The intellectual equivalent of a ham sandwich.

December 31
I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that my wife or I are cool. To ring in 2016, we … maybe stayed up til midnight? I don’t know. The year before that, we were at a friend’s house and I think left not long after midnight. We go to sleep pretty consistently fairly early, and all the sudden some day comes along and demands us to stay up late? I don’t think so.
Since we were traveling and would be somewhere new and beautiful, I wanted us to ring in the new year with something more traditional – you know, staying up til midnight at least, being social, enjoying ourselves. That sort of thing.
I looked up Prague New Year’s Eve events and saw a number of boat rides that sounded enjoyable but they were long. They were maybe four or five hours and what happens if the boat was full of strangers you didn’t particularly care for? Or, possibly worse, a nearly empty boat? I stumbled upon an option that was strange, allowed us to ring in the New Year, and wouldn’t last too long (which ended up being an added bonus considering that the lady was so sick).
The website was slick and sold me on the Prague Burlesque Royal. This would be held at the Royal Theatre & Club. You might be tempted to think they were trying to capitalize on unsuspecting tourists by throwing the word Royal all over the place, but no, surely not. A burlesque wouldn’t sully its name like that.
We arrived at a building that was nondescript and unattractive from the outside. The show was supposed to start at 10 pm, but we got there at around 9:30. Inside it was much nicer looking, the layout and feel of the room was very cool and chic. There were a couple people at a table when we walked in, some balloons scattered, and the employees were excited and happy to see us. It made me think of middle school dances, where you’d walk in and people were nervous and giddy. Except at the burlesque my math teacher wasn’t there threatening to dance with me if I didn’t ask a girl to dance.
After presenting our tickets we were shown to our seats. There were a few couches up front and along one side, and a lot of small tables with two to four chairs around them. Our table was in the third row, which meant we had a waiter who would get our drinks for us. How posh.
I ordered … something. I’m not sure what. A drink drink, not a beer because they didn’t do beer, and my wife got a non-alcoholic beverage (she doesn’t drink) and we settled in to people watch as they trickled in. On our table was a little decoration and a small bowl of chips. It was tasteful and fit the mood. My wife reached out to have a chip and gave me a look, “try the chips” she said with equal amounts amusement and shock. I gave her a look in return and popped a chip in my mouth … My wife voiced my thoughts before my brain had figured them out, “it tastes like a Dorito!” Sure enough, a Dorito. Not even a real Dorito but a knock-off, a not quite Dorito. This chip symbolized perfectly this place – it seems nice, and good, cool and hip, a classy vibe … but in the end, it’s just a knock-off Dorito.
At around 10pm, right when the show was supposed to begin, the crowd was really getting settled. More people were coming in and the venue was looking better with every guest that arrived. In front of my wife and me was a trio; a man, woman, and another man. My wife thought at first the woman was a prostitute because of the way she playfully touched the guy frequently while at the same time having a seeming lack of conversational chemistry (turns out they were a real couple, just lacked conversational prowess … on a good day they probably only hit conversational prow).
At around 10:15pm, a man came out in costume, walked into the seating area, pointed a remote of some kind at a light and clicked a button furiously for a minute before walking away. A few minutes after that a man’s voice came on over the speakers telling us the show would begin in just a few minutes.
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Finally, the music kicked on and the show began.
The MC came out singing a song, accompanied by two women dressed in costume. They danced around while he sang to us. Here we encountered our first dilemma of the night – is this for real? The dancers were not synchronized enough to the point that I couldn’t tell if it was deliberate for the sake of comedy, or if they were just bad. I still don’t honestly know. The singing stopped and the MC told us we were in for a night of sexy, beautiful dancing, and he cracked a few jokes that fell flat as a pancake. He seemed mildly vexed by the crowd not cat-calling the women or being uproarious. It felt a bit like he had expected there was a warm-up comic or act who had managed to get the crowd revved up, quick to laugh, and ready for a good time. In reality, he was coming on 30 minutes late.
The first girl came out and began her number, it was fun because for me it was so representative of the idea of a burlesque show. She had on an outfit that had knobs and buttons and clasps and hooks and she’d dance around while undoing what seemed like seven different layers of underwear. But she had one little problem – the music inexplicably stopped. At the same time, so did she. Like a wide-eyed deer she stood looking at the audience, waiting for the music to resume before she made the smart executive decision, “who needs music?” and she just kept dancing.
The next girl on the stage was better, and I think at this point the crowd was a little more warmed up. We heard more cheers, more catcalls, the kind of environment I assumed this would be based on movies. She danced and oh so sexily took off her clothes. And when I say oh so sexily, I mean sometimes it was a genuine struggle up there. The costumes, while good, would sometimes induce constipated-face levels of effort to actually unhook a clasp or button or whatever they were. It was amazing. I loved how awkward and odd it was. If the dancer’s thoughts could be scripted they would say – Slow turn to have the crowd seeing my back as I take off my bra … take off my bra … are you freaking kidding … take … off … ok, phew, got it. It was like each dancer had been cursed with teenage boy hands, and every bit of lacy underwear was a Rubik’s cube of untold complications.
After that there was a tiny, frightening, stereotypical Russian looking girl in what seemed to me a one piece bathing suit who belted out a tune with a voice that is normally reserved for people three times her size. She had a great voice, but her menacing look and accent delivered a dose of threat instead of appeal. Since by this point the whole thing was an unintentional comedy for me, I thought this was great.
The last person of the first act was an acrobat. This led to my wife leaning over to me to whisper, “I think we’re going to see someone die tonight.” The stage had a sort of loop structure, like a slinky pulled apart, and this girl climbed into that and whipped around while taking off clothes (and sometimes struggling to take off clothes – none were spared the wrath of the angry seamstress who had her revenge this night!). The slinky-thing would spin while the girl did her routine, and sometimes, if it wasn’t spinning enough, a hand would appear from just off stage to grab hold and manually spin it. Bugs Bunny couldn’t have done a better routine.
The first act ended and we were told to relax and prepare for MORE! Huzzah!
This was the first chance my wife and I had to glance at each other in equal parts shock and absolute joy. What a beautiful train wreck.
The second act was much smoother than the first, the dancers were good, the music fun, the crowd more into it. Our fear of seeing someone die was diminished, and we had a nice time. I also realized I wish I had asked my wife about protocol for this kind of thing. It’s a burlesque show, so I’m supposed to be loud, right? But do you know how weird it is to cat call a woman dancing around while sitting next to your wife? I’ll tell you – it’s very weird.
The second act finished and I was on my second drink. The curtains closed and the MC informed us, “because of the New Year countdown approaching we don’t ACTUALLY have an intermission … just … this announcement IS the intermission! So … this is the intermission and now intermission over!”
It was confusing. Why bother to close the curtain and display the intermission sign? Was that beyond your control? Some burlesque law dictates two intermissions so you have a faux one? The show continued.
For act three I hardly paid attention to the dancers – there was a new form of entertainment. A guy with nice pants, a sweater, a scarf, and a late 1980s Val Kilmer look was pacing around and standing right off the stage near us. He would clap AGGRESSIVELY, whistle, smile, and glare at the crowd to do likewise.  My wife thought he was a crazy person, I personally believe he was the director of the show, baffled at our lack of enthusiasm and pure unadulterated joy. How can people witness my beautiful CREATION and not be crying tears of joy while whistling like cartoon wolves!? He was amazing, but I was slightly nervous the whole third act that he would come over, forcefully grab my hands, and clap them for me.
Our MC had come out and sang to us a few times through the course of the show, and he joined us again at the end of the third act. My wife thought that he was the creator and director, wanting to showcase his singing, body, and humor. I think the show was put on by a community college class, a mid-term project that likely earned them a B-. (Yes, this review is harsh, but I still would enthusiastically recommend this show to anyone. Laughter is hard to achieve, so these folks ought to be applauded. And laughed at.)
Our MC informed us that midnight was nearly here and that we would be doing a countdown. A quick glance at my phone told me it was about 10 til. We’d be counting down for ten minutes? Then, to my absolute delight, he began to count UP.
“One, two, three, four …” Is he … Does he know how this works? Is he going to count to 600 seconds and then we ring in the new year? That would be awful and incredible. But he paused and said, “oh, wait, we actually have a little time!”
He then talked to the audience some, cracking jokes, he told us he’d check his Swiss watch for the time and then told us, “wait, I am Swiss! I should know the time!”
The girls joined him on stage, they popped a bottle of champagne and sprayed each other, he kissed one passionately enough that I hope they’re dating or that she quit, and my wife and I kissed to ring in the New Year … at about 11:58 or 11:59. So close.
The show concluded, we quickly jet, the staff was sad to see us bolt so soon but the sick wife needed to sleep. We wouldn’t be staying for the DJ and after party. Also, there was a city train leaving at 12:20 that I wanted us to catch to get back.
We left and walked quickly, fireworks launching randomly around us, the city hazy with fog, and we managed to make it to … “is this right?” “Uh, maybe?” a station. I looked at the sign and felt confusion and fear. My God, so many stops, so many words that look alike. A metro was coming toward us and I thought we should probably wait for one going the other way, but it WAS 12:20 which is what I had looked up … and I didn’t really know where we were, per say, so who was I to say which way is wrong?
WRONG.
We rode the single cart metro and I got up to look at a map inside, oh dear, so many words, and I went back to my wife, “I think we’re going the wrong way.” I got up again and looked, and then a man started talking to me, telling me possibly helpful and informative things, but for my English-only brain he was speaking riddles and amused at my wife and I (dressed nicely, surrounded by people not dressed nicely, heading further and further from the heart of the city). We reached the next stop and I had us jump off.
We walked. If my wife hadn’t been sick I would’ve been ok with us walking back, it was a two or three mile stroll, sure, but I knew how to do it. Plus I wanted to see the random frightening and delightful fireworks.
Instead we headed to another station, one that would hopefully take us straight back to the stop by the hotel. We walked along a much less tourist friendly area, by two or three small groups of drunk people outside chanting and singing, and eventually made it to an eerily deserted subway stop.
After a few minutes where we wondered if the subway was still running other people arrived and I heaved a sigh of relief.
Burlesque Show? Recommend
Me navigating? Not recommend
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The burlesque show, the ongoing sage of my wife’s cold, and the odyssey-like train trip home coming next! But now … more pictures of Prague, because it was beautiful.

 

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Attn: Ellen (2/15/17)

Front

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Back (apologies for my handwriting!)

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The text of the postcard is

Dear Ellen,

A month ago I learned Wien means Vienna in German. And yet, it wasn’t until I was ordering Wiener Schnitzel that it all clicked … Wiener means Viennese! Knowledge, huh? Now if I could just visit every city in the world I might be intelligent. Please sponsor my intelligence? I’ll send postcards!

Sincerely,
DumbFunnery.com
OR @DumbFunnery

Why am I doing this?

December 30

Having learned from the walk from the train station to the hotel, we decided to take a taxi to the train station. I’ll admit, it was a trifle easier than walking with our massive bags.

Our train trip was uneventful except for one thing – we had not bought our tickets in advance, and so we sat in random seats. Apparently the way it works is that there are seat numbers and at a future stop someone might get on the train who has the seat you happen to be sitting on. This caused a bit of worry every time we stopped, because getting our massive bags down to move to another area was no small effort. Thankfully, we were able to stay put.

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During the journey I wandered to the food cart and experienced one of my attempts at German. The woman spoke ONLY German, Czech, and probably French (how dare she) so I ordered in German. The problem with ordering in German, for me, is the follow up questions. I asked for two coffees and a water and then she responded with something more elaborate than, “ok.” She quickly understood that I was not one for small talk based on my wide eyes and look of confusion.

We arrived in Prague about 1 or 1:30 and immediately went to buy our tickets to Munich. My wife had the smart idea of buying in advance to avoid the worry of switching seats. There were a couple trains that would be going to Munich on the second and I chose a 1 pm train, I knew we would be going straight to our hotel at the airport and so I wanted as much time in Prague as possible. This turned out to be a noteworthy mistake.

The Prague station had a beautiful area, but overall felt more hectic and busy than the previous main stations. It could be that a lot of tourists were heading into Prague for New Year’s Eve, but the business and the new language, the business, and the less English-only-speakers friendliness made us feel a little more out of place than usual.

We took a cab to our hotel, which worked out not only for the sake of our bags, but also because our hotel would’ve taken an act of God to find. It was a lovely hotel, RIGHT next to Charles Bridge (which was amazing) but it had a big wooden door and a small sign with the hotel name on it. The door was in an alley right off the main drag that comes from Charles Bridge, and it was across from an Asian restaurant where you could dip your feet in an aquarium and have fish eat dead skin off your feet while you ate whatever you wanted (fish, if you’ve got an odd sense of humor).

Our room had a sort of spartan feel to it (decorations – we eastern Europeans laugh at decorations). The sound of the language and the look of people made me think of Russia. The hotel was one part of this large building, with an elevator that seemed to bounce every time you got to a floor, and a short-ceilinged basement where we had breakfast and they served delicious beer and meals for all times of day.

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The Prague opera house

Inspired by the Viennese opera, and the fact that Don Giovanni was playing that night, we asked the guy at the front desk about buying tickets. He looked it up and said they were sold out. We said we understood, but what about paying extra for a third party vendor or an official scalper of sorts? Here we had not a language barrier, but a cultural barrier. After a bit of back and forth he finally understood and seemed almost amused. “Why would you pay more to go see a sold out show? You just go see something else, or wait for when the show will happen again.” According to him, scalping doesn’t happen there. They have enough culture and patience that if you can’t see THAT show, there’s certainly something else good or you just tap your fingers til it comes around again. I was sad to not get to see Don Giovanni, but wow!, how awesome is that to not have to deal with people buying up tickets and selling them for extra?

We did see that there was an opera on the first, the Bartered Bride, so we decided to walk to the opera to buy tickets for that.

First, though, was food. We went to a little restaurant near our hotel and had … something delicious. I can’t recall what. I just remember thinking, sadly, how soon we would be leaving and the trip would be over. In the area of the restaurant where we were seated there was a table of English ladies, a table of Italians, and us. It’s so fun to get to be surrounded by such different people, and the beauty of other languages. Also, our waiter was one mean looking dude. He looked like a super hero who’s only weakness is an inability to smile. I both feared and liked him.

After lunch we walked across the absolutely beautiful, and insanely packed with tourists and sales people. (Folks selling jewelry, paintings, and people doing little things for money. My favorite was a person turning a crank to play music and just sitting beside it … Staring at tourists, waiting for money, because of her musical crank machine. Second place was a woman who was lip synching with the least amount of care possible, it was like she was full of disdain for the tourists and yet here she was pretending to sing for them for money. I could sit and people watch those folks all day.)

Eventually we managed to make it across the bridge, and then we quickly made our way down to the opera house. The tickets were so cheap! Actually, most everything there was very cheap. The dollar goes far in the Czech Republic. One dollar was about equal to 30 Koruna. That was not the easiest math in my head, so I would like at a price, think, “AHH! SO EXPENSIVE! … Wait … Oh! So cheap!”

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Looking from around the opera house back to the Charles Bridge and the castle.

It was quite dark by this point, so we made our way back to our hotel to find dinner around there and then call it a night. Although the city was beautiful (possibly our favorite), the lady was not in the best possible shape, so we thought a good nights rest would help.

Near our hotel we popped in a little restaurant and had incredibly delicious food. Oh man, so good. I had some sort of kielbasa and a beer, both so cheap and tasty. A lot of places were shocking because they looked as though they’d have standard bar food, but the food that came out instead was magnificent. Places that have a comparable look and feel in the States usually serve delicious but greasy bar food, so I tended to be pleasantly surprised. The lady’s food was a roast beef with garlic creamed spinach and very delicious potato dumplings. After dinner we went to a gelato shop that was DELICIOUS. Oh so good. I should’ve gone back there a second time. Mistakes were made.

December 31

This was a sad day.

The lady woke up feeling worse. The cold had started a week ago and we had been scaling back on what we were doing to help fight the cold, but apparently it wasn’t enough. We decided that we’d head to the castle and then she would nap while I would continue to explore. We had already bought tickets for a burlesque show that night, and we were looking forward to ringing in the new year in an odd way.

We headed to the basement and had breakfast, ducking under the short ceiling and guessing at everyone’s country of origin. The breakfast was enjoyable and relaxing, and then we were out the door toward the castle.

The castle sat overlooking Charles Bridge and a lot of the city. The haze that seemed to always sit over the city created a beautiful and mystical feel, especially with those spires watching over everything and everyone. As part of the castle there was a large church, and I think that’s what I tended to see from other areas in the city. Unfortunately, because the castle looked out over the city, that meant it was an uphill walk to get there.

The lady and I started our walk and soon one of her coughing fits began. I don’t know how to describe those brutal coughing fits except to say that I was honestly surprised every time one stopped that she was still alive, they were awful sounding. I looked over and my wife was tearing up a little, overcome by sadness with having the trip robbed from her due to the cold. She knew it was best for her to head back to the room and continue to rest and avoid movement, because whenever she was out the cold air, the smoke from cigarettes, and the effort of walking prompted another nasty round of coughs. I walked her back to the hotel and she urged me to leave and see the castle. I felt bad for her leaving, but I did as she said.

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At the castle I stood in a very long line of tourists waiting to get in. There was extra security because of the state of the world these days, and every person was going through a metal detector before they could go to the spot to buy tickets (which was another incredibly confusing swarm of people). In line I ended up chatting with some Aussies who were in front of me. One of them was working in Italy, and so her sister, her sister’s husband, her mom, and a random guy from some other country were on a little trip together (the random guy was maybe the first girl’s boyfriend?). The place where the girl lived and worked in Italy was beautiful and amazing, and we swapped a European travel story or two before the mom asked, “what happened in America? Why … Trump?” I felt like the daughters had heard this tale before because they tried to change the subject a time or two but the mom and I expressed confusion, disbelief, and horror over Trump.

(And that was before he was inaugurated, mind you.)

We got through the lines together with our friendly chatter and soon I was rushing through the castle, trying to see everything as quickly as possible. The sun was rising, creating the stain glass to cast a beautiful glow inside the church. I could’ve stayed and stared at that for a full hour except: 1, the tourists were in the way and 2, I had told the Mrs. I’d be back 2.5 hours after I’d left, and I spent maybe close to an hour of that walking to the castle and standing in line.

After rushing around taking pictures of this, that, and whatever that is, I hurried back down to the hotel. I saw the wife, and went down to the lobby to ask where I might be able to get some soup for take away (as they called it) nearby. The guy at the desk and another man thought for a while, stumped by the idea of take away soup when one of them said, “why don’t you just go to the restaurant downstairs? You could take a tray up to your room.”

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The beautiful church on the outside (Friday I’ll have a stain glass photo!)

Downstairs I ordered soup from the one person working as the waitstaff and then she expressed shock and dismay at my not ordering a beer. I said, “well, my wife is sick and I just wanted to take some soup up to her.” And she said, “and while you wait for the soup you’ll just sit there. Why not sit there and drink beer?” She had a good point.

I felt a little guilty when I went back into our room with soup for my painfully sick wife and a half finished beer, telling her about my Aussie pals and the beauty of the castle. Ok, a lot guilty. But not guilty enough to keep me indoors.

I had a goal before we left for the trip – to buy a chandelier in Prague made of crystal (they are famous for crystal). This was a big ticket item we had saved up for and we were both excited about the idea of having such a beautiful decoration in our home. Unfortunately, a LOT of places sold chandeliers and they also sold postcards and random junk. If you walk into a place looking for something fancy and you also see a milk crate, it makes the fancy stuff a little questionable. I had looked up one store that a person wrote very positive reviews of and … it no longer existed. Shoot.

I headed out and got a quick lunch, then continued across the bridge and around a shopping area. I wanted to find some possible ones for the lady and I to come back and visit to hopefully pick out a fancy souvenir. With a few places scouted out I went back and the lady bundled up and against my, “are you sure? This seems like a bad idea … You’re sure you want to do this?” we headed out to look at STUFF.

We popped in a shop near our hotel then continued to walk, and walk, and walk. It really wasn’t that far, but when one person is sick and there are oodles of tourists it takes a while to get anywhere. A department store, oddly enough, was also highly recommended for a chandelier. The department store had everything. A little restaurant, clothes, toys, cheap trinkets, a section apparently under renovation, dishes, holiday decorations, and chandeliers. The fact that there were a few boxes scattered around and a section under renovation next to the chandeliers made the chandeliers a little less desirable … Neither of us knew enough to say concretely that something is fake or real, but it felt possible that we might end up with something not that great. And, helping the decision, we didn’t happen to like any of the chandeliers.

The walk back was going to be long, so we instead oriented ourselves to a nearby subway stop. Great. We’ll go to … something something, probably a station that ended in y or i (namesti means square – the station map seemed to be a word scramble with namesti the only word that stuck out to me), and then we’ll transfer and have a short walk to the hotel. Very doable!

We headed downstairs into the station and there was no person selling tickets, but they did have machines. Unfortunately, these mentions were not quite the modern wonder of technology like we experienced in others places had visited. They only took coins (this took me a while to figure out), they were all buttons, and one button said, “English” which when you pushed would sometimes translate something to English. Great. A man was standing right next to the machine we were trying to use and he was telling us all kinds of information about the machine, telling us to do this, not do that, we could pay him this and he’d get us a ticket, and no you can’t do this, and it’ll cost that much, and at the same time a line started to form behind us. The lady and I were getting flustered and scatterbrained from all of the confusing inputs. Well, I was. I think the lady was just trying not to have a coughing fit. It was not ideal.

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My nemesis

We walked away and I read an English sign for a while before I realized we could get a day pass for some amount, we just need more coins. We headed to Starbucks and I asked to get a water, then asked for the change in all coins for train tickets. The guy looked at me and said, “why don’t you just go buy tickets from there? That’s where everyone buys tickets.” Aha. Of course. The Starbucks guy was more helpful than any sign there! Apparently you can get train tickets at a little shop which was like a gas station convenience store inside the station.

Crisis averted. Phew. We made our way back to the hotel room and my wife probably took her 5th bath of the day (the steam helped her breathe better). It was just approaching dark when we got to the hotel, so I took off to take more photos of the madness. And it really was madness. Random people set off fireworks, anywhere. Holy cow was that terrifying. I was walking along a crowded street, then suddenly I’m in a less crowded area, and BOOM! someone has just launched something twenty feet to my left. What a rush.

I didn’t end up wandering for as long as I wanted because the random fireworks terrified me. I wish they hadn’t, but they did. I was still in a ‘I must be extra alert’ mode because of the terror attack at the Berlin Christmas market, and this night, all the people and the madness, it seemed like an easy opportunity.

I got sandwiches to go for the lady and I, and we ate our sandwiches and prepared for the burlesque show. Ah, the burlesque show. This was one of the highlights of the trip for all the wrong reasons.

 

December 28

My wallet and I were looking forward to breakfast, which was going to be an actual sit down breakfast (instead of a croissant on the go) and free from the hotel. It was a buffet style breakfast, so it was a fairly typical hotel breakfast … but still, it was good to sit, eat, and not pay money. Also it was certainly European style rather than American – random cheese plate with deli meats? Sure, I guess I can eat that? Am I supposed to make a sandwich here? What am I doing?

After breakfast we walked to an art museum that was not far from our hotel – I was excited about this, the first art museum of the trip! There’s not much to say about the art museum … I mean, I could say a lot, but it’d be me doing a poor job of describing beautiful paintings, and I think we can agree that we don’t need that. The museum did have one really interesting, in a dorky way, display about the history of how the museum is decorated. It is something that I don’t give any thought to, but it was interesting to read about periods of the walls being full of paintings (as it was for our visit) versus times when they were sparsely adorned. Something something reflection of the popular culture of the times? I don’t know, I visited that display at the end of our visit so that information was mostly lost.

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After the museum we got on the hop on/hop off bus and rode that for a while. The bus was very crowded so the lady and I took different seats on the upper level. The bus had cheap ear buds they gave you, and jacks at each seat, along with a control where you could listen to descriptions of what you were driving by in up to 15 or possibly more different languages. I ended up sitting next to an old Italian man, and my wife had my ear buds. The Italian man was with a big group and he spoke no English, so we exchanged awkward nods and half-hearted smiles with each other. He was plugging his ear buds in and apparently having troubles, I pointed to the volume and he shook his head no, I pointed to the language options and he shook his head no. Somehow (how? really? how? I have no memory of this) he communicated to me that no sound was coming out at all. The bus stopped and my wife ran back, handed me my ear buds, and went back up to the front of the bus to her seat. I plugged my headphones in and sure enough, no sound for my input jack either. We looked at each other and gave a language-independent, ‘eh, whatever’ look. I felt pretty good about my old Italian buddy.

Soon enough the Italians all hopped off and my wife came and joined me. We rode the bus for a while more, seeing the city and making notes of all the places we would love to visit (still bummed I didn’t visit the military museum!) but knew we probably wouldn’t have the time for.

We made our way back to the hotel early because we needed to get ourselves some food and then prettied up for the opera. THE OPERA!

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After some room service burgers (pretty tasty – and ironic, considering we were also preparing for the Vienna Opera) we headed out. I had not bought a tie or blazer (we were in a nice part of the city and ties were not cheap, I didn’t even bother looking at blazers). Had there been a cool Viennese tie I would’ve bought that, but it was just overpriced brands I could get at home – and who wants that as a souvenir? Hey check out my Ralph Lauren tie from Vienna! Pft.

The opera was the Magic Flute, written by some nobody … Wolfgang something or other. Who names their kid Wolfgang? You want your kid hanging out with wolves? I mean, come on.

The opera house was BEAUTIFUL inside, and there were some very beautifully dressed ladies there. Fur coats, apparently, are not a faux pas like they are here in the States. Little old ladies wearing their weight in fur, younger women in beautiful gowns, fellas looking nice (we fellas have the nicety of not having to try hard with our standard nice outfits, but we also don’t look quite so glamorous). We pulled out our tickets and were directed to our seats and … THEY WERE BOX SEATS! WHAT?! Who are we? How fancy are we!?

We had arrived nice and early thinking we would have to go do coat check (a fancy thing already) but instead we have our own little entry room to hang our coats? What!?

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Our box had six seats – in front of us were two French people (an older man, and a woman), ourselves, and then a couple from Chicago. They had apparently tried to buy their tickets a year in advance, were on a waiting list, and eventually got them. Either our hotel clerk is a magician, or we are very lucky people (because our tickets weren’t that much).

The box had little displays to show the translations of the German opera.

The first act was enjoyable, but the warmth of the place was leading me to be a little sleepy. It’s not that I wasn’t enjoying it, it’s just that it had been a long day of moving around and it was so soothing to be still and warm. I kept doing little tricks to stay awake, and at intermission I walked around. They had someone selling ice cream or gelato. This made me respect the Viennese opera even more – ice cream at intermission? Be still my beating heart.

The second act was better than the first, and as I wrote in a postcard, it featured the most beautiful singing I have ever heard in my life. The aria from the Queen of the Night was incredible – I could feel my body warming from the power and beauty of the woman’s voice. It was incredible.

My wife and I had our first (and so far only) opera experience at the Vienna Opera, which may have been a mistake. I imagine we will have to try hard to reach that level of amazing (the costumes, the voices, the setting, everything was incredible – but most especially the Queen of the Night). Nevertheless, we are now two opera admirers which is not something I ever would have guessed (don’t get me wrong, I love me some Frasier, I just didn’t think I’d take on Frasier’s love of opera).

After the opera we walked back to our hotel feeling elevated and lifted by how beautiful things can be. Not a bad set of thoughts to carry off to dreamland.

(Ok, not to detract from that pretty ending to the day, but … at the opera the other fun thing to observe was the couple in front of us. The woman was maybe 10-20 years younger. At one point during the show she was excited about how good it was and she grabbed the mans hand to hold it and set it on her leg, then a minute later very sternly and annoyed removed his hand and gave him a look. My theory: she was using him for gifts/shows, the lady’s theory: she was his mistress. What fun is the opera if you can’t make up a little theater for those around you?)

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December 29

Waking up in a foreign country is exciting, everything is new and worth observing and paying attention to, everything is exciting and full of potential, and when your wife has a cold, it’s worse than a cold at home. It takes even more out of you because it’s sapping you of so much potential. The lady woke up feeling worse instead of better, the magic drugs were not so magical after all.

We had breakfast and then headed to the buses to see Schönbrunn Palace, which is where Marie Antionette lived for part of her life (among other names in history). The palace was a big tourist draw, and despite the fact that we arrived right at opening (10 am) it was still a packed house that we walked through.

The tour takes you from room to room, and you can get a little audio device that tells you what you’re looking at. The rooms had wallpaper that was noticeable (normally that’s not something I pay attention to) – the colors were so rich and beautiful you couldn’t help but admire walls. That’s a feat, to have walls worth admiring (Trump joke goes here). The furniture was also impressive, and we saw a royal bed. This made me think of how weird it was back in the day … mistresses and public sex. Public sex because how would you know a future king is from the right pair unless you hang around and watch the magic happen. But with how common side cars were, couldn’t a queen have given birth to an illegitimate kid? (Maybe I’m watching too much Game of Thrones.)

Anywho.

After the palace we walked around the Christmas booths that were set up there and bought a few little ornaments. More exciting than those, in theory at least, was a booth that was all bread stuffs. I bought a pretzel doughnut which did not live up to its name. Pretzel doughnut is a hard notion to really live up to, though. It was basically just a pretzel with sugar on it.

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From there we headed to lunch nearby. There was a pizza shop and we thought it’d be good. We walked in and realized, apparently, that right next to this tourist hub is a much more mean looking area. Our waitress was a very Russian looking woman with tattoos – a lot of tattoos. This is worth mentioning because she may have been the only person I saw there with tattoos.

(Europeans vs Americans: Americans are big on beards and tattoos these days but have kicked the cigarettes, Europeans are the opposite.)

The pizza we had was delicious, despite the fact that we were seated next to the smoking room. (A glass door separated us from a small room, I thought it was some sort of cool private lounge area but no – it was the cancer lounge. See?, they’re still big on cigarettes.)

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After the food was done we made our way back to the hotel. The lady took a nap (sicker, and sicker) while I putzed around taking pictures of things including: one attempt at a selfie with a statue of a half woman/half lion with her chest exposed … I didn’t try too hard to take this picture because I felt very self-conscious, but I thought it’d make for a funny picture for me to show the lady.

For dinner we went back to the cafe where we had lunch the first day. We had figured the food there was good, it was close by, and the lady was not feeling top notch so it seemed a good idea to get more soup for her. It was fun staring at everyone around us, dressed very nicely, wondering what shows they were going to.

Vienna, I would like to visit you again one day and see more of your shows and more of your city. The shorter days of winter really worked against our ability to cram as much into a day as possible. But hey, it’s good to have a reason to go back.

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Attn: Ellen (2/8/17)

Front

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Back (apologies for my handwriting!)

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The text of the postcard is

Dear Ellen,

This bridge features LOADS of tourists, locals selling stuff, locals begging for money, and locals exhibiting a talent for money. My favorite of these was a woman lip synching with a bored, lifeless look and as little effort as possible to match the song. She was like an art piece at a contemporary art museum that wouldn’t belittle itself by making sense to a mere commoner.

Sincerely,
DumbFunnery.com OR @DumbFunnery

Why am I doing this?

December 27

I had thought our trip would involve trains and the fast-paced sightseeing that comes with a window seat, but when I looked up the travel time from Lucerne to Vienna on a train I realized that may have been a whole lot of just staring out a window. We debated an overnight train with a sleeper car (something I’ve yet to experience and that sounds glamorous but in reality is probably uncomfortable and irritable-inducing).

Thankfully, it’s not too much to fly from one city to another when they’re close by.

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That night I took a walk from our hotel and one of the nearby museums had a different things projected on it.

The lady and I woke up and left our grand life of Lucerne, heading to Zurich airport to fly to Vienna. Our flight was through Swiss Air but fulfilled by Austrian Air. When we boarded the plane my wife and I were both taken aback by how nice it was. It wasn’t as though it was a fancy plane or a glamorous seating arrangement – it was a regular old flight that was just nice. Like a nod to what flying must have been many years ago. There was classical music playing (probably an Austrian composer), the flight attendants were in beautiful red suits/red jacket and skirt. And they were attractive at that (one of them I think my wife had a crush on, a woman with black hair, pale skin, and strikingly blue eyes).

The flight was short and uneventful except for the wife playing the role of the hero. The woman sitting to my left, at the window, had lost her glasses. She told me this and we both glanced around but did not find them. As soon as the plane landed and the fasten seat belts sign was taken away the hero of the day got off her seat, got to the ground, and spotted the woman’s glasses under her seat. Phew. I’m sure that woman heaved a big sigh of relief. Not a very important event, but it’s always good to be a good American ambassador and do something kind.

From the airport we took a train straight to the central station, and from there it looked to me like a not very far walk (pst: mistake). The lady had started down the path of a little cold and she was being a trooper, but was less full of energy than she had at the start of the trip.

 

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Same building, different view, different projection. Sorry I’m not a better photographer – it was really neat in person. (But I did spare you from how chilly it was.)

We walked the 3/4 mile or so to the hotel and experienced our first very cold weather of the trip – the wind was strong and laughed at our jackets, scarves, gloves, and hats. It seemed to find every possible crevice and use that to remind us that winter is no joke. (Up til then the lack of cold had been surprising.)

We got to our hotel and checked in, and we asked about the possibility of seeing an opera. The clerk informed us that there was one the next day but it was sold out, and we could pay extra to get tickets from a 3rd party. The Viennese Opera? Sure, we’ll pay a little extra. The amount she stated was fine, and we were well on our way to being classier and more sophisticated people than ever before.

One little hang up was wardrobe – the clerk informed us skeptically that I could get by on slacks and a button up shirt for me, but a tie would be nice, oh and also a jacket. Right, sure.

With the lady of the house rocking her bit of cold, and our frigid walk to the hotel, soup sounded mighty fine. Our kind clerk let us know about two different spots nearby that had good soup and after dropping our bags and relaxing for a minute we made our way there. With the early flight and walk to the hotel we were treating ourselves to a later lunch, it was maybe about 2 pm.

The cafe where we ate was fantastic (we ended up going there twice in our short stay). The waiters wore nice suits, but it was not a fancy restaurant. There were coat racks right by the door and it was a seat yourself deal that once again drew looks of agitation and judgement from the wait staff when you asked about seating. We both ordered a sausage appetizer plate and soup, and both of us couldn’t have been happier with our meals. I decided that a lot of Bavarian and Viennese classic dishes were like a great burger place – there may not be a huge range or a lot of variety, but what they do, they do really well.

There was a pharmacy next to the cafe, so we popped in and got some cough drop type drugs from the pharmacist who spoke English. Come on drugs, work your magic!

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From our late lunch we walked to the opera house to look into a hop-on, hop-off bus line. The tickets would be good for forty-eight hours, and there was a bus leaving just then that would take us toward the Sigmund Freud house (a goal destination of the Mrs.). With little delay we were on the bus and on our way to dear Dr. Freud’s house/place where he saw patients. My wife is a psychotherapist which is why this house had much more meaning and relevance and importance to her. The museum itself was small, it was his house after all, but it had a lot of neat items (his couch that patients used, for example). I would recommend the museum, BUT I think it’s worth reading about Freud first because the museum seems almost oriented towards Freud geeks. It explained things well, but it explained them as though you already knew the first half of the story.

After the museum it was dark out, and the weather had gotten colder. We ducked into a coffee shop to get some drinks to warm ourselves up and scheme on what to do next. I thought walking back to the hotel would be just fine (but remember, I’m ok with a couple miles of strolling) … the wife was less keen on the walk (and remember, she had that bit of a cold) and then when the rain began to fall from the sky chilly as you like, we decided maybe walking wasn’t best.

We managed to find our way, moderately accurately, to a subway station. And after a little bit of confusion we were back at the hotel, happy and warm. The day had been long, and we were wiped out, so we decided dinner at the hotel would be ok. The restaurant attached to the hotel seemed a little fancy, but thankfully without the fancy prices, and I would say definitely without the fancy taste. I had a chicken dish which was bland, but hey, you can’t win them all. I think Europeans in general seem to be less keen on spices than I am accustomed to. My wife was very amused because my plate had a ‘little sachet of lemon.’ It was a lemon slice wrapped in something, and I saw the little wrapping and thought, ‘there must be cheese in here!’ so I untied it only to discover a half a lemon. Talk about a crushing blow. The chicken and my taste buds were happy with the lemon, though.

 

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