Friday, August 30, 2013

Corn Tassles

Loving Chicagoland
Cherishing The End of Summer 
Hating O'Hare

I had a quick turnaround business trip to Chicago this week. And, as Roadboy's readers know I love Chicago and its handsome suburbs.

This is a nice time to leave my Sonora desert home as it reminds me that the rest of the world is starting to slide gracefully into the final days of summer. In Phoenix we tend to forget that since our triple digit summers last till late October.  

In the upper midwest this is that magical time when the first hints of fall are in the air and the sweet corn (my mom loved so much) is piled in bins at roadside stands.

Then it was time to return home via O'Hare.

Now, I should stress I allow an extra hour for travel at this airport because it is so hopelessly inept.

At Terminal 2 airlines still can't take checked bags. They tag them and then hand them back to you. And you must then walk them to the various screener posts that occupy much of the renovated ticket lobby. OK it has been more than a decade since new screening rules went into effect. They've had more than enough time to fix that. 

Then I made my way to the TSA Tweezer / Bottled Water Interdiction Zone.

Once again TSA's "Pre" line was closed along with the first class lane / premium lanes. Of course there was no signage regarding the closures, just a portly TSA guy barking out "It Is Closed!" to anyone who made it within 10 feet of the lanes.

But from those very long TSA lines, we had a great view of the flight crews whizzing by us each wtih 3 bags and a liter of water. And, of course, no glass box jumping jacks for them! Airlines have amazing service models. They sell more product than they actually have and give their staff better treatment than their best customers.

But, I digress.

Anyway, I still had some time on my hands and walked around a bit.

And as I strolled it occurred to me how horrible O'Hare's T-2 and T-3 have become.

Exhibit A:
Departure lounges are always filthy and so small that passengers frequently just sit on the floor.

Exhibit B:
Almost no power outlets for passengers. 

Exhibit C:
Hello! Even LAX now offers free internet! But O"Hare still requires passengers to purchase Boingo.

Exhibit D:
O'Hare has almost no good food choices (even my fall-back Quizno's is now gone). There is a tiny and always overcrowded Chili's, a oh-so-greasy Johnny Rockets and a McDonalds peddling $6 Big Macs (just the sandwich).

Seriously, the best food opton continues to be the popcorn stand.....

I give them a point for installing new chilled water bottle fillers.

Now, if we could just figure out that most vexing of O'Hare mystery's.....

Who got paid off to make them use those stooooopid electrically operated toilet seat condoms?

Those creep me out.

Roadboy's Travels © 2013

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Summing It Up

Thoughts Flying Home

Well we are back in the US. The US Airways Envoy flight from Madrid was very nice. I viewed a couple of movies, slept a little and had excellent meals.

While flying I had to return to the reality of carefully adding up all those little receipts and filling in our US Customs declaration form. 

Trip Statistics:
17 Days
4 Country’s
5 Languages
8 Airline Flights
2 Rail Journeys
1 Funicular Railway 
1 Cable Car Tramway
1 Bike Tour
5 Hotels
4 Royal Palaces
2 Soccer Stadiums
264,000 Hilton Points
150,000 Marriott Points
285,000 US Airways Points

So, statistics aside what was the trip really about?

Well I know it will probably prove to be one of my last opportunities to travel with both of my (now adult) children.

I pushed in the clutch on them. I left them both spinning in their tracks for a moment as they anxiously chart their individual futures. 

Futures that will feature less and less time with dad.

This trip was simply a way to force us to take some time to focus on each other.

But, tomorrow we’ll settle into the remaining weeks of our respective year and be reunited with our (frequently) adorable pets. Saturday will include a haircut and washing 3 dust storms off of my cars. Sunday will begin with the 10 am church service. Hopefully it will be followed by brunch with my extended family from church.

Monday I’ll get right back on a plane for DC. 

So, what did I learn?

I am even more in awe of my kids. They are so full of dreams, energy and reckless confusion. They are dealing with the reality of their immediate futures. There is no failure to launch with these two.

It made me remember how anxious I was in my twenties. So far they are doing it better than me (I had developed an ulcer at 24).

Ms. M. is actively planning a six month relocation to England starting next spring. Mr. B is happy to be out of college, setting up his own house and is busy putting his cards on the table to see which to draw from first.

I cringe when thinking about where we will all be this time next year. 

So I strong armed a trip. I made us come together in the little window of time where I still could.

What did it deliver?

Lots of photos to cherish, tons of little maps, another years supply of shampoo and a ton of subway rides. There was lots of little tubs of gelato, a 22nd birthday for Mr. B, some schnitzel and a variety of pilsner beer.

There were very hot days, frayed nerves and miles of walking.

But everything now is all swizzled up into what will simply become….

fond memories.

Roadboy’s Travels © 2013

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Regal Madrid

A Visit to Santiago Bernabeu

Day One Madrid:

OK lets get one thing out of the way. I love Madrid. I love it's people, it's museum's, everything. So I'm kind of jaded.

Ok so to the blog post.....Traveling with Mr. B resulted in our visit to FC Barcelona's Camp Nou. Hence, with our arrival in Madrid it only seemed logical to visit the home of Madrid's amazing Real Madrid soccer club.

So after a little R&R at the hotel's very nice Executive Lounge we saddled up the great Madrid Metro and made our way to the home of the Real (Royal) Madrid Soccer Club located in its amazing Estadio (Stadium) Santiago Bernabeu. 

Much like the visit to Barcelona's Camp Nou, the visit to Real Madrid was especially enlightening for me (Mr. No Sports gene). This is the only soccer team in the world to recieve FIFA's Century Award (Best Soccer Club of the Century). This team is a very real part of the heart and soul of Madrid.

FIFA Century Award

The tour walks you through the entire stadium top to bottom including team dressing rooms and presents the club history in splendid multi-media museum spaces complete with 100 plus years of  trophies and memorabilia.

Team Roadboy at Santiago Bernabeu
(This Stadium Seats 80,000 Fans all Afforded Perfect Sight Lines)

Madrid is suffering from horrific economic conditions presently, yet its soccer teams offer a source of pride.

Little Madridista's 

Day Two:
The highlight of our second day was a follow-up visit to Madrid's Exquisite Palacio Real. This is my second visit and it was still awe inspiring.

The Palacio Real 
Viewed from the Plaza Oriente
(The Bronze Horse With King Philip IV was Engineered by Galileo) 

From last years post readers may remember the mystery of the corpse on display in the glass coffin in the Royal chapel. You can't miss it since they've even moved the thrones to make it clearly visible. On my last visit we asked them in the library and they simply smiled. So when I could I kept trying to find out something and Nada. I had a friend tell me it was the corpse of a saint and was a gift from a pope. I was also informed by one reader that one of the kings slept with it. Now, I'm gonna assume they meant in the same room, hopefully not the same bed!

So this trip I bought the audio tour figuring they could not possibly gloss over a corpse under glass.  Well the audio tour discusses everything down to the drapes, yet it made zero mention of the mystery corpse. So who is the dude under glass sarcophagus in the Royal Chapel?

Well this trip I just camped in museum store reading every english language book about the palace. And in one a very small aside is made to the wax covered skeletal remains in the Chapel. It was indeed the pontifical gift of the bones of (one of the) St. Felix's (there are more than one).

From there we walked to the lovely Mercado de San Miguel for some beer and tapas. And a bit of drool time at all the lovely food available.

The Mercado de San Miguel

From there we breezed through the Plaza Major and the Puerta De Sol. The huge (and uber cool) Tio Pepe sign is still under wraps a year later......Bummer!

We returned to the hotel early enough for a swim and finally knocked down Mr. B's bottle of birthday prosecco (from Vienna) to commemorate the trip.

On to packing for tomorrow's long journey home.

Roadboy's Travels © 2013 

The Other Berlin

The New East Berlin

Day Three: Alternative Berlin

In 1989 the Berlin Wall was finally demolished and a whole generation of its victims left their grey dilapidated world behind. The pressures from free enterprise also toppled what was left of East Berlin's feeble industry as well.

This left much of the real estate in East Berlin largely abandoned, posing a dilemma since most of the real estate in East Berlin was owned by the defunct GDR government. With limited ability to discern the pre-war trail of ownership, much of East Berlin became subject to adverse possession and homesteading. Even today many tracts of increasingly valuable land remain highly contested.

Still Abandoned Real Estate in East Berlin

The now barren Berlin Wall kill zone started becoming conscripted as impromptu parks, squatter encampments and alternative night clubs.

The Wall's Location is Traced in Brick Throughout Berlin

A Turkish Immigrant's Dream Treehouse Still Exists
(Built in Ambiguous Leftover Space)   

Suddenly East Berlin had a rapidly growing population of young adults from West Berlin who left their parents homes creating lofts and studio spaces. They were quickly joined by worldwide expat artists plus many of the Turkish immigrants who were arriving in Berlin.

A Nightclub - The Magdalena
Cobbled Together From Leftover Spaces 
(The Portrait Beyond Was Commissioned by Levi-Strauss)

Twenty-four years later few will dispute that East Berlin is what is happening in the Berlin of today.

In order to make sense of it all we took one of Berlin's famous artist led "Alt Tours". These are free 3-hour walking tours that explore and explain the transforming of East Berlin and its evolving art scene. Our guide, an Irish expat artist named Alana, walked us through East Berlin providing her unique artists perspective.

A Monster From the Monsterkabinett

We began in the former factory of Otto Weidt. Today part of the former Weidt factory is a museum to celebrate Mr. Weidt's courage and resistance efforts during the WWII. The balance is now rotating studio space for artists from all over the world.

The artists now create art in the factory where Mr. Weidt employed deaf and blind people (many who were Jewish) making brushes. Once he realized the emerging Nazi's were rounding up and killing the disabled he redoubled his personal efforts to protect his beloved staff.

He continued using his factory throughout the war as a place of concealment for whole families Anne Frank fashion. He even journeyed to a death camp presenting fake papers to successfully save the daughter of one of the families he was concealing.

Today, one group of artist groups (the Monsterkabinett) uses the factory basement to create and display their moving sculptures. Other indoor and outdoor studios display constantly changing art including some interesting graffiti and "street" art.

Examples of Rotating Wall Art From The Weidt Factory Studios

We then travelled to the old East Berlin Post Office were the STASI Ministry employed staff to open and read everyone's mail. It is estimated that at the height of the STASI's power 1 in 8 East Berliner's were serving as STASI informants.

Giant Mural of Post Office Workers
(An Unauthorized Tribute to Berliner's Forced into Jobs They Despised)  

Nearby was the East Wall Gallery. This is actually the largest section of the Berlin Wall left. It is now an outdoor gallery where artists are commissioned to create street art.

A Giant Rodent

Between the East Wall Gallery and the river is YAAM (the Young African Art Market). It is actually a huge sandy (yes real sand) riverfront Afro-Caribbean beach club. YAAM features art, skateboarding, volleyball, basketball, Caribbean food, bars, and at night a reggae nightclub. It is truly a mash-up experience that can only be found in East Berlin.

Some of the Artwork in YAAM

We finished in the Kreuzberg neighborhood viewing its giant "Spaceman" artwork. While there we were the recipients of loud and extended obscenities hurled at us by Turks in passing cars.

Kreuzeberg is home of Berlin's Green party. It rapidly became clear that the immigrant population and artist population are dealing with the full-on pressures of gentrification and change.

Kreuzeberg's Spaceman

We ended the day at Berlin's amazing Ka De We Department Store near our hotel. We mainly perused its legendary gourmet floor. (IMHO) it handily beats Harrods in quality and selection. We also visited its rooftop winter garden to indulge in amazing deserts.

Rooftop Ka De Wa Restaurant

Then it was time to crash. We were scheduled for a very early morning flight to Madrid!

Roadboy's Travels © 2013

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Roadboy in Berlin

Nothing Prepares You For Berlin

I booked an evening AIr Berlin flight from Vienna to Berlin. I figured we'd get the most out of our last day in Vienna before our departure.

But a little rain and a "Minor" mechanical issue delayed our flight to the point where we could no longer land in  close-in Tegel airport. 

So we landed at the much more distant Schonefeld Airport and Air Berlin arranged for buses to take us to Berlin's main train station. What a drive. With no autobahn in sight we drove the  23 km turning right, then left, then stopping for ambulances, then right, then left, all on narrow city streets teaming with highly inebriated Berliners at 2 am on a Friday night. Every block had a variety of "automated casino" pubs and kebab shops. Berliner's do love their doner kebaps and currywurst (I'm not going anywhere near that crap).

From the Hauptbahnof station we taxied to the Hotel Berlin. And despite it being a huge hotel, we were clearly the last travelers to check in because our arrival was met by a wry smile and personalized greeting from the desk clerk.

We hit the sack by about 3 am groaning in the knowledge that we had to get up for a 4.5 hour bike tour the next morning.

Day One: Berlin from a fat tire cruiser bike. 

The meeting place for the bike tour was the base of East Berlin's mondo ugly TV tower. The tower was built to demonstrate the technical prowess of East Germany during the cold war. Except they could not figure out how to do it. So they quietly hired Swede's to engineer and build it. It is still the tallest structure in Germany. It is referred to as the "Popes Revenge" since the sun hitting it casts a bright cross shaped reflection. 

The Berlin Tower

The bike tour took us on a comprehensive first pass of Berlin. What a complex city. Once the fourth largest city in Europe, it has been virtually destroyed and completely rebuilt in one lifetime. It is a city that embraced diversity and artistic expression and then systematically destroyed both in the most diabolical and hideous methods it could conceive. 

Now it fully embraces diversity again. Its population is young, highly expat, heavily gay and restless. There is a palpable "on edge" feeling. Klaus Wowereit Berlin's openly gay mayor since 2001 refers to the city as "arm, aber sexy" (poor, but sexy). I find it hard to square that this underemployed, relatively poor city has once again assumed the role of capital of a country that calibrates every screw turn on their meticulous automobiles.

But, the bike trip turned out to be a very relaxing way to get our bearings. Our British guide Tomas was blunt. He described the burning of the Reichstag and the methodical rise of the Nazi regime. 

At The Reichstag 
(With Its New Glass Dome) 

We saw where they burned the books. We visited the parking lot with its unmarked concrete slab that is actually the roof of the bunker where Hitler and his bride committed suicide.

We then pedaled to Eisenmann's disturbing, yet powerful, Jewish Holocaust Memorial. A city block of square grey concrete boxes that are all differing heights and listing at different angles. Immediately when you walk into it it becomes a maze. Families routinely get separated once they enter, just seeing glimpses of each other now and then. The symbolism of separation is evocative. 

The Holocaust Memorial 

We rode to Checkpoint Charlie and the last preserved portion of the Berlin Wall, including one of the last sniper towers that lined the wall.

A Berlin Wall Sniper Tower

We even started to notice that nearly every building and concrete fence from that era still show bullet holes from the final siege of Berlin.

It was a lot to take in. 

Lunch was traditional beer garden fare, dinner was a big wonderful Persian dinner.

Day Two: The German History Museum

We began our day at Noah’s on the Wittenberg Platz for Sunday Breakfast. We now know summer is chantrelle season in Berlin! Works for me, they are my favorite mushrooms. I appreciate how they generously include them in all sorts of dishes. With a good start we set out for a day’s visit to the wonderful Pottsdamer Platz and it's dazzling Sony Complex.

The place was full of people out for brunch, coffee or a beer (they start drinking beer right after brushing their teeth here).

The street in front contains Germany's walk of stars. Except their stars may be seen using special viewing scopes that create holographic images of the stars themselves standing directly on their star. Very cool! 

The "Star" Viewer Scopes

 Lilly Marlene On Her Star

I admit weeping inside a little when my kids admitted being clueless as to who Marlene Dietrich or Billy Wilder were.

From there it was on the German History Museum. I found the museum's original section very well presented. The newer section is designed to house special exhibits. It is not one of I.M. Pei's better moments. A modern little jumble of stone and geometry, clearly recycling details from the East Wing of the Smithsonian. It demonstrates no respect for the original museum. He did include his trademark horrible bathrooms (joined here by a single completely unusable drinking fountain). 

The Museum currently has a tour-de-force temporary exhibit detailing Hitler's methodical genocide on the mentally Ill, children born with retardation and / or (what he viewed as) defects, the gays and jews. The realization that the murders of the mentally ill and children along with forced sterilizations had begun well before, and were taking place all through, the 1936 Olympic games was chilling.

Back in our hotel room that night we heard Russia's own psycho Putin announce a new program of active persecution for its gays. There were also announcements that Russia will actively prosecute anyone (including Olympian's) exhibiting gay behavior during the upcoming Russian Olympics. Forgetting history dooms us to repeat it.

Dinner was an all-you-can eat sushi and teppanyaki restaurant Mr. B and I found the night before.

Sitting around us at dinner and walking earlier that night we could see Berlin's amazing Turkish population. We also saw many bi-racial couples and same sex couples walking hand-in-hand.

It occurred to me that the very city that a psychopath, and his willing workers endeavored so hard to genetically recompose, has gone on, in one generation, to become perhaps the world's premier example of what he feared. 

And for that, Berlin, you have my utmost and profound respect!

Tomorrow is our Alt Berlin walking tour. That should be pretty enlightening.

Equal parts amazing and scary. 


Raodboy's Travels © 2013

Friday, August 9, 2013

Last Days in Vienna

I'll Be Returning Here

I have really enjoyed this city. People are active and sociable. They eat well. The public transport system is wonderful. 

Our last two days included a long walk around the Schottenring (the big ring road that forms a necklace of fine government and cultural buildings just outside the history rich core. We walked it one day and took trams the next.

We also squeezed in a trip (a sentimental one for me) to Vienna's ancient Prater amusement park (the one in those chilling scenes in Orson Welles' The Third Man).

Der Wiener Riesanrad
(Vienna's Giant Ferris Wheel Spinning Since 1897)

Another last minute trip was to walk the gardens of the upper and lower High Baroque Schloss Belvedere.

The Belvedere Gardens

St. Stephens

I needed to make a daytime visit to St. Stephens since our night visit confirmed they don't consume much electricity illuminating the interior at night.

A Very Cool Capstone

City Hall Hosts a Summer Long Film Festival

Vienna is a city consumed by culture. City Hall hosts an outdoor film festival that lasts the entire summer.

I'm posting this at the airport waiting for our flight to Berlin. It is supposed to be 75° in Berlin. I am soooo excited to see anything this side of 90°.

You can only sweat through so many cotton "T"s before you admit "geez I'm tired of this"  :-)

Roadboy's Travels © 2013

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Vienna Days One and Two

A Total Delight

I am not exactly sure where I came across a blog post describing Vienna as "having become dirty and far too expensive". The gist was skip Vienna and go to Prague or Budapest instead.

Well I had already booked our trip and remembering how much I loved Vienna 40 years ago, I allowed about 4 days in Vienna. But I'll admit after reading some blog posts I was having some remorse.

After our horrible train trip we needed to shower and take a nap. The temps hovered around 100° so we waited till early evening to venture out for a first walk in the historic center of the city.

What a joy! 

The Vienna we found was simply lovely, rich in history, relatively uncrowded and immaculate. It is filled with lovingly maintained architecture and laced with wide boulevards shaded by trees with space for both pedestrians and bicycles.

This is a city where its subway (the U-Bahn) and bus systems work just fine completely on the honor system.

And everywhere you go there is street food! In Phoenix we love our 24 hour taco shops, in Vienna they have 24 hour walk-up wurst and beer booths. 

All in all I fell head over heels in love with Vienna once again.

The Nationalbibliothek (Library)
On the Left is the Home of the Spanish Riding School 
Featuring the Royal Lizzaner Stallions 
Saved From Extinction by General George Patton 

During our first outing we window shopped and can confirm that every overpriced designer boutique is represented.

Serious Window Shopping 

St. Stephens marked the mid-point of our walk. Wow. What an amazing church with its soaring bell tower and mosaic roof. 

We stopped for gelato at the tiny Greisslers shop (look for the block long line) and went on to grab  a casual dinner (a big greasy and uber delicious wok full of shrimp and noodles from a walk-up Lucky Noodle stand).

Then it was back home for some shut eye.

Day Two:
In the morning we decided to visit make a visit to the oldest zoo in Europe; the Tiergarten. The zoo, considered to be one of the best in Europe, was originally part of the grounds of the Schonbrunn Palace.

The grounds of the palace are simply breathtaking. I loved the "Palm House" which was being refurbished.

The Schonbrunn Palm House

The zoo collection is very comprehensive and does include giant pandas which were the high point of the day for me.

Feeding Time

The whole original zoo was laid out on a radial plan with a huge dining pavilion in the middle. Now of course the zoo has been transformed into a moder zooligical gardens with naturalized settings. It is one of the premier facilities for the preservation and breeding of certain endangered species as well.

Once we finished visiting the zoo we traversed the unbelievably beautifully manicured wide gravel paths leading throughout the Palace grounds. Amongst the grounds are fountains, stauary, special collections of plants (even a hot house for desert plants!) There is a museum housing the royal coaches, and a hedge labyrinth (no can do after The Shining....)

Mr. B and Ms. M
Schonbrunn (Fair Spring) Palace

Although initially a series of hunting estates and deer parks, the extensive 1441 room palace we see today was commissioned by Leopold I in 1693. By 1700 Schonnbrun's central section was complete. The design of the wings evolved and construction started and stopped for various wars. The responsibility of the development of the palace just passed from generation to generation. Development continued until the completion of the grounds and the hilltop Gloriette in 1775.

Directly Opposite the Palace is the Schonnbrun Gloriette
Destroyed in WWII The Original Dates Back to 1775

It was a great day of sightseeing. But it was pretty darned hot. So we returned to our hotel and took siestas. Then when the sun was down we ventured back out to get a Birthday dinner of schnitzel and beer for Mr. B. What we found was a city that had come alive in families out pushing strollers and walking their dogs. Street musicians were out and restaurants all featured outdoor dining.

Vienna at night is truly wonderful!

On our walk back to the hotel we passed the unique 1911 circa Ankeruhr clock at the Hoher Markt. Colorful and animated with life size figures this clock survived world wars.

The Ankeruhr Clock
At Hoher Markt
When we return to the hotel they had left a sacher torte birthday cake and bottle of Prosecco in Mr. B's room. Very Cool!

Roadboy's Travels © 2013