Saying Goodbye to Vienna

Following are a few photos in memory of Vienna, a European capital rich in culture and history.

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Underground Ruins of Old Vienna

During my strolls around Vienna’s old town, I invariably stumbled onto intriguing indications that life had existed for centuries beneath the surface of Vienna’s cobbled streets. There were also times when I searched these places out, having read about them. In the process I visited the Roman ruins of the fortress of Vindobona, and the medieval ruins of a Jewish synagogue.

Ancient Roman Settlement

My first encounter with Roman ruins in old Vienna was at the gate to the Hofburg at Michaeler Platz which is at the end of a lively pedestrian street. The site of the underground ruins was easy to spot from a distance because a cordoned-off open air pit in front of the palace gate usually had a group of tourists with cameras poised while peering over it. Horse-drawn carriages were usually lined up in front of the gate hoping to attract customers.

The ruins are the remains of a Roman settlement outside the (now underground) legionary fortress of Vindobona. The fortress served as a means to secure the Roman northern frontier, protecting it from the Germanic region beyond the Danube. It was prosperous from the late 2nd century to 3rd century AD.

During a free walking tour of old Vienna, our tour guide pointed out the entrance to the Roman Museum through an archway off a pedestrian street. I came back later and visited the underground ruins of Vindobona. Of particular interest were the remains of a Roman central heating system.

Medieval Jewish Settlement

When I visited the Jewish museum in Vienna’s old town, I discovered a charming, cozy, cafe attached to it. I was able to get a good, well-priced meal here, especially a vegetarian one. I returned frequently at lunchtime when professionals gathered here. I invariably struck up a brief conversation in English with a guest or staff person.

One day, armed with a walking map the museum gave me, I was able to find nearby Judenplats (Jewish Square), where the other Jewish museum was located. The small, historic square was hidden behind rows of old houses. In the heart of the square was a dramatic concrete cube which was a memorial to Austrian Holocaust victims. It was designed to resemble a library with its volumes turned inside out.

Directly underneath this memorial were the ruins of a medieval synagogue from the 15th century, which I was able to visit via the museum on the square. All that was left of the synagogue was a bit of foundation, but it was particularly interesting knowing I was prowling around underground in an area seeped in medieval Jewish history.

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Vienna – My Quest for Artwork by Gustav Klimt

When it comes to artists in Vienna, Gustav Klimt appears to rule. Gustav Klimt ( 1862-1918), an Austrian symbolist painter, is especially famous for his masterpiece “The Kiss.” It currently hangs in Vienna’s Belvedere Museum which has an extensive collection of art from the Middle Ages to the present, and one of the largest collections of paintings by Gustav Klimt in the world.

The Belvedere Palace

The historic Belvedere Palace, a beautiful, baroque building complex which now houses the Belvedere Museum, was built in 1714. It was the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy, a commander-in-chief in the army of the Holy Roman Empire and the Hapsburg dynasty.

It was an interesting challenge finding the palace via public transportation. Signs to this celebrated UNESCO World Heritage site were non-existent at the nearby U-Bahn station which was buried in an old residential neighborhood.  

The line at the ticket booth was relatively short. The friendly ticket agent told me I was lucky to get into the museum immediately. During the summer that seldom happens.  Traveling off season has it advantages.

Once inside the museum, it wasn’t too difficult to find Gustav Klimt’s celebrated artwork, “The Kiss.” I just followed the crowds. Getting close enough to examine the wonderful golden details of his painting was another matter.

One piece of history that made the Belvedere Museum and its connection to Gustav Klimt of great interest to me was the fascinating story of the restitution of another of Klimt’s masterpieces, The Lady in Gold.”  It was stolen by the Nazi’s from a Jewish family during WWII, and subsequently acquired by the Belvedere Museum, eventually becoming one the museum’s most revered paintingsFollowing years of litigation, the painting now hangs in the Neue Gallery in New York.

This piece of Austria’s WWII history, which was undercover for over half a century, is now addressed with a sign at the museum, albeit a rather small sign, given the magnitude of the issues surrounding it.

Due to it being off season, no flowers were blooming in the famous gardens, and water was not streaming from the beautiful fountains. But the views of the palace and grounds made up for it. A stunning wrought-iron entrance gate reminded me of similar gates at the entrance to some of the iconic, Guilded Age mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, where I live.

The Secession Museum

I stumbled onto the Secession Museum quite by chance as I left the nearby Naschmarkt one afternoon (see previous posting). I hadn’t seriously searched it out yet, but was glad the search was no longer necessary.  Little did I know at the outset of the day that I would end it listening to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony while enjoying the stunning artwork of Klimt’s Beethoven Freeze.

Gustav Klimt was one of the founders of the celebrated Vienna Secession in 1897. The movement was formed by a group of Austrian rebel artists who had resigned from the long-established fine art institution of the Association of Austrian Artists.

The stark, dramatic lines of the Secession building were a dramatic contrast to the 19th century historic neighborhood surrounding it. For me the highlight of this museum was Klimt’s famous Beethoven Frieze. It encircled a room, which was dedicated to this treasure, like a wide cornice around the top edge of the walls.

When I walked into the room I was handed a wireless headset in which Beethoven’s Finale-Symphony No. 9 was playing. The combination of Klimt’s thought-provoking paintings, along with the drama of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, was intoxicating. Everyone in the room seemed lost in the world of music and art, taking no notice of passers-by. I quickly got into the same mode.

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Vienna – A Weekend Visit to the Naschmarkt

One Saturday I decided to visit the historic Naschmarkt, Vienna’s largest open air market. When the neighboring flea market is in full swing on Saturdays, the market is at its liveliest.

The Naschmarkt stretches along a long, narrow piece of land in old town. A river runs under it. The area has been a marketplace since the late 18th century. Today it contains over 100 fixed market stalls selling take-out food alongside colorful fruit, vegetables and spices. Abundant restaurants and bars add to the eclectic mix. A massive, chaotic, flea market takes place next to it on Saturdays.

The casual atmosphere, along with restaurants using fresh ingredients from the marketplace and offering specialties from all over the world, make the Naschmarkt a popular place for locals and tourists alike. I gravitated to the Middle Eastern section with take-out kebab stands. Here I was able to grab an inexpensive Turkish kebab and a warm cheese pie.

A vibrant crowd of fashionable locals and tourists congregated outside the restaurants, bars, and cafes.  Some wore were casually leaning back in their chairs on the sunny side of a cafe while sipping a glass of wine.

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The Saturday flea market sprawled out at the far end of Naschmarkt in the area which was an old abandoned wholesale market. It was hard to tell the hundreds of browsers and vendors apart. There was a dynamic mix of goods including genuine and not-so-genuine antiques, household items, used books and records, racks of expensive furs and leather jackets, and piles of second hand clothing.

The old adage “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure” was never more apparent to me than at the end of the day at the flea market. Large backhoes were pushing whatever was left behind by the vendors into a huge pile. Numerous nicely-dressed people were rummaging through this mountain of stuff, filling up their bags, and moving on with a look of satisfaction. It was as if they just got the deal of the century – free.

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Vienna – An Evening of Entertainment at the Staatsoper & Musikverein

Staatsoper – Vienna State Opera

Attending an opera at the Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera) can be an adventure if you purchase a standing room ticket, as I did one evening.

There were approximately 400 standing room tickets (price US$12) available the night I attended the opera of Salome by Richard Strauss. My evening’s adventure started when I got in line two hours before the performance, which was suggested. I struck up a conversation with Carol, an independent traveler from South Africa, who was in line next to me. She was in town for only one day and was determined to acquire a standing room ticket for the opera that evening.

Once we acquired a ticket, we were escorted to a specific standing place in the theatre. Much to my delight, I was in the middle of the second of numerous standing rows directly behind the orchestra seats. People of all ages and nationalities, who were around me, were clearly delighted they got in. In order to reserve our spot, should we need to take a break, we were instructed to tie a scarf or piece of clothing to the bar in front of where we were standing. The theatre was packed that night. The opera was superb.

Cafe Schwarzenberg

Whenever I attended an event at the Staatsoper or a concert at the neighboring Musikverein (Vienna’s traditional music hall), I enjoyed a tea and dessert beforehand at the nearby Cafe Schwarzenberg, part of Vienna’s old-world cafe culture.

A conversation in a foreign language other than German was often going on at a table within earshot of me. Numerous people sat leisurely reading newspapers. My favorite treat there was warm apple strudel smothered in cream, along with a pot of carefully-brewed tea.

Musikverein – Vienna Concert Hall

One evening I attended a performance of the acclaimed Vienna Klezmor Orchestra at the Musikverein. The event was on the lower level in the Magna Auditorium, a more intimate, informal performance hall than the Great Hall upstairs, which is the home of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

Klezmer, a musical tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews of the shtetls (villages) of Eastern Europe, is sung in Yiddish (high German). It was originally instrumental music for celebrations.

The lively program called Vienna Goes Kelzmor, had me almost dancing in the isles. The music was interspersed with comments and jokes spoken mostly in German. I caught the words “synagogue” and “Hanukkah”, typical words relating to Jews. During intermission I entered into a discussion with a German man, Wolfgang, who was sitting next to me in the balcony. When I commented on the scattered laughter in the audience during some commentaries, he said the people (Jews) in the audience were from all over the world, so some may have taken the jokes in different ways.

Wolfgang plays the accordion, one of the instruments played by the artists of klezmer music. After the concert was over he excused himself and rushed out to meet the members of the band.

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The Ringstrasse (Ring Road) around the opera house was always humming with activity whenever I was in the area. The former 19th century mansion opposite the opera house, which had belonged to the wealthy Jewish Tadesco family before the war, had been removed from their possession soon after *Anschluss (Annexation). The street level of the building was lined with busy shops, cafes, and restaurants.

The interesting and introspective cultural experiences I had in and around the Staatsoper and the Musikverein were a memorable part of my Viennese experience. 

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*Anschluss (Annexation) – Uniting Austria into Nazi Germany (the German Reich) on March 12, 1938

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Vienna – Life along the Danube, Part III

As I exited the underground train station at the end of Vienna’s northern U-Bahn line, a glistening high rise complex of buildings loomed up in front of me.  It was the *United Nations in Vienna.  The sweeping Danube River was flanked by a busy highway. The contrast to historic downtown Vienna made me feel like I had just entered another country.

I met **Servas Host Anneliese at this underground train station for the first time. We proceeded along the Danube River by bus to the two-bedroom flat which she shares with her husband Hans, who is a tech engineer.

The view from the wrap-around deck of their glass-enclosed, 5th floor penthouse was stunning, even through the fog. The broad Danube River flowed on one side of the building and the narrow Old Danube on the other.  They bought their apartment in 2013 before their building was built, and moved into it on completion in 2016.

For dinner Anneliese prepared apple strudel using her Hungarian Grandmother’s recipe. She also prepared a Hungarian-influenced pasta dish with unprocessed cheese and bits of bacon on top. This dish is only found in Vienna and eastern Austria because of the close connection with Hungary here. She commented that cooking soothes her after a long day of teaching high school students.

Anneliese, Hans, and I had a long discussion in the evening which included their lifestyle, the United Nations in Vienna, languages, politics, the former East Bloc, and international travel.

With great enthusiasm, Anneliese told me that she and Hans have had the opportunity to occasionally attend sessions at the United Nations in Vienna as representatives of Servas, because it is an international non-profit organization (NGO) with consultative status, and they live nearby.

The United Nations in Vienna

My English-speaking tour of the United Nations in Vienna was led by a French woman. Our group of 20 international guests passed through passages and hallways visiting stretches that included exhibits and an international conference room with viewing gallery. A fascinating variety of beautiful artwork and gifts given by member nations adorned walls and passageways.

We paused at an exhibit in a large hall of a string of informative posters about WWII and a video, all of which were being presented in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27th).  In a video the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, was giving a speech at the UN. Not having time to ponder the exhibit, I quickly took photos of as many posters as time permitted in order to read them later.

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One brisk afternoon I took a walk along a dirt path near Anneliese and Hans’ building that follows the Old Danube.  In the summertime Anneliese takes long walks here and swims in the canal regularly. The narrow stretch of land on the opposite side, which can be reached by occasional walking bridges, is a lovely park that extends for miles.

Hans and Anneliese are intrepid world travelers and were heading on a one week journey to Jordan a few days after we parted ways. Through my acquaintance with them, I was able to experience life in the far reaches of Vienna along the Danube River, and at the same time acquire insight into the United Nations in Vienna.

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*http://www.UNVienna.org

** http://www.Servas.org

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Vienna – Life along the Danube, Part II

I spent two nights with Servas Host Eva in her two-bedroom flat was located in the outskirts of town.  The building was constructed in the ‘50’s as part of an industrial facility and converted into an apartment building in 2005.  Eva is a single mom, has two adult daughters and several grandchildren which she adores – and a beloved cat..

It was a lovely morning when we headed for the Saturday farmer’s market at Karmelitermarkt in a historic square on the other side of the Danube Canal from the old town.  The area is known as Leopoldstadt. We crossed over one of the canal bridges by foot. Along the sidewalk on the way to the nearby square we found numerous Stolpersteins, brass plates inscribed with the name and life dates of victims of Nazi extermination or persecution. They are usually placed in front of the last known place that person resided.

Karmelitermarkt was once the center of a flourishing Jewish Quarter. As we approached the market we fell into step with three Jewish people, all dressed impeccably in long, dark attire.

The weekend Farmer’s Market was in full swing. Outdoor cafes were bustling with trendy, young people socializing and soaking up the sun. Free samples of local cheese from a street vendor were varied and delicious. Eva bought some for us to enjoy that evening in her flat.

We finished our afternoon enjoying the scene on the Danube Canal boardwalk which was lined with cafes and trendy places to eat and drink. Undeveloped areas around this activity were a bit gritty. Young people whizzed by us on electric scooters. There were families with baby strollers, bikers, joggers, dog walkers, and sun worshipers. Some people sat precariously close to the steep embankment of the canal. The most fearless sat perched on the edge with legs dangling.

Our wonderful visit to the other side of the Danube Canal that afternoon gave me special insight into the gentrification that is taking place in parts of old Vienna.

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I joined Eva the following Sunday at a gathering at an international cultural center on the edge of Brunnenmarkt, an area that has developed into the city’s most multicultural melting pot.

Brunnenmarkt, the largest street market in Vienna, is generally a hub of activity, except on Sundays when the market is closed. One Sunday morning a month the local international center at one end of the market livens up the area for a couple of hours with a social gathering of international people of all ages.

New immigrants, including children, intermingled with many Servas hosts from around Vienna who were present. Two hosts I met that day invited me to their home for overnight stays. Unfortunately, I had to decline their generous offer because I was leaving town the following day.

Eva teaches German to new immigrants on a volunteer basis regularly. Two of her female students from Iran who were there gave me hugs upon introduction and when we said good-bye. The international spirit of Servas was present that day.

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Vienna – Life along the Danube, Part I

A main hub of activity along the Danube Canal on the inner city side of Vienna this time of the year is at Schwedenplatz. A lively pedestrian street emptied into this small plaza which is anchored on one corner by Castelletto, my favorite gelato cafe. In this eclectic Italian institution, a wide assortment of cakes and gelato, plus great people-watching, often kept me there for hours while I worked on the Internet.

Colorful trolleys, their bells clanging, moved people in and out of the waterfront area. The ubiquitous fast food wuerstelstand next to the bustling entrance of the U-Bahn (underground train) was always engulfed with customers, especially during lunchtime and rush hour.

Ferries plied the canal taking people to and from the nearby capital city of Bratislava, Slovakia. This grand city, which was part of the Hapsburg Monarchy from 1526 to 1918, was a fascinating place to visit for a couple of days. (more on this later)

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The Danube River

The Danube River is the second longest river in Europe flowing from West Germany through the capital cities of Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, and Belgrade. It empties into the Black Sea in Romania and Ukraine. The Danube Canal, an arm of the Danube River in Vienna, got its present shape in 1875.  It borders Vienna’s city center and flows approximately 13 miles through the metropolitan area.

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When I started writing this posting about life along the Danube Canal in Vienna, I realized that the special time I had with all three of my English-speaking Viennese *Servas Hosts had exposed me to various past and present aspects of life along the river.

This is my story of the special experience I had with my first hosts, Christina and Michael. My experiences with the other two Servas Hosts will follow shortly.

Christina and Michael invited me to stay for a couple of nights in one of their two in-town, one-room flats which are located in a building that overlooks the Danube Canal near Schwedenplatz. They stay in one of them periodically, but spend most of their time in their lovely multi-family home on the outskirts of town.

Diagonally across the street from their building, on the site of the former Interpol Hotel, was the Memorial to Victims of the Gestapo. The hotel, which had been bombed during the war then later demolished, had been the notorious Vienna Gestapo headquarters during *Anschluss (Annexation)

Christina acquainted me with her historic neighborhood one day. Her building backs up to a steep wall which once formed part of Vienna’s inner-city Jewish Quarter. The climb up the neighboring stairs brought us to a cobbled street area that made me feel I had just stepped back in time. The hill where we stood at the top of the stairs was crowned by St. Rupert’s church, which is considered to be the oldest church in Vienna.

I was able to tour the huge, lovingly-restored Jewish City Temple (Wiener Stadttemple) nearby, dated 1825. Multi-lingual tours were offered regularly. The Synagogue was not completely destroyed during Nazi times, as most of the other synagogues in Vienna had been, because it had been designed to fit into an apartment complex so it wouldn’t be visible from the street. It was a legal requirement at that time.

Christina introduced me to two long-standing traditions of Vienna – the old Viennese coffee house (kaffeehaus) culture and the attire of attendees at Viennese traditional balls.

In an elegant, old-fashioned kaffeehaus I sipped tea while she drank traditional Viennese melange coffee (an espresso with steamed milk, topped with a little foam). We shared a decadent piece of dark chocolate cake. Sharing that moment with Christina, who obviously felt very much at ease in those surroundings, made me feel completely at home in old Vienna.

The tradition of Carnival balls continues to thrive in Vienna. The Vienna ball season reaches its peak every January and February. We strolled by fashion stores on the old town’s pedestrian streets with windows full of mannequins suitably dressed for a Viennese ball. She had attended many in her youth, she told me with a chuckle and a delightful twinkle in her eye. She left it at that.

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*Servas is non-profit international organization of hosts and travelers. http://www.Servas.org

**Anschluss (Annexation) – Uniting Austria into Nazi Germany (the German Reich) on March 12, 1938

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Introducing Vienna and the Hapsburg Legacy

BRASOV, ROMANIA

I am currently in Brasov, an ancient city in the rugged Transylvania region of Romania. I have found a room with a view looking out over medieval German architecture, traces of the far-reaching Hapsburg Empire. This peaceful place has given me the inspiration I needed to stop my travels for a few days and begin publishing my writings on my blog about my recent European adventures in Vienna, Austria, and Bucharest, Romania.

Cool mountain air and a dramatic view of the tree-covered Tabor Mountain greeted me this morning as I threw opened my window. Wide pedestrian streets below, which fanned out from the old town square were buzzing with activity. People dressed in business attire were walking with purpose. Workers in orange jackets and hard hats were at work restoring old buildings. Bells tolled from surrounding churches and the clock tower of the Council House, formerly City Hall.

But wait – let me take you back to the glories of the Hapsburg Empire in Vienna for the time being. We’ll return to historic Brasov (and Romania) later.

VIENNA, AUSTRIA

I arrived late one afternoon at my hostel in Vienna after a relatively short flight from London. It was the dead of winter and bitter cold. The many layers of clothing that I had packed in my backpack prepared me well for this weather.

My well-priced hostel bed, which was US$20 per night in a female dorm room, was conveniently located. It was adjacent to Wein Westbahnhof (train station), just outside the historic center of Vienna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It put me a heartbeat away from the celebrated Ringstrasse boulevard, the Hofburg (the former principal imperial palace of the Hapsburg dynasty rulers and today serves as the official residence of the President of Austria), and the labyrinth of intriguing pedestrian streets that fanned out from lively Stephanplatz square. I constantly enjoyed the intoxicating mix of international cuisine and delicacies which was at my fingertips.

A brief introduction to the Hapsburg Empire and Vienna’s Golden Age

*The Hapsburg Empire was the central European monarchy that ruled a collection of lands from the 13th century to 1918. **The Hapsburgs were the hereditary rulers of the Holy Roman Empire from 1438 -1740.

The late 19th century was Vienna’s Golden Age, as reflected by the magnificent architecture that lines Ringstrasse boulevard. In the 1850’s in place of where the medieval city wall once stood, massive civic buildings were constructed including the Opera House, Town Hall, and Parliament. Members of the imperial household, the high aristocracy, and great families of the new class of Jewish industrialists, bankers, and financiers, built magnificent mansions and moved in.

A free historic walking tour of Vienna

The meeting point for a ***free two-hour walking tour was in a square in the old town at the Monument against War and Fascism. Dana, our friendly, professional tour guide, was a local who spoke impeccable English. Introductions revealed that our small group of eight independent travelers represented five countries from three continents. She briefly reminded us that giving “free” walking tours was her livelihood, and that a monetary show of appreciation would be welcome at the end of the tour.

Our immediate surroundings set the scene for a discussion about Fascism in Austria during WWII and the tragic events that led to the elimination of most of Vienna’s 180,000 Jews who lived in the city before 1938.

The tone of the tour quickly turned to a more upbeat note when she gave us an overview of the expansive palace with its numerous museums as we stood in front of one of the beautiful gates to the Hofburg. We were especially encouraged to visit the temporary exhibit in the Australian National Library celebrating Beethoven’s 250th birthday. I put in on my list.

As we strolled around parts of the Ringstrasse, she pointed out an elegant palace house which had been built in the late 19th century by the Euphrussi family, an aristocratic Jewish family.  It was now no longer occupied by them.  Soon after the German Wehrmacht marched into Austria in 1938, their property was removed from their possession through the German policy of ****Aryanization. (more on this subject later)

When we stopped in front of the Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera), she encouraged us to purchase a standing-room ticket to an event there, as it was the easiest (and cheapest) way to see an opera or ballet on the same day. We were introduced to the nearby Musikverein (Vienna Concert Hall), and the Café Schwarzenberg, the oldest traditional Viennese coffee house on the Ringstrasse.

I would have a personal connection to many of these places in the coming days. Stay tuned!!!

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* For an outstanding video showing the rise and fall of the Hapsburg Empire, visit the “maps” link at the top of this page

** For a basic introduction to the Hapsburg Monarchy, visit the following link:

www.visitingvienna.com/culture/habsburg-monarchy-introduction/

***http://www.FreeWalkingTour.com

****Aryanization: Forced expulsion of Jews from business life. It entailed the transfer of Jewish property into “Aryan” hands.

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London to Vienna, Austria

I arrived in London a few days before Brexit was to go into effect.  In the early morning hours on the first day of this momentous occasion, February 1, 2020, I received an email from longtime friend, historical author, and citizen of the United Kingdom, Lee Stokes, concerning his feelings on the separation of Great Britain from the Economic Union.

Lee stated: “Nations must work together at all levels to prevent war. This is especially true in Europe, where the peace has held (since WWII), thanks to the strong NATO military alliance and the economic clout of the European Union. Britain’s quitting the EU has made the EU weaker for me.”

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London is young, international, and ALIVE!

During the evenings in London’s West End theatre district, buskers sang popular tunes in Piccadilly Circus to streams of passers-by and to the young perched under the fountain that graces the square. Street artists were hard at work drawing caricatures of customers. Theatres were packed. The streets, squares, promenades in Chinatown, and restaurants were bustling. I attended a couple of theatrical performances, both of which were under US$45.

Covent Gardens, an Italianate arcade square in London’s West End, was a great place for people watching and enjoying free outdoor entertainment. A highlight for me was when the harmonious music of a classical string quintet drifted upwards as I passed by an open-air food court which was below street level. I contributed a few coins in appreciation.

Historic Camden Town, easily accessible by London’s efficient underground transportation system, is well known for its eclectic, fringe marketplace. It is also a popular place to go to snack on international street food while watching Camden’s community narrowboats maneuver the surrounding canal waterways. My favorite fast food stall there sells traditional Venezuelan arepas, a small corn flour pita filed with a variety of ingredients. Lone lines were frequent, but it was well worth the wait.

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I’m off to Vienna, once an Imperial Capital, now a major European city of culture. The historic city borders the Danube River and parts of the former East Bloc. It will be my jumping off point for my winter adventures this year as I continue my exploration of Eastern Europe.

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