On our first full day in Prague we began with a nice breakfast in our little nail house hotel.  (A “nail house” is a Chinese-derived term; it is also known as a “spite house” – but in this case it simply refers to a building that is small in width.  The Clementin was split off from the building next to it and has operated as an independent entity for many years.)  It was not a large spread but certainly tasty and a good start to the day.  We set out to the Old Town Square to see the main attraction, the Astronomical Clock.  The clock is an amazing sight, beautiful and complex, and attracts numerous people when it chimes the hour.  It is a “must see” visit when you travel to Prague.

We wandered around the square taking pictures of all the beautiful architecture.  Claude observed that there’s so much to see and so many new things that creep into every photograph that you really can’t photograph Prague.  It’s like trying to take a picture of the Grand Canyon – it cannot be done.  So instead of meandering through the city rudderless we made for one of the destinations we had chosen to note on our map: the Mucha Museum.  Alphonse Mucha was an Art Nouveau artist whose unique images became widely known through the posters he created for the great stage actress, Sarah Bernhardt.  Erin, being an artist at heart, Claude & I all paid the admission fee to see this lovely little museum and learn more about this wonderful artist.  Unfortunately but understandably we were not allowed to take any photos of the exhibition.  But we did get to pick up some great prints of his beautiful images at the gift shop.

After our visit it was time to seek out a pastry shop/restaurant on our map.  Finding addresses in Prague is a bit problematic, so we just ended up wandering down the street with the right name and eventually stumbled upon the place we were seeking.  They had a dessert bar upstairs with a display of pastries that were so lovely and mouth-wateringly delicious!  We each chose something different and settled in to relax and enjoy the food and ambiance.  We also got a hearty belly laugh when ‘Numa Numa’ came on the radio!

Satisfied with our pastry find we once again set out for another destination noted on our map in the old Jewish section of the city.  I had found the “Old New Synagogue” in my myriad searches on the internet and was intrigued by the name.  Turns out it was called the New Synagogue after it replaced the Old Synagogue but until newer ones were built, thus being dubbed the Old New Synagogue.  It is said that the body of Golem is housed in this synagogue; Claude got a picture of his door located high up on the back of the building.  There was a fee to enter the synagogue so we chose not to go inside.  We did, however, enjoy looking at all the architecture in the area.  At this point we were feeling peckish; we found a bicycle-themed restaurant and stopped in for some lunch.  The weather was hot so after the meal we made our way back to the hotel to rest and cool off before setting out again.

Once we had rested we walked across the Charles Bridge and took in all the sights from this amazing, ancient structure.  It is lined with ecclesiastical statues and carvings depicting saints and kings.  Noted is the place at which St. John of Nepomuk was tossed over the bridge at the order of King Wenceslaus.  The bridge is occupied by tourists and peddlers and buskers.  Once we reached the opposite side we were sort of lost for ideas of something to do.  I was overheated and wanted to eat a nice, quiet meal some place cool.  As we had walked across the bridge I had noticed a restaurant on the edge of the river that looked really nice.  Erin thought she could find it so off we went in search of this elusive place.

It was enjoyable meandering through the small streets of this part of Prague, noting the unusual shops and tiny, out-of-the-way hostels.  At last we found the entrance to what we thought was the restaurant I had spotted.  There were a lot of stairs and I was pretty tired after all the walking we had been doing so I sent Erin down into the place to investigate.  She came back and said they had tables and were ready to seat us outdoors.  Only once we had gotten down into the restaurant did I realize that we had missed the correct street and were now on the canal instead of the river.  I was entirely too tired to leave and try to find that other restaurant, so we just sat down.  The view was still quite nice and it was certainly cooler than on the street.  Claude managed to amuse the waiter by ordering something off the menu that he thought was totally different from anything any other American would order but which turned out to be a brand of water!  From that moment on our service was wonderful.  He was a sweet young man and very friendly.  The meal was nothing spectacular but it was adequate.  We chose not to order dessert but to wait until we got back to the Old Town side of the bridge.

Dinner finished, we walked out toward the Kafka Museum (too late to visit) and over to the tram station by a large park.  We trammed back to Old Town Square and found some dessert at a little Italian place.  The waiter was nice but the selection was small.  We enjoyed some friendly conversation with the young men at the next table, then headed back to the hotel for some well deserved sleep.

— Cindy

 

 

 

 

On our final morning in Budapest we had another lackluster breakfast at the hotel, however we relished the opportunity to enjoy the companionship of Louis and Sam during our last meal together.  Louis had hand washed a shirt and hung it out of his hotel window to dry that morning but the wind caught it and dropped it on the canopy just above our heads at the outdoor restaurant seating.  Most of us had a good laugh.  I had a brainstorm and decided we should shell the gigantic bag of peanuts I had been hauling around since Paris so we could have ready snacks and I could lighten my load.  The scene was pretty funny, the four of us furiously shelling peanuts in order to be ready to leave on time for the train!  At the table next to ours there were some American women who hailed from the Southern US who especially appreciated our choice of traveling food.

We made our way back to that most unusual train station and sadly took our leave of Sam & Louis.  We vowed we would travel together again.  Once again we were berthed in the first class car but this one was somewhat different from the others inasmuch as it was distinctly Eastern European.  Basic accommodation but adequate.  The trip went smoothly until we reached the border of Slovakia.  You see, at each border all we had to do was show our Eurail Pass and everything was fine.  But the type of pass we purchased only included 5 countries… and Slovakia was the sixth.  So the conductor came by and informed us that we had to pay our way through the country or we would be put off the train at the next station!  We were very lucky in that we managed to scrape together enough euros (about €100) to get through!  That was quite a scare for a few minutes.

We finally arrived in Prague late in the day, obtained some local currency and transit passes, and walked to our hotel.  The streets are mostly cobblestones, very quaint and old-world – but a tough walk for a mobility-impaired person like myself.  The hotel itself was a revelation, small and beautiful and well-kept.  The hostess was very kind and helpful.  The location was absolutely perfect for us.  Claude & I got the top floor front room with views of the entire square.

After dropping our bags and freshening up, and taking a few novelty photos, we wandered off down the street to find something to eat.  The restaurant we chose had an enormous menu but we mostly ordered local fare.  The service was the typical laissez-faire type and the food was only so-so, but the people watching was superb.  After the meal we walked to the Charles Bridge which is situated very close to Old Town.  It was coming on dusk so we only got a few pictures; we knew we had to return in the daytime.

By this time it was late and everyone was tired from the long train ride.  We returned to our hotel and spent a relaxing night in the cool air.

At this point in my notes I have observed that all the clocks we have seen on every tower so far on the pastry tour have displayed the correct time.  This is not a phenomenon one sees regularly in the United States.  I was quite impressed!

— Cindy

Another lackluster breakfast.  Claude left early to make a meeting with a business associate he had been trying to connect with for a long time.  Consequently Erin & I went into town to do some errands, then took the tram to the Chain Bridge and walked across to catch the hop-on/hop-off bus to meet the rest of our party at the top of the Buda hills in the castle district.  The traffic that day was incredibly congested so the buses were running late and subsequently packed full.  We ended up waiting over an hour for a bus we could get onto after being frustrating by seeing the rest of our party on one of the buses and waving as they left us behind.

Once we got to the castle district we met up at the patisserie at which we had eaten our pastry snacks the day before.  They had already ordered lunch but I was not interested in eating at the same restaurant more than once, so when Claude arrived from his meeting I grabbed him and Erin and we walked deeper into the district.  We found a nice little restaurant with outdoor seating shaded from the sunny street.  Across the road was a small cobblestoned plaza where some local youths were dancing and playing traditional music for coins.  They were a lot of fun to watch; the young woman playing the violin was quite talented.  The food was delicious.  By now we were used to the diffident manner of restaurant wait staff so the attitude of the waiter was actually quite amusing.  Louis, Sam & Skyler showed up and we all made our way over to the Marzipan Museum.

This is probably the most kitschy museum I have ever visited!  First you enter the gift shop, which offers every type of marzipan you can imagine.  You pay the entrance fee and head into two separate, large rooms filled with glass cases enclosing re-creations of buildings and maps and other items, all made from marzipan.  The variety was quite amusing and interesting!  We all had a wonderful time perusing the exhibits.

After our visit we split up, most of the party heading over to the Labyrinth.  I had been walking for the entire day on mainly cobblestones which are very difficult for people with balance problems, like myself.  I told everyone that I was not interested in much more walking.  Erin decided she wasn’t interested in the labyrinth so she joined me in catching the hop-on/hop-off in the ride back down the hill to the city.  That ride included a whirl through the Citadella area before heading down the hills to the city.  When we arrived we were told that the bus was going to stop for a period of time to allow riders to disembark and look around.

Instead of sitting on the bus and waiting for it to leave again we decided to look at the views the Citadella offers of the area, and to do some shopping.  For a fee one can tour the interior of the citadel but we chose not to spend the money.  We wandered around the structure, situated at the top of Gellert Hill, admiring the statues and the incredibly beautiful view of the wonderful city of Budapest.  At the end of our short tour we climbed back aboard the bus and rode back to the city.  We rode the metro back our hotel, rested up for a bit, then struck out again to the metro to meet the others for dinner.

Erin & I got to choose the restaurant for the evening’s meal, and as it was the last night we were going to spend in Budapest, as well as with Louis & Sam as our travel companions, we chose an attractive high-end Italian restaurant with an extensive menu of food and cocktails – yum!  The beverages were top-rate and the food was delicious.  Once again the company was incomparable and the experience sublime.

We all took a nice walk back through the park and to the metro station, train back to the hotel stop, then another walk to the hotel.  A lovely end to a successful pastry tour day!

— Cindy

The hotel at which we were staying was comfortable enough but once again we were faced with an inferior breakfast.  I understand that these places don’t make a whole lot of money on complimentary breakfasts but they could try to throw decent fresh food in there.  Weird meats swimming in strange sauces is not breakfast!

We set out for the day by purchasing Budapest cards for in-city transit, then caught a hop-on/hop-off bus to St. Stephen’s Basilica to view the Holy Dexter.  I had read about the fact that this church is in possession of the mummified right hand of St. Stephen – by the way, Erin observed that pretty much every city we visited had a St. Stephen’s church/cathedral/what-have-you – so I decided it was a definite yes destination while in Budapest.  Turns out that this church is named in honor of the first king of Hungary, so of course they have his hand.  The basilica is quite large and beautiful, filled with gold and silver fixtures; a typical grand European church.  Getting in to see the Holy Dexter is a bit of a chore, and of course one cannot get too close to the reliquary to get a good photo, but I thought it was worth the effort.  At least grossing the girls out with a mummified hand was worth it to me!

There’s a huge square in front of the basilica with a tremendous tiled area that was filled with people.  We meandered through the square and headed back toward the park with the transit station, past a huge beautiful fountain that has been defaced by graffiti, and beyond toward Vorosmarty Ter, a plaza containing restaurants and shops.  We found a restaurant that was on our list of pastry stops called Gerbeaud.   The restaurant prices were a bit out of our price range but we determined to return on another day to purchase some chocolates from their beautiful selection.  Lunch, however, ended up being on the other side of the plaza, the whole time those beautiful chocolates were calling … calling … So after our meal I bought a box.  You can see the selection Erin & I chose in the header photo of this very blog.

The plaza is quite near the tram line, which we hopped in order to reach the Chain Bridge, where we planned to cross the Danube to the Buda side of the city and up to the castle district.  It’s a gorgeous walk, viewing both sides of the city, looking at the boats and the huge Parliament building on the Pest side, and the beautiful Buda hills side with the castle district up the hill.  There’s a big tunnel on the Buda side of the bridge that apparently leads up the hill but we grabbed another hop-on/hop-off bus to the castle district that did not travel through the tunnel.

Louis and Sam were off visiting a museum or something so it was just the four of us touring the castle district that day.  We wandered over to the St. Matthias Cathedral, taking note of the Labyrinth that Claude had heard of and wanted to tour, along the way.  There were a number of people milling about and lively music in the air by the cathedral, then a wedding party drove by and it made everyone seem happier and lighter to see the newlyweds.  After resting at the nearby park and enjoying the atmosphere for a while, we headed back to where we could catch the bus and meet the boys.  There’s a small restaurant on the corner where the buses pick people up which had a display case of all types of delicious looking pastries, so we went in and got a table.  Coffee and pastries, just what the doctor ordered!  We found what we wanted and relaxed while waiting for the pastries and the boys.  As we waited we studied the map and discovered, much to our surprise, that the restaurant we were in was one that we had already designated as a pastry destination!  Imagine our delight when the food matched our expectations – the pastries were scrumptious.  Soon Louis & Sam joined us and we all delighted in good food and company.

There were little kiosks and tents all over the place selling local wares and the ubiquitous tchotchkes to the tourists, so we decided to take a look.  We all picked up something; Erin was on the lookout for unique art and I was hunting for earrings.  We were both gratified by our choices.  Then it was time to scoot back to the bus to catch our ride back to the heart of the city.  Along the way the bus cruised the Citadel area but we were too exhausted to tour it that day.  We rode back to the city and got off at the last stop.  Everyone was getting hungry so it was time to look for some place to eat.  It began to rain but, while none of us had brought an umbrella, the rain was light and really quite refreshing.  Living in Galway like we do, Claude & I have gotten quite used to the rain, so we had a good chuckle over teasing the others that they were not made of sugar and would not melt in a little water.

We stopped at an interesting looking restaurant with a reasonably priced and varied menu.  Inside it gradually became clear to me that this was a gay-friendly establishment and I immediately felt comfortable and happy to have found the place.  The waiter was a very nice young man who was friendly and spoke excellent English.  And while the food wasn’t the best we had the whole trip, it certainly was good and filling, with the occasional weird and unusual dish to set it apart from other places.

Another meal accompanied by good company and conversation, a ride on the metro back to our hotel, and another full day of pastry tour fun – including two pastry destinations – left us all tired and ready for a good night’s sleep.

— Cindy

 

 

Another delicious breakfast enjoyed by all on this our last day in Vienna.  Our train was not scheduled to leave for Budapest until late in the day so we all made plans to use our time differently.  Erin & I had noted the opening hours of the Josephinum Museum on our last foray to that part of the city so we decided to take another shot at seeing it — and it paid off!  It was open!  And this time we traveled directly to it with no delays or detours.

The Museum at the Josephinum is located at the Medical University of Vienna and contains large exhibition spaces consisting of exhibits of medical instrumentation and surgical techniques throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and a smaller space, segregated from the others for climate control, containing preserved body parts and large wax-figure re-creations of body parts and systems.  The medical instrumentation was quite interesting, however some of the implements were downright terrifying.  I couldn’t imagine a medical professional coming at me with some of those things!  The most interesting part (for me, at least) and the reason I wanted to see this place was the body re-creations.

Perhaps you have seen an exhibition of Body Worlds by Gunther von Hagens.  If so, you sort of have an idea of what these exhibits look like.  However, these models were created in the 18th century by using wax instead of plastinated bodies and are amazingly realistic.  There are exhibits of individual body systems which are mounted on these unusual fabric backings that make them look like a piece of art.  There are whole bodies re-created, stripped of skin, of muscle and tissue, with systems laid bare for viewing and teaching.  There was one exhibit of a woman’s body in which her anatomy was laid bare but her head was intact and she even wore a small pearl necklace!  We spent the majority of our visit in these two fascinating rooms.  I was so glad to have Erin with me to see this museum, as we had spent a great deal of time when she was primary school age working at the Denver Museum of Natural History in the “Hall of Life” with body parts and learning body systems, and she has a true appreciation for the finer intricacies of the human body.  I was very pleased at the end of our visit that we had had the chance to see this unique museum.  My heart breaks that we were not allowed any photography at all but the memory of our visit will last a lifetime.

We took another antique tram back to the hotel and met up with our party at the train station for the next leg of our journey.  Claude and Skyler were kind enough to drag our luggage along with them to the station.  The four of us had booked our train tickets months in advance through our travel agent but Louis and Sam had only booked a few hours in advance, so we ended up riding in different parts of the train.  We got very nice first-class seats while the boys ended up riding in cattle car fashion.  The train was so packed full of people that we could not get to the other end to meet with the boys and plan our arrival in Budapest.  There were more screaming babies on this train too – as a matter of fact, I became convinced that one couple was deliberately trying to keep their poor baby awake for some unknown reason – but the trip went well.

Arriving at the station in Budapest we got off the train into oppressive heat.  We found a place to exchange some money and made our way to the hotel.  I thought it was located a lot closer to the station than it really was, so ended up walking a lot farther than I was prepared to walk.  We arrived and checked in, took note of the one lone computer provided for the guests, and cleaned up.

The weather cooled as the evening came on and the grown-ups – that would be Louis and I – decided it was cocktail time.  I tasked the young people with finding a restaurant within a reasonable distance at which we could eat.  Erin & Sam consulted the ever-trusty Trip Advisor site and came up with Paprika.  Located near City Park (also, People’s Park), it was fairly close to the hotel but incredibly busy when we got there very late, at almost 9 PM.  We had to wait for a table but did get seated within 30 minutes.  The food was not spectacular but it was authentically traditional, and once again the meal was saved by stellar company and conversation.

Claude & I took a leisurely walk back to the hotel after another long day of the pastry tour and fell into bed, deliciously exhausted from another interesting and incredibly unusual day!

— Cindy

This day began well with a brilliant breakfast.  Compared to the lackluster breakfasts we had in Paris, the breakfast at the Kavalier Hotel was a king’s feast.  Discussion had taken place prior to departing on our holiday regarding Louis and Sam’s desire to visit a place called Carnuntum, a preserved Roman encampment about 30 km outside of Vienna.  Sam studies ancient history and wanted to take advantage of our proximity to this place to see it in person.  So our plan for the day was to take a train to the town at which it is located and spend time viewing the site.

On the train traveling out to Carnuntum we were informed that Louis & Sam were planning to join us on the next leg of our travels in Budapest.  We were very happy about that news.  As we moved farther out of the city the weather grew hotter.  My journal remarks that the Austrian countryside was “rather plain.”  We did see a number of fields of nothing but sunflowers, which was a grand and beautiful sight.

Upon arrival at Petronell we realized we had no idea where the park was located, and then we discovered that there was no way to get from the train station to Carnuntum other than to walk.  With Louis scouting ahead for us, it took quite a while to get there.

Although I had worn a sun hat and brought water and a bandanna to use to keep cool, the additional problem of having to walk for what turned out to be about 1 km was a daunting task for me.  Besides being already slightly hobbled from a week of being on foot, I was further hampered by my susceptibility to the heat.  I despise being a burden to the other travelers and tried my very best to make the walk without slowing everyone down, but alas it was not meant to be.  I withered until I couldn’t go any more.  We stopped at a hotel very close to the archaeological park and had some cool drinks while I bathed my head in the ladies’ room and tried my best to recover my strength.

Finally we reached the park.  Carnuntum is a restored Roman city and re-created archaeological park in which is preserved several buildings including the main house, animal shelters, wells, and various outbuildings that have been there for many hundreds of years.  Allow me to quote the website directly:

“On 11 November 308 AD three Roman emperors decided the future of the Roman Empire. The results of this Emperors’ Conference were partly responsible for the triumphal progress of Christianity and thus our western culture. Even before this event Carnuntum was at the centre of world politics time and again. Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius or Septimius Severus – they all influenced the history of this city of emperors. More than 100 years ago a treasure house for the witnesses of this great past was erected – the Museum Carnuntinum, Austria’s largest and undoubtedly loveliest Roman museum. Built in the style of a Roman country villa, the elegant structure houses the treasures of more than 400 years of Roman life in Carnuntum.”

The visitor center contained displays explaining the function of the city as well as artifacts, and a gift shop.  One exits the center out to the city itself, a gorgeous park-like setting with amazing reconstructed buildings.  Everyone sort of split off into fractured groups and explored at their own pace.  (I spent the majority of the visit sitting on a bench in the shade, enjoying the peace and quiet, the birdsong, the buzz of the insects and the company of my family.)

Eventually we realized, after doing some quick math, that we were about to miss the last train out unless we hightailed it back to the station.  I was tasked with trying my very best to hobble back without passing out from the heat or falling over.  Thank goodness I brought my folding cane with me that day or I never would have made it.  Claude & Erin & I arrived at the station just as the train was loading.  I fell exhausted onto the bench, opened a window and was thankful I didn’t have to walk again for another couple of hours.

We finally arrived back in Vienna, took the metro to the main station, grabbed a tram back to the hotel – and promptly got caught in an incredible downpour!  It was raining buckets!  Louis and the kids ran for shelter at the hotel but there was simply no way I was going to run anywhere.  Claude braved the rain with me and we got soaked to the skin.  I don’t think I have ever been so exhausted in my life.  We retired to our room to dry off and I realized that I was not going to be able to go out for the evening meal.  I tried to get everyone else to go out and have some fun after dealing with me all day – but everyone was so wonderful, they all agreed to stay in and we had a weird hotel meal that, while the food was only so-so, was made memorable by the company and conversation.

I believe everyone slept like the dead that night!

— Cindy

On our first full day in Vienna we had acquired a new wrinkle to our travels – Louis and Sam.  Louis is an early-to-rise kind of guy just like his big brother Claude, but Sam is a slug-a-bed just like his cousins Skyler and Erin.  Thus we had many delays in getting the day started, much to my frustration.  I’m the kind of person who likes to get ready and get right to it, whatever “it” is, so I fought back my instinct to snap like a drill sergeant and took it as it came.

The one activity I really wanted to accomplish while in Vienna was to see the Secession building.  The Vienna Secession was formed by a group of artists in the late 1800s who were tired of the standard impressionism of the time, artists who wanted to break the mold and move toward more modern art.  Several famous artists were involved in this secession movement including Vienna’s own Gustav Klimt.  Upon arrival at this fantastic building I was immediately entranced.  It is so different from the other architecture of Vienna, very stark and clean in contrast with the other artfully and sometimes overly decorated buildings.  We went inside and discovered that the entry fee was a little bit more than we could afford for 6 people.  But I had spent months thinking about this visit – here I was inside the building and there was nothing going to stop me from seeing it!  Louis had expressed interest after I had described the Secession movement to him so he ponied up for himself and Sam and we three toured the gallery while the others went for coffee.  The lower floor of the building is taken up by the Beethovenfries, a fantastic fresco painted by Klimt in honor of Beethoven.  It is impossible for me to describe so suffice to say that it is one of those things you have to see for yourself.  The main floor contained a large open gallery with modern art on display, and the upper floor contained a small room exhibiting a film running on a loop that portrayed, for all we could gather, news footage of people practicing est – a sort of self-actualization cum psychological cleansing that was popular in the US in the 1970s and 1980s.  Afterward we picked up a few items in the gift shop.  I am glad I got to see this incredible building.

By then it was time for lunch.  We all hopped on the metro and went over to the Sacher Hotel – after all, this was the Pastry Tour and where else does one find Sacher torte but at the original place of its invention?  The menu was a little too pricey so we had lunch elsewhere and went back to the Sacher for dessert.  The cake was luscious.

At this point we were a little stumped for what to do.  Louis had a destination in mind that included seeing the Danube and visiting a book store in which he had an interest.  Skyler wanted to see the Lipizzaner horses at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna as she is an avid horsewoman, but Erin & I had no interest in that activity at all.  Another destination that I wished to see in Vienna was the Josephinum Museum, a place I had found in the Atlas Obscura.  Claude had visited the museum years before when he had traveled to Vienna and thought it would be right up my alley.  (As it turned out, he was absolutely correct – but that’s a post for another day.)  So we all made a plan to meet at the hotel before going out for dinner and Louis, Sam, Erin & I took the tram to the section of the city containing our destinations.  We parted ways at their stop and Erin & I continued on our way to the Josephinum.  It is located within the grounds of the medical university there so we had a bit of a time finding it.  We sort of stumbled upon it in the end, finding it housed in a very old building at the edge of the campus.  After all that, and yet another climb up yet another set of stairs, we found out it was closed!  I was so disappointed!  We noted the hours and made a sketchy plan to return on the right day if we could carve out the time.

I was really burned out after all that schlepping around so we made our way back to the hotel, thanks once again to Erin’s exceptional navigation skills, and grabbed a nap.  By the way, the tram we took back was really old, it had wooden seats and had obviously been in service for many, many years.  It was another charming touch to a city whose age and beauty continually amazed me.

We wandered around for a while with no specific dinner plans, during which time we ran across the Esperanto Museum.  It was too late to visit, however it was enough to delight Erin in just having been there.  We finally stopped at the world famous Cafe Central and were immediately seated.  While it was a little stuffy inside, the atmosphere was enchanting.  The service was impeccable, smiling waiters and fast service.  The meal was lovely – but we were waiting for the desserts!  They had a case filled with all sorts of delicious looking cakes and tarts and tortes and mousses.  Oh my, it was all so good!  No one had an inferior dessert and we all tried something different.  It really was one of our most memorable meals in all of the Pastry Tour.

Good company, good food, good atmosphere – all combined to top this exciting day in Vienna off just right!

— Cindy

Whenever I know I have to travel early the next day, I never really get a decent night’s sleep.  Toss, turn, worry about the time… At least this time we were going to be on a train, which usually affords me the opportunity to snooze a bit while still making way to the next destination.  We caught the TGV out of Gare de Lyon toward Vienna, first stop Zurich.

One of the first things I noticed about the French countryside is that the homes in the suburbs were just as ticky-tacky as the ones you see in American suburbs.  All of the same approximate design and size, made of the same materials.  Once you get out into the vast country the view is mostly blocked by the grade, with occasional glimpses of farm life.  The view opens up once you get into Switzerland.  The train has no fresh air to speak of and no windows to open.  We had some lunch in the dining car but the service was ghastly as was the food.  We got scolded by the conductor for not filling out the Eurail pass before boarding.  Stupid Americans…

Changed trains to the Railjet in Zurich but had no time at all to see the city or even the station.  We enjoyed the views that whizzed by
but after several hours it got kind of tiring.  We had purchased little magnetic travel games in Paris and played a few rounds of backgammon and Sorry, as well as some blackjack, to pass the time.  At one point a young couple with a boy of about 8 and twin 9-month-old girl babies got on and sat in front of us.  The babies were NOT happy children; consequently we spent hours dealing with crying, drooling, crawling…  The father was an interesting fellow who, it turned out, made his living as a busker, storyteller, musician and artist.  The mother seemed pretty relaxed even though those babies kept her busy the entire ride.  At one point one of the babies let out a shriek that was enough to turn your hair white – the woman across the aisle from them tried not to freak out and watching her efforts were pretty amusing to me.  Encounters like this always remind me to make my thanks to the universe for having survived the travails of young parenthood and now being able to simply be proud of my grown children.

We finally reached Vienna – hallelujah! – and figured out how to purchase public transport tickets, made our way to our hotel and checked in.  What a relief!

Claude’s brother Louis is on a working sabbatical in Germany and was thus available to take some time off and join us in Vienna along with his son, our nephew Sam.  It was so very good to see him again, and for me to finally meet Sam face-to-face.  We took the tram back into the city center, found a traditional Viennese restaurant and had a nice meal with a lot of catching-up/getting acquainted conversation.  I was overheated – story of my life – in that restaurant so convinced everyone to take the metro to another part of the city for dessert.  We got off the train near St. Stephen’s cathedral (pretty much every major European capital has one!) and found some outdoor seating for coffee and cake.

Exhaustion set in so we returned to the hotel for a nice long sleep.

— Cindy

Went to the Secessionist Museum and then to the Sacher hotel.  Price was too high for lunch so we ate elsewhere and came back for torte.

Skyler and I went to the horse museum.  Too expensive.  We all went to dinner at Cafe Central.  Wonderful place.  We had a wonderful time.

— Claude

After several days of going and going, everyone was pretty burned out and needed a slow day.  So we started out with our breakfast routine, then wandered over to the Promenade Plantée, an elevated walkway in the 12th arrondissment which was converted from a railway right-of-way back in the 1970s.  It’s a lovely long walk above the busy streets, but it’s also attractive to the homeless people.  Just a reminder that even the most idyllic holiday spots have their own humanity.

We got off the Promenade at lunchtime and found a small cafe / boulangerie with sandwiches but it was too hot inside; it seemed a real shame to waste such a beautiful day indoors so we took our sammies and went back to the Promenade.  At this point it became apparent that we were going to have to do some laundry before we traveled to our next destination, so I volunteered to be the laundress.  There was a small laundromat just down the block from our hotel, I made everyone choose only the absolute essentials for cleaning, and it went pretty quickly all things considered.  Took me a few minutes to figure out how to work the machines so when I did I mentally patted myself on the back.  I had a good book to read to keep me company (“Shannon” by Frank Delaney).  Claude and the girls went off walking around and found a chocolate shop, so when we got back together we wandered back over to check it out properly.

What we found was nothing short of chocolate heaven!  I could hear the credit card begging for mercy before I even touched anything in the store.  Dark, milk, white, bark of all flavors, glacée…  Mercy.  We all purchased something to take away and some ice cream to eat there.  It was wonderful!  The store is called Puerto Cacao, 2, rue Théophile Roussel 75012 Paris.  Do not miss it!  (Note: There is also a Puerto Cacao restaurant located at 53, rue de Tocqueville, 75017 Paris; the one we visited was strictly a storefront with a few tables, not a restaurant.)

Sated, we picked up a few items of food for our long train trip the next day, then went back to the hotel to waste some time before dinner.

That evening we didn’t really want to work all that hard thinking about where to go and what to eat, so we struck out in the direction of the Gare de Lyon – our departure point the next morning – and found a quintessentially 1930s era French bistro called Le Duc de Richelieu.  The woman working there, presumably the owner, seated us with a grunt.  We each looked at one another with that ‘oh boy, this is going to be an experience’ sort of look, when the woman brought over a chalkboard, propped it on a chair and walked away.  I was left to interpret the board while the woman went over to the young barman and began berating him.  She sent him off to wash windows while we figured out what we wanted to eat.  It was obvious when she returned that she had no intention of communicating with us in even broken English so I marshaled my 4 whole years of high school French and began ordering for everyone.  (I think I did pretty well considering everyone actually got what they wanted.)  Everybody got kind of scared of this woman – she was very forthright and seemed decidedly no-nonsense – especially when she kept browbeating that poor barman.  At one point she snatched the rag from his hand and began washing the windows herself!  We decided this was probably a good thing; the kitchen was probably spotless under her watch!

Dinner was fine, not the best we’ve ever had but certainly not the worst… delicious frites, and the salads were served in these cute boat-shaped dishes that were quite whimsical.  I tried to finish my meal but I wanted to have some mousse for my last Paris dessert so I left some on the plate.  When the woman came over to clear dishes she gave me such a look, like your mother gives you when you’ve been naughty.  I am certain I looked sheepish when I said, “Dessert?”  That seemed to mollify her and she took our dessert orders.  Erin ordered a fruit tart that she didn’t really care for, so only ate about 75% of it.  When the woman came back to clear the dishes again she trained her scowl on Erin this time… However, this time she met a formidable foe!  They began staring each other down and it got kind of tense for a moment – when out of the blue Claude reached over, speared the last of the tart with his fork and popped it into his mouth.  We were all so surprised that we burst out laughing, the woman included!  The woman was much nicer to us for the rest of the evening.  I am certain that if we lived in Paris I would go to this restaurant more often and get to know this lady.  I’m sure the food and service get much better once you become a friend of the owner.  And they had an amazing wine list which I would get to know better as well.

Sadly our Paris adventure was winding down to its end.  We went back to the hotel and packed as much as possible, then hopped into bed for a good night’s sleep before our long train journey to Vienna ahead.

— Cindy

%d bloggers like this: