blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Monday, November 5, 2018

What else?

This post is being written so that I can keep track of what I've been up to since our flying trip to the Gaspésie at the beginning of September.

Also in September, I went to the sad but inspiring funeral for Jean-Christophe Terrillon, a scientist-philosopher whose mother is a member of our German conversation group; she had asked some of us to be there. Her son had died of cancer in his 50s. During the service, Louise gave a moving and impressive eulogy for him quoting many of his own words.

On the weekend of the Ottawa tornado, feeling lucky to have escaped the devastation and the extensive power cuts, we had three unusual cultural experiences. Chris and I watched a series of experimental, short films at the Goethe Institut that night, which left us mostly baffled, I spent the following afternoon with Elva, touring local artists' studios, some of their work decidedly esoteric too, then after supper Chris and I attended an evening event where extracts from Banned Books were read aloud, entitled Persisting Beyond Margins, our author-friends Nicola Vulpe and Mark Frutkin being two of the readers. We won one of Nicola's books in the silent auction and the last of the readings (by Henry Beissel) led me to buy a copy of Margaret Laurence's The Diviners which I hadn't read before, a great discovery for me.

At the flying club on Sept. 29th, Chris participated in the precision landing / flour bombing runs again, taking his colleague Tina's teenage children along for the ride.

1st Oct. I went to a CFUW lecture to learn about fraudsters and computer or telephone scams, which came in useful when someone tried to phish from me very early in the morning, the other day, by means of a fraudulent phone call.

Then there were our routine visits to the doctor's, dentist's, optometrist's, to get blood tests and flu shots: none of the above anything to worry about, but they all take time. My swims at the Chateau keep me fit and Chris has managed a few personal bests for his runs on the treadmill at the gym. The car needed cleaning, maintenance checks and a tyre change, more time consumed. We do our best to keep going for walks or bike rides through the parks and woodland for sanity.

Then there's the journey planning. We're setting off on another business trip at the end of this month, first to Switzerland, then through southern Germany, before coming home to Canada via England and Wales: 20 nights away. Before booking the flights and necessary hotels (not quite done yet) I also helped Chris plan for an unexpected extra 3-day / 4-night visit to Germany last month. He was invited to give a guest lecture at the Kulturbetrieb Wagenhallen in Stuttgart for a conference on Challenges in the Development of Autonomous Driving Systems, on Oct 22nd and 23rd.

During Chris' absence I had a chatty lunch with my Scottish friend Liz, therapeutic for us both. I also spent an evening at the cinema watching a disturbingly well acted film about a fictional Nobel Prizewinner and his long-suffering, frustrated spouse ---The Wife---and another evening at the NAC theatre, watching a less successful show, Silence, a play about Alexander Graham Bell's wife. The latter was cleverly written, but fell flat, somehow; I'm not sure why. I wasn't alone in thinking so. The audience's applause at the end of the performance I saw was more dutiful than sympathetic, without the customary standing ovation.

I've been busy with voluntary work tidying up Chris' next conference paper in German, helping Emma with her bid for a major European metrology project, advising George on how to improve his manual for post-grads on How To Write Papers, and correcting all the articles, notices and photo captions for this season's editions of CFUW-Ottawa's newsletter, the Capital Carillon, for which I'm now the official editor.

So far this season, the German conversation group, whose meetings I still organise too, has been reading about young children starting school in Germany (carrying their paper cones full of treats), about an Islander aircraft that lands regularly on the sand-dune island of Wangerooge, about the history of Meissener porcelain, about Goethe's colour theory, and about the use of blue light as a suicide preventative in Japan! Last week we discussed a German immigrant colony in Venezuela, the Colonia Tovar. The group rehearsed our favourite Oktoberfest songs again, performing them at a Diplomatic Hospitality lunch in town at the 3 Brewers pub, for which some of us dressed up in Dirndls or similar, with me at the microphone for a few minutes. Around 50 people were at this event. This week our conversation group is going to talk about community service by African students in Germany, an initiative of the DAAD. I love doing the research for all these different topics.

Last Friday we held another philosophy evening for seven people discussing what Truth might be. We got nowhere, really, but I'm now reading Bertrand Russell's book An Enquiry into Meaning and Truth, first published in 1940.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Catching up?

It has been a while since I wrote a blogpost. For the next day or two I might have the chance to catch up a little; there are not so many distractions here. I have been too preoccupied with being a volunteer editor and travel agent recently. More on that later, perhaps.

We flew from Rockcliffe to Toronto this morning, or, more precisely, to Buttonville airport (CYKZ) in the north eastern part of the metropolis, in exactly 2.0 hours. Chris is assigned to give a three day training course on a nearby company's premises in this area and we're staying at the Sheraton Parkway Toronto North Hotel and Suites (sic) "on the 7" (one of the main roads) less than a kilometre's walk from his place of work. Not the most beautiful of locations, but still.

Conditions for the journey were excellent, a cold but not too cold November morning with clear air and no turbulence, until we suddenly hit what must have been wind-shear on our descent through 4000 ft ASL, close to the destination, bouncing us momentarily out of our seats. However, the first hour of the flight was slightly worrying, since Mode C of the transponder didn't seem to be working, ATC telling us we were at 16,000 ft up "and climbing" when we were nowhere near! PTN can't manage that altitude at the best of times. The problem probably had some connection with the soaking the interior of the plane has had, during recent heavy rain. She leaks! Water had dripped in around the windshield and had drenched all of the carpet on my side, and two of our three headphones. Fortunately Chris' headset was not affected and mine still worked. I imagined my seat cushion was damp too, which I didn't want on a two hour flight, so I took a plastic shopping bag to wrap the cushion in, and sat on that. The water had doubtless penetrated the wiring inside the box where the transponder goes, as well. Two of the indicators on the cockpit display were fogging up from within, to start with, so Chris gave us full cabin heat throughout the journey "to dry things up", and we sweltered. The fog on the inside of the glass gradually cleared and somewhere over the wilds near Peterborough, according to Toronto Centre our Mode C transponder setting suddenly began to give the correct readings. Phew. Without it, we probably would not have been allowed to penetrate Toronto airspace, and would have had to land at some en route airport and rent a car for the rest of the journey. Toronto Terminal finally handed us off to Buttonville Tower and we did a visual approach, joining the base leg for an approach to Runway 15, which had a road running along, full of traffic, just before the threshold.

Bon Echo cliffs
During that approach we (or I, because Chris never lets himself be distracted during landing sequences) had a dramatic view of the distant Toronto skyscrapers silhouetted against a bright sky on the horizon, and the views on the way had been spectacular too, especially near to and over the Bon Echo Provincial Park, with its blue lake and high, vertical cliffs. I was experimenting with the camera on my new smart phone, a Blackberry Key 2 LE. There's still some colour in the forest trees, not as much as there was last month. The cottage country around the Kawartha Lakes looked inviting too. We stayed at a cottage down there once, with Yiwen and Pete, eating lots of corn cobs and lying in their hammock.


On the ground at Buttonville we made for the Million-Air FBO that had been recommended to us, and which indeed gave us a good welcome, with a free ride to our nearby hotel in one of their posh, new crew cars. Arriving at the hotel in a Mercedes labelled Million-Air must ensure one of a good reception, Chris joked, and indeed we are in a Club Suite here, with a jacuzzi bath and numerous pillows. I reckon Chris is entitled to such luxuries. The other week he logged 55 hours' work-time, which averages 11 hours a day.

We spent the afternoon walking round the immediate area which is almost entirely Chinese, to judge by the Hanzi (Chinese characters) written on almost every building. There seems to be an unjustifiably large proportion of restaurants, the other commercial places being banks or beauty salons. Otherwise offices. We did walk along a residential street by a pond, the houses large and expensive looking. Hardly any pedestrians, perhaps because a bitter wind is blowing today, but probably because they all prefer to use their cars anyhow. The busses have a dedicated 2-lane, 2-directional road in the middle of the main road where the other traffic is. To reach a bus stop, it's essential to cross only at a pedestrian crossing. We had lunch at the Tim Horton's next to the hotel and supper at an elegant Indian restaurant, where the food was really tasty, called Adrak. They wouldn't allow us to leave a tip but asked that we recommend them online, so that's what I'm doing here. They gave us a magic hot towel at the end of the meal, that expanded when warm water was poured on it. I was just in time to stop Chris eating it; he thought it was a marshmallow.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

In Gaspé

In the spring of 1534, Jacques Cartier set sail from France (St. Malo), reaching Newfoundland 20 days later. He and his crew, in two ships, explored the coast of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Baie des Chaleurs. Attempting to sail around the Gaspé peninsula they got caught in a storm and took shelter in the Baie de Gaspé for the next 11 days, meeting a party of Iroquois fishermen. On July 24th, thankful for their deliverance, the French explorers erected a cross on dry land in what is now Gaspé, claiming this land for the King of France. Thus began the establishment of French Canada.

Nowadays, a stone cross stands on the waterfront commemorating Cartier's arrival here, part of a historic reconstruction by the water, where the wharves used to be. On Sunday, local people were dancing to recorded music on the promenade here, all in step with one another; they had obviously done this before! Further to the right is the site of the old naval base, also interesting. Many ships were moored here during the two World Wars, and German submarines penetrated the area during the Battle of the St. Lawrence, 1942-44.

Across the road from this site is a Jacques Cartier shopping mall, a supermarket and a colourful cluster of buildings on the Rue de la Reine, in Gaspé, named thus after a visit from the Queen in 1959. The Rue Jacques Cartier, parallel to this a little further up the hill, is less touristy, festooned with electric cables.

The hotel (motel) where we stayed was up a steep hill from the Rue de la Reine. Its main building, built in 1842, used to be a family home belonging to the Carter family. Alfred Theodore Carter, who added the little towers, lived here all his life, becoming the American Vice-consul, Captain of the local militia, JP, President of the first Chamber of Commerce, mayor of Gaspé, etc. It was his daughter and son-in-law who had turned the place into a lodging for tourists. From the row of Muskoka chairs in position outside the Motel Plante, you can look down on the Café des Artistes with its orange siding, near the bridge. At one time, this building had been a general store, and had even served as Gaspé's town hall for a while.

Across the bridge is the marina where ocean-going yachts, some with two masts and serious looking equipment, were moored. Coaches from the former VIA-Rail train stood on a track that no longer runs to and from Gaspé. When we last visited this place, VIA still had a station in operation there, but apparently the tracks got damaged and are no longer considered repairable. In its place is a newly (2012) constructed Information Centre, with a birch-bark Micmac shelter on display inside, fox and beaver furs hanging in it, a Micmac drum tambourine decorating the doorway. The Micmacs are the local first nation. A cruise ship lay at anchor in the bay on Sunday morning and small boat loads of cruise ship passengers came ashore one by one, disembarking near the Info Centre, so that they could walk around on the mainland and visit the museum up the hill. They were all away again by early afternoon.

Mary Bolduc with her band, in 1928
A boardwalk takes you from the town to the new Musée de la Gaspésie along the water's edge, with informative historic plaques all the way along. We watched the seagulls swooping for fish out in the bay and a heron, too inhibited to fish while we were watching, in the shallows. The museum building perches on a rocky headland. By the entrance to the museum is a former fishing schooner, La Gaspesienne. With your ticket to the exhibitions, you are given a virtual reality headset and earphones, and when you put them on, you get a 360⁰ 3D view and can imagine being out at sea on the boat, in the 1960s, with the men who worked on board. Dried cod on display at the museum still had a distinctive smell! When we visited, the temporary exhibition about a famous Gaspésienne, a singer of local music, Mme Bolduc, filled two galleries. Another person with a claim to fame in Gaspé was this French aviator, Jacques de Lesseps, who surveyed the area from his plane but died in a crash in 1927. There was more about him on display at reconstructed naval base by the water's edge.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Back to Gaspé after 13 years

This afternoon we landed at Gaspé. It is hard to believe, but the last time we spent a night here (at the other motel) was in 2005, on our way to visit Halifax. Not much has changed since then, although Jacques Cartier's memorial cross has been moved down, to the new waterside cultural interpretation area, and the cost of accommodation in the town has gone up. We are paying $149 for tonight's sleep at the Hotel Plante; admittedly, it is a palatially large room, a "suite" no less, with two desks, a bathtub, and a panoramic view of the wide, blue bay; this is because, when I made the booking from Mont Joli airport this morning, all the cheaper rooms had been taken.

We came to Gaspé today because our first choice of destination, Bonaventure, also had fully booked hotels. It is just as well. Had we flown there from Mont Joli, we would have encountered problems at altitude, because clouds were building over the Chic Choc mountains and those clouds would have put ice on the wings. The freezing level was as low as 5000 feet.

I was anticipating a turbulent flight all the way in the strong wind, but to my delight the only turbulence came in the final 20 minutes of our 1.7 hours of airtime, when we headed away from the coast direct to Gaspé airport over the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula. The rest of the way, following the spectacular coastline northeast from Mont-Joli, over Matane, Ste-Anne-des-Monts and beyond, was in fast flowing but smooth air above and below stretches of thin, white or pale grey stratus or white cumulostratus, with the Gulf of the St. Lawrence widening to our left, large ships on it, and the forested hills getting steeper and steeper and more and more covered with wind turbines, facing into the northwest wind, to our right. Some of these appeared to be glaciated valleys with silvery rivers winding through them.

On our descent, the winds became very gusty, reported as gusting to 22 knots at the surface, and at right-angles to our runway too, more or less. Chris seemed to rely on his experience, making the requisite adjustments on the rudder pedal automatically, so he tells me, when a particularly strong gust (or wind shear?) tipped us sideways at only about 100 ft from the ground. He corrected our angle of attack and did an excellent landing on the centre line, although the oleo juddered like mad as we rolled to a halt. Pulling onto the apron and climbing out near the fuel tanks we were asked to move PTN elsewhere quickly, because a Jazz plane, a Dash 8 turboprop, was about to land too and would need fuelling first, with passengers waiting to board. Chris observed its landing and saw that that one too was affected by the turbulence.

The views we had during our approach to Gaspé were worth any amount of fear (on my part): so beautiful were the cloud shadows on the hills, with such clarity and blueness of sky and water in the two bays.

I'd hoped to find a car rental at the airport. There were two rental desks but both were closed, so we had to wait half an hour for a taxi into town instead. To my delight the Café des Artistes near the two motels is still in business and is still well worth the visit, being packed full of quirky sculptures, hanging stained glass artworks, and with original paintings, by different artists, all over the walls. The café displays a menu des artistes as well as a food menu there. The waiters, waitresses and clientele, even, all seem to be romantically inclined people: typically being young, long haired, unconventionally dressed. The table tops are mosaics, featuring ducks. The wifi password is artistes.

I omitted to mention, above, that we had made the acquaintance of an interesting gentleman during breakfast at our Auberge in Ste.-Flavie, called Tim Cole, from British Columbia. He too flies a Cessna 172 (his was parked next to ours up the hill), but had also flown larger aircraft professionally, chairs the western branch of COPA and knows many famous members of the Canadian aviation community including Chris' friend Kathy Fox. Like all these people, he has a wealth of stories to tell.

For the rest of this afternoon we walked through the town, aka the Berceau du Canada, Birthplace of Canada (because of Jacques Cartier, the first French explorer of the New World, landing here and laying claim to the land in 1534), getting our bearings, finding the Musée de Gaspé on the hill, the boardwalk along the shore and by the river and the Information Centre across the bridge where the VIA-Rail station used to be situated, but was closed five years ago, due to an un-maintainable railway line. The new centre is an attractively modern, wood and glass building, with a birch-bark teepee inside---Do Not Touch---displaying a wolf and a beever pelt, reminding visitors of Gaspé's Micmac (Mi'kmaq) heritage. Tomorrow we might see some latter day Micmac people arriving by boat to put on a show at the docks, if I understood the lady at the information desk correctly. The marina is there too, only one yacht on the water this evening. The sky has become very clear during the last few hours. The sun sets 45 minutes earlier in Gaspé than in Ottawa, quite a noticeable difference!

Rockcliffe to Mont-Joli

I'd suffered a sleepless night and didn't feel well, but yesterday (Friday, 7th Sept) was determined we'd set off anyway. Chris did all the work. We were off the ground at 10:34 for our one-and-a-half flight to Trois-Rivieres, Chris exclaiming, "We're going on holiday!" as we rolled along the runway for take-off.

The Ottawa air controller was busy with other traffic, so it was hard to interrupt him with our request to get the IFR clearance for our flight-plan; eventually he allowed us to fly via the TAKOL and AGLUK waypoints, climbing to 7000 ft on our planned route. It was a beautiful morning with smooth air, great! A thin layer of cumulus between four- and five-thousand feet, that was all. Above that was some haze apparently (according to Serge at the Club who knows about these things) formed of particles of smoke from forest fires thousands of miles away to the west.

We know the route so well that on a fine day such as this we hardly needed the map, and landed (an easy visual landing) at Trois-Rivieres into quite a strong wind, parked on the apron and ordered lunch from Le Pilote, a procedure with which we're also familiar. Chris had a choice of routes from there onwards to Mont-Joli, and the controller gave him the second option to follow, direct PESAC, Victor 316, YQB, Victor 98 to Fleur, thence over YRI to EPMAL and finally YYY: a beautiful route following the southern bank of the St. Lawrence with the islands on our left. Towards the end of the journey we could hear the radio transmissions from pilots approaching the airport of Wabush---Waa-boosh the male pilot pronounced it. The female pilot, flying a passenger plane, "Provincial 921", sounded very competent and confident in her communications with Montreal Centre. She didn't seem at all fazed by the report of moderate to severe turbulence on the way down to Wabush and didn't mention it on her own descent. Our own approach (to Mont-Joli) was a "contact approach" with the circuit flown out to sea which gave me good photo opportunities.

We spent the night at the Gaspesiana motel, in the Auberge annex, where, after supper in the main part of the hotel, we spent 12 hours in bed. That cured me!


Monday, August 13, 2018

Another day in Vienna

This describes the Saturday we spent with Judith, my Viennese friend. (Photos to be added later.)

We arranged to meet at our hotel and did so. We had seen the nearby Naschmarkt before, but Judith took us there again, to start with, knowing (as we did not) that a flea market opens there on Saturdays. Judith discovered a coral pink vintage bead necklace of some value, haggling for it. Chris was taken with the antique postcards and old books for sale, but didn't buy any. These stalls were a collector's dream, with antique cameras for sale, toys, machinery parts, porcelain ornaments, glass vases, shaving brushes, musical instruments, hats, collectable dinnerware sets, old books, model cars, LPs, you name it. It was noisy and crowded and doubtless we could have spent hours here. Judith drew our attention to the Jugendstil facades of the buildings around the market square along the Linke- und Rechte Wienzeile, such as Otto Wagner's fin de siècle Majolikahaus with its colourfully patterned tiles between the windows. We learned a good deal about Wagner's architectural legacy:
For the [Viennese] transport system he designed the Stadtbahn pavilions, the stations, several bridges and the railings, all of which are still preserved in their original state.  (www.austria.info)
Judith pointed out several examples of these features during our tour of the city that day. Her area of professional expertise is the Gemeindebau: long term affordable community housing in Vienna, which, (like the creation of British council house estates, "homes for heroes") began shortly after the 1st World War and still continues, earning the admiration of the world and appreciation of the Viennese people. The entrances to apartment blocks erected after the 2nd World War are often decorated with concrete or terracotta reliefs from those days. (Made aware, we noticed more of these on the Sunday morning, after Judith had left us.) Residences near the Donaukanal are desirable and the right to live there can be transferred from one generation of a family to the next.

We took an U-Bahn train from Kettenbrückengasse across the Danube, to see the Hundertwasserhaus (finished in 1985) on the Löwengasse, which happened to be near the district where Judith grew up and went to school. Friedensreich Hundertwasser, aka Friedrich Stowasser, was an eccentric and prolific artist of the same ilk as Gaudi, in Barcelona. In a leaflet advertising the Hundertwasser cafe, the English translation reads:
This is the house where for the first time in history human beings and nature live together with equal rights [...] a place where millions of people from around the world become aware of their longing for a life in harmony with oneself and nature. From here they take new hope back to their homes in their countries.
A rather over-the-top claim perhaps, but the colourful buildings entwined with plants and with a waterfall cascading from the roof of one do leave a favourable impression! As a tourist, you are not allowed to enter these buildings because they are people's homes.

I was even more interested when Judith took us to the Real-Gymnasium on Kundmanngasse where she was educated; the Wittgensteins' residence (the original family house, or palace, was near the Karlskirche though) was visible from the classroom windows at the back, she told us; she also showed us the school's pillars and balcony outside her final classroom there. We had a Viennese lunch out of doors at the pub Zum Goldenen Löwen. Judith chose Kartoffelpuffer and I tried the Eiernockerl, tasty and satisfying. Then we hopped on a bus to the Rotundenbrücke over the Donaukanal, stood on that bridge and saw a jetboat (express catamaran) whooshing by on its way to Bratislava.

Later we took a ride on another boat down this canal from the docks, tickets for which had been booked before we left Ottawa, boarding at Schwedenplatz where Chris and I had stood the day before. There's another boat nearby, Vienna's Badeschiff, with an on board public swimming pool and "football cage" on the deck above. On our canal cruise, we noticed more of Otto Wagner's Jugendstil railings, bridges and original city railway. The colourfully painted waste incineration tower, the Fernwärmewerk building, overlooking the canal in Spittelau, was designed by Hundertwasser and so resembled the house we'd seen earlier.

Off the boat, with Judith to guide us, we strolled back into the old town, passing an old Jewish synagogue (the Stadttempel, inscribed in Hebrew characters) on the Seitenstettengasse, on the way to one of Vienna's old catholic churches, a not too lavishly decorated, narrow building above a pretty square, steps up to it, Maria am Gestade. The name means Mary-On-The-Shore because, originally, this mostly 14th and 15th century, Gothic building was closer to the river (which got diverted in the 16th century when the canal was made), a place of worship for sailors. This church was associated with a good man, the patron saint of Vienna, no less, Clement Maria Hofbauer, a baker who at the end of the 18th century became a hermit and then a Redemptorist priest, whom the authorities persecuted but whom his congregations loved, as did the poverty stricken people whom he fed.

The solemn atmosphere in this church made seemed to complement my other friend's (Barbara's) Lutheran protestant church in Luneburg, still fresh in my mind.

Then on the underground again back to the Karlsplatz district near our hotel, where we walked to the Dritte Mann Museum on Preßgasse (Chris' choice of museum but it fascinated all three of us). Judith had not visited this before but had seen the movie when young. We were the last visitors of the day and lucky to get in because it is only open on Saturdays. This was a marvellous museum, divided into three sections, each of which has its own tour guide who needs to let you in with a key. The first set of rooms was dedicated to the people concerned with the making of The Third Man, the actors (Orson Wells and Joseph Cotten had previously starred together in Citizen Kane), the director (Carol Reed) and of course, the famous author of the screenplay, Graham Greene. The film was a tremendous example of purposeful artistic co-operation, as was the museum, for that matter, its well over 2000 exhibits having been collected and put together by a team of only two people, Gerhard Strassgschwandtner and Karin Höfler ...
Alles aus einem Guss, kein Outsourcing, viel Herzblut. Das spurt man.
In the second section, we saw the original zither that  Anton Karas, the composer of the Harry Lime theme, had played. You can see cigarette burns on it, as he was a heavy smoker. This area also displayed an original Zeiss projector, made in 1938, such as was used when the film first appeared. The curator actually used it, lowering a heavy screen from the ceiling, to show us a clip from the end of the film—the chase into the sewers—so gripping that we were oblivious to the primitive technology while watching it. The third part of the exhibition dealt with Viennese history just before, during and after the war, when the city had become an occupied territory, divided into American, British, French and Soviet zones, only connected of course by those sewers that play such an important part in the plot of The Third Man. We were so absorbed by the exhibits here that, at closing time, we had to be asked to leave.

We ate a tasty supper at the Thai Kitchen on Schönbrunner Strasse before Judith said goodbye.

I ought to add that before leaving Vienna altogether, we spent some of the Sunday morning exploring the part of the city near the Hauptbahnhof. Before we caught our train to Bratislava, we took a walk around the 18th century Belvedere Palace, just a short walk from the station, where we left our luggage in a locker.

My friend Sue commented on a photo of the Belvedere Gardens, that I posted on Facebook:
Hitler had a bunker built here, right under this pond. It was completed in 1944, and was to be used in case Berlin fell. It was to be one of he possible structures of command for a government in exile. The central air raid police command post of Vienna moved in. The Belvedere became a military target and was bombed by the allies. By this time the paintings had long since gone. They were hidden in convents, and salt mines. After the war, the bunker was sealed up. I did not find this information while we visited the Belvedere. Instead it appeared in the book The Lady in Gold about the returning of Klimt's famous painting to its rightful Jewish owners. In the book there are photos of the bunker being built in 1943. Quite the story!
On our last walk in Vienna we passed the colourful row of houses on the Wiedner Gürtel, the ringroad near the station, one of which now belongs to Huawei. The creator of these facades, Marcus Geiger, chose colours that mimic Euro banknotes of different denominations.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

In Bratislava

Staying at the Mercure hotel near the station, we had a less than half hour walk to the centre of the city. The first time we did this walk, we paused at the Grassalkovich Palace (Grasalkovičov palác) gardens on Hodžovo Square, the palace, built in 1760, now the Slovak President's residence, being a place where Haydn once performed his music, and on the Michalska, the narrow street below the tower known as St. Michael's Gate, for a ginger and mint lemonade made from the raw ingredients, which was life-savingly refreshing. I shall remember this recipe. I had a slice of poppy-seed strudel with it. We walked along the Promenade on the Danube's northern banks that afternoon, difficult in the full heat of the day, but worthwhile. Many cruise ships, long boats, are moored there, disgorging crowds of tourists into Bratislava's streets and squares. On both sides of the river are artificial sandy "beaches" with deckchairs, a pleasant amenity for children and adults alike. We went as far as the Eurovea, a modern shopping mall exactly like shopping malls the world over, with American shops, just beyond the Stary Most (most means bridge, in this case for pedestrians and trams), buying a necessary bottle of water.

Slovak words I learned in Bratislava:
ulica = street
namestie = square
hlavne = central
hrad = castle
garáž = garage
stanica = station
Dunaj = Danube
pivo = beer
voda = water
Ďakujem (pronounced jackoo-yem) = thank you!

The following day, after walking to the castle on the hill, and then down into the city, we followed much the same route, but crossed the river too, staying a long while on the shady far side, me lying on a park bench under a beautiful lime tree, gazing up at the sky. We had to take things slowly in that heat. In the Hviezdoslavovo Square were rows of water features with chlorine scented fountains where I, like many other people, took off my shoes to let my feet soak in a cool bath. At the theatre end of the square as well as in the older, central square, the municipality has provided a water spraying arch that cools passers-by with a fine spray, a considerate gesture. Everybody made a beeline for this, the little children in particular. I watched two toddlers go through, of different nationalities. One little boy said "Voda!" and the other one said "Kalt!" In the evening a group of young Japanese girls in school uniform went discovered the spray and didn't want to leave it.

I mentioned Bratislava's castle, above. The Slovak Parliament is adjacent to it. The history of the castle (and country itself) is terribly complex. We did some internet research, but are not much the wiser. The overwhelming point seems to be that its regime kept changing hands. The Celts were here from about 450 BC till the 5th century AD, with about 300 years of Roman rule during that time. In the forecourt to the castle today is a statue of Svatopluk the Great of the 9th century, on his rearing horse, brandishing his sword. In 805, a fortress was built by this Moravian king, recycling Roman bricks. Stephen the 1st of Hungary used the place as protection from Czech-German attacks in the 11th century, and in the following century a stone palace was built, where the Crusaders under Barbarossa were housed. In 1241 came an attack from Mongol invaders, but the Hungarians beat them off! Then followed some complications involving King Sigismund and the Holy Roman Empire. In 1536, Turkish invaders threatened the stronghold, whereat the Hungarians fled to Buda. In the century after that, a Baroque palace was constructed on the hill; we took a look at the very recent reconstruction of its formal garden. Queen Maria Theresa, ruler of the Austro-Hungarian empire, chose to live here in 1740, but the 19th century saw her palace fall into ruins, after it had been used as barracks for some 1500 soldiers. It was the 1960s before the building was restored. The intellectual elite of Czechoslovakia had been sent into exile by the Nazis, while Bratislava / Pressburg became German. On May 9th, 1945, the Red Army marched into Prague, after which everything changed again; they were ruled by the Soviets. You can still see Soviet-style concrete architecture here and there and as in Wien they have coloured the fronts of some buildings to mitigate the stark, utilitarian look. Slovakia, the Slovak Republic, didn't become an independent state until 1993, the treaty being signed in Bratislava Castle.

The old part of Bratislava is postcard pretty; because of that, it's packed with summer visitors: people on package tours following their guide, backpacking students abroad. It has cobbled streets and squares, handicapping the cyclists, but they ride through even so. On the corner of Panska Street near the central square is a comical bronze sculpture that tourists flock to see, called Man at Work, his head and shoulders emerging from a manhole: Čumil in Slovak, meaning "the watcher"---he's looking up at passers-by who might well trip over him, certainly not working. Bratislava girls seem to be fashion conscious, slim and pretty, so they may well be the ones who are making him grin.

For our full day in the city I took the precaution of going back to the hotel for a nap and change of clothes before setting out again in the evening to meet Marina, a lady I'd befriended in Ottawa about 10 years ago, from the diplomatic corps. She and her husband are currently posted in Moscow, but she happened to be visiting her twin sister Bety, who lives in Bratislava. The sister's husband, Dr. Svaetopluk Zeman, is a native of Bratislava and very knowledgeable about its history, which Chris was interested to hear, as they walked ahead of us women from our rendezvous (the fountain in front of the National Theatre) towards the restaurant on a side-street where we were to have a tasty Slovakian supper. I ate pirohy (perogies) with a vegetarian filling, very tasty, and we drank beer. Before saying goodbye to our friends we also stopped for dessert at another restaurant, in both places sitting out of doors, the summer evening very pleasant as the heat began to diminish. The historic buildings are floodlit.

I feel I haven't done justice to Bratislava in my description of it; it would require a longer visit to take everything in, of course. In the distance across the Danube you can see its industrial side, flames spurting from the tall chimneys of the oil refinery there.