liesl sang “I am 16 going on 17” and where Maria and the Captain sang also. I was a bit disappointed to learn that the gazebo was not original to the palace; it was built for the movie and given to the city of Strasburg by the movie producers. Still, that was nice of them to give that to the city, and it was great to see the gazebo where that part of the movie took place.

I decided to skip the 27-34 Euro lunch at the palace, and the 3 Euro Wurst with roll didn’t sound appetizing either.  I caught a bus back to Rathaus.  I started walking towards the restaurant I’d seen yesterday, but it was closed! I forgot I was in Western Europe on a Sunday and not only are stores and supermarkets closed, but so are many restaurants. I headed towards a popular wurst stand in the main square, but by the time I got there it was HAILING. I didn’t want to stand out in the rain and eat, so I headed up the road and found Saran Essbar.  I felt a little cheesy eating someplace with Rick Steves’ (“Europe through the Back Door”) picture on it, but it looked nice and warm.

As tempting as the goulasch with breaddumplings were, my eyes were drawn to the Indian chicken curry.  In fact, when they accidentally brought me a sausage and potato platter, I sent it back and I’m glad I did.  The curry sauce was lighter and thinner than what I get at Indian restaurants in the States. The best part though was the FRESH CORIANDER. I’ve never had that in my life, and it was worth every penny.

When I finished lunch it was still raining, which gave me an excuse to stay inside for dessert.  They didn’t know what Americano was, so I ordered an espresso and their homemade struedel with ice cream.  Yum!!!!!!!

By the time I left, it wasn’t raining as hard. I found my way to the Residence of the archbishop, and walked around its impressive “apartments” (rooms).  With its impressive painting collection, treaty rooms, private chapel in the bedchamber, and a “blue room” (with light blue wallpaper), it evoked images of the Hermitage, the White House, and the Vatican all in one.

After the tour, I went upstairs to the art gallery. I was irritated to have to check my purse, even if it was for “security” (so I wouldn’t swing my bag around and hit someone or hit a painting, it was gestured to me).  I had to walk through the small gallery once to cool off, and once more to enjoy the collection.  By the time I left the museum, it had stopped raining. I wandered to St. Peter’s Cathedral, and around the impressive cemetery. Neither words nor pictures do it justice.

At last, I found the path to the Festung (Fortress). There were two ways to go:  the Festungsbahn (tram), or the “steep and difficult steps”. Since it had stopped raining and I had just fortified myself with a fresh bottle of water and a giant pretzel, of course I chose the difficult way. And they weren’t kidding. I stopped several times to catch my breath.  But at the end I was proud of myself.

The fortress itself wasn’t as exciting as it looked from the bottom of the hill, but there were many walls marked with names and dates of construction (15th-16th century, mainly). My favorite is the “torture tower”.  The best part of the fortress was that I happened to be there for a Mittelalter (Middle Ages) festival. There were stands selling corn on the cob and beer and chicken legs. There was a stage with minstrel performances, and little children with medieval robes, wooden shields, and swords they had bought at kiosks.  There was even some metalwork and woodwork.

When I’d finished seeing the fortress, I walked back down the steep hill (as children ran by me and parents ran to catch up to their children) and followed signs to Stift Nonnberg (Nonnberg Abbey), also a reported filming site for the Sound of Music. I saw a gate and the church and recalled the scenes in the movie that took place there.

I walked down the hill towards “Nonntal”, thinking it was a sight, but all I found was a nice neighborhood. I decided therefore to follow the signs back to the “Zentrum” (center), and found my way to the wurst stand for a bratwurst hot dog. While I was eating, I saw a sign in the window. In Spanish it said “Welcome to Salzburg. Here are some places we recommend. They won’t rip you off”.  One of them was the Irish Pub up the street, so I decided to go there. I had a couple of Irish coffees and chatted with the bar owner (from Ireland) about his travels around the U.S.. We also talked about Ukraine; he knew about Donetsk, Ukraine because their soccer team, Shaktar, won the UEFA cup this year and they played once in Salzburg.  He wished me a pleasant stay in Salzburg, but I realized as I was talking with him that this was the last stop on my two-day tour.


June 2: Kolomyya

June 2nd, 2009

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Journey to Kolomyya and Arrival at On the Corner


After checking out of the hotel, I walked the 500 km with my suitcase (which survived this journey), and found a bus leaving for Kolomyya in 20 minutes (all the others were leaving later). The driver unlocked the back and laid my suitcase on top of the spare tire.  I was able to overlook this cringeworthy moment when he walked with me to the kassa and told the cashier that I needed a ticket to Kolomyya. He then showed me on the ticket where my seat number was!  He must have guessed I was a foreigner, but even so, to get that kind of service from a bus driver as a foreigner amazed me.


When the bus pulled in to the Kolomyya bus station, I asked the driver how to get to Vul. Peremohy—I knew from my map in Lonely Planet that I could walk that road to the On the Corner guesthouse I’d be staying at.  He pointed me instead to marshrutkas. On the way to the marshrutkas, a taxi driver asked where I was going.  It was raining lightly and I had all that luggage and I was not oriented yet, so I said “vul. Hetmanska.” He repeated back the street and number of the guesthouse! Again I was stunned.  Totally worth 15 hr.


He drove up to the house and set my big bag on the sidewalk. I rang the doorbell, then turned the knob and it was open.  Slav came and helped me (or rather, I helped him) carry my things upstairs to the spacious second floor room with a balcony.  He showed me the shared bath and said there are two other bathrooms downstairs.  I looked on my own at the library on the third floor.


I went downstairs and had lunch with a film professor from UNLV and a tour agent who had  driven from Italy via Budapest.  I enjoyed the vegetable soup (in chicken broth). The bread tasted homemade. The second course was shredded cabbage salad with sweet red pepper (not overly salted or oiled up), and pasta topped with chicken in a red-orange sauce.

            During lunch, Slav and Vitaly talked with the two men. In the course of the conversation, I learned that at this time of year, the mountain I thought I could try to hike on my own according to Lonely Planet (Hoverla) is likely covered with snow right now; it can only be hiked in July and August. I was glad I didn’t stay in Yeremcha Monday night and try to go at it on my own.

Around Kolomyya

After lunch, I took a short siesta, then decided it was time to see the city even though it was cold and rainy.  I walked first to the museum of Hutsul art.  Walking through those rooms, I saw types of wooden decorations and intricate carvings that I’d  seen replicated on souvenirs sold in Odessa and Chisinau, but here in the museum, I realized that people really used to make and use such things by hand.  The intricacy of it all was amazing.  I even took some pictures of the replica of the Hutsul hut, with a ceramic hutch similar to the one I had seen in Yeremcha. There were also exhibits of oil painting and a special exhibit on the writer-researcher-lawyer (?) Andri Chaikovsky who had lived in Kolomyya.


At the end of the tour I walked through one more room that turned out to be a gift shop.  There a ceramic dish with a bird design on it caught my eye.  When an object calls out to you like that, you have to buy it.  And it wasn’t overpriced.


From there I went to the pysanky (painted egg museum). It is a smaller museum, but filled with painted eggs by professionals and students from all over Ukraine and even the USA.  The best part though was that the building itself is painted and shaped like an egg!  I’m also glad I stayed in Ivano-Frankisk an extra day, as both museums are closed on Mondays.


I wandered down Chornomola street and popped into a shoe store to have something to do.  Adjacent to it—and this is the first and only time I’ve ever seen such a store on Earth—was a store with ladies’ raincoats on the right, and a wall of power tools on the left.  I can only hope it wasn’t a front for money laundering, especially since I bought a lovely plum short-waisted raincoat.  From there I popped in to the Kazka (fairy tale) café for a cappuccino and a cookie that tasted like it was made from almond paste and topped with coconut. The cappuccino was just okay, but it was good to get out of the cold and stare at the décor, large puzzle-shaped paintings of Ukrainian fairy tales.


I kept walking and found a couple of nice looking churches, the middle school, and the town hall building.  I didn’t expect to find a synagogue, but I did.  It’s only open Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays; maybe I’ll try to go in on Thursday. Less than 2 houses away from the synagogue sat an old Audi with a small trailer full of pigs.  It would have been funnier if it hadn’t been 2 houses away from the synagogue.  Plus, walking past it I understood why pigs are used as a metaphor for filth.

Dinner is Served


I made my way back to On the Corner.  Slav greeted me and asked what time I wanted dinner. Would 8:00 be okay? Perfect, I said.  I worked on my pictures and blog. I didn’t want to walk downstairs right at 8 because I didn’t want to be rude and show up on time expecting dinner if they were running late. But at 8:03 (by my computer), Slav came up the stairs, knocked, and said dinner was ready.


I came downstairs and was a little sad to be at the long table alone.  And then the plate came.  It was steak and colorful potatoes. It was so pretty I almost couldn’t eat it.  I wished Gen were here to take a picture of it.  It turned out the steak was a thin pork cutlet, but it was grilled so prettily it looked like beef to me. And the potatoes were not potatoes—they were summer squash with bits of tomato, onion, and what I think was scrambled egg chopped  finely.  With my tea, Slav brought three small pastries (2 squares filled with poppyseeds and one mini crescent roll with a spot of jam). Though Lonely Planet may have exaggerated about the town being as “pretty as a picture”, they didn’t exaggerate about On the Corner.


Slav also said he talked with his father (after my request for a walking tour after reading in Lonely Planet that they offer excursions), and said there is a bus to Yaremche at 8:50. So I will have breakfast at 8 a.m. (on the dot), and his father will come at 8:30 to take me to the station and on a walking tour.  So I will get a second chance at Yaremche.  And a chance to try the famous coffee.


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June 1: Yeremche

June 2nd, 2009

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The Suitcase Part I


In the morning I asked at the front desk about luggage repair (remont sumki); the clerk said she knew a replace to repair bags (i.e. purses/handbags) but not big suitcases. She asked another, male employee to look at my bag, and he suggested using crazy glue to get the wheel casing to stay on.  I knew the way I abuse bags even crazy glue wouldn’t save it, and resigned myself to buying a new suitcase. I mean, it was Samsonite but it had outlived its warranty by almost 2 years and it was probably my fault for stocking up on alcohol in Moldova so I couldn’t really complain.

I walked around the neighborhood until 10 a.m., when the stores open.  (On Sundays stores are closed or have shorter hours).  I looked in a place called Colby. The clerk showed me a suitcase that was nice and had good wheels and would probably fit on a train.  But it was not a rolling duffel bag. I walked to another store thinking they might have a rolling duffel bag or even a luggage cart. But the salespeople there were bitchy, and the Colby people were nice, attentive, and tried to find something that was good for me.

I went back to Colby to make my purchase. I took out my credit card and they said their machine wasn’t working. They suggested I go to a bankomat (I mean, ATM) nearby.  I wasn’t sure how much money I had in there, and I really wanted to get to Yaremche and not spend extra time dealing with the bank.  They then suggested I leave a 20hr note in the suitcase as a deposit, and they would hold it in the back room for me.  I could come back the next morning after 10.

The Bus to Yaremche and the Unexpected Gift


I walked the half kilometer from Colby to the bus station, and found a bus heading to Yaremche.  On the way the bus passed villagers tilling fields, boys riding bikes down dirt roads, ducks or geese,  chickens, and cows.  There in the bus with a view of this valley at the foot of the mountains, I understood the meaning of the words “idyllic” and “pastoral”.

When we arrived at the Yaremche bus station, I had no idea where I was except that I was closer to the mountains than before.  I went to a shop at the bus station and bought a map (8 hr).  I sat in the bus station office, opened it, and realized it was a map of the REGION.  Yaremche was one big blob, with no street or sightseeing markings.  I worked up the nerve to go back in and say I wanted to exchange (peremenyat’—though maybe I could have said obmenyat’ here?) the 8 hr map for the 15 hr map—the 8 hr didn’t have enough information. Another man asked what kind of info I wanted. I said I wanted street names, directions to the waterfalls.

The man behind the counter found a map with street markings, said something I didn’t understand, then in English said “present.”  I was stunned.  I took it, thanked him, and started to walk away. Then he asked me to wait and gave me my 8 hr back! All I could say was thank you again (in Ukrainian).


Guljat’ po-Yaremchy (Walking around Yaremche)


            Looking at the map, I decided to follow a short bike trail to something marked with a sun logo, which I assumed meant a point of interest.  As I walked though, I couldn’t figure out how the road I was on could be considered a bike trail, and I couldn’t see any points of interest except a river, a hillside covered with fir trees except for one bald spot, and a house with a family of goats.

I walked back to the main road (the one the bus came in on) and went past hotels, cottages, tourist information, and a museum that looked closed.  I was getting hungry, and when I looked up address of the restaurant Hutsulshchyna in my guidebook, I couldn’t find the street on my map.  I figured it had to be near the main road, but I hit a point where it seemed like I was hitting the edge of town. I saw a new-looking brick café-hotel-bar with smoke coming from an outdoor pit. That could only mean one thing—shashlik!

I sat in a plastic chair and alternated between watching the older man cook the thick chunks of meat on a skewer that looked 2 feet long and an inch wide, and staring at the fir-covered hills in the distance.

Soon 200g of pork shashlik was put on my plate along with sautéed onions, ketchup, and mayo.  I took a bite and it was the worst shashlik I’d ever had.  The thing had been cooked until it was shoe leather.  I couldn’t taste the spices I smelled.  Still, I was happy to have food and the after-lunch tea I drank while bundled up and looking at the mountains some more.

After lunch I walked around two “souvenir bazaars”.  I was both happy and sad I’d bought stuff in Moldova, as I’d never seen such souvenirs in Ukraine and surely buying them would have made my suitcase too heavy and my wallet too light.  Especially tempting were the warm-looking coats, vests, blankets (probably made of sheepskin), knit socks, and woven bags that reminded me of Peru. I did buy a small bag (15 hr) of tea made of loose dried herbs and berries; I remembered well the tea brand Karpatsky Chai (Carpathian Tea) and figured the real thing would be even better.

Looking at the map, another “point of interest” seemed to be nearby. Maybe they were waterfalls?  I decided to try to be brave and go off-road, following a well-worn dirt path that other people seemed to be walking on, and tried to follow the sound of rushing water.  Still, I felt nervous.  In the city, I can find landmarks and street names.  In the woods I felt completely helpless.

I passed a natural wooden table surrounded by tall trees where a group of friends were eating lunch.  Then I came to a clearing and saw the restaurant Hutsulshchyna!  First I walked around the souvenir bazaar and on a footbridge that overlooked what I hoped were not called waterfalls; it was a lovely view but I think I’ve stepped off curbs in Los Angeles that were higher.

Although I’d just had lunch, I decided to go into Hutsulshchyna for the first course (soup) which I hadn’t had.  Plus, Lonely Planet said it had a good wild mushroom soup. It actually had four on the menu; I chose the house style (po domashomy) with potatoes and beans.  The soup was 21 hr but worth every kopek; the mushrooms were so flavorful I wanted the taste to linger forever. Even the kitschiness of the restaurant didn’t bother me because I’d never seen such decorations before, like a wooden hutch filled with white-glazed earthenware etched and painted green and red, and waiters wearing sheepskin-lined vests and leather shoes.

Vy ne ukrainka?” (You’re not Ukrainian?)


After soup, I walked up the paved road everyone else was travelling (yes, I recognize the irony here) and saw some high-end hotels in the distance.  I started walking toward them and then saw a sign (in Ukrainian) that said “Church of Peter and Paul 400 m”. Intrigued, I turned right and soon saw some spires in the distance.  It looked cool, but there was a fork in the road.  I turned right, and ended up walking past a pile of plastic bottles that must have been carried there by a river of stinky garbage.  In other places I’ve seen signs like “thank you for keeping this place clean”, but I think Ukraine might be ready for a commercial like the American Indian shedding a tear over litter. Maybe a weeping Hutsul?

At the other side of Stench Gulch, I saw again a hotel I’d passed and realized I had made a pointless circle.  I felt tired and demoralized—I’m just not a mountain girl.  A woman and her daughter stopped me to ask for directions. I said in Russian (which maybe passes for Ukrainian too), “I don’t know. I don’t live here.”  (Ja ne znaju—ja ne zhivu zdes’).  She must have said something like “where are you coming from?” I said I was trying to find the – the – suddenly I couldn’t remember how to say “Peter and Paul” in Russian. Finally she looked at me and said incredulously, “you’re not Ukrainian?” I said no, I’m American.  She asked why I wasn’t in a group.  I said I’d lived in Ukraine several years (niskilko let), but told her (and as I told her realized it was true) maybe it’s better to go in a group.

In retrospect, I don’t think I blended that well or my language skills were that exceptional; I think she like other people simply don’t expect to find a non-Ukrainian in this neck of the woods.  But in the moment, it felt totally awesome to be mistaken for a local and that gave me a boost to continue on the journey.

Hotels and Return to Ivano-Frankivsk


            I  turned left to continue to head towards the spires and discovered that it wasn’t a church—it was a hotel!  That was a disappointment. I decided to trudge up the hill again and this time get to Hotel Edelweiss (written in Ukrainian as “Edelvase”). It was only worth it because I could read a sign that the hotel’s restaurant earned the distinction of being one of the top 100 restaurants in Ukraine.  I walked back down the hill and started walking back towards the bus station.  After about 50 m, though, it didn’t feel right. The road was heading away from the railroad tracks I had crossed to get to Hutsulshchyna.  Maybe I’m not so helpless after all.  I turned around, tried to go through a tunnel I’d seen on the way to the Hotel District, but it led to a roadless “cul-de-sac” of houses.  I realized the only way to get back was to retrace my footsteps exactly.

Reluctantly I started down the paved road to the restaurant and saw a girl walking the other way. I stopped her and asked her in surzhyk (or maybe Bridgian) how I could get to the bus station (budlaska, jak ja mogu doiti do avtovokzala?)  For the first time in my life, I felt like I got directions in Ukraine that I could follow (once it was clarified that the word kolii meant the tracks of the poezda).  I found the tracks, crossed them as she suggested, and was right at the main road without having to clamber through the forest!


I trudged down the main road again and made it to the bus station just as people were boarding a bus to Ivano-Frankivsk.  Having seen the bus on the way up stop at the “drama theater” bus stop next to the hotel, I was able to ask the driver to stop there, saving me a .5 km walk. I went up to my room at Hotel Nadia and collapsed.


Around 8 p.m. I got hungry and went down to the delicatessen for one last snack—holubtsi (cabbage) stuffed with rice; a potato dumpling consisting of mashed potatoes stuffed with mushrooms and fried;  and “beets with horseradish.” I thought it would be a beet salad that happened to have horseradish in it, but it was really horseradish with beets like I would serve at Passover (but not as hot).  Oh well.

Luggage Part 2


In the morning I went to Colby, cash ready.  As soon as I walked in, they recognized me and brought the suitcase out. It took me a while to understand (i.e. the lady had to demonstrate) that they wanted me to check that all of the zippers worked. (They were using the word zamok which I understood to mean “lock” or “castle”; I didn’t know it could also be used for zipper.)  The thoughtfulness and attentiveness of these two acts really made an impression on me.

They had me fill out a form for a discount card which I can use on future purchases. It seemed one woman was talking another through inputting the data in the computer. I said if Philadelphia, USA was causing problems, I could just say I’m from Khmelnytsky.  Another work replied (in short Russian), “No! We want to say we sold something to someone from America. It’s a plus!”  It was a plus for me to buy something from nice people in Ukraine.

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May 31: Ivano-Frankisk Part 2

May 31st, 2009

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In the morning I went downstairs for my free breakfast. It was such a treat to find a buffet where I could choose how many calories I wanted, rather than being subjected to an 800-1000 calorie morning.  I passed on the blood sausage and fried cabbage and even the scrambled/fried eggs. Instead I went for the yogurt and muesli, one tiny pancake with some jam, one deviled egg, and a touch of kasha (kind of like oatmeal). That was washed down with 3 cups of coffee made Turkish style.

The Park and the Lake

After breakfast I had another email session. Around 11:30 I finally got out of the room. I walked down Nezalezhnosti again, then walked down Vulitsa Shevchenka about 1 km to the entrance to Park Shevchenko. As promised, the park had undergone some renovation, so the entrance had a wide brick path that was lined with fir trees.  I caught part of a show for children (seemed to be advertising for or sponsored by a children’s magazine), saw the Taras Shevchenko statue, and then caught a glimpse of the lake.  I walked towards it and then started walking the path that went around it.

On the way I had my first encounter with Ukrainian missionaries.  A woman and a man started talking to me. I understood from their tone they were offering something, but I didn’t really understand anything until I heard the words “biblia” and “boha” (God), and something about reading something.  I said I already believe in God, but thanked them. They gave me pamphlets anyway and talked about how they are trying to convince people not to treat the lake like a wastebasket.

I continued walking, went over the footbridge to a tiny island, came back, and walked around the area where men were fishing.  I stumbled on the Park Hotel and Restaurant. I asked to see the menu, and though it was expensive it had fish and seemed like I nice place to eat. When I asked if I could sit outside, the waiter said yes but….the only words I understood next were “nemae” (there isn’t any) and “svitchka” (light? No electricity?). I wasn’t sure why I needed light to sit outside, unless there was no light/power to cook food.  Whatever it was, it was enough to send me on my way.

I continued walking until I got around to the area you could rent boats from, and a covered area that looked like it might have lunch.  But the boat rental sign said a rowboat is for “3-4 people”, and the “catamarans” for 1-2 people (paddleboats on catamaran-like twin supports) didn’t look easy or fun for one person.  The eating area only had drinks and snacks, not real food.  Instead I bought an ice cream bar and sat overlooking the lake while eating it.

Path to the City and Lunch


I backtracked 100 yards to a grass-and-dirt slope that led away from the lake toward a building that looked like it might be a restaurant.  I walked down the dirt path to Bavaria restaurant. Not only was it and the café next door devoid of people sitting outside, it seemed to be built on the site of a former quarry, or over World War II rubble.  Not a pleasant place to dine.  I walked on through a mini market (rynok) until I saw a Mango store sign and found myself at Hetman Mazepa street.  I could see the downtown churches to my left and walked in that direction. I soon saw Chelentano, the Ukrainian pizza chain, but decided I didn’t want a big pizza dinner.  Instead, I poked my head in the Belvedere café.

I looked at the menu and the prices were reasonable, the food Ukrainian, and the walls and bathrooms were clean. I ordered a salad with tomatoes and cucumbers (and sour cream) for 7 hr, fish covered with “vegetables” (peppers or tomatoes and onions) with rice (21 hr), and Truskavetska water (4 hr).

As I ate, there was a toddler walking around the café with her father watching her.  I tried to ask in Ukrainian how old she was but I was incomprehensible. I asked if I could say it in English and he said yes. He answered in English that she was 1 year and 5 months old.  He also said he was leaving in 2 weeks for New York to visit his brother in Brooklyn. I said I was in Philadelphia and he asked if I knew a priest at a church in Philadelphia. Of course I didn’t.  When I said I know Russian better, he switched over with me.  This was when I became aware that in this part of the world I was using first Ukrainian, then English, then Russian.  I also noticed he was willing to switch to Russian with me, whereas in the restaurant the night before the young man, I’m pretty sure, didn’t switch when I used Russian.  I don’t think it was a question of attitude, I think it was a question of age—some children born after independence in Western Ukraine don’t know Russian so they can’t switch over.

We talked until my salad came, and then the man and his daughter returned to their group table.  It was someone’s birthday, and everyone stood up and sang “Mnohaya Lita” (many years) in what sounded like 12-part harmony.  They either came directly from a church choir to the restaurant, or they were the Ukrainian version of the von Trapp family singers.  When they finished, everyone in the café including myself applauded.  I still get goosebumps thinking about it.  I was so moved I even considered giving him my email address and offering to show him around Philly if he came to visit. But that seemed to weird so I held my tongue.

City Museums


By the time I got outside again, it had cooled off considerably. I was glad I had worn fleece and carried a jacket even though today was considerably sunnier and warmer than yesterday.  I walked the short distance to church of the Holy Resurrection and peeked inside, then walked to the nearby art museum/church. The 10 hr entrance fee seemed like a rip-off given it was only 1 floor and the collection was really small and mainly religious art.  Still, there was an exhibit of art students’ metalwork that was impressive.

From there, I popped over to the regional museum. I paid my 1 hr entrance fee (children pay 50 kopeks) and saw a display of stuffed birds, reptiles, and a wild boar that my friend Eric would have appreciated if he were alive today.  I thought that was it so I started to leave, but the women at the entrance pointed me to another room. Suddenly the whole world seemed on display.  I can’t even remember half of what I saw in the museum. I know I saw traditional Ukrainian embroidery, including some winter gear I’d never seen before; a sign about a dictionary (with an explanation of the alphabet) developed in the 1800s by a Ukrainian researcher; a whole room about the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (УПА); a collection of professional-quality, artistic portraits taken as part of an exhibition sponsored by Canon; and chainmail.

My brain full, I walked downstairs and back to Nezalezhnosti. I didn’t linger to hear the 12-year old chanson in the main square; instead I headed to Kaffe Kimbo, recommended by Lonely Planet, for a cup of Americano.

Dinner and Dessert at Hotel Nadia


Before heading to dinner, I walked down vul Sichovykh Striltsiv to the place where you can make a telephone call “za kordon” (internationally) for 1 hr. a minute. Talked to my mother for the first time in three weeks.

I walked back to the Nadia delicatessen for one of my favorite treats, kuri grill (rotisserie chicken).  I got an “okorochok” (leg and thigh) for 10 hr.  I saw underneath the grill some round packages wrapped on foil.  I asked what they were, and found out they were potatoes. Of course I took some, and a breadstick (think Olive Garden without the oil), and a pickle, and a Slavytych light beer.

I took everything out on my Ikea tray to the patio, where I got one of the last tables. Never in my life have a seen a Ukrainian restaurant  so busy with different groups of people eating and drinking and smoking and chatting.  It was a joyous sight indeed, as it means people can afford to eat out instead of at home.

After dinner, I wasn’t ready to go back to the hotel room, but I didn’t want to walk back through the city. I walked towards the hotel entrance and saw the hotel restaurant also had a patio and an advertisement for a dessert menu. At the top was Crème Brulee.  It’s one of my favorite desserts/ treats, and at 15 hr I couldn’t not try it.

How can I describe the crème brulee?  The first term that comes to mind is earwax, but that is too wet and doesn’t evoke a sugary taste.  The next thought is the surprise of the club, I mean, “clab” sandwich I had in Kharkiv once, but the crème brulee served here at least bore a physical resemblance to crème brulee. The best way I can describe it is take Yukon gold potatoes, mash it/puree it finely, make it sweet insteady of potato-flavored, spread it thin in a large round dish, and top it with a sugar crystal crust.  Of course I ate it anyway, but I didn’t savor it.

I realized I needed to walk more to work off all the sugar and fat, so I decided to find the train station. I ended up walking first over a bridge to a small church that was having a service. The priest was talking (in Ukrainian) and people were coming and going, but I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I walked back to the train/bus station, and on the way back to Hotel Nadia found a memorial to WWII. It was the only such memorial I’d seen that mentioned “Radiansky Soyuz” (Radyansky is the Ukrainian word for Soviet), and the only one that talked about people fighting for the freedom of the fatherland.  It had a different feel from the WWII memorial in Dnipropetrovsk. It felt newer, and Ukrainian.

With that last adventure in Ivano-Frankisk, I returned to the hotel room to prepare for the next adventure, Yaremcha and the Carpathian National Nature Park.


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May 31: Ivano-Frankisk

May 31st, 2009

On the bus from Lviv to Ivano-Frankisk, I realized that Ukrainian drivers, unlike Moldovan drivers, have no fear of driving over roads with potholes (or maybe the potholes are smaller in Ukraine).  What I do know is that I had quite possibly the bumpiest three hour ride ever from Lviv to Ivano-Frankisk. It started off well, but when we got off the road to Chop (a major border crossing) it got really bad.  It reminded me of the time I visited Ft. Irwin and went bouncing across the desert in a Hummvee.  On the upside, I saw mountains for the first time since I could remember.

As we neared the town, I started to wonder how to get to the hotel. It seemed like the hotel was in walking distance from the bus station, but my bags were pretty heavy. I noticed the driver was making multiple stops in other towns, and wondered if I could get dropped off closer to the hotel. I asked the driver if he could stop near Hotel Nadia on Vul. Nazelezhnosti, but he didn’t understand.  Someone else on the bus understood though and said “I will show you.”  He asked the driver to stop and motioned for me to get off.

At this point I felt completely at this young man’s mercy.  I was on a quiet street loaded down with major, nearly broken down luggage and had no idea where I was.  But this being Ukraine and not Mexico or Peru (where taxi drivers can be accomplices in robberies), and being that I’m white, I felt the chances of danger were pretty slim.

The man, whose name was Volodya, walked me with my bags all the way to the hotel (approximately a quarter mile).  As we walked, we talked in English. He explained that he had a Ph.D. in paranormal psychology, “X-Files”.  His wife was working on a cruise ship, and he was studying English while living at home with their 5-year old son.  He also told a story about the company he worked for and something about Paul McCartney. (The problem wasn’t his English; the problem was it was hard to hear on the busy street with the sound of luggage wheels).

We arrived at the impressive blue and glass exterior of Hotel Nadia and I thanked him profusely for his help.  I went in and found out they had rooms available for 300 hr a night, including breakfast. There was also a discount at the restaurant and the beauty salon, and wifi–10 hr for 2 hours.  Since I had just lost my flash drive to a virus and had to send some stuff by email to the States for work, the chance to use my computer in the room was a Godsend.  The room was smaller than the one in Lviv and didn’t have a bathtub, but it was clean and modern and being on the 8th floor had a great view of the city.

I went down to the hotel delicatessen for an early lunch. As tempting as the “kuri grill” (rotisserie chicken) was, I went instead for the grilled boneless chicken skewer (shashlik), marinated eggplant/carrot/red pepper salad, and seaweed salad (or as it’s called in Russian/Ukrainian, “sea cabbage”, морская капуста). I sat on the covered patio and ate, feeling like the only person there who wasn’t drinking beer.

I went back to the hotel, checked my email, and got dressed to walk around the city. I was thinking I had to dress up what with it being Saturday night. Though many women were wearing high heels, ironically I felt like the only person who wasn’t wearing jeans.

I walked down Nezalezhnosti to the part that is pedestrian only. It seemed there were modern shops but also shops that were closed, under construction, or covered with graffiti.  I made it to the “egg fountain” and then walked wherever things caught my eye—a tall mall with a “panoramic” elevator; a building with a clock tower that is home to a museum I promised to visit the next day; a church I also promised myself I’d visit the next day; and several outdoor covered areas for eating and drinking.  I walked in a big circle and started heading towards the Old Town restaurant I saw, when it started raining.  Even though it was cold and wet outside, one wooden, covered seating area looked cool. It turned out to be the outdoor (biergarten?) portion of the Beer House restaurant across the street. I passed on the fajitas in favor of solyanka (ham soup), but they were out. I looked at the menu again and saw the words “bahchar”, which I’d never heard of, and “national dish.” I decided to try it. It was creamy soup with ham, and a side of horseradish!  I also ordered a cocktail with Bailey’s, Kahlua, and Cointreau. When the waiter brought it, he said something I couldn’t understand even after repeating it three times. Finally, I said, “po angliski?” He said, “Fire.” Ah, he was saying “pozharite”. He lit the drink on fire, then told me to drink it immediately and rinse out my burning mouth with a touch of soda.  Of course I chickened out on drinking it on fire, but the experience is memorable nonetheless. I moved onto their house beer, which had a nice smooth wheaty finish and was served in a glass that felt like a small barrel.  It was so fun I didn’t even feel the cold.   On the way back to the hotel, I stopped at a patissierie for tiramisu and green tea.  Then I climbed into bed and watched BBC World until it was time to go to sleep.

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