Down by the river

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Salzburg’s riverfront

When I was traveling recently I was really impressed with the integration between city and river that I experienced in Salzburg and Prague. In both places the river was the center of the city rather than a divider and it felt very natural to make your way to the shore for walks, dining, shopping and art. So civilized.

We arrived back in Albany to a week of wet, humid weather. It’s been difficult to motivate myself to be active, but Jeter has gotten a couple of good walks and I remembered how much I enjoy running down by the river when the temperature is high. I’ve gone down to the Corning Trail twice the week and had really good runs, even with the humidity level through the proverbial roof, there’s always a breeze to be caught along the Hudson.

I couldn’t help but compare our Albany riverfront to the ones I really appreciated in Europe. People, we’re falling short…

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Prague’s Charles Bridge

In Salzburg, the river has a terrific running and walking trail, just like we do, but they also had a cool, independent market. It was a series of stalls and trucks offering unique items (most handcrafted), food, wine and coffee, fabrics and jewelry.  We could totally do something like that in Albany. In Prague the UNESCO site, the Charles Bridge, has vendors along its sides selling souvenirs, and art and there are musicians performing. Our Walkway could definitely host similar activities.

I’ve run down by the river for more than 25 years and I can tell you it is greatly improved in ways that the average person might not notice. On Friday, before I ran I had to use the portapotty and I prepared myself with a deep inhale of fresh air prior to opening that plastic door. It was unnecessary – the portapotty was remarkably clean. That’s new.

We’ve had some heavy rains and in previous years, the smell of the river after a storm that turned the water brown, would be downright offensive. There was a metallic, chemical odor that reliably accompanied the higher water levels, particularly, as you might imagine, across the river from the water treatment plant. The past couple of days? No odor at all. That’s better.

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Yesterday at the Corning Preserve

The wildlife down by the Hudson would have to be our greatest advantage over the much older, and better evolved, cities that I recently visited. I’ve had snake, bunny, woodchuck/beaver/mole thing, and deer sightings this year alone. Often they’re not really afraid of me and continue to nibble on the grass or stand at attention watching as I run by. It’s cool.

I spend a lot of my disposable income taking trips. It’s kind of a joke among people who know me. I’m sure I should be more conservative with my money and pour more of it into my house or my retirement, but traveling and seeing new things, even when they’re really old, is such a great investment. Seeing how other people do things is inspiring. 

What have you observed during your travels that you’d love to see replicated in your area?

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Murderous Dachau

 

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This is a replica gate. The original was stolen, but was recovered and now is on display in the museum.

Two of my sons are big history buffs. When we travel, more often than not, we visit places steeped in history, particularly 20th century wars. Our most recent trip earlier this month continued that tradition and we took in some intense WW II history in (or near) each city we visited. It’s always a speech robbing experience, which is why I’m only finding the words two weeks after we paid our respects at the first of our stops, Dachau.

483AEA12-9529-487E-A133-4501599FE841I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Normandy, the Ardennes Forest, Nuremberg and Anne Frank’s house and have seen things that are beyond my comprehension in terms of hatred and heroism. Dachau, though, was a whole nother level, as it was designed to be as the first and model example of a concentration camp. 

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One of the watchtowers.

Visiting Dachau is really easy, in terms of transportation, from Munich. It was a train and a bus all on the same ticket. The bus was packed with students and groups, but we wedged our way onto the first one and arrived at the camp in time to get in on one of the day’s English tours, scheduled to last approximately 3 hours.

Our guide was terrific – thorough, knowledgeable and a resident of the area whose own grandfather had been punished with a sentence at Dachau, yet survived to never talk about what he witnessed or was subjected to. He didn’t want to risk going back. Despite his Opa’s reticence about discussing his time imprisoned, our guide’s repeated use of the word “murderous,” revealed his deep understanding of the grounds we walked.

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Smoking forbidden.

The tour physically moved us from where the trains would arrive to the processing building, which offered displays and photographs to visually recreate what occurred in which area. The sleeping barracks were replicas, tidy and clean in a way that they never could have  been with hundreds of humans denied every basic need. It was horrific. The toilet and wash room bearing the load of so many…

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Only the foundations remain of the original barracks.

We toured a building which was the prison within a prison. Individual cells with perhaps a toilet, maybe not, and heavy wooden door with wrought iron bars. I couldn’t decide if it was better or worse than the chaos of the general barracks, but I imagine the lack of nourishment and the addition of regular beatings and other abuses probably swayed things to being worse, if that’s even imaginable.

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Haunted by how those bars may been bent.

It was a heavy day but, just like the large groups of German children who were there as a required component of their curriculum, it felt compulsory to me. If you’re in that area, I recommend a guided tour (minimal cost) and a walk around the small city of Dachau, if you can manage it. We didn’t have time but I would have been interested to see some of the city. It would have been nice to get a different definition for a quaintly pretty city that has been synonymous with death for decades.

 

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Introducing the doors…

Not the rock and roll Doors from L.A.* but the equally incredible and ornate doors of Austria and Prague. I couldn’t stop myself from pausing to capture photos of as many wildly beautiful doors that I came across during my recent trip. Check these out!

 

 

*maybe Roadhouse Blues came to mind for you too?

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Raindrops on roses 🎼

When I travel I try to keep my options open with regards to activities and attractions. My ultimate goal on vacation is to have unstructured time to explore my locale, not to have a schedule, so I generally book a single thing per day and fill the rest of my time with whatever happens to inspire me.

The impetus to visit Salzburg was my son’s fondness of The Sound of Music, so I reserved space for us on the Fraulein María bike tour, TripAdvisor’s #1 outdoor activity in Salzburg. Our tour began at about 9:30 when we met our guide, Kata, near Schloss Mirabell. She explained what we should expect (3.5 hours, approximately 10 miles and plenty of singing) and we began our adventure. The ride itself wasn’t particularly challenging beyond the fact that the bikes are heavy and the route unfamiliar. Our group was lots of fun and it was obvious that a number of them were big time fans of the classic movie, but, I believe Liam had them all beat when it came to familiarity with the story and music. He knew all the answers.

Frau, fraulein, whatever.

My own knowledge of the movie is scattered and I intend to rewatch it with my new perspective on what was accurate and what was mere Hollywood sleight of hand. The ride was a wonderful way to explore areas of Salzburg that we otherwise might not have made it to and I would definitely recommend the tour for anyone going to that beautiful little city. The ride isn’t overly difficult, but there are a couple of semi-challenging hills and bringing water is a must. You wouldn’t want to not be able to belt out Edelweiss due to a dry throat now, would you?

 

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Welcome to Vienna!

 

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Salzburg made me swoon. 

When we last saw our intrepid traveler she was in Salzburg, the little city which stole her big heart. Since then there have been two more cities, including one in yet another new-to-her country. Let’s pick it up with Vienna…

We arrived mid afternoon on Monday, following a scenic and comfortable train ride, and managed to find our flat without difficulty. After traveling with my son almost a week at that point, I knew to stop on the way at a grocery store for a couple of items, namely yogurt and another bottle of grüner veltliner. We quickly settled in and set out on foot to explore without any true destination, other than the ticketing office where we needed to collect out Hop On/Hop Off tickets which I had booked online. We went with the 3 option package which included 24 hours of the bus and two additional attractions of our choosing.

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There were so many blooms but these smelled particularly fantastic.

I left Liam in charge of navigation, something he really does quite well, and we meandered our way through the beautiful rose garden to collect our physical tickets near the Opera House. We seriously got on the bus at the exact right time because the skies just opened up and rain poured down. By the time we had done two loops, the rain had stopped and we felt a bit oriented. Time to walk.

FD9D5B65-EB36-44CB-8B15-F244EC607F01While my love for Salzburg is true, Vienna also had some very appealing characteristics. Again, the architecture is phenomenal with elaborate buildings complete with colorful flowers. We stumbled upon St. Stephen’s Cathedral and for the first time of the trip, I wished I hadn’t neglected to bring my Nikon. That roof! The gargoyles! It was just stunning.

627B08D3-C55F-44AE-BC81-46AA68EEE155We came upon some primo shopping with all of the high-end stores represented, and enjoyed walking on the pedestrian only streets window shopping. In every direction we looked there were beautiful buildings. We finally settled in at the Museums Quartier to watch as the sky put on a post-storm show that my phone couldn’t quite capture. We found our way to our Vienna home and turned in fairly early to ensure a first thing in the morning start for our only complete day in the beautiful city. We would discover that the tram, which ran directly in front of our flat, was quite an effective alarm clock, which was fine because we still had a lot to see. CBDF1BEE-0624-4E46-B652-DCDC5FA4652C

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Salzburg run

While I’m a big fan of public transport while exploring Europe, my favorite mode of travel when I’m visiting a new place remains my own two feet. Other than having a personal tour guide, I can think of no other way with which to become familiar with a city. I love setting my own pace, having the freedom to impulsively take a turn down a street that beckons and stopping for a drink or bite to eat when the urge hits me. Plus, it’s free!

Visiting four cities in 11 days makes for a lot of walking, but it has also taught me that I need three days in a new city before I feel an undeniable urge to run. It’s something about achieving a level of comfort and sense of where I can get in a few miles with limited risk from cars or other potential dangers, I think. Of course this means that I’ve thus far into my trip only had a single run. I’m trying to not chastise myself touch for my lack of exercise, since I have been walking my ass off. I find a glass of wine or two and a pastry helps with that guilt.

In Salzburg I had a chance to run along the Salzach River. There’s a great path for pedestrians and the view was pretty sweet. I initially ran north on the west side of the water and as the miles passed, the scenery became increasingly less populated. I went with my gut and crossed a bridge to the east side at a point when I felt my opportunities to cross the water were becoming less frequent. It was hard to turn away from the Schloss set high on the hill which had been enticing me to continue north, but I was rewarded by the views from the new to me east bank of the Salzach.

I ran, as I always do in a new place, with the knowledge that I might not ever have this same opportunity. My health and physical strength will gradually (I hope!) decline, the opportunities to travel may diminish, perhaps the weather won’t be as inviting as I’ve often been fortunate to experience…whatever. Lots of things could happen to prevent me from lacing up my Altras and hitting the sidewalks, but not that particular day. That day, I ran and my heart, eyes and legs all appreciated the effort. It was a terrific run and will be a wonderful memory forever.

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Riding that train

Most of my recent trips to Europe have been with my uncle and aunt, which means that I haven’t had to really deal with transportation once I hit the ground. Our primary means of travel has been by auto and I’ve only had to buckle up and sit back. Easy.

This trip has been quite different but surprisingly almost as effortless – Europe knows what they’re doing when it comes to transportation. Aside from our inner city travels, also fairly priced and convenient, we’ve traveled between 4 cities in three countries and it has been a piece of sachertorte.

In an increasingly frequent leap of faith, I opted to not book any tickets in advance. I’m not sure if there were any financial consequences to that decision, but I found the prices for tickets to be reasonable, even a bargain when you factor in the quality of the trains. I’ll get to that, but first the prices: from Munich to Salzburg (for two without any discounts) was 31 euro, from Salzburg to Vienna 53.80e and Vienna to Prague via Linz was a combined total of 68e. I think that converts to about $185 give or take a little, a deal when you consider it would have cost us almost $170 for two to travel from Albany to NYC on Amtrak.

The ticketing process is super simple. I downloaded the Trainline EU app when I was in Munich and set up an account. Searching for tickets is easy and you can choose which criteria is most important to you – time, price or speed. Most of the time I went with what was direct and cheap. There definitely were faster trains at higher prices, but our longest journey was a total of 6 hours when we went from Vienna to Prague. There was a nearly one hour layover in Linz, though, to factor into that. It was actually a welcome bonus for us because we had sufficient time to pick up some food for the trip from the Spar market in the bahnhof.

Other advantages of train travel? Well, there’s the pleasure of stretching one’s legs and walking around rather than being crammed into a car. Pit stops for bathroom breaks are unnecessary since the train has WCs available and speaking bathrooms, the bathrooms on the trains we were on were cleaner than 90% of the bathrooms I encounter at home. Immaculate, well stocked and modern with automatic water, soap dispensers and hand dryers. The contrast with what I’m unfortunately accustomed to on trains in New York, is dramatic. Eating and drinking is also a comfortable option with many of the seats set up in little booth arrangements.

The train stations are so pretty…

In addition to comfort, there are amenities such as power outlets and WiFi on most trains. I was a bit bummed that we didn’t have WiFi on our lengthiest trip, but the friendly guy sitting near us said it was a good introduction to the difference between Austria and the Czech Republic. I can live with that since the ride was scenic, my legs could be extended and I had the cutest little table to eat my grocery store lunch upon.

…and quaint!

One final advantage – I don’t seem to suffer from motion sickness while writing or reading on a train. If I were in a car, I wouldn’t be able to relax and bang out a few posts. Reasonably priced, reliable, clean, comfortable and scenic makes European trains right on track.

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