Monday, April 27, 2015

Budapest, Bunkers, and Borders. A Weekend Road Trip Double Header.

Across the southeastern border and into Budapest we went early Saturday morning, to cheer on the AIS Knights in the five-school Track & Field exchange hosted by AIS Budapest. 

Provence has its lavender fields; Central Europe has its Rapeseed fields. Rapeseed is eaten by the Chinese in its greens form; around these parts and others it is processed into a cooking oil similar to canola. 
The Hungarian language makes us smile. Derived from Finnish (!) it is nearly impossible for us to navigate, and we are grateful for the little bit of German offered on the road signs. 

 Who would guess that "Becs" is Hungarian for "Vienna?"
Anna Grace is trying a new event this year, the 100m hurdles, and shows a great deal of promise.
In each of her two favorite events she took First Place; a personal best of 145cm in the High Jump, and another personal best in the 100m.  The power of the pony tail!

Sunday was supposed to be a day of moving prep chores. After dropping Anna Grace for a Pfadfinder event, the sunny skies beckoned us across the northern border into the Czech Republic instead, to explore another Zamek and its village.
Hands down, the least interesting addition to my border crossing photo collection, because from 1946 to 2011 the road between the border villages was closed to traffic. Hence, no border crossing.
Bunker (with rapeseed!) at the single lane crossing. This must have been the most boring bunker post ever.
After a short and pretty drive through vineyards, the village of Valtice appears.
Valtice is home to an impressive Baroque palace, once the residence of the Liechtenstein Family's Knights (when Valtice was part of Austria, before 1919, and known then as Feldsberg). The palace is a bit shabby and in need of restoration, but its earlier grandeur is apparent and walking the grounds made for a pleasant outing. One can tour the interior, full of the usual royal rooms and gilded this and that, and enjoy wine tastings in the cellar (which we did).  This part of southern Moravia is noted for its wines, and they did not disappoint.

The village met all criteria for a day outing for us: old churches, beautiful main squares, interesting local scenery, and great food.

 Crossing back into Austria (only slightly more interesting with the Austrian "flag" sign) one comes into Katzelsdorf, notable for the density of wine press buildings.

And then, homeward bound. Another great weekend accomplished.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Shopping Weekend in Paris and London

Except, I was in Prague. French labels and British department stores colored me happy for a much-needed shopping weekend. 

Now, I am so not a shopper. In the U.S. I was spoiled; at Nordstroms, an upscale department store specializing in the full range of sizes we had something like a personal shopper. Because Tony needs "Tall" and "Extra Long" clothing in everything from socks to shirts to ties, the ever helpful "Dana" would alert me when items became available in the store for him, and she would also helpfully suggest a few items for me. The items of interest would be charged to our account, and I would pick up the nicely wrapped package on the way home from the office. On our visits to Paris I would fill in with necessary basics for myself. That is my idea of shopping-quality over quantity.

Since living here I have conducted "surgical strike shopping," buying what I need when I need it for one social event or another. By the by, though, the basic out-and-about wardrobe has run rather skimpy. Last week I spent two unpleasant days in search of the perfect spring khakis, trying everything from chain stores to boutiques and coming up empty-handed. That is when Tony suggested I, "Take a shopping weekend to Paris or London." Is he not a perfect husband?

With our move to a new house here, the sale of our U.S. home underway, and not-so-friendly airfare to either city (translation: cash is flying out of our pocketbook faster than one can imagine), a little research on my part suggested Prague might be a worthwhile shopping destination. Lots of French labels (Love you, Anne Fontaine!) and a couple of British department stores. Plus, well, it's Prague in the spring. What's not to like?

So off I set on Friday morning. Did you know that one can purchase a first-class ticket on the Czech Railways website for the same price as a second-class ticket on the Austrian railways website for the same train? Why, Austria, why? 

In four short and comfortable hours I was in Prague, and shortly thereafter, SHOPPING!  French influences are everywhere in Prague.
The Hotel Paris, resplendent against the blue skies.
Macarons at the Namesti Republicky farmer's market. Yum.
Kotva, once upon a time Czechoslovakia's largest department store. Though the interior is a little minimalistic and some of the store clerks could be long-retired Stasi guards, I was treated like a princess while shopping and left with a number of Czech and French label items.
The Palladium, Prague's main shopping mall was hosting a "Shopping Fever" weekend wherein almost every store was offering at least a 20% discount across the board. Though my arms were laden with bags after my excursion through the mall, my pinkie finger did manage to carry a Paul apple tarte the two blocks to my hotel for a before-dinner "aperitif."
The following morning I set out for Prague's passages. Mostly unremarkable and not at all like those I've sauntered through in Paris.

My final stop was the British department store Debenhams. Housed in an obvious social times construction, the inside was warm and cheery and full of lovely things to purchase. Which I did.
Walking back to the hotel with my purchases, I happened upon a Stolpersteine. Niemals vergessen. Never forget.
How successful was my shopping trip?  Tony thoughtfully met me at the train station upon my return. As he lifted my case into the car he remarked, "Well, so you did some shopping, did you?"