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Relaxing in Budapest and (attempting) to leave for Vienna

sunny 65 °F

Well, today is my last day in Budapest so I wanted to make it count. I got up around 8:30, booked the Hotel Meninger in Vienna for the next 3 days, then hit the grocery store to stock up on eggs, peppers and onions. While I made my omelet, Chris woke up and we planned to meet at the Baths at 2:30 for a second try. He had to do some work in the morning and wanted to climb Gellert Hill and I had some other things I wanted to fit into the day, mostly touring Parliament. I hit the street and went just a little out of the way to get back to Central Market. It was my last day and I hadn’t really seen anywhere else to buy little souvenirs to add a piece of Budapest to my collection. I settled on a model of Fisherman’s Bastion, since that had so captured my imagination. Then I headed north along the river toward parliament, but got distracted again because just across the bridge and up the hill was Mathias Church which I had never got to see inside because it was too late in the day both times that I went. With its multicolored walls and generous gold accents, it didn’t disappoint.
I also got to go up in Fisherman’s bastion since it had been closed off for the wedding last time I was up. I got a good picture in front of Parliament then decided that it was finally time to go see it up close.

Heading back down the hill, I saw this wonderful accordion player and was compelled to give him a Euro and change.

The parliament building was even more incredible up close. I even got to try out the little mini tripod for my camera.
Were these the “real” guards Aggie was talking about?

Aggie had said that tours take place every 15 minutes, so I hadn’t put much thought into it when I showed up. While she was technically right, the tours rotated between 7 different languages so English tours only went off every 2 hours. The next tour wasn't until 1:45, which would make me miss the baths. 0 for 2, Aggie! I wish I knew this before I tipped you! I was pretty frustrated because I had really been looking forward to it, but with sudden hour and a half of free time before the baths, I decided to go to the House of Terror, which commemorated the two times that Hungarians were persecuted, both under Nazis and under the Soviet Union. Since I never got to do the Free Walking Tour on communism, I figured this was the next best thing.
Both the Nazi and Communist executioners had set up their headquarters at 60 Andrassy Avenue. During WWII, Hungary was in the crossfire of the Nazi and Communist dictatorships. After WWI, Hungary lost 1/3 of it’s territory and 2 million of its people were place in the jurisdiction of neighboring countries. They were disarmed, isolated politically and weakened economically, all while being surrounded by hostile countries. It was essentially in the buffer zone between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Hungarians regard it as a great victory that they were able to avoid German occupation until the 5th year of the war in 1944. But then, the Hungarian government basically became a pawn of Hitler’s, so they made Hungarian Jews wear the yellow star and rounded them up to deport them to German concentration camps…437,402 of them. Hilter occupied Hungary to “secure absolute control over the countries natural and human resources.” The Hungarian Regent Miklos Horthy made a feeble attempt to get Hungary out of the war, but it failed and he was forced by the Nazis to resign. In his place, the Nazis put the Arrow Cross Party in power. 60 Andrassy Blvd. (the site of the museum) became the “House of Loyalty” and the members of the Arrow Cross killed and tortured hundreds of people in its basement. The only thing that saved them from this reign of terror was Soviet liberation (and subsequent occupation) in 1945. One of the first things the Hungarian communists that arrived with the Soviet tanks did was to take over 60 Andrassy. The Department for Political Police took over the former Arrow Cross HQ.
They killed without hesitation when ordered to do so, while many of their “confessions” were extorted only after brutal interrogations. They had a shadow army of informers that watched people on factory floors, in offices and at universities. This tyrannical regime seized, tortured or killed one person from every third family in Hungary. Nobody was safe. They even had a quota of Germans to round up and send to the Soviets. Undesirable citizens, those who were religious or were political opponents were labeled “Kulaks.” The term had no real criteria and became ambiguous. It was a label slapped on anyone that they wanted to get rid of. When quotas couldn’t be filled, they started taking people simply if they had a last name that sounded German. Thousands of people were abducted and sent to prison camps in this way. In this and other deportations, 130,000 civilians and another 500,000 soldiers ended up in Soviet captivity, where they were sent to camps that were part of the Soviet “gulag.” Equality under the law was officially abolished and replaced with “class-justice,” where the accused persons social origins or class affiliation were to be taken into consideration either as a mitigating or aggravating circumstance. I’m sort of astounded that I never learned about this in school, when it sounds so similar in scope and horror to the Nazi’s concentration camps. Several million died from executions and inhumane conditions.
It is hard to imagine, but from when the Nazi’s came in 1944 until the last Soviet soldiers left in 1991, almost a 50 year span, Hungary was never under its own control. Even after the Soviets left, the rebuilding has only just begun. Not just the buildings either, but perhaps more importantly in terms of culture and values. For example, the one party system the Soviets had put in place had begun ideological training at the Kindergarten level. How do you start to undo that cultural programming?

The beginning of the shift in a more positive direction occurred in 1956, when Khrushchev uncovered the crimes of the Stalinist era (after Stalin’s death in 1953). In October of that year, demonstrations broke out in Budapest, lead by students and later joined by vast crowds. When the secret police opened lethal fire on unarmed people in the crowd, the protest became a revolution. Its mission was to create a democratic, free and independent Hungary. They disbanded several state and local communist institutions. In just 5 days, Soviet political leadership was forced to give up ground. While Aggie called it a failure, I suppose since they didn’t achieve their aim of a free Hungary for another 35 years, it did seem like a victory in that troops were withdrawn from Budapest and negotiations began for withdrawal from the country as a whole. The feared State Security Department on Andrassy Blvd. was disbanded, as was the one party system.

The penultimate stop on the tour was some pretty intense prison cells in the basement. Hard to imagine the horror that happened here.
They were given a cup of bean soup and 150 grams of bread (under 500 calories for the whole day) and weren’t given blankets. The guy with the cell with the bed was actually lucky…many had to sleep on the cold floor. The final stop was very interesting. It was a room filled with the pictures of the “terrorizers.” They definitely wanted to make sure that none of them could hide from their past.

After the museum I was starving and I had a few hours of bathing ahead of me. I was also running out of chances for an authentic Hungarian meal, so as I walked toward the baths I got some Goulash. Its pretty much just a beef stew. I’ll admit that with a pound of paprika and whatever other spices they put in there, they made a pretty bland dish at least tolerable. However, in a sad twist of fate, I somehow forgot to take a picture of this interesting culinary creation. Perhaps its better that way. I’m not sure any picture could have made it look appetizing, but I assure you that while it was nothing to write home about (I realize that currently I’m technically writing home about it), it was certainly better than it looked. On to the baths!

I found Chris on the steps of the bathhouse, reading what looked like a really old book, but when I got up close I saw that it was actually a Kindle. Turns out it's a homemade Kindle cover. He basically cut out the center of the pages so that his Kindle would fit in. It’s perfect for traveling because nobody would ever want to steal this old ratty book. Neat idea. I told him he should sell it on eBay…or Shark Tank!

Anyways, here’s the enormous bath house.
And that’s just the half I could fit into the picture!

Inside, there were over 15 pools, a few saunas and a steam room. The pools had a range of temperatures, from 60ish degrees (which actually feels great after a brutal sauna) to 110ish degrees, one sauna that was normal sauna temperature and another that was 10 degrees hotter and was definitely an exercise in mental toughness. The steam room had what felt like peppermint. When I stepped inside, I was not expecting that at all. It stings your eyes and skin. Some guy said it was eucalyptus, which sounds more credible than peppermint, but all I could think of was the tea factory I went to in Denver with Jocelyn where there was a similar smell and stinging sensation in the peppermint room.
Some of the pools had high concentrations of different minerals. Out in the courtyard of this enormous building there were also 2 giant half-circle pools on either side of an Olympic-sized lap pool. I was bummed that swim caps were required in the lap pool, but at the same time I was here to relax.
They even had this sweet little circular piece inside the pool with jets that made a crazy whirlpool.

There is supposed to be a formula for tackling all of these different relaxation stations: Warm pool, cold pool, sauna, cold shower, steam bath, cold showers, mineral pools, rest and relax wrapped in a warm beach towel. That was wayyy too much to remember, so we pretty much just did a lot of hot/cold/hot/cold. The hotter sauna to the freezing pool was definitely an experience. Other than that, not much to report. For a couple hours we just sat around dazed and confused. Very enjoyable at almost the halfway point of my trip that is otherwise filled with 20 miles of walking every day. They also had this sweet technology where your “ticket” was a wristband that looked like a watch and if you pressed the watch on your locker it would lock or unlock your locker.
By this point, it was almost 6pm and by the time I went home and ate, I was looking at catching the 10pm bus and not getting in until 1am, so it was unfortunately time to go. A few things we noticed on the way home. First, we could have just walked down the street and never missed a goal for a world cup game. There was a bar showing the game literally every 50 feet. If a crowd cheered, we would be able to get to a TV in time for the replay. All this and the Hungarian team isn’t even in the World Cup! Also, whereas I noticed in Germany last year that you have to pay per plastic grocery bag, in Hungary they don’t even give you that option. You’re basically expected to just bring your own. I wonder what would happen if we did that in the US. When I bought my groceries the other day, I luckily had my backpack with me. Here, all of your groceries get put back in your container (there are no carts-the aisles are far too narrow) and then they provide you a little shelf to go figure out how to carry all of your stuff home.

I quickly cooked up some chicken, then threw it in a container to eat on the road. I packed up my backpack, then headed for the train station. There was a train pretty much every hour until 11pm. I got there around 9:30 expecting to get on the 10 o’clock train. However, the kiosks to buy tickets were only for local trains. To get an international ticket, you had to go to the ticket office. That late at night, there was only one person working at the ticket office and about 30 that wanted to buy tickets, so I had to pick a number to get in the queue. I ended up missing the 10pm train, but wasn’t all that worried about it because I knew there was another one coming. When I finally got up to the ticket window, it was almost 10:45. I told the woman my destination and she asked when I wanted to go. As soon as possible! So she promptly printed me out a ticket for 5am the next morning. What I hadn’t known to pay attention to online was that the trains that left hourly alternated between leaving from the main station and a second major station. It was 10 minutes to 11 and I never would have made it across town in time. A bit perplexed, I decided to test out the limits of that “no checkout time” policy at Mandala Hostel. When I got back, everyone was asleep. I checked my bed and nobody was in there, so I just threw down my bag and fell asleep in all of my clothes since there weren’t any sheets to be had and since I had to wake up in barely 5 hours to catch my train. When I woke up in the morning, there still wasn’t anybody awake at the hostel, so I just left some cash and a note to cover my unintended stay. Now I’m headed to Vienna (for real this time!)

Posted by atbrady 17:02 Archived in Hungary Tagged trains budapest vienna of museum turkish baths terror Comments (0)

Back to Flying Solo...

sunny 60 °F

I tossed and turned all night, waking up alternating between dripping sweat and shivering cold. I had hoped that the sleep would improve my symptoms and didn’t feel too bad when I woke up. We headed downstairs for what looked like a great breakfast buffet, but as soon as I smelled the food I knew that eating would be a struggle. I could have had salmon, eggs and bacon for breakfast, but could only manage about a bite of salmon and the equivalent of maybe one egg. I even missed out on this vinyl album-shaped dry bread disk that seems popular in Sweden. No bueno.
I was achier than an old man and moving quite slowly. After being awake for a half hour or so it became clear that today would be much worse than yesterday. Tommy had to head to the train station to get to the airport and get home in time for Dad’s Day. We found out that checkout wasn’t until noon, so I decided that I would walk with him to the train station, then come back and nap for an hour and a half before trying to start my day. I slipped a Father’s Day card in his suitcase before we left and then was able to send him off with my carry on bag…just me and my backpack for the next 10 days! It was sad to see him go and to know that I would miss a Father’s Day pool party with the family tomorrow. I went back to the hotel, set an alarm for 11:45am and immediately crashed. When I woke up, I quickly scanned through Frommer’s to see what there was to do in Sweden. There was a changing of the guard at the palace at noon and I knew it wasn’t far of a walk, so I figured that would be a good way to start the day.

The ceremony was actually quite impressive. There was the typical marching and pomp and circumstance, but the best part was the marching? band that came in on horseback. They all have to learn to play their instruments with one hand and also how to ride a horse with one hand, the exception being the drummer, who must learn to control the horse with just his feet!
Guards have been on watch at this palace since 1523, which is just mind-boggling.

After the changing of the guard, on Arthur’s recommendation, I decided to head for Stockholm’s top museum, the Vasa Museum. While joining the mass exodus from the palace, I saw a little steel drum-type band
AND this sweet stroller, cobblestone-edition with little baby shocks!

The Vasa museum was quite a hike from Gamla Stan. It was a bit chilly but a great day for a walk in the sunshine. Unfortunately, I was feeling lethargic and every muscle in my body ached as if I had run a marathon yesterday. I wasn’t moving too fast and had to stop to sit down several times. I felt like I was 85. The scenery was beautiful though. I was almost exclusively walking down the promenades on the edge of the water until finally getting to the Vasa Museum.

The Vasa was built in Stockholm, but never made it too far, sinking in 32 meters of water in the Stockholm shipping channel on August 10th, 1628. It is believed that it was built too tall and narrow and didn’t have enough stability. For centuries, Stockholm’s waste was dumped directly into the water. Ironically, this created a low oxygen environment that killed the fishies, but preserved Vasa because the fungi and bacteria that decompose the wood couldn’t survive either. Additionally, the many shipwrecks of the Baltic Sea tend to be well preserved due to the uniquely low salinity of the water, which will not support “shipworms,” the mollusks that eat wood when it is submerged in saltwater.

The vasa was sunk under mud and clay that came up to the lower gun deck. In 1957, to raise her, Navy divers had to go down to drill underneath her in half-hour shifts because the water was so cold at that depth. After they had dug 3 tunnels and passed two 6 inch steel cables through each tunnel, they we able to begin to raise what was (underestimated to be) 700 ton behemoth. It was finally brought out of the water to dry in 1961. For those doing the math, that means 333 years under water. It took 9 years for Vasa to dry. During that time, it lost 500 tons of water weight. They also pioneered several new methods for preserving this kind of wood.
In addition to the facts about the boat itself, the museum catalogued some interesting stories of what some of the 133 people who died when Vasa sunk may have looked like (using reconstructions of their skeletons) and what the life of a sailor was like in the 16th century.

According to Arthur’s “What to do in one day in Stockholm,” I had already checked out the Vasa museum as well and evening wandering Gamla Stan with Tommy last night. The only thing left was to visit the Skansen, Sweden’s open air museum. By now it was 5pm, but Arthur said Skansen was open until 10pm, so I thought that I had somehow managed to fit it all in despite a late start and a slow pace. I laughed comparing how much I usually cram into a day of traveling compared to the level of activity recommended in the book. Skansen was on the same island as Vasa and it wasn’t too bad of a walk. When I got there, however, I saw that although the park itself was open until 10pm, many of the attractions closed down around 5pm and since the price was steep, I decided I would rather get the full experience tomorrow. As I embarked on the long trek back to Gamla Stan, I realized that since lunch around noon yesterday it had been 30 hours and the only food I had consumed was probably 100 calories worth of scrambled egg and salmon at breakfast. That didn’t seem too sustainable so I stopped at this quaint little restaurant to attempt to eat. I tried to find something that would be as bland as possible for my stomach and settled on salad with ham and cheese. With the laid back, family atmosphere of the place, I was astounded when the salad came back looking this pretty.

As pretty as it was, I had to force myself to eat it. In a normal sitting, it would probably take me 3 of these salads to get filled up and I would have all three plates cleaned in 20 minutes flat. But instead, I sat at this restaurant for 45 minutes willing myself through every bite. As I left the restaurant, I decided that it would probably be a good idea to find out where I was sleeping tonight. I had planned to go back to the lobby of the Victory Hotel to use their wifi, but Gamla stan was a good 2-3 mile walk from Djurgarden (the island that Vasa and Skansen are on), despite being barely a quarter mile as the crow flies. I saw on my map a mall that advertised free wifi, so I walked there instead. It turns out that this must be a popular time to visit Stockholm. According to booking.com, 98% of the available rooms in all of Stockholm were filled (in comparison, it’s about 50% in the other cities I’m visiting). Since there was slim pickings and hotels are already expensive here, I decided to expand my search to hostels. I can sleep through anything, so hostel sleeping doesn’t phase me, plus I enjoy the vibe at most hostels, with lots of fellow travelers that are mostly friendly and welcoming. You can even pick up some advice on what things are must sees in that city or even some stories of other great places they have been (this can be dangerous, because as soon as you think you’ve seen enough of a country or region, you’ll hear a story that you can’t help but mentally add to your list of future destinations). Anyways, I found a cheap hostel, the “City Hostel” and it was pretty close not only to the mall, but closer to tomorrow’s activities than Gamla Stan. So for about $50, my problem was solved and I headed over there. The hostel had some neat security features. Not only was there a door code, but the door handle to each individual dorm room had its own keypad built in.
As I walked in, as soon as I wondered whether I was getting too old for this, I was shown to my room and opened the door to see the only other roommate currently in our room who had to be 35 easy. Top bunk! Luckily, there is a pretty good sized rail to keep me from making the 5 foot plunge to the floor. I sat in bed and booked a place for tomorrow night. Nothing wrong with this hostel, but it wasn’t anything special and I really wanted to get a chance to sleep on a boat (since that didn’t work out last time around), so I booked a room at the Anedin Hostel, which is a Hostel-boat on the shores of Gamla Stan, which will give me an excuse to explore it’s streets one last time tomorrow night. I plugged in my phone and computer for charging, put them under my pillow, took a few minutes to plan my day tomorrow and zonked out.

Posted by atbrady 11:32 Archived in Sweden Tagged stockholm the of sweden hostel guard changing vasa Comments (0)

Travel Brain

Why adventure is so magical (and addicting)

semi-overcast 60 °F

When I mentioned to a friend that I was about to embark on another travel adventure, I excitedly exclaimed that I was aiming for “complete sensory overload.” I’ve come to realize that this is one of my favorite parts of the travel experience. I had recently done a personal branding exercise with that same friend and came up with my belief statement … “I believe that every moment has the potential to be breathtaking.” While I’m still not satisfied with the word “breathtaking,” I think it definitely captures the essence of how I try to live my life. I truly believe that every person that passes through my life—no matter who they are, how old they are or how quickly they pass through—has something to teach me, if only I’m open to learn it. Subsequently, I believe that in every moment and every experience I have something to learn, but to do so requires cultivating the right mindset, looking for the possibilities and sometimes shifting your perspective (Watching the film “Celebrate What’s Right With the World” or reading Mindset by Carol Dweck are a great place to start). I have always had a deep love of learning, as evidenced by words like growth, challenge, adventure and wonder showing up in the passions and values I’ve articulated over the years. However, it wasn’t until the last few years of my book-a-week marathon and diving into Positive Psychology that I was able to clearly articulate why. While all that probably sounds like a great and noble way to live, I’ll be the first to admit that it is sometimes a struggle to be deeply engaged in the moment. Which brings us back to why I love to travel. With travel, it’s so easy—almost too easy—to maintain a constant state of wonder. Not only the novelty of having never experienced the sights, sounds and smells, but also the subconscious acquiescence that you are unlikely to experience them ever again.

Being a brain science nerd, I can understand why “complete sensory overload” leads to the present moment awareness that makes “travel brain” so enjoyable. When we experience novelty, our brains are jolted out of their comfort zones because novelty could often mean danger to our ancestors (To see a wonderful example of this, watch the children’s movie “The Croods”). When our brain is in this state (or if we are able to cultivate a mindset of wonder), it takes in a much larger amount of information in an attempt to keep us safe by being highly attuned to our surroundings. More information leads to more time to process and making sense of all those inputs, which can actually slow down our perception of time. On a related note, part of the reason that children can so easily maintain a state of wonder is that they lack time perception and will thus stop and stare to watch a squirrel scurry by or notice anything that is different than normal. This makes their days all-absorbing and may be related to why time seems to go by faster when we age…because we think we seen it all and have nothing new to experience (or so we tell ourselves).

So as I step off the plane to Stockholm, I can immediately sense a shift in my mindset. Every ounce of my awareness is looking for something I’ve never seen before, trying to identify what makes this place unique and looking for funny cultural quirks all as I try to piece together a construct in my brain of what this place—and its people—are and what they have to teach me. I even forgive Norwegian Airlines’ sorry excuse for a meal for a quote on the bag that helped prepare me for the shift: “’Is there any adventure more exciting than meeting new people and finding out what lives within them?’ –Sonja Henie.” No Sonja, I’m not sure there is.
Let the adventure begin…

Posted by atbrady 11:16 Archived in Sweden Tagged travel of sweden plane trip beginning brain Comments (1)

Antwerp, Brussels and a run-in with the Gestapo!?!

Drug trafficking...at least it makes for a good story!

sunny 80 °F

We woke up this morning and Chris made everyone a great breakfast! When he moved to Belgium, he started experimenting with making his own bread to save money, and I was pretty impressed! Not only did we have scrambled eggs on a homemade roll, but he had even made some banana bread!

Belgium actually has 3 official languages. In the northern part also known as Flanders, (where I'm doing all of my traveling) Dutch is the predominant language. The Southern part is traditional Belgium and speaks mostly French. A few parts on the far eastern border speak Germany. There is also Flemish, which is considered to be a dialect of Dutch, but Chris said its pretty different. Although Brussels is technically in the northern Flanders region, they mostly speak French there. Got all that straight? The north and south regions are apparently pretty distinct. Had I known, I might have tried to go to a city in the southern part, since we are right near the border in Leuven.

The plan today was to try to fit both Antwerp and Brussels in to one day, so we didn’t waste any time and took a look at train tickets. A round trip ticket to Antwerp was only 8 Euros (around $10), plus it connected in Brussels, so it made more sense to take the train than to drive. On the way to the train station, we passed the Stella Artois factory. Despite the fact that Stella is positioned as a fancy beer in the US, Chris said that at any bar in Leuven or nearby Brussels, if you ask for a “Pinch” which translates to “little pint,” you get a pint of Stella for just a euro or two. It's the most basic, unappreciated beer here, which was funny. Because InBev bought Anheiser Busch, the HQ for all of AB-InBev (including Bud and BudLight) was here as well.

When we got to the train station, we got stuck behind these girls that were complaining (in Dutch, but Chris knew enough to roughly translate) about having bought the wrong ticket and they were taking forever. We were already cutting it a bit close, and by the time we bought our tickets, we saw our train coming to the station had to get from platform 1 to platform 10 in the next 20 seconds or so before it left. I insisted on paying for the tickets to pay for their tour guiding, especially after they paid for dinner AND put a roof over my head last night. We made a mad dash and somehow got on the train in time.

It was a beautiful day and Antwerp is a beautiful city. Here's the Cathedral of Our Lady, the biggest church in Belgium.
Chris and Kelly had only been here once before and hadn’t been all that impressed, so they undersold it a bit. They ended up realizing that the weather had been miserable last time they were in town and it had affected their perception of the city, so they were actually pleasantly surprised as well.

Here’s Grote Markt, the main square
and the Stadhuis, or Town Hall, which was quite pretty with all of its flags

As we walked around, there was actually quite a few people out already, mostly sitting at cafe's having "breakfast." There seemed to be two choices for breakfast in Belgium. Having beer with your breakfast, or having beer for your breakfast. They're pretty serious. We even saw one pair of old guys having beers for breakfast, one of whom was napping. Chris pointed out what he had noticed across Belgium, that EVERYONE sits on the same side of the table, facing out to the street. Whether they want to be seen or they're people watching themselves, any cafe you walked past had half its chairs empty because nobody wanted to sit facing the cafe. Sort of makes you wonder why they bother with all those extra chairs.

We also saw a ton of boy and girl scouts out and about around town.
Chris said that some ridiculous percentage of young people are in either the girl or boy scouts. I can’t remember exactly, but it was well over 50%.

Again, it was great to have tour guides. Chris had printed out a map because they weren’t as familiar with Antwerp, but they still knew all of the places to go. Outside a castle was this very strange statue, which seemed dirty, though I’m hoping it wasn’t.
We saw a few people taking a funny picture of them looking up and pointing at the guy’s junk like the other people seemed to be doing, so naturally Chris got a funny picture of Kelly doing the same.

Walking around, we stopped inside the Cathedral of Our Lady that we had seen from afar and dominates the skyline of Antwerp
and passed by Steenplein!

They even knew about the Vlaeykensgang, which they called the “secret garden,” which was a pretty little street off a main road that was easy to miss because it looked like someone's private entrance. It was peaceful there and there were plenty of postcard worthy photo ops.
I felt better today because having only ever been here once before (and in the rain), Kelly was taking almost as many pictures as I was.

By now it was around lunch time, and Chris and Kelly had a nice little place in mind that they had been before because it was one of few places they had been able to find that accepted credit cards. It was just off the main square and was a cozy little place. When we got there, however, they noticed that the name (and presumably the ownership) had changed since they had been here a few months ago. We decided to give it a try anyways. I had a Niçoise Salad, Kelly got a Caesar Salad and Chris got a burger. We all ended up being surprised with what we got. On my salad, the Tuna was fully cooked and at first I thought I had ordered the wrong thing, but it ended up tasting great so I was happy.
Kelly was surprised when her caesar salad came with chicken and tomatoes but no croutons and no caesar dressing, and Chris' burger came with an egg on top!
Adding to our amusement, the owner of the restaurant had a heated and extended argument with our waiter. Not in the back room, but literally right in front of us. I tried to be discrete taking a picture.
Every time we thought it was over when the waiter would leave to go serve food or take care of other things, they would start back up again as soon as he came back. Unfortunately, we didn't have a clue what it was all about, but it was entertaining nonetheless. On top of it all, with the new ownership, credit cards were no longer accepted. We had the cash, but had to laugh at the whole experience. In the end, however, the food was pretty good and we were all happy.

At lunch, Kelly had asked about what sights I had uncovered in my research and if there was anything else I wanted to see in Antwerp. I told them about the St. Anna tunnel, which goes under the Scheldt River on the Western border of Antwerp and apparently offers a great panorama view of Antwerp from the other side. They had never heard of it and were interested, so I was excited for them to at least experience something new during the day. They said that every time they come to a city, they find a few new things to explore. I have yet to repeat any European cities and have too many new ones on my list to repeat, but maybe one day I'll know the feeling haha. Anyways, we had to take a never-ending wooden escalator down to get to the St. Anna tunnel itself. Probably the longest escalator I've ever been on. Then we turned the corner and there was one more.
I can't read Dutch, but as far as I can tell, we were 31 meters (over 100 feet) deep.
The tunnel was over half a kilometer (more than 1/3 mile) long. Bikes whizzed past us. If we were in the States, I'm sure you'd have to walk your bike and there would be no rollerblading, scootering, skateboarding, or fun of any kind.
Up until 1950, you had to pay to cross, but now its free. While there were plenty of tourists, it seemed that most of the bikers were commuters who lived on the other (presumably cheaper) side of the river and worked in Antwerp.
It was a pretty neat view, but there wasn't much else going on on the other side of the river. After we crossed back to the other side, we stopped at the flea market at the top of the escalators. I was able to buy a Trappistes Rochefort glass like the one my beer came in last night. There were also several vendors selling records. Bernd and Elke would have loved it.

I was pretty exhausted by this point, and yet we had a whole new city to explore!

When we got to Brussels, it didn't take long to figure out that there was something special going on that day. The streets were especially crowded and people were everywhere. By pure luck, we were lucky to have taken the train, because finding a parking spot would have been a nightmare.
We eventually discovered that it was the Iris Festival (the Iris is the city's mascot flower), a giant street party with concerts and various hippie exhibits set up. For example, there was a Swiss Family Robinson looking treehouse in the middle of one of the plazas that had band members scattered throughout. It's tough to see the band on there, but they were at all different levels which was pretty unique.
It turns out that the whole contraption was built to harness wind and solar power so that it wasn't plugged in to anything. All of the power for the speakers was generated by the thing itself.

Brussels is the capital of the EU (not officially, but its where all of the EU government happenings take place), and is a beautiful and clean city. There are lots of parks, and on this particular day, the festival and the sunshine made for thousands of people out and about and enjoying thousands of lounge chairs scattered throughout the city for the festival.
On the right side of this garden, you can see another hippie exhibit (idk what else to call it) where many of the trees had been guerrilla knitted around and there were long strands of cloth hanging from the trees with info and statistics and such.
There was even one tree with dozens of headphones hanging from it, but everything was in French, so we had no idea what they were protesting.

Most of the things to see in Brussels are museums that I'm not particularly interested in (Art Noveau - whatever that is, Rene Magritte - whoever he is, Musical Instruments - I'm fairly comfortable with my level of knowledge of those) and it was a beautiful sunny day, so I was happy to walk around and enjoy the city. Chris and Kelly took me to see the main sights...the Grand Place or main square
On the left is the Hotel de Ville, which somehow means town hall...


every other August in this square they cover the square with flowers to make beautiful designs, "Le Tapis de Fleurs" or flower carpet - see google image search below...

We also passed the Mont des Arts, where all of the museums are, a relatively high point in a very flat city (and flat country)

At the square outside the Palais Royal was a giant concert and street fair. The band on stage was playing some kind of polka/folk music and EVERYBODY knew the words and was dancing and having a great time. It wasn't the first time Chris and Kelly had heard this style of music...the first time they heard it, they didn't think that there was any way it could be popular until they noticed that everyone seems to know the words to them. It was here that I was introduced to the greatest innovation in festivals since the hot dog stand...the open air urinal.
Gone are the days of waiting in line to use a port-a-potty behind a dozen women. With this urinal, you're in, you're out and you're on your way. I'm going to be really disappointed at the Lilac Festival back in Rochester in a few weeks when I inevitably find that they haven't latched on to this genius invention.

Not to be forgotten, here was the Palais Royal itself.


The king must have been pretty pissed at all that racket out in his front yard. I had seen some beautiful pictures of the inside of the palais, but unfortunately, the royals actually live there full-time, so it's only open for tours two months a year.

Last on our list was to see the Mannequin Pis, or peeing boy. It's a famous fountain in Brussels that has been around since the early 15th century. On the way was Chris and Kelly's favorite belgian waffle stand. They had been building up the waffles ever since I arrived. Chris said it was much different than the breakfast waffles we're used to in the states. It was much thicker and sweeter, and unquestionably a desert. There were dozens of stands on every street, each had a couple dozen waffles out with all different kinds of toppings to entice you: berries, chocolate, whipped cream, nutella, etc.
Interestingly, every stand also advertised that their waffles were just 1 euro, but when we got the bill for a waffle with whipped cream, it was 3.50. Kelly told me about her friend who had ordered one with berries and nutella that had been over 7 euros. So they really take advantage of you on the toppings, but oh well. The waffle was absolutely incredible. I'm not one for candy or sweets, I could give or take chocolate, but those waffles were unbelievable. If Kristine was here, she'd have one for every meal and would never want to leave Belgium. They were that good. Finally a tourist trap that lives up to the hype.

While eating, we had moved out of the way of the hordes of people at the waffle stand and after devouring the waffle, we kept walking down the street for maybe 10 steps Chris asked if I wanted to see the peeing boy. I said sure, and he pointed left. I looked around and there seemed to be a small crowd taking pictures, but I didn't see anything. After a solid couple seconds, I finally noticed the peeing boy. The thing was probably 6 inches tall. It was really funny what a big deal everyone makes out of this tiny little guy.

By now it was around 6:30 and we were all exhausted. We began to head back to the train station, but not without taking in the sights along the way.
Here's more of those ugly little trees that seem to be everywhere in both Germany and Belgium and get cut back every year and end up looking awful without leaves. At least these guys grew the trees into a fence, which was kind of cool and probably looked nice with some greenery.

We also passed by the beautiful cathedral Notre Dame du Sablon, but by then it was too late to go inside.IMG_1226.jpg

Boy did it feel nice to finally sit down on that train. They were telling me about all of the Visa troubles they had had trying to get Kelly's visa approved. Apparently Chris had to fly back to the states at one point because a lady at the consulate had told them the wrong forms to fill out and on top of that, the lady had been fired because it wasn't the first time she had done so, which further slowed down the process. After around a 45 minute ride, we got off in Leuven to a huge crowd of activity. Chris explained that the university had many commuters and that most kids don't have classes on Friday, so they party hard on Thursday night, then head home on Friday and come back around this time on Sunday evening. We stopped back at their apartment very briefly. They invited me to stay for dinner, but it was almost 8 and I had a long drive home yet. After carrying around my Trappistes Rochefort glass all day long, I set it down when we got back to their apartment only to hear a loud crack. I was so pissed. Chris had a glass that he had gotten for free and insisted that I take it, which was super nice. He's apparently been planning to go to the store to buy all the glasses from his favorite beers to send home with his parents when they visit in a few weeks. Luckily I asked them where the nearest gas station was, because Chris had to come with me since gas stations were closed and when they're closed, they'll only accept special credit cards that have a chip inside, so he had to pay for my gas and then I wired him the money on PayPal when I got home. I had such a great weekend and was glad that I remembered that they were living in Belgium. They have traveled to all of the cities in Belgium and assured me that I had seen everything that was worth seeing in Belgium, and all in a weekend. I certainly couldn't have done it without experienced tour guides! It was great to reconnect with Chris and to meet Kelly and I think that Kristine would get along well with Kelly too. I told them to make sure they told me when they were back in Rochester so that we could have them over for dinner.

With a picture from the balcony of their brand spanking new apartment complex (they are the very first tenants and the whole rest of the street is made up of other complexes still under construction)
and of their apartment itself, I was off.

As I was leaving Belgium, there was a beautiful sunset...

When I crossed into Germany, my phone could work again so I called Elke to give her an ETA and make sure that they didn't wait up for me because I had a house key and I knew that both had traveling to do the next day. I was also starving, so I grabbed some nuts and cheese at the gas station just over the border. At this point, there was a little over an hour to go. I got back on the autobahn and was glad to be back in the land of no speed limits. I was cruising at probably 140, which at 85-90mph is fast, but I there were plenty of cars going faster. And then I heard a siren. I winced and peaked up at my rear view mirror and sure enough, the cop was right behind me. I assumed that I had missed a sign that had set the unlimited speed limit back to 120kph, but was frustrated wondering why I had been pulled over when there were countless cars zooming past me at 180+. I dutifully pulled over and he barked something out at me over the loudspeaker. Naturally, I had no idea what he was saying, but figured maybe he wanted the car in park, so I did that. Then he barked out something again and I raised my hands to try to convey that I didn't know what he was talking about. Moments later, he showed up in my window and I tried to roll it down, but for whatever reason it wasn't working, so he opened my door and started barking something at me in German. I quizzically said "English?" and crossed my fingers and hoped he'd be able to speak some. He then told me to pull up to the next parking area and that they would follow me there. Once I parked, he told me that he was with German customs and asked for my passport and registration papers. You aren't supposed to keep the registration papers in your car according to Bernd and Elke (because if the car is stolen and someone has your registration papers, they can apparently claim ownership), but Elke had given them to me just days earlier and luckily, I had brought them along in my backpack. I told the cop that they were in my backpack and it was in the trunk, and he let me grab them. When I got out, I noticed that his partner had got out of the police car as well and was shining his flashlight on me.

The first cop was definitely the bad cop and the partner was the good cop. He laughed and asked if we're supposed to pull over immediately in America and I told him yes. Apparently, its SOP in Germany to pull to the next rest area because they have little to no shoulders on the road (and probably because everyone is going so fast too). The bad cop then cut back in and started grilling me on whose car I was driving, where I was coming from, where I was going to, the purpose of my visit, etc. In the tension of the moment, I almost said that I was here for work, but that probably wouldn't have been good for my legality/visa type issues. The bad cop started asking me about having drugs or weapons that I was carrying over the border and started to shine his flashlight around the car and the trunk. I told him that I of course didn't and he asked (but it wasn't really asking, more of an assertion) to search the car. So he told me to wait with his partner while he searched the car. He looked in all the compartments, under all the seats, behind a door panel and tore through all of my clothes in my backpack in the trunk. Once I knew what he was looking for, all of the tension faded and I was kind of amused by the whole situation. So if you've been paying attention from yesterday, you might remember that I told you how nice it was to have no border crossing customs whatsoever within the EU. You might also remember that I told you that the fastest way from Leuven to Windhagen cut through a little sliver of the Netherlands that juts out from its southern border. I asked the good cop if there was anything I had done wrong to get pulled over. He assured me that I hadn't done anything wrong except that I was a young guy driving a BMW and headed the wrong way from the Netherlands. He laughed that they had not expected me to be an American since I had German plates and all. After the bad cop was finished (and clearly disappointed to have not made a drug bust), he reluctantly handed me back my papers and sent me off on my way. It probably didn't hurt that I had google maps printed out on the passenger seat that had directions from Leuven to Windhagen, supporting my story. As I drove away, I laughed realizing that they had never even checked my person. I could have had a stash of Amsterdam's finest in each pocket and they never would have known. It was a good thing that Bernd and Elke weren't hiding anything in their car!

After that little excursion, the rest of the trip was pretty uneventful. I got home after 11 and headed for bed. Bernd is waking up at 4am for the first flight to Berlin tomorrow, and Elke is traveling as well, so I'll be on my own with a few of the secretaries at the office to prepare for Tuesday's SIG presentation, which Bernd and I will discuss when he gets home tomorrow night. All in all, quite the adventurous day!

Posted by atbrady 01:33 Archived in Belgium Tagged antwerp st. of river cathedral netherlands tunnel lady belgium our german brussels markt anna grote customs leuven gestapo scheldt Comments (0)

A history lesson straight from the source

Museum of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany with Bernd

sunny 60 °F

Today (Wednesday) was a national holiday that split up the week nicely. Since it was a holiday, Bernd and Elke were up eggs for breakfast. My two egg omelettes had overstuffed them on Sunday, so both requested just one egg apiece. I was going to make a two egg omelette and split it in half, but Elke wanted mushrooms, scallions and cheese and Bernd wanted fewer mushrooms and wanted cherry tomatoes added in. So instead, I made the first one egg omelettes of my life. I wish I had taken a picture before I served them. Unfortunately, they were so darn thin that even on half power, Elke's cooked through almost immediately. Bernd's turned out a bit better by turning down the stovetop below halfway and cooking for literally no more than 10 seconds. In the morning, I continued to refine some of the marketing and online materials that Konzepte has as well as their English language training programs.

Around noon, Bernd took me to the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Museum of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany). I had been really looking forward to this museum since I first researched the things to do in Bonn and Bernd had expressed interest in going as well.

The museum began with a brief overview of WWII. Here was a Nazi party rally. I'm not sure I've ever seen so many people in one place:
And a Bomb England board game for kids:

With this kind of propaganda, you start to understand the remarkable influence that the Nazis were able to command and in many ways, the brainwashing that they were able to carry out, starting with the kids.

Seeing this uniform from one of the concentration camps gave me an eerie reminder to the movie "The Boy in Striped Pajamas" and started to choke me up, in addition to seeing a cloth of Jewish stars to be cut out and sewn on to their clothing.

What I found especially interesting was that guards at the concentration camps were forced to state their name and rank on video. They had parts of the video playing at the museum.

They did a really nice job at the museum of using real artifacts and rubble to give you a peak into life at this time.IMG_0997.jpg
Bernd told me about unexploded bombs like this that would be periodically found throughout Berlin after the war and that he would regularly pass streets that were closed off to deal with these bombs.

He also told me about Kindersuchdienst, the Children Retrieval Service run by the Red Cross. In the mass confusion as people were fleeing from the Nazis and later the Red Army, several children were lost or separated from their families. At the end of the hourly news on the radio, there would be a public service announcement where a few children would tell all they could remember about their family and hometown, hoping to be recognized and reunited with their family. Amazingly, this continued through the mid 1960's. Here's one of many card catalogues of several thousand misplaced people:

This was another incredible picture. As Germans went through the rubble that had been their cities and their homes, salvageable bricks were saved and organized to be used to rebuild the cities. Talk about recycling! Everyone pitched in to the effort. You have to think such an experience contributed to the determination and efficiency with which Germans conduct business, even today.
To be able to get food vouchers, you had to pitch in to the cleanup and rebuilding efforts daily.

On the way to the museum, I had asked Bernd about the founders of the country that had written the constitution. It was fascinating to think that their constitution had been written in the lifetimes of many Germans alive today (especially in comparison to ours which was written centuries ago). It was written in a museum in Bonn, simply because it was the only building still intact that was large enough to house the assembly. Several Germans were hesitant to move forward with drafting the constitution because they were still holding out hope that Germany would be reunited. Here's a picture of all who participated in the assembly. Notably, there were a few women.
When you create a new country, you need a new flag. Here were several finalists:
When Germany was reunited, it simply adopted the constitution of what had been West Germany.

Heres the original chairs from the first assembly hall. visitors could sit in the chairs and watch videos about certain issues and vote on them, but they were in German, so I couldn't really participate.

Here's a look at the border between East and West.

On June 17th, 1953, a strike in East Berlin led to a widespread uprising all across East Germany.
In thinking about the spreading of such a movement in just 24 hours, it's pretty remarkable to consider how fast it spread through word of mouth and Western radio broadcasts alone (without the help of TV news coverage, social media, etc that aided uprisings like the Arab Spring). Here's one of the tanks that was brought in to suppress the uprising. It was so heavy that even after gutting it, they had to cut it in half AND add additional supports to keep it from making the floor collapse.

After dealing with the formal splitting of Germany, the museum turned to the developments on either side of the border. First was a room dedicated to the West...Here was a famous toy from West Germany that I had to include only because I knew Kristine would love him.

This was one of many remarkable photos from a slideshow depicting German cities after the war, then after 10 years of rebuilding:

When we got to see some of the gadgets, cars and pop culture pieces of the day, I saw this car and remarked that it looked like a airplane cockpit. Bernd said thats exactly what it was. After the war, the company had switched their manufacturing operations from planes to cars, without changing the design too much.

The room depicting life in the East was equally fascinating. When looking at some posters about the youth groups in East Germany at the time, Bernd commented that it seemed so obvious to West Germans that the Hitler Youth organization had simply been replaced with a similar structure that revered the leaders of the Soviet Union.

Bernd recalled paying a months wage on this tape recorder, which could record songs from the radio using a microphone. He laughed remembering the terrible audio quality from such a process.

For a past birthday, Bernd had had the museum rented out and his guests had been given a private tour of the museum. It was remarkable for him because he related the room about life in the West with great childhood memories, while memories of the East brought distasteful and fearful memories. At the same time, one of his secretaries, who grew up in East Germany, had quite nostalgic memories in the room depicting life in the East.

Onward in the museum, we came upon the beginnings of the Berlin Wall. I had long wondered what would lead to such a monstrosity, and here was the answer. East Germans had been fleeing the "workers paradise" (as Bernd sarcastically called it) to the West in droves. Eventually, the Soviets put up barbed wire coils to demarcate the line between East and West.

Neighbors and even families were separated with no way to cross over. In time, the barricades became larger and larger. A few brave young men took a train through roadblocks to cross the border in the first days of the barbed wire wall. The Soviets responded with more barbed wire.


This was an iconic photograph from the period, where a photographer noticed an East German soldier pacing uneasily near the barbed wire border and eventually snapped a picture as the soldier jumped over. What a decision in must have been to leave family behind and risk death, and yet you can imagine how that single decision dramatically would have shaped his life from then on. Had he waited a few more days or weeks, the wall would have been built up to the point where such a jump was impossible.

As the walls reached higher, it was not uncommon for families to climb ladders just to wave to friends and family that they had been separated from. There were no phone lines, no mail and certainly no border crossings to ever see them again. This street in particular had been split down the middle. Other photos showed some families climbing out of windows to get over the barbed wire barricade and escape to the West.

After years of denying the existence of the war, these trials started to uncover the extent of the atrocities.
This is what led many young people to start asking questions and demand that the events be recognized and documented so as to prevent it ever happening again.

Moving on to the reunification, here was the original document signed to reunify Germany:
And the ensuing celebration in Berlin...
Here is a section of the wall, of which Bernd assured me there would be plenty more opportunities to see when we get to Berlin.
When the wall came down, East Germans flooded into the West and were each given 40 Marks as Begrüßungsgeld, or greeting money.

After the museum, we sat down in the museum coffee shop to chat for a while. It was truly incredible to get Bernd's perspective about living in West Berlin "on an island." Bernd told me that his father was a German soldier and after the war, had been given advice to avoid the French and British and instead to seek refuge with the American forces. From this experience, his father developed a deep reverence for America and passed it on to Bernd, who has always been fascinated with America, getting the chance to house an American exchange student, then live with that student's family to be an exchange student himself and later going to grad school at Michigan. We also had an interesting conversation about how much land Germany had given up when post-war lines were drawn and how the surrounding countries each claimed chunks that cut into what had once been German territory. The Germans had accepted this willingly as retribution for the war, which was pretty remarkable considering all of the wars that have raged in the middle east and elsewhere over similar situations.

As we were leaving the museum, we noticed a special exhibit about The American Way, subtitle "Die USA in Deutschland" which made me do a double take until I realized that it meant THE USA in Germany.
We were headed back home to Skype with my parents and didn't have time to walk though, so I'll have to come back. Regardless, it was funny to see so much American pride so far from home. There were even US flag scarves and books in the gift shop.
It would be fascinating to see. All this and the museum was free!

After Skyping with Bernd, Elke and my parents, I was had a bit more work to do. Around 6, I went for a run. Near the beginning of my run, I ran past a park not far from home and decided to switch up my workout. After all, I hadn't ran 3/4 days in a row since my marathon training and I needed a change of pace. So instead, I used the playground to do pushups, pullups on the bars, dips between the benches and inverted rows on one of the railings. After a circuit, I would jog up the steep hill nearby, then repeat. I'm still trying to figure out what I can do with the seesaw haha. I ended with a few sprints up a smaller hill. Overall, it was kind of fun!

I got in home in time for a quick shower before dinner at 7:30. We each heated up some leftovers (I laid claim to the chili con carne, so no complaints here!)
We had a great dinner conversation. Bernd cited the fact that there is no German translation for "serendipity" and after explaining its meaning to Elke, it was funny to note that Germans probably didn't believe in such a thing and how culture can influence a language. On the topic of translations, we also had a lengthy discussion about how translations aren't always so straightforward as we tried to find the English equivalent to the German phrase which roughly translates to "he cooks with water." Eventually, I was able to determine that "he puts his pants on one leg at a time" was our phrase to describe someone who may seem superhuman, but is really just like the rest of us. To top it all off, we ended the night watching Bayern Munich own Barcelona 3-0! Elke had the closest guess with 3-1 Munich, while Bernd had been least optimistic, with a 3-1 prediction in favor of Barcelona and I was in the middle, guessing 2-1 Barcelona. Too bad there is such a long layoff until the final game at Wembly stadium in England...I'll be back at home. It would have been awesome to be in Germany for that game.

I felt extremely grateful for the day. To learn about the recent history of Germany from someone who lived it was truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Posted by atbrady 12:02 Archived in Germany Tagged history the of germany berlin world west wall east war ii republic federal bonn cold 2 nazis Comments (2)

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