A Travellerspoint blog

France 2010, Part 5

May 13, 2010
Strasbourg, France

Bonjour!

Strasbourg means “city of the roads,” and it is aptly named. Located just a few miles from the Rhine River, it has historically been an important transportation artery. It is also where Gutenberg perfected the printing press in 1444. This northeastern city is now home to the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, and the European Court of Human Rights.

Manuela and left the rainy weather in the Loire Valley Wednesday morning (May 12). It was much warmer and nearly sunny when we arrived in Strasbourg. Getting there was a bit of a challenge. There are four or five main train stations in Paris. If you are going north, you depart from Gare du Nord (north station). When traveling east, you leave from Gare de l’Est (east station).

If you are traveling from south of Paris and heading east, you arrive at Gare d’Austerlitz, take the Metro across town, and catch a train departing from Gare de l’Est. And you hope that your train doesn’t arrive late or that there isn’t one of the frequent Metro strikes so you can make the 40 minute cross-town connection.


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Cathedral Notre Dame de Strasbourg


Strasbourg has been described as France’s great northeastern metropolis. After getting settled at hostel, we wandered around the city’s centuries old center. Cathedral Notre Dame de Strasbourg rises 465 feet high in the center of town. Besides the towering bells, this church, begun in 1214 has an astrological clock built in the late 16th century.

I never learned what our hostel’s acronym name stood for, but C.I.A.R.U.S. was large, modern, and clean. Just as advertised in the travel guide, the rooms were furnished with industrial grade furniture. Fortunately we did not have a roommate in our three bed room – only a curtain separated the shower from the bedroom. Mostly importantly though, the room was heated! C.I.A.R.U.S. is somehow connected with the YMCA.


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Strasbourg


We woke up to more rain Thursday morning (May 13). We didn’t realize it was a Catholic holiday until we waited in the rain for a laundry to open (it never did and I had to tote a bag of dirty clothes all around Strasbourg). The banks were also closed, so I could not change my dollars; our Euros were dwindling. After looking at train fares to Normandy, which were very expensive, we decided to return to Paris Friday morning (May 14). Little did we know that it would be difficult finding accommodations in the capital on a Friday night.


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Ill River, Strasbourg


There are many museums in Strasbourg, but Manuela and I decided to visit only the Musée Historique and a chocolate museum. The former was an interesting exhibit on the history of Strasbourg going back many centuries. Because of it’s location near the Rhine River, Strasbourg has been an important military and trading center. The audio exhibit was very informative and we got to try on old helmets.

After the Musée Historique, we took a tram to a bus stop on the outskirts of Strasbourg. From there we intended to take a bus to the chocolate museum, but it was nearly closing time by the time we reached the bus stop. Instead we rode the tram to the European Parliament at the other terminus. The Parliament and nearby European Court of Human Rights were closed because of the holidays, but it was worth the tram ride to see the modern architecture.


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European Parliament, Strasbourg


Both of us were tired of the cold and rain, so we spent the evening in our hostel room searching for a hostel or hotel in Paris. It took quite some time and we had to settle for slightly expensive room in the Montparnasse district. There are still several things on our Paris to-do list – stroll along the Seine, visit the Victor Hugo museum, and see a cemetery or two.

Jusqu'à ce que nous sommes à Paris!

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Posted by SChandler 23:15 Archived in France Comments (0)

France 2010, Part 4

May 11, 2010
Blois, France

Bonsoir!

For centuries French royalty and nobles built vast estates in France’s Loire Valley, which lies just south of Paris. Many of these grand chateaux, some of which rival the palace in Versailles, are open to the public. While deciding whether to stay in Orleans or Tours, Manuela found the small town Blois between the two. The travel guide suggested it was the most convenient place from which to visit Chateau de Chenonceau and Chateau de Chambord, two castles we were most interested in visiting.

We left Paris from Gare d’Austerlitz Monday morning (May 10). During the two hour train ride, which cost $32, we passed miles and miles of yellow fields. Mustard plants, perhaps? The journey to Blois was pleasant, but unfortunately the weather turned worse as we moved south. It was raining when we arrived and we to walk a long way to Hotel du Bellay, partly because of my poor sense of direction. The hotel is in a very old stone building on a narrow cobblestone street.


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Hotel du Bellay, Blois


Our room was clean and sparsely decorated, but cold because the radiator didn’t work. The innkeeper told us that 60 degrees inside was plenty warm; the heat had been turned off for the season. The bathroom had an odd sit down bathtub/shower. We were given free internet service.

It was too late in the day to visit either of the chateaux on our list; both required a short train and bus ride. Instead we walked a few blocks to the local castle, Chateau Royal Blois. This beautiful castle was built in four separate phases – 13 century Gothic, early 16th century Flamboyant, mid 16th century Renaissance, and 17th century Classcism. From the courtyard we could see each wing’s individual architecture style. The view of Blois and the Loire Valley from the chateau wall was beautiful.


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Blois


After visiting Chateau Roylal Blois, we wandered through the town’s narrow lanes, most of which have been pedestrianized. The old buildings, some dating back hundreds of years, were very interesting. After an early dinner at an Italian restaurant near our hotel, we spent the evening in our room trying to stay warm.

On Tuesday morning (May 11), we took a 20 minute train ride to the town of Amboise, then a 20 minute ride on a local bus to the town of Chenonceau. The Chateau de Chenonceau was at the top of our list because it is built over a river. Unfortunately, only the bus went from Amboise to Chenonceau only once per day and returned two hours later, so our visit was limited.


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Chateau de Chenonceau


Built in 1515, Chateau de Chenonceau was occupied by a series of royalty. It was a strategic castle through the year because of its bridge over the Cher River. In 1577 that bridge was covered and made into a grand banquet hall. During WWII, the far side of the bridge/banquet hall was in Occupied France, while the castle side remained free. It was used by French resistance fighters and the hall later became a hospital for Allied Forces.

Although the castle was not huge, only about 15 bedrooms, it was beautifully decorated with wood carved ceilings and fancy wall coverings. Most interesting were the kitchens which were built near river level. Local farmers tied their boats up alongside the kitchen door to deliver fresh produce. We would have strolled around the beautiful French garden if we had more time and the weather was warmer.


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Chateau Royal d’Amboise


Back in Amboise, Manuela and I had lunch in a little red café called Chez Aude. We walked around the pedestrianized old town and peered in the gates of Chateau Royal d’Amboise before taking the train back to Blois. While waiting for the train, we purchased ticket to Strasbourg, in the northeast near the German border, for the following day.

Chateau de Chambord is the grandest chateau in the Loire Valley, but we have decided not to visit on this trip. We’ve seen enough stone castles for now and we would like to arrive in Strasbourg by early afternoon. Hopefully the weather will be warmer and dryer.

Au revoir!


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Posted by SChandler 23:35 Archived in France Comments (0)

France 2010, Part 3

May 9, 2010
Paris, France

Allo!

There are similarities to markets where ever you travel in the world. First you encounter aggressive hawkers loitering near entrances with goods draped around their necks and arms. Then there are the stalls selling local crafts and souvenirs to visitors. Most markets also have stands that sell cheap jeans and shoes. To get the real feel of a city’s market, though, you have to go deep. That’s how I found the spice stalls in Indonesia and Manuela and I found the tortilla stands in Guatemala.

I tagged along Saturday morning (May 9) as Manuela led me past all the obligatory vendors and stalls (we almost bought a set of leather satchels) to the junk-for-sell part of marche aux puces, Paris’s weekend flea market and eventually to the quiet antique alleys. Furniture, tapestries, and books; each stall seemed to have its own specialty. There was even an old camera shop where I saw cameras similar to many in my own collection. In one quiet passage, two antique proprietresses played Scrabble outside their stalls.

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Marche aux Puces, Paris

Paris is a city of clichés, many of which are true. Saturday afternoon we visited Tour Eiffel. There were a lot people, long lines, and pushy hawkers (ten Eiffel Tower key chains for one Euro!) but standing beneath the Paris icon was every bit as romantic as it seems. Its hard to imagine the Eiffel Tower, built as a temporary exhibit for the 1889 Exhibit Univerelle, was nearly torn down in 1909 and sold for scrap. Fortunately the new technology of the day, radio telegraphy, required tall structures for research.

The wait to ride an elevator to the first, second, or third level was long, so we decided not to go up. The view from Tour Montparnasse (five minute wait) and from the steps of Sacre Coeur (no wait) was good enough for me. Some in the family decided to wait in line though (45 minutes for the top level); Manuela and I crossed the Seine for a photo perfect view of the Eiffel Tower from the top steps of Palais de Chaillot, twin museums built for the 1937 World’s Fair.


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Tour Eiffel, Paris


While waiting for the others to ascend the Eiffel Tower, Manuela and I split up. The Pantheon, a worthy monument in it’s own right, was on my list of things to see because of the French writers interred there; Manuela had already seen it. This trip to Paris didn’t begin as a literary journey, but the more research I did, the more I learned of it’s rich literary history.

It isn’t marked on any tourist map, but fortunately I happened upon a list of former Paris residences of American writers. The guide book listed only American writers, so it was luck that I came across a former home of James Joyce, marked with a plaque outside while searching for Ernest Heminway’s former apartment near the Pantheon.

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Pantheon, Paris

The Pantheon is a huge empty cathedral. It was built as a Catholic church in 1789. But apparently that was a bad time for new churches, so it was taken over as a secular mausoleum for France’s most esteemed men and women. Beneath the huge church is an extensive crypt. Madam Marie Curie is interred there, but I was drawn to the final resting place of Victor Hugo and Voltaire. Not mentioned in any guide book is the fact that Alexander Dumas is also interred in the same section, though he was just recently moved there.

We all took an evening cruise upon the Seine and a bus tour of Paris’s lighted monuments. The boat was just like you see in pictures – rows and rows of seats beneath a glass canopy. The canopy was necessary Saturday night because it rained off and on. The highlight of the cruise for me was passing beneath Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge crossing the Seine. It is another landmark often mentioned by Hugo and others.

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Seine River, Paris

We checked out of Villa Royal Monsouris Sunday (May 9) morning. We paid $462 for our room. One hundred and fifteen dollars a night for lodging seemed reasonable, but because Manuela’s aunt is a travel agent, we got a good rate. The normal rate was listed at $377/night! It was located outside the city center but it was conveniently located near a Metro stop.

The rest of the family hoped to fly home that evening, but unfortunately that volcano in Iceland was closing European airports progressively north from Italy. We took the Metro to Gare du Nord station so we could store our luggage for the day. The Metro was noticeably less crowded on Sunday morning. At one stop a father-daughter duo got onto our car. She shook a maraca while he squeezed out traditional French songs on an accordion. This city just oozes romance! They were not the first to serenade the crowds; there were other accordionists and violinists and we passed a ten piece string ensemble several times at one of the larger stations.

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Metropolitan, Paris

Although most of Paris’s Metropolitan subway stations are old and defaced with graffiti and occasionally homeless men were sleeping on the platforms, but I never felt unsafe. Walls in most stations were covered in white tile…subway tile! Trains ran every two or three minutes and we never had to transfer more than twice to get from one place to another. Occasionally trains were packed, but often seats could be found.

St. Germain de Pres, Paris’s oldest church was on Manuela’s mother’s must-see list, so a few of us visited the 11th century cathedral. It was built on the sight of a 6th century abbey and it’s bell tower dates back to 990. Nearby we passed the more recent St. Suplice, built 1646, but we’d seen enough cathedral interiors, so we passed by on our walk to Jardin du Luxembourg.

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St. Germain de Pres, Paris

Jardin du Luxembourg is how I envisioned Jardin de Tuileries – many tree shaded lanes and large flower beds. We sat in the sun near a large pond where kids were sailing toy boats rented from an old man. We had lunch at a sidewalk café just outside the gardens and Manuela and I shared a delicious pot of bittersweet hot chocolate.

After lunch Manuela and I said good bye to her family at the Gare du Nord station, although they were still unsure if Vienna’s airport was still open. Manuela and I checked into Vintage Hostel, this time in a three bed dorm, and then took an evening stroll. We walked along Canal St. Martin, a narrow canal off the Seine with lochs for small boats. There were a lot of young people sitting along the stone canal wall drinking beer and wine. We happened upon a street music fair and sat listening to the French music for a while.

Tomorrow we will take the train to Blois in the Loire Valley. We plan to stay two nights and visit two or three of the elaborate chateaux in the area.

A plus tard!

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Canal St. Martin, Paris

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Posted by SChandler 12:09 Archived in France Comments (0)

France 2010, Part 2

May 7, 2010
Paris

Bonjour Mes Amis!

I am writing to you from the city of lights and as cliché as it sounds, Paris trés romantique! I arrived Monday (May 3), after two relatively good flights. I was greeted with booties, eyeshades, & a toothbrush kit as soon as I boarded the British Airways flight in San Francisco. Although it was a nine hour and 20 minute flight to London, the wine was complimentary and the seat beside me was empty, so it was an easy trip across a North America and the Atlantic Ocean. The only negative was the woman behind me seemed to think it was necessary to press vigorously on the onscreen buttons of her video screen attached to the back of my chair.

I spent three hours Tuesday morning in Heathrow’s Terminal 5, which is huge considering it is just for British Airways flights. While waiting for my Paris flight a bloke in a purple coat chatted me up. At first I thought he was going to try selling me a three liter bottle of duty free cognac or a 100 pack case of Marlboro cigarettes from one of the many shops, but he was just a friendly airport employee.

After asking the usual questions (Where are you from?, etc), he warned me to expect a completely different concept of “friendliness” in France, particularly compared to the states where, “You Americans are always very helpful.” I don’t often hear compliments about Americans while traveling abroad.

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Gare du Nord, Paris


In Germany, they publish the platform of every train departing in the next six months. In London, they don’t reveal which gate flights are boarding at until one hour before departure. But one look at the departure board and it was easy to tell I was in an European travel hub – Rome, Tokyo, Stockholm, Bangalore, Warsaw, and Geneva. My flight to Paris was just 45 minutes long.

Getting into the city was simple, although it was quite a long walk across the Charles de Gualle terminal to the local RER train station that connects the airport to Paris. I’d read that the ticket machines don’t accept American versions of Visa and Mastercard credit cards (European cards have microchips), but I purchased the 8.50 Euro ticket with my card. The train ride to Gare du Nord, one of several major Paris train stations, took 30 minutes.

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Vintage Hostel, Paris

Europeans have a slightly different address numbering system. Their numbers run sequentially regardless of the block. Vintage Hostel, where I’d reserved a bed is at 74 Rue de Dunkerque. In the states, I would expect that to be in the first block, but in Paris it was several blocks away. Nevertheless, I found it quite easily. There were a lot of people staying at the hostel, the staff was quite friendly.

I shared a two bunkbed dorm with Josh, an American university student studying abroad, and two others I didn’t have the opportunity to meet. Josh said I was the first person he’d met that spoke English as a first language. Apparently he was very hungry for conversation; he talked non-stop until I excused myself to find dinner at one of the many cafes and restaurants nearby.

I didn’t return to the hostel until nearly 9:00 PM and I was quite tired. I climbed into the top bunk of a very shaky bed (Ikea) and quickly fell asleep. Unfortunately, I was wide awake again just before midnight and spent several hours in the hostel lobby reading Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. Even at that hour, there were many young people chatting and drinking wine. A group of Canadians and French were trying to out-do each other with rude American stories.

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View of Eiffel Tower from atop Tour Montparnasse, Paris

I packed up Wednesday morning (May 5) and returned to Gare du Nord. Manuela and her family arrived from Graz, Austria, and Manchester, England and met me at the train station. After the introductions, we purchased five day Paris Visité Metro (subway) passes and found our way across town to our hotel. After getting settled in at Royal Villa Monsouris, we all went to Tour Montparnasse, one of the few skyscrapers in the city for a panoramic view of Paris 59 floors up.

Manuela and I bought fresh pastries from a patisserie around the corner from our hotel Thursday morning (May 6). The woman was very friendly. She spoke a combination of French and English and asked where we were from. After breakfast with the family at another café, also served by a pleasant waitress, we went rode the Metro to Isle de la Cité where Paris was first settled 2000 years ago.

Many years ago I travelled to Hong Kong in part to visit the places I’d read so much about in novels – James Clavell’s Tai Pan series and several international spy novels. I was looking forward to seeing the sights of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and countless other novels in Paris. Standing in Place du Parvis Notre Dame, in front of the historic cathedral was amazing. This is where Esmerelda would have danced if she weren’t fiction. And those were the bells Quasimodo would have rung hundreds of years ago. Begun in 1163, it took 200 years to build Notre Dame de Paris and is at the center of Paris. Everything in the city is measured from that square.

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Cathedral de Notre Dame de Paris, Paris

There are many sights on Isle de la Cité. We visited Palais de Justice, the historical justice center of Paris which contains Saint Chapelle, a chapel with 15 towering stained glass windows depicting 1113 scenes from history beginning with creation. This church took a mere three years to construct.

The Concergerie is also part of the Palais de Justice. This two hundred year old prison was home to Marie Antoinette for 56 days before her execution as part of the French revolution overthrowing the monarchy. Marie Antoinette was daughter of the much loved Austrian Empress Maria Theresa.

After strolling around area of St. Michel on the left bank, we rode the Metro to Place de la Concorde where Marie Antoinette was guillotined along with Louis XVI in 1793. A 3,300 year old pink granite obelisk that once stood in the Temple of Ramses in Thebes was erected in Place de la Concorde in 1831. From there we strolled through Jardin de Tuilleries, another place often mentioned in literature; however, this public garden was very crowded and very dusty and did not live up to my romantic expectations.

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Jardin de Tuilleris, Paris

The eastern end of the Tuilleries is separated from the Musée de Louvre by the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, another monument built by somebody a long time ago to commemorate something. We did not go into the Louvre on Thursday; I was the only one of the group interested in waiting in line to view the Mona Lisa.

In the evening we visited the Montmatre district which was popular with bohemian artists like Picasso in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The center piece of the still popular neighborhood is Basilica du Sacre Coeur, a 19th century cathedral. The lower streets are lined with souvenir shops, while the immediate area surrounding the hill top cathedral, reached with a modern funicular, are filled with restaurants, art studios, sidewalk artists and protraitists, and a few more souvenir shops.

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Montmartre, Paris

Manuela and I picked out two small oil paintings of sidewalk cafés to hang on our kitchen wall. The friendly artist signed them “Laskin” but introduced himself as Dragan, a Serbian enjoying retirement in Paris. We snacked at a creperie before visiting the inside of Sacre Coeur where Manuela lit a candle for my father.

Except for Manuela and me, the family went to Chateau de Versailles, the royal residence of Louis XVI in the 17th century, on Friday (May 7). There are often large crowds at Versailles and Manuela and I plan to visit several chateaux in the Loire Valley, so we skipped this one. I went off to brave the crowds at Musée de Louvre. Manuela has seen the Mona Lisa, so she visited Musée D’Orsay.

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Musée de Louvre, Paris

I have yet to see the pyramids of Egypt or any of the other seven wonders of the world, but I have seen the Mona Lisa! I was told I would have to wait in line for hours to get into the Louvre so I searched for the little known side entrance; but I was unable to find it, so I queued up at 10:30 AM with the all the other people outside the glass pyramid entrance and expected a long wait. That was my first misconception about the world’s largest museum.

The line outside the glass pyramid was the security screening and it moved quickly. It took only 20 minutes to pass through security, purchase my ticket, and cross the museum to the wing housing Da Vinci’s masterpiece. Unfortunately there was a mass of people milling about the painting.

My second misconception was the size of the Mona Lisa. While not large by any standards, it wasn’t as tiny as I had expected. No one was allowed any closer to it than about 20 feet. It’s a beautiful painting, as are the thousands and thousands of other paintings (there are 35,000 works of art in the Louvre), but I don’t understand why this one is so special.

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Code of Hammurabi, Musee de Louvre, Paris

Venus de Milo is conveniently displayed near the Mona Lisa, but it didn’t draw nearly the crowd. I wasn’t particularly impressed with that antiquity – both arms are missing. The third piece I was particularly interested in viewing was the Code of Hammurabi, the earliest known codified law. Several laws are etched in the black oblisk, including something about what will happen to a woman who is caught by surprise with another man by her husband. There is nothing in the ancient Babylonian law about philandering husbands.

The Louvre Medieval is very interesting. It is a display of the museum as it was built in the 13th century as a fortress. You can view the original stone casements and walls. The Louvre has subsequently been enlarged many times by various royalty. Two other misconceptions I had of the Louvre were of the overall size. While certainly immense, I was able to stroll through all three wings, stopping to view things that caught my interest. And its possible to see everything in one day – I saw a French man walking rapidly through the museum snapping a picture of each work of art as he passed.

The last misconception I had was of the symbol of a red circle with a line through it. Apparently this international sign for “No” does not translate to Japanese when placed over a camera flash. The flash of thousands of cameras was constant throughout the museum.

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Place de la Concorde, Paris

After two hours at our separate museums, Manuela and I met up at Place de la Concorde. As corny as it sounds, spending a few hours in Louvre and then meeting up with my girlfriend for lunch on the Champs Élysée was trés romantique!. This is where F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived. Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner frequented these same sidewalk cafés.

We rode the Metro to the Arc de Triomphe which is in the center of Europe’s largest motor roundabout. The arc was built by Napoleon in 1806 to commemorate his many military victories. I was surprised that there are no lanes marked and cars entering have the right of way over those already in it. Just a block away is a former home of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. After a few pictures, we strolled down the Champs Élysée until we found a sidewalk café for lunch.

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Arc de Triomphe, Paris


Manuela took me to the district she frequented while working in Paris as an au pair in 1991. Gare de St. Lazare was the last stop on the train from her suburban home, so she would shop at nearby Gallerie Lafayette, an old shopping center with a beautiful domed ceiling, and around Centre Pompidou, a unique museum with many street performers.

While walking to Place des Vosges, where we met up with the rest of the family for dinner, we passed Hotel de Ville, the 1872 home of the city government, and Square de la Tour St. Jacques, a lone tower remaining of a 16th century church. Unfortunately we arrived at Place des Vosges just a few minutes after the former home and current museum for Victor Hugo, which faces the small garden square, was closed.


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Champs Élysée, Paris


After dinner with a waiter who served 15 people with a great deal of humor, we made a brief visit to Place de la Bastille. This is where the infamous prison once stood until torn down by a Revolutionary mob in 1789. Today, there is a tall column erected in 1833 as a memorial to those killed in the July Revolution of 1830.

We have seen so many sights in just two days. Although we relied a lot on the very convenient Metro system, we walked a great deal and returned to our hotel each night very tired. Tomorrow Manuela will take us to marche aux puces, (flea market). We also plan to visit the Eiffel Tower.

A bientot!

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Posted by SChandler 10:19 Archived in France Comments (0)

France 2010, Part 1

May 3, 2010
Elk Grove, California

Where to next? France.

Paris in the spring! Castles and chateaux in the Loire Valley. The D-Day battlefields of Normandy. Strasbourg’s Grande Île…and Paris in the spring! France is the birthplace of champagne, Victor Hugo, French cuisine (duh), Napoleon Bonaparte, the guillotine, Van Gogh, and currently Johnny Depp. There is no end to the museums, cathedrals, and historical sites dating back thousands of years.

I’ll arrive in Paris Tuesday afternoon “24 hours” after leaving San Francisco. Manuela will join me Wednesday from Austria where she has been visiting family and friends for the past three weeks. We and assorted members of her family (parents, sister, aunts, uncles, and cousins) will tour the “city of lights” to celebrate several family birthdays. An American in France trying to speak German - I’ll come home either tri-lingual or incoherent.

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Manuela spent 1991 in Paris as an au pair before her university days and speaks the language. We’re counting on her to be our tour guide/translator extraordinaire (no pressure there, eh?). She promises to take me to some of the offbeat sights like the marche aux puces (flea market) and the Abbesse metro station.

After five days in Paris with Familie Pechtigam Manuela and I will explore on our own for another week. Despite its relatively small size, the depth of France’s culture and history is overwhelming, so we will limit ourselves the northern regions. The Loire Valley, Normandy, and Strasbourg are three possibilities. We’ve no set itinerary beyond our stay in Paris and plan to travel by train. Manuela and I enjoy the economy and culture of hostels, so we will be looking for them everywhere we stay.

I hope you will follow along with us on our adventure in France. Click on the “Subscribe” link to the right to receive notification of future blogs.

Au revoir!

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Posted by SChandler 02:00 Archived in France Comments (0)

XelaWho

February 11, 2009

XelaWho published my submission about Quetzaltenango's (a.k.a. Xela) unique Cemeterio General, in their September issue. XelaWho is a monthly magazine highlighting culture, nightlife, and activities in the Xela, Guatemala area. Check it out at http://xelawho.com/?p=1201

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Posted by SChandler 19:45 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Austria 2009, Part 5

December 1, 2009
Elk Grove, California

Gruss Gott!

Austria has a long history of close ties to the Catholic Church, so there are a lot of beautiful and historical cathedrals here. There are so many of them are in Vienna that the 100 year old monumental brick church just up the street from our pension, Pfarrkirche Rudolfsheim, isn’t even listed in my guidebook.

Manuela and I left Graz Friday morning (November 27) and took the train to Vienna’s Sudbahnhof (South train station). Because of Vienna’s size, there are two main train stations, but they are not connected by rail. We purchased 72 hour public transportation passes (buses, trams, subway, and local trains) and rode an electrical street car to the Westbahnhof (West train station). From there we transferred to the U-bahn (subway) and rode a few stops outside the city center to our pension.

Pension Elisabeth is indistinguishable from the other half dozen buildings built in a row except for the plaque by the front door. We were received by a pleasant woman and filled out the registration in the entry of her first floor flat. We planned to stay three nights ($90/night) but paid only the first in advance (a lesson we learned in Guatemala).

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Pension Elisabeth

We were given keys to the pension's front door (locked after 9:00 PM) and our room and directed to the third floor. There were was no elevator, so we had to drag our luggage up three flights (third floor means third floor above the ground floor). I knew pensions are generally classified somewhere between hostels and hotels, but I was disappointed with our room. It was ten feet wide with a courtyard window at one end, a street window at the other, and a “bathroom,” kitchen, and bedroom in between.

Pension Elizabeth was obviously built before the days of private facilities and a pre-fabricated metal shower and toilet were subsequently installed as close to the kitchen sink as possible. One morning I asked Manuela to brew me a cup of tea while I was rinsing shampoo from my hair and she was applying make-up in front of the kitchen sink mirror two feet away. My feet stuck out from under the curtain closing off the bathroom when I sat on the toilet. Fortunately, we also had a private toilet in the hallway. Despite the “facilities,” Manuela and I stayed all three nights at Pension Elisabeth. It was quiet and close to the subway station and we saved a lot of money by staying several subway stops outside the city center.

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Schloss Belvedere

After getting settled, we rode the U-bahn to Schloss Belvedere, which consists of two separate palaces. Lower Belevedere was built in 1716 as a residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy. Upper Belvedere was constructed seven years later as banquet and bash facility. Admission to each is a separate but only a few rooms, which serve primarily as art galleries now, are open to the public. We toured Lower Belvedere and wandered the huge French Style garden spread out between the palaces.

I lack the knowledge to properly appreciate all the wonderful art I’ve been exposed to in the past couple weeks; I don’t understand why the squiggly tangle of lines by Herbert Boeckl hanging in Lower Schloss Belvedere is any different than my kindergarten finger painting. But Manuela promised something quite different when she took me to the Kunsthaus Wien gallery, home to a permanent exhibit of Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s work.

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Hundertwasserhaus

The sun was setting when we first stopped at the Hundertwasserhaus, a unique apartment building designed by the artist just a few blocks from the gallery. Set amongst non-descript stucco apartment houses, Hundertwasserhaus is an oddly whimsical, yet beautiful building. Decorated with colorful ceramic tiles, it looks like an artistic rendition of a Dr. Suess house. Several people (including Manuela and I) took dozens of flash pictures of the building exterior and I wondered how long the novelty of living in the unique building lasted. Equally amusing and interesting is Hundertwasser village across the street. It was also designed by the artist, but seems to be little more than a marketing venue. A busload of French gray-haired tourists streamed into the small shopping center just as we were leaving.

There were two floors of Hundertwasser’s colorful and quirky art displayed in the gallery, including models of his unique architecture. The exhibit revealed some of the artist’s philosophy, like his belief that level floors were unnatural. Hundertwasser designed the museum as well, so walking through it was like taking a stroll through a hilly field. The visiting exhibit was a collection of pictures by Annie Leibovitz, which I found to be a welcome change in art medium after seeing many various painting styles.

After appreciating the art of Kunsthaus Wien, Manuela and I rode the subway to Vienna’s center – Stephansplatz. It was dark when we arrived, but I was still awed when the spotlighted Stephansdom cathedral came into view. Much of the church was cloaked in a scaffolding screen cleverly printed to replicate the exterior, but I couldn’t help comparing it to the beautiful cathedral in Koln, Germany. It was easy to see why Stephansdom is Vienna’s most beloved landmark. Unfortunately the cathedral was closing when we arrived, so we were unable to go inside.

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Schloss Schönbrunn

Manuela and I started Saturday morning (November 28) at Schloss Schönbrunn. This palace was built in 1700 for Leoplold I and later redecorated by his successor, Maria Theresa, as a summer home (their winter home was also in Vienna). In addition to redecorating 1441 rooms, managing a staff of 1,500 people, and having 16 children, Maria Theresa found time to rule the Habsburg dynasty. Schloss Belvedere offered a glimpse at just a few palatial rooms, but we were able to tour 40 rooms in Schloss Schönbrunn, including the Spiegelsaal (Mirror Hall) where Mozart first performed publicly in 1762 at the age of six. I may lack appreciation for classical music, but there was no denying the inspiration of being in the very room Mozart first performed.

Unfortunately thousands of other people were there to share the inspiration with me. Schloss Schönbrunn was very crowded and we saw dozens of tour buses from all over, including one with Chinese writing (I don’t think they drove the whole way). Besides hosting Mozart, Schloss Schönbrunn served as Napolean’s headquarters twice; is where Charles I abdicated in 1918, ending the Habsburg dynasty; and John F. Kennedy signed some important document with Khrushchev there in 1961. Manuela and I purchased timed tickets for the audio-guide tour when we first arrived but had to wait two hours. We spent the time strolling through the large French style garden and climbed the hill at the far end for a fantastic view of the palace and Vienna.

We spent the evening watching the Sometimes Love Happens at a small theater near the city center that shows American movies in English. The price of seats in the 17 row theater cost more the farther they were from the screen. Our tickets were purchased for specific seats, which Manuela said is the custom in Austria.

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Graves of Beethoven and Schubert, Zentralfriedhof

The population of Vienna’s enormous Zentralfriedhof (central cemetery) has been growing steadily for 135 years and there are now twice as many dead as living in Austria’s capital (pop. 1.6 million). But it wasn’t the size of Europe’s largest internment that prompted our 45 minute tram ride Sunday morning (November 29) to Zentralfriedhof; we went to see the headstones of it’s famous residents.

In one area we saw the graves of musical greats Beethoven, Brahms, Johann Strauss, and Franz Schubert. There was also a memorial to Mozart, but he was buried elsewhere. Manuela pointed out dozen’s of other famous Austrian politicians, artists, and performers. After a long search, we found the final resting place Austria’s king of pop Falco, known in the States for his 1986 international hit Rock Me Amadeus.

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Rathaus

In the afternoon we wandered around the city center again so I could get some daylight pictures of landmark buildings. We saw the 100-year old Rathaus, the Parliament building, Hofburg palace, Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek (National Library), Museum fur Volkerkunde (Museum of Ethnology), and recently uncovered second century Roman ruins in Michaelerplatz.

Stephansdom was open to the public, so I toured the interior with the aid of an audio guide. Originally built in 1137, the cathedral was redone 222 years later incorporating some of the original structure. An intricately carved sandstone pulpit, built in 1515, bears the artist’s likeness peering out of a window on the base. The Sudturm (south tower) is 446 feet tall, but funds ran out before a matching north tower was completed. The cathedral’s 21 ton Pummerin (boomer bell) rings out at midnight on December 31 and can be heard all over Vienna. The Katakomben (catacombs) beneath the cathedral contain the remains of plague victims while the intricate marble crypt of Emperor Frederick III sits in a side chapel on the main floor.

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Stephansdom

Manuela and I visited the new Jüdisches Museum Vienna, but found it very disappointing. Only a few of the 10,000 Jewish religious artifacts are on display and 21 glass panels with holograms tell the history of Viennese Jewry in a haphazard fashion that seemed to put more emphasis on artistic presentation rather than content. I would have learned more by reading Wikipedia’s entry on the history of Jews in Vienna.

I spent 20 wonderful days in Austria. Manuela kept telling me how cold and wet November can be in her country, but I saw only a bit of rain; most days were sunny and relatively warm. Innsbruck and Salzburg were beautiful and it was easy to tour all their sights. Vienna was fascinating too, but a bit overwhelming because it is so big and there is so much to see. I had to leave a few sights, such as the Danube, for my next visit. I didn’t make it to the Nazi death camp, Mauthausen, this time either.

My favorite city was Graz. It has a long history like the other cities but without the kitsch tourism (i.e. Sound of Music tours) or big crowds. There were many historical sights to see and the city center is lively and exciting. By spending time with Manuela in her home town and meeting her family and friends, I got to experience the culture and lifestyle of Styrians and Austrians. Thank you, Schöne!

Auf Wiedersehen!

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Posted by SChandler 11:31 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Austria 2009, Part 4

November 27, 2009
Graz, Austria

Guten Abend!

Happy Thanksgiving! The Christmas season in the States may not officially start until 4:00 AM tomorrow, but the holiday season is well under way here in Austria. Last night Manuela and I met up with family and friends at one of Graz’s Adventmarkt for a cup of punsch (warm fruit cider). In addition to many traditional foods and pastries, there are many booths in the city plazas selling Christmas ornaments and other holiday decorations.

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Adventmarkt

Since returning to Graz last week, Manuela and I have spent time with her friends and family and visited a few more sights around town. Last Friday (November 20), Manuela took me on a long walk through Ruckerlberg, a district of Graz on a hill overlooking the rest of the city. We passed many elegant old homes, some of which have been recently updated. A few of the 100 year old homes, though, have been abandoned and look like haunted houses. At the end of our urban hike, we lunched at Ganster Gasthaus near her flat. Gasthaus’s are a cross between a corner pub and a neighborhood café.

Manuela’s brother, Mathias, got us free tickets to the Sturm football (soccer) match Saturday evening (November 21). They played at the stadium formerly known as Schwarzenegger Stadion. Austrians are opposed to capital punishment, so when the Governator, a native of nearby Thal, refused to stay a California execution, Grazers protested by yanking his name from the new 15,000 seat arena. But perhaps the lure of naming rights was the true motivation; it is now called UPC Arena.

I don’t know much about soccer, but I enjoyed the match even though the Sturm lost. The marketing difference between Austrian sports and American sports was interesting. Here, the only souvenir store is outside the stadium, so fans can’t shop during half time. There weren’t many eating options inside, though beer was well supplied. I had to pay $1.50 deposit for my plastic beer cup.

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Schlossberg

After the match, we met up with friends at a disco dance party inside the Schlossberg mountain. A lot of German and Austrian songs were played, but most of the 70’s & 80’s hits were in English and the crowd knew the lyrics better than me. We danced for several hours and the party was still going strong when we left shortly after 2:00 AM.

Despite our late night, Manuela and I were up early Sunday morning (November 22) and were picked by her brother-in-law Michi. He took us to their home in the nearby countryside where Birgit gave us a traditional Austrian breakfast – bread, coldcuts, and cheese. We spent the rest of the Sabbath resting and recovering from Saturday night.

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Frohnleiten

We planned to visit the village of Frohnleiten, about 30 minutes away, Monday morning (November 23) but it was raining when we woke up. Instead, I wandered the Graz’s city center with my camera when the sun came out in the afternoon and took dozens of pictures of the many old ornate buildings. Manuela met me for hot chocolate in a café beneath Graz’s Glockenspiel. At 3:00 PM, a man and woman danced out of the old clock and twirled to a special Christmas tune. In the evening we had dinner at a local Greek restaurant with Manuela’s aunt, who, as a travel agent, has been to more countries than Manuela and I combined.

The weather remained cleared on Tuesday (November 24) and we took the train to Frohnleiten in search of an old Roman road advertised in a local guidebook. We couldn’t locate the ancient road, but Frohnleiten was an interesting town. Manuela and I were first struck by the picturesque buildings along the Mur River, and then further awed by the rich baroque church. There are also several centuries old city gates and a clock tower. The Hauptplatz is lined with old shops, including a backerei (bakery) where we had lunch.

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Landeszeughaus

With one $14.00 ticket I was able to visit Graz’s Landeszeughaus armory and Kunsthaus gallery on Wednesday (November 25). The former was very interesting, but I found the exhibit in the latter quite baffling. Built in 1642 to house armor in defense of Styria against Ottoman invaders and Hungarian rebels, the Landeszeughaus now exhibits 32,000 pieces armor including thousands of suits of armor. There were rows and rows of swords and flintlock firearms.

Built in 2003, the Kunsthaus has been aptly described as a blue sea slug. The civic gallery features temporary art exhibits and is currently showing work by Andy Warhol, Barnett Newman, and Sharon Lockhart. Among the items exhibited was a large white canvas painted orange (Warhol), an aluminum sign of block-lettered obscenities (Newman), and a 45 minute video showing factory workers walking to work (Lockhart). Unfortunately I didn’t see the “art” in any of it.

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Kunsthaus

Manuela took me on a walking tour of her university, Karl-Franzens-Universitat, in the afternoon and a walk through Evangelischer Friedhof (cemetery) the next morning (November 26). Before meeting her family in the city center for punsch last night, we stopped off at a Manuela’s friend Birgit’s house (in a 100 year old apartment building) for an afternoon cup of coffee. Birgit and her husband, Peter, were interested in learning about our cultural differences and about my impressions of Austria.

My time in Austria is nearly over. This morning we are heading to Vienna where Manuela will try to show me as many sights as possible in my last three days. It would be difficult to say goodbye to Manuela on Monday morning when I fly home, but she is coming to California in a few weeks for the holidays, so fortunately it will not be a long goodbye.

Bis bald!

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Posted by SChandler 09:13 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Austria 2009, Part 3

November 19, 2009
Styria, Austria

Hallo alle zusammen,

I am writing again while on board an OBB Intercity train. Manuela and I left Salzburg this afternoon and are on our way back to Graz. The last three days were filled with historic sights in Innsbruck and Salzburg and fantastic views of the Austrian Alps.

I left Graz early Monday morning (November 16). It was still dark when I said goodbye to Manuela and took a tram to the train station. Because Graz is a regional city, there are frequent trains in all directions, including east to the Alps. It took four hours to reach Bischofshofen and from there another two hours on to Innsbruck.

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View from Bischofshofen Bahnhof

Innsbruck dates back to 1180 when a market village on one side of the Inn River spread to the other side via a new brucke (bridge) and it became the seat of royalty in 1420 under the reign of Emperor Maximilian I. Today it is top destination for skiers and mountain climbers.

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Nepomuks Hostel

Both Manuela and my guide recommended Nepomuks hostel in Innsbruck Alstadt (old town) where for only $36 I got a bed in a four-bed dorm and breakfast at Café Munding. November seems to be the slow season and I had the room and it’s third floor view to myself.

By the time I was settled it was too late in the day to visit any museums or landmarks, so I spend the remainder of the afternoon wandering Altstadt. The streets are paved with cobblestones and lined with 16th and 17th century buildings. The Helblinghaus (1723) has an ornate rococo facade and the Goldenes Dachl (cir. 1500) boasts 2657 gilded copper roof tiles atop its Gothic oriel window. And of course there were two or three old churches to see, including the Dom St. Jakob (1717).

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Altstadt Innsbruck

It gets dark early in Austria (4:30 PM), particularly in the Inn Valley where the tall Alps hide the sun by mid afternoon. I spent the evening wandering Innsbruck’s Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market). Without Thanksgiving to mark the official start of the Christmas season, Austria launches its holiday shopping this week. I found an Italian restaurant on the edge of Altstadt and somehow managed to order a delicious lasagna in German.

I woke up Tuesday (November 17) well before the 9:00 AM breakfast and 10:00 AM opening of Innsbruck’s museums, so I strolled around Altstadt with my camera as the sun shined on the Alps above the city. The baroque Altes Landhaus (1728) and Triumphpforte (1765) are an easy walk from Altstadt along Maria-Theresien-Strasse. The later was erected to commemorate the marriage of emperor-to-be Leopold II.

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Altes Landhaus

Café Munding provided an Austro-American hybrid breakfast (a plain roll with jam and a bowl of Cornflakes) and the first decent sized cup of coffee I’ve had since arriving in Austria. I checked out of the hostel after breakfast but left my backpack behind so I could spend the morning visiting museums and historic buildings.

The Hofburg, a royal residence dating back to 1401 was interesting, but many of the staterooms were closed for renovation. It had an interesting temporary exhibit on the history of mountaineering. The 100-foot high viewing platform of the Stadtturm (city clock), built in 1450 provided a wonderful 360 degree view of Innsbruck. Unfortunately, the aerial tram to a peak overlooking the valley was closed for repairs. The Volkskunst Museum showcases folk art and beside it, the Hofkirche houses an impressive but empty sarcophagus of Maximilian.

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View from Stadtturm

I caught a mid-afternoon train to Salzburg where Manuela agreed to meet me after her last job interview. It was dark by the time I arrived, so rather than find my way to the city center I took a room at Hotel Europa ($117/night) across the street from the Hauptbahnhof (central train station). The 11th floor room had a great view of Salzburg, but the American style hotel definitely lacked charm.

Like Innsbruck, Salzburg was an important stop along a trade route, dating back to Roman times (15 BC), and flourished when local salz (salt) deposits, an important first century food preservative, were mined. Manuela worked three months in a Salzburg hotel when she was 16 years old as part of her high school education and promised to show me all the best sights.

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Hotel Weisse Taube

We checked out of Hotel Europa and rode a city bus to Salzburg’s Altstadt Wednesday morning (November 18). A handwritten sign in the window of the hotel recommended by my travel guide said it was closed for several weeks. But the 700-year old inn next door, Hotel Weisse Taube, had a room for $132, including breakfast, so we picked a room with a shower rather than a bathtub.

After an incredibly small breakfast at a nearby café (1 egg, 1 roll, 1 sip cappuccino) Manuela and I visited Salzburger Dom (774 A.D.), Franziskanerkirche (cir. 750 A.D.), and Stiftskirche St.Peter (696 A.D.). One begins to wonder: how many monumental Catholic churches did one medieval town need? The Stiftskirche St. Peter cemetery, squeezed between the cathedral and a sheer mountain wall, has many beautiful markers dating back centuries. Unfortunately the catacombs carved out of the mountain were closed.

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View from Hohensalzburg

We purchased Salzburg Cards ($34) entitling us to entry to most of Salzburg’s museums and historic buildings for 24 hours, which turned out to be a significant savings over individual entry fees. We used the cards first to visit Hohensalzburg, a 900-year old fortress standing atop Monchsberg overlooking Salzburg. The views of Altstadt and Salzburg from the medieval battlements were spectacular and we could see into the production compound of Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz‘s film “Days and Knights.” The Hohensalzburg has a genuine torture chamber (for “intense interrogations”) and a dungeon accessible only through a grate in the floor.

We finished the day with a visit to Mozart’s childhood home and snacked on pretzel-like brezen, a favorite treat of Manuela. In the evening we watched the Austrian national football team in a friendly match (non-league) with Spain on TV.

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Residenz

Today (November 19), Manuela and I visited Salzburg Museum and Residenz (1120). The former is a collection of artwork chronicling the history of Salzburg and the latter is the former residence of Salzburg’s archbishops. For centuries the archbishops were religious and political figures; but judging by the opulent palace they placed more emphasis on their political duties. One archbishop fathered 15 children by his mistress and built her a palace of her own.

There was so much to see in Innsbruck and Salzburg that I decided to postpone my visit to the Nazi death camp Mauthausen. We have a busy weekend ahead – on Saturday evening we are going to a Graz Sturm football match and then dancing at a disco party in the city center; on Sunday Manuela’s sister, Birgit, has invited us for brunch at their home in the nearby countryside.

Auf Wiedersehen!

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Posted by SChandler 09:51 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Austria 2009, Part 2

November 16, 2009
Tyrol, Austria

Guten Morgen,

I am writing this afternoon from aboard an OBB (Osterreichische Bundesbahnen) Intercity train climbing up the Inn Valley. The view from my compartment is amazing – rolling green foothills dotted with villages with dramatic snow capped Alps in the background. We just passed Kitzbuhl on the way to Innsbruck, home of the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics.

I have been in Austria for a week, a long time to cover in one blog, and although Manuela has shown me many sights in Graz and the region, my travels so far have been without any mis-adventures. It has been a relaxing visit.

I arrived in Vienna at Tuesday morning (November 10). The immigration and customs processes couldn’t have been easier – no paper work and just a quick glance at my passport. Manuela collected me at the airport and we took a short bus ride to Vienna’s Sudbahnhof (south main station) and then a two and one-half hour train ride south to Graz. We arrived at Manuela’s flat in the afternoon and I spent the rest of the day overcoming my red-eye flight.

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Graz Hauptplatz

Compared to Austria’s capital, Vienna, Graz gets very little international attention. It is the capital of Styria and has many historical sights, some dating back to the 11th century. Most of them are with in easy walking distance of the city center.

Wednesday morning Manuela gave me a proper tour of Graz, Austria’s second largest city (pop. 250,000). We wandered around Hauptplatz (central plaza); strolled down the Herrengasse to look at Bemaltes Haus (painted house) and window shop the pricey boutiques in the 500 year old houses that were once home to Graz’s wealthy; and toured the historic Rathaus (city government building) and Landhaus (regional government building).

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Graz Rathaus

We lunched across the Mur River which bisects Graz on it’s way to Slovenia’s Adriatic coast and Manuela took me to the Hofbackerei, a 16th century bakery that once baked for royalty. Of course there were several old churches to look into along the way. All of this sightseeing was done within sight the landmark Schlossberg citadel. Because it was overcast, Manuela insisted we wait until the following day when the weather promised to be better.

The sun came out Thursday (November 12) and the view from atop the ancient hilltop garrison that once stood against invaders from Turkey and France Schlossberg was worth the wait – Graz was a sea of red tile roofs below and Manuela pointed out several schlosses (castles) dotting the surrounding foothills. Afterwards, we bought roasted chestnuts, served fresh from the coals in a cone of rolled newspaper, from a street vendor in the Hauptplatz.

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View of Graz from Schlossberg

On Friday (November 13) Manuela and I rode the tram across town to Graz’s most well known castle, Schloss Eggenberg. Unfortunately most of the rooms of this 17th century royal palace were closed for the winter, so we could only tour the grounds and courtyards. In the evening we ate at Rick’s Cafe, one of Manuela’s favorite restaurants, and she introduced me to a favorite dish – Zick Zack. She had difficulty describing the unique appetizer to me and I’m still not sure what was in the minced meat served over a bowl of dried rice noodles that we ate on lettuce leafs, but it was good.

Since meeting a year ago, Manuela and I have learned that Americans and Europeans have different ideas of serving portions. She was a bit overwhelmed by a “small” 10 ounce cup of hot chocolate from It’s a Grind Café in Elk Grove. Saturday morning (November 14) I was a bit under-whelmed by the “large” 5 ounce cup of coffee I ordered at Aroom, a café near Manuela’s flat. Three sips and it was gone.

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Manuela's Flat

Our homes are another contrast in concepts of size. She found my modest 1700 sq. ft home quite roomy, which is understandable because her one bedroom apartment would nearly fit inside my bedroom. But Europeans have learned to make the most of small spaces and Manuela’s flat is a cozy home. Nearly everyone in Graz seems to live in flats or condominiums, even in the residential neighborhoods.

After my miniscule cup of coffee, Manuela and I shopped for fresh bread and fruit at the Kaiser-Josef-Platz outdoor market. She also picked out a small pumpkin that she turned into a delicious soup that evening. In the afternoon, Manuela’s friend, Doris, invited us for a drive to Styria’s wine country along the Slovenia border.

Sudsteirische Weinstrasse is a beautiful region of rolling hills, vineyards, and autumn colored trees. We stopped in at one winery, Zweytick, for a traditional plate of weinplatter (smoked meats and cheeses) and kaferbohnensalat (bean salad) with a glass of wine, then walked to another place for cider and cookies. A portion of the country road we traveled was the border between Austria and Slovenia.

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Sudsteirische Weinstrasse

Yesterday (November 15) Manuela and I had Sunday lunch with her family. It’s been a long time since I was taken home to “meet the folks” and as we approached Manuela’s childhood home, I was a bit nervous. Her mother speaks very little English and her father even less and I envisioned Manuela trying desperately to fill long awkward silences with a bilingual conversation.

Manuela’s two sisters and their families were also home for lunch and I, despite feeling like a bump on a log for most of the meal, found her family warm and comfortable. Thirteen-year old niece Theresa spoke very good English when she wasn’t too shy. As part of her normal English language curriculum, she recently learned about the origins of Thanksgiving. Manuela’s sister, Birgit, spoke with me in English as well and she was interested in violence in America, particularly in our schools.

Manuela told me beforehand that her mother was a good cook and suggested that cleaning up my plate would make a good impression. It was a delicious meal but I had little difficulty finishing the red beet salad. I have no idea what kind of impression I made, but everyone had a good laugh at my expense when, during a conversation on holiday gift giving, I told them that one year I received a sewing machine for Christmas. I think that contrasted with the tough American cop image they had of me.

I will arrive in Innsbruck this afternoon and stay one night. Tomorrow I will continue onto Salzburg and Mauthausen, a Nazi death camp. Unfortunately I am traveling alone because Manuela has job interviews the next few days. But she thinks being on my own will be good for me because I will be forced to speak German. Fortunately most Austrian’s speak some English, particularly in tourist destinations like Innsbruck and Salzburg.

Tschuss!

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Posted by SChandler 09:02 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Austria 2009, Part 1

Elk Grove, California
November 9, 2009

Where to next? Austria!

Austria is a country of soaring Alps, medieval castles, and beautiful palaces. It is also home to Maneula. I will be in Austria for the next three weeks, much of it in Manuela’s home town of Graz in the southern province of Styria. I had the pleasure of hosting Manuela in Elk Grove earlier this year and now it is her turn to show off her country.

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We plan to visit Innsbruck, Salzburg, Vienna, and Linz; and Slovenia and Hungary are short train rides away. I fly out of Sacramento Monday (November 9) layover for a few hours in Washington D.C., and then arrive in Vienna Tuesday morning (18 hours later).

Siehe in Österreich!

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Scott and Manuela in Guatemala, 2009

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Posted by SChandler 21:00 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Guatemala 2009, Part 6

August 1, 2009
Elk Grove, California

I’m sitting in an Elk Grove café this morning writing my last entry for our Guatemala 2009 adventure. I arrived home late last night after a flight from Guatemala City to Houston and then onto Sacramento. Manuela and I spent the last two nights of our adventure in the capital, known locally as just Guatemala or “Guate” for short.

We reached Guate Wednesday evening after a shuttle van ride from Monterrico to Antigua and then a second one to the capital. During our layover in Antigua we lunched at the Bagel Barn, exchanged paperback books at the Rainbow Café, and visited with Bill and Stephany in Parque Central. Most of the other eight or nine tourists in the second van transferred in Guate to an overnight bus to Flores.

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Hotel Pan American

Manuela and I got a room at Hotel Pan American near the city center. Lonely Planet says the Pan American was Guatemala City’s only luxury hotel before WWII and is still run by the founding family. Little seems to have changed since then, including drab wall colors (made even drabber by florescent lighting, which I assume is not original). Nonetheless, I found it charming even if it was a bit noisy in the evenings and early mornings – we could hear our neighbors’ toilets and showers.

Most guidebooks suggest skipping the capital due to a lack of interesting and historical sights and a high crime rate. But I asked Manuela to show me some of the city she spent several weeks working in. On Thursday (July 30) we walked through Parque Central and Catedral Metropolitana (completed in 1815). The latter is a large beautiful church, but I’d seen enough cathedrals in the past two weeks to last me a month of Sundays. Unfortunately the Palacio National de la Cultura, originally built between 1936 and 1943 as a presidential palace, was closed for a private function. Manuela also took me down 6a Avenida, whose sidewalks are lined with booths selling everyday items such as clothes, house wares, and music CDs.

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Parque Central

Manuela and I both had afternoon departures yesterday, so we spent the morning reading at the hotel and drinking coffee/hot chocolate at Le Leon Café, which had many interesting photographs of Guate dating back to the 1920’s displayed on the walls. My flight left a few hours before she could check in for hers, so we had to say goodbye in the main terminal.

I never imagined I would return to Guatemala, particularly after only six months, but having no set itinerary and traveling mostly by local transportation made this trip fun and adventurous. Sharing it with Manuela made it special; although I think she got tired of always translating and being pestered with “What does ____ mean?” If not for her, I would still be sitting beside the road in Tulate waiting for a bus to come along! And I can’t adequately describe how wonderful it was to have her patiently nurse me back to health in Panajachel. Thank you, Schön.

Where to next?

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Posted by SChandler 09:07 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Guatemala 2009, Part 5

July 29, 2009
Monterrico, Guatemala

Manuela and I are sitting in the beautiful restaurant of Hotel Pez de Oro overlooking the black sand beach of Monterrico and the pounding Pacific Ocean. Soon a private shuttle van will come by and take us back to Guatemala City. Manuela reminded me that I noted in my first blog that we would be traveling by camionetas[/i, but after the series of bus rides to get here, I’ll be glad to never ride in a chicken bus again.

After three nights in Xela, we left the cool northern highlands and headed to the beach. We took a taxi to the bus station where our driver nearly got into a fistfight with a pedestrian that darted in front of the car. But he saw our bus bound for Mazatenango just leaving and jumped out to halt it for us, so we gave him a good tip. Fortunately the bus wasn’t crowded as we left Xela and headed down a windy mountain highway.

The bus became more crowded as it made its way towards Mazatenango in the southern lowlands. In addition to more and more passengers, numerous people got on at each roadside stop to sell something. First it was a man selling cheap imitations of Spirograph kits, claiming art was the best way to keep kids away from street gangs and violence. He was followed by an evangelist and then a pitchman selling a cure-all. And three or four kids hawking hamburgers, gum, [i]agua pura, and fruit passed up and down the aisle. At one stop, a man with a half full urinary bag tied around his neck asked for donations. Those not fast enough to complete their pitch before the bus departed had to ride to the next stop.

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Tulate

By the time Manuela and I reached Mazatenango three-hour later, we had been crammed three to a seat several times. Only 30 miles from the coast, Mazatenango was very hot and insanely humid. Did I mention that these buses don’t have air conditioning? At the chaotic bus station, we found a bus heading to Tulate; unfortunately, though, after the bus departed the attendant told us the bus didn’t actually go all the way to the beach town – we would have to transfer at Centro Dos.

What kind of town is named Second Center (down the highway from First Center)? A god-forsaken trash-dump crossroads in the middle of nowhere. This was the end of the line for that chicken bus and we had to wait for another bus to take us the remaining 15 miles. The constant stares we got from everyone were a sure sign that gringos were not too common there. Several young men on motorcycles rode by three or four times staring at us while we waited 30 minutes in front of a fruit stand.

After about half an hour on our third bus of the day, we were dropped off where the road ended at a narrow lagoon. Both of the two hotels listed in Lonely Planet were across the water on a narrow strand, so we hired a launch and were dropped off at the back of Playa Paraiso. The guide praised this hotel as the better of the two, but it is the height of the rainy season in Guatemala so we didn’t expect too many people. Once again we were the only people in the whole resort and I got an eerie Hotel Bates feeling. Playa Paraiso is a dumpy run down hotel with a bath water pool. But it was right on the beach and rooms were large and included both a ceiling fan and a floor fan.

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Playa Paraiso

Manuela and I reached Playa Paraiso late in the day, so we decided against searching for better accommodations. We spent the afternoon wading in the roaring surf and reading. When it began raining, we retreated to our hot humid room. I was in the shower when the electricity went out and had to finish in near darkness. Unfortunately for Manuela, by the time she went to clean up the water, circulated with an electrical pump, had stopped too. With no light, no fans, and no water, we went to the dark and deserted restaurant. Manuela politely inquired about the menu but they were only offering desayuno tipico – eggs, beans, & toast. She was too disgusted to eat, but I ate eggs by candlelight.

When we went back to our room I noticed a one-inch doorsill keeping water pooling on the patio from running in door. We read by candlelight for awhile as the rain’s intensity increased but did little to ease the heat. We originally planned to stay at the beach a few days, but as I fell asleep, I could only think of how quickly we could escape Tulate. Sometime during the night I awoke to a torrential downpour and fearing the sill would be ineffective against the deluge, I got up to check our room against flooding.

Manuela and I woke up Sunday morning (July 27) to a dry room but still no electricity or water. We packed our backs in semi-darkness and checked out by 6:30 AM, paying an outrageous rate of $30. It was so early that we had to yell across the lagoon for Poncho to come pick us up in a launcha. The hotel clerk told us the camionetas to left Tulate every hour beginning at 4:00 AM. We bought some water at a tienda near the bus stop and a woman raking trash out front told us the bus drivers serving Tulate were on strike. There would be no buses out of Tulate that day. I nearly cried.

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Waiting for a bus...any bus...

Someone else told us that no buses were leaving Mazatenango either due to some presidential incident in the capital. I felt doomed to spend another night in Tulate. Finally a man rode up on a bicycle and offered to find someone with a car that would drive us Mazatenango. He returned a few minutes later followed by beat up Isuzu Amigo. The driver told us it would cost $43 to get out of Tulate and I gladly agreed, even though it was ten times the bus fare. We climbed in and took a bouncy, bone-jarring ride inland to Mazatenango during which the driver passed slower motorists on blind corners several times.

I had predicted it would take us six to eight hours to reach Monterrico, so when we got to the Mazatenango bus stop at about 9:00 AM, I figured we still had a long day ahead of us. We bought some sweet bread at panaderia booth at the station and got on a bus headed south for Guatemala City. We planned to get off in Esquintla and catch a bus back to the coast. During the two-hour ride ($1.50), the bus grew to bursting capacity and Manuela and I were once again sharing a two person seat with a various other passengers. But we were lucky because many seats had four or five people.

Esquintla is another one of those crossroads cities that doesn’t see too many gringos. We were dropped off along a main thoroughfare and pointed towards a public van going our way. We lucked out because a passenger already aboard spoke English and said he too was going to Monterrico. He offered to help get us to our destination. But first the van had to wait at a gas station until the attendant gathered enough passengers. Once we got going, I learned that our fellow passenger lives in Richmond, California, and was visiting family on jackpot winnings from a Sacramento area Indian casino.

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Monterrico

I wonder if we would have reached Montericco if not for the man from Richmond. For 62¢ the van dropped us off on the side of the highway just outside Puerto Quetzales. From there a second van charged $1.25 to take us 20 miles down the coast to Iztapa. It dropped us off across a bridge spanning a river. We waited in front of a dirty tienda where a soaking wet drunk sat down next to Manuela. I have no idea what he said to her, but back in the States I wouldn’t have let him get out a second word. Here in Guatemala, where several of his amigos were close by, I was hesitant to respond to just words.

After a short wait a third public van came along and for $1.87 took the remaining 30 miles to Monterrico. It only took us four hours to reach this beach town, but Manuela and I had enough of hot, sweaty, crowded buses and vans. We decided then that our last journey, back to the capital, would be in a private shuttle. It seemed a miracle that we reached Monterrico considering we almost got stuck in Tulate.

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Hotel Pez de Oro

Our tour group stayed at the relatively posh Hotel Pez de Oro during our November stop in Monterrico. The rooms were nice, the pool was cool, and the restaurant served good food. Manuela and I decided, however, to check out some other places as we made our way down the sandy road running along the beach. Two that we checked into had sparse but clean rooms and charged only $7.50/night. Manuela was hot, tired, and needed a bathroom urgently so she wanted to settle for the first place we came. But I pressed on. I think she was ready to cry when I nixed staying at Johnny’s Place, which boasted private swimming pools for $20/night (air conditioning was an extra $10). We finally reached Hotel Pez de Oro at the end of the lane and agreed to the exorbitant rate of $48.00/night. After cooling off in the pool and having a large lunch, Manuela was ready to forgive my stubbornness and was glad we didn’t settle for less.

In the afternoon a gentle afternoon breeze kept the air moving enough to make the heat and humidity bearable, but unfortunately the breeze went down with the sun. Manuela and I ate dinner in sauna like conditions even though it was an outdoor restaurant. We found the restaurant Manuela had a fantastic pizza camorones in November. She has been boasting about it ever since, but that cook must have left because the shrimp pizza we had was disappointing. We returned to our hotel, climbed underneath the mosquito net and tried to sleep in the sweltering heat.

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Playa de Monterrico

The last two days (July 28 & 29) have been spent doing a lot of nothing – reading, relaxing, swimming, eating, scratching mosquito bites, and playing in the surf. I’ve only had to put my flip-flops on twice – once yesterday when we went to the internet café in town and once today to wander around with our cameras. A group from GAP Adventures, the same outfit we traveled with in November, has been staying here and we’ve had fun picking out each person’s nationality. It wasn’t difficult to determine which person was that “there’s one in every group” – a loud American woman who talked non-stop. Sometimes it’s nice to travel independently.

Our shuttle will come late this morning to take us to Antigua. In the evening a second shuttle will take us the rest of the way to Guatemala City. During our Antigua layover we may meet with Bill and Stephany for lunch and find a bookstore to exchanged our finished paperbacks. There are a few sights to see in Guatemala City tomorrow before Manuela and I both fly home from there the next day.

Hasta pronto!

.

Posted by SChandler 13:09 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Guatemala 2009, Part 4

July 22, 2009
Xela, Guatemala

This morning (Wednesday) Manuela and I are in the Bavaria Café y Restaurante having a tipico desayuno (typical breakfast) – eggs, refried beans, a wedge of cheese, tortillas, and fried plantains. This is the first morning since arriving in Xelaju that we’ve had time for a relaxing breakfast.

Officially named Quetzaltenango, everyone still refers to this pre-16th century city by it’s original name or just “Xela.” We arrived three days ago by shuttle from Panajachel. We were the only passengers in the van arranged through a travel agency so the driver stopped a couple times along the way to pick up locals standing by the side of the highway and took them a few miles down the road for four or five quetzals (about $0.50). I doubt the agency is aware of his extracurricular activity.

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Hotel Kiktem-ja

One of the advantages of a shuttle is “door to door service.” We were picked up at our hotel in Panajachel and dropped off at our hotel in Xela – Hotel Kiktem-Ja. Although Manuela has visited Xela two or three times before, all she knew of this hotel was Lonely Planet’s review that “the showers don’t disappoint.” The only room available until the end of the month had twin beds (suggesting it was popular with extended stay travelers), but Kiktem-Ja is in the center of Xela and had lots of old world worn-out (but clean) charm. And, as promised, the hot showers were very good.

Since her first visit in November, Manuela has spoken highly of Xela and after wandering the narrow zigzag cobblestone streets, I understood why. There are far fewer “gringos” here than Antigua but there are a lot of Spanish Language schools which seems to draw younger visitors. Our walking tour led us to Manuela’s favorite place in Xela – the cemetery.

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Cementerio General

I never thought of graveyards as tourist sites before I meeting Manuela, but I’ve come to share her interest in their cultural identity. We walked through several when she visited me in California and she has been bragging about Xela’s Cementerio General. Guatemala cemeteries are unique because the headstones and tombs are often painted in a rainbow of pastels and Xela’s is no exception.

The perimeter is a continuous wall of crypts four high while the architecture of individual tombs varies from Roman to Egyptian to free-style. Beyond the last path, where the cemetery rises up a gentle hill, the variety of gravesites continues, but on a much smaller scale. The bright coloration continues but the grand monuments give way to traditional headstones and simple crosses. Many graves are marked only with a mound of dirt.

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Blue Angel Café & Theatre

We found a local entertainment guide at an Internet café on our walk back to the hotel and discovered What’s Eating Gilbert Grape was playing at the Blue Angel Café & Theatre. The movie was dubbed in Spanish and the “theater” turned out to be a room with three rows of wooden benches covered in re-purposed foam pads in front of a TV and a video tape player, but Manuela and I are both Depp fans, so we enjoyed the experience. Where else are you going to get a spaghetti dinner and a movie for $5.00?

We were up early Thursday morning (July 23)for an excursion to the ruins of Tak ‘alik Ab ‘aj, outside Retalhuleu and breakfasted on pastries we bought from a panadaria the afternoon before. Our guide to this 2000-year-old Mayan city, once boasting 25,000 inhabitants, spoke only Spanish, so Manuela translated much of what he told us, except when he kept repeating himself. Experts claim Tak ‘alik Ab ‘aj is the oldest civilization in Central America but most of the temples and statues are dated between 800 and 300 BC. This Parque Arqueologico Nacional includes a dismal zoo of indigenous animals. At the end of the tour our guide did not hesitate to tell us that our tip was “es muy poquito.”

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Tak ‘alik Ab ‘Ja

Manuela and I spent the afternoon having our clothes cleaned at a launderia around the corner (two loads for $5.00), and arranging a tour of San Francisco el Alto for the following day. We also visited a small used bookstore to exchange a couple paperbacks and had a spicy dinner at Sabor India.

Arranged by one of several Xela’s tour agency offering half-day and full-day guided excursions, our journey to several nearby villages began even earlier Friday morning (July 24), so the streets were quiet as we waited outside the hotel to be picked up. Halfway to our first destination, the animal market ins San Francisco el Alto, we were stopped by a public demonstration against agrarian policies of the Guatemalan government.


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Xela

Local farmers blocked an important crossroads, effectively halting traffic for most of the day. Evan, our driver/guide, suggested we park the van, walk a half-mile or so around the demonstration and catch a chicken bus on the other side. I’m again referring to them as chicken buses again because I saw a woman holding a live chicken on the one we rode up to San Francisco el Alto.

Manuela and I were fortunate to schedule a visit to San Francisco el Alto on a Friday, the biggest market day of the week. Evan led us along narrow cobblestone streets lined with tables and stalls selling various household needs – kitchen wares, clothing, spices, fruits and vegetables, all covered with make shift plastic tarps because of morning rain. The town sits on a small mountain and in a clearing overlooking several valley villages the appearance of a flea market – used sewing machine (foot operated), farming implements, etc. It is there that live animals are sold – cows, pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, turkeys, ducks, and (pet) dogs – by individual farmers.

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San Francisco el Alto market

After climbing countless steeples and spires in Germany last month, I swore I would never climb another tower; but the prospect of overlooking the market from the roof of Iglesia San Francisco el Alto (built in 1839) was too enticing. Evan arranged with a priest to climb the extremely narrow and steep staircase (just 45 steps) to the roof and the view was well worth 62¢. There isn’t a terrace or balcony up there, just a roof; but we could look down on the merchants and out over the valley.

Guatemalans have a very different sense of personal space than we North Americans – they have none. Evan, Manuela, and I rode a public van 10 miles back to the demonstration. There were 17 people in the van (built for 12 passengers) when the journey began and we picked up five or six more along the way. After we got back to our van, we drove about 20 minutes to San Andreas Xecul, one of the towns we saw from San Francisco el Alto.

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View from Iglesia San Francisco el Alto

In a country where every other Catholic church is whitewashed, the citizens of this small town decided a few years ago to do something different – they painted their cathedral bright yellow and accented the icons gracing the façade with other equally loud hues. Now they boast of the most colorful church in Guatemala. We also visited the local Maximon. This patron saint supposedly begun as a man who slept with all the village women while their men toiled in the fields. Finally one husband took exception to Maximon’s philandering and cut off his arms and legs.

Rather than die, Maximon miraculously attained god status. Today, visitors place lighted cigarettes in his mouth and splash him with alcohol in supplication. A woman was praying fervently over her adolescent son when we entered the dingy dark room, asking Maximon to remove all evil thoughts from his head and heart. After paying our respects (and taking a few pictures), we climbed the steep streets of the town (reminiscent of San Francisco el California) and watched local Mayans attending altars of their ancient religions.

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Maximon

Evan next took us to the town of Saljaca where we viewed the oldest church in Central America. Iglesia de San Jacinto was built in 1524 by Spanish conquistadors in hopes of establishing a stronghold in this fiercely Mayan region. Open only on Saturdays, we were only able to view it from the street. We also visited a man weaving traditional garments on a large loom and tasted a caldo de fruta, a strong local drink made by soaking fruit in rum for several weeks.

Manuela and I saw so much during our morning excursion that I was surprised it was just after noon when Evan dropped us off back at the hotel. I wandered Xela for awhile, taking pictures of the unique streets and Plaza Centroamericano. Unfortunately there was a funeral occurring at the cathedral across from the plaza, so I was unable to step inside. We dined at one of Xela’s many cafés offering wi/fi and surfed the Internet for our next destination. We originally thought going to Tilapita on the north coast near the border with Mexico, but we got conflicting information from recent, so we decided to visit Tulate further south.

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Iglesia de San Jacinto

I’ve enjoyed our stay in Xela. While there aren’t as many sights here as in Antigua, there are many places of interest in the area and many good restaurants and cafes. After our relaxing breakfast here at the Bavaria we will take a taxi to the bus station and find a chicken bus to Mazatenango. Hopefully once there we will find a bus heading out to the coast.

Hasta pronto!

.

Posted by SChandler 15:59 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Guatemala 2009, Part 3

July 21, 2009
San Juan de Laguna, Guatemala

During our November 2008 visit to Guatemala the tour van driver suddenly pulled over on a Coban side street and walked away from the van without a word. Fifteen puzzling minutes later, he reappeared without explanation and we continued on our journey. A few days later a different driver stopped at a busy intersection and suddenly changed places with a man standing on the corner. Again there was no explanation. We became accustomed to unexpected behavior from drivers, so neither Manuela and I were too dismayed when our shuttle driver from Antigua on Sunday (July 19) stopped in a small town and asked for directions to our destination.

We and a Dutch couple that picked up from another Antigua hostel and traversed several beautiful deep gorges on a steep winding road before eventually reached Panajachel. The largest of a dozen or so towns and communities on the shore of Lake Atitlan, Panajachel is the most touristy. The streets are lined with stalls offering local handicrafts and T-shirts while gangs of boys pester visitors with, “Buy one thing, mister? Buy one thing?” Our destination was San Juan de Laguna, a smaller town across the lake.

Manuela called Eco Hotel Uxlabil, which boasted lots of hot water and nice swimming docks, to confirm they had vacancy and we found the next publico boat crossing the lake. The Dutch couple was onboard, too, but they were going to Jaibalito where we stayed in November. Although it was the public boat going to several lakeside towns, all 14 passengers turned out to be foreigners. We all had to wait while the last two, a young American couple, tried to bargain a lower fare even though we told them we all paid the standard $3.30. They were the only passengers traveling with regular luggage – American Tourister suitcases!

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Eco Hotel Uxlabil

After 45-minutes and several stops, Manuela and I got off on the wobbly dock of San Juan de Laguna. We immediately became excited when we saw Eco Hotel Uxlibil on a hill overlooking the small cove. Our walk to the hotel took us down a beautifully paved lane on the lake’s edge, along a narrow path through a patch of corn, and then up a winding stone walk. We arrived in the empty office just ahead of the gardener. He explained that he was the only staff still at the hotel and he told us that the last guests left late so the maid took the last bus home before cleaning any of the rooms. He offered to prepare one of the rooms himself, but instead made several telephone calls and arranged for the maid to return.

We wandered off to the town for dinner while our room was prepared. We didn’t see very many cars, but the roads in San Juan were busy with people coming and going. Manuela photographed murals decorating the sides of many homes and shops. The overly friendly manager, Juan Jose, greeted us when we returned to the hotel. He thanked us repeatedly for staying at his hotel. We made arrangements for breakfast (included in the $55/night rate), Manuela and I settled into a room on the third floor that shared a wide veranda overlooking the lake.

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View from Eco Hotel Uxlabil

After enjoying the view from the veranda of our room for a long time Monday morning (July 20), Manuela and I decided to take the hotel’s tandem kayak out along the reedy banks of the lake. Unfortunately the two-person kayak turned out to be two one-person kayaks and Manuela wasn’t interested in paddling so we took the canoe out. But that didn’t work either because it was too windy. We spent the remainder of the morning swimming and sunning on the dock.

In the afternoon we visited several local artist galleries and met Felipe, a genuinely friendly artist/teacher. He shared a great deal about his art and young students without trying to make a sale and Manuela proved she was fluent in Spanish. She even spoke a few words in the local Mayan dialect. While we were walking around San Juan de Laguna, my stomach first began to rumble. I went to bed hoping it was just indigestion; but after a fitful night of sleep, I woke up yesterday morning with diarrhea.

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San Juan de Laguna

Everything at the breakfast table nauseated me. I went back to bed for an hour and felt good enough for the 45-minute boat ride back to Panajachel and two and one-half hour bus ride to Xela. When we checked out of the hotel, Juan Jose told the public boats come by every 20 minutes, so Manuela and I hiked back to the dock. The young men lounging about there told us the boats don’t come to San Juan de Laguna unless they are dropping off passengers. They said the wait might be hours. One of them, the owner of a tuk-tuk (three-wheeled taxi scooter) convinced us it was quicker to go to San Pedro de Laguna where the boats left regularly. We suspected he was setting us up, but the fare was just a few dollars and we decided to take a tuk-tuk to San Pedro de Laguna.

San Pedro de Laguna is a larger town a few minutes from San Juan de Laguna, although it would have been shorter if the driver hadn’t turned around at the outskirts of San Juan de Laguna and drove the tuk-tuk backwards for several minutes. There was a boat going to Panajachel already at the stone wharf, but it would not leave until they had 12 passengers. We were only the second and third, so we sat and waited for over an hour until the boat was full. I spent 50¢ visiting a bathroom several times.

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Hotel Primavera, Panajachel

By the time we reached Panajachel, I knew I wouldn’t survive a two and half hour bus ride to Xela. Manuela and I found a clean comfortable hotel for only $25 night. As soon as we got into the room I collapsed on the bed and didn’t get up again (except to go to the bathroom) for 24 hours. Manuela patiently nursed me back to health and I woke up this morning feeling much better. We are now waiting for a van going to Xela ($20/ea.). I have been looking forward to visiting Manuela’s favorite Guatemala city. She assures me there is little tourism in this old colonial town but there is a lot to see and there are ample opportunities to visit places of interest in the surrounding region.

Hasta pronto!

.

Posted by SChandler 19:33 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

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