Monday, November 23, 2015

not your typical bavarian town

One of the barbicans of Rothenburg
“Now this is what I had in mind for a Bavarian town!” my dad said upon entering through the old stone gates of Rothenburg. The tower pierced the sky above, the grey stones meeting the grey skies above. The clouds were gently weeping, cold pellets plummeting miles downward, signaling the beginning of fall. Behind the high stone walls were houses with white plaster and broad wood beams, pink, blue, and red petunias hanging in bunches from window boxes, spilling over like the head of a German beer after it's served on the table. Our march in, with our bags on our backs, passing by the restaurants and hotels, could have reminded us of centuries before, when any number of people had entered the same gates.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

first impressions of Sakartvelo

Dudes trying to kill me with food
I first came to Georgia back in 2009, about 8 months after the war with Russia. I was in the Peace Corps and we were part of the first returning group. The Peace Corps works with local NGOs who request volunteers, and as the Peace Corps had been absent since the war, they were pretty much starting anew - all the old projects had been mothballed and new organizations had come to the front asking for volunteers. That was part of the group that I was in. But at first, there were 2 months of training to live through, which consisted of half a day of language classes, half a day of general NGO organizational training, and half a day of eating. Seriously, lots of food. We lived in a village with a host family, and with three or four other volunteers in that village during training. It was a shock of a life as it was, but it was great preparation for the 2 long years to come, where we would for the most part be alone in villages.

That's where we had our introduction to Georgia. I was in a small village in Kakheti called Giorgitsminda. And here was my very first impression, written back in 2008:


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

a mastery of silence

The Rudolfinum
The other evening, the wife and I had the pleasure of watching Khatia Buniatishvili, who is perhaps currently one of the top virtuoso piano players making the classical circuits these days. The stage at the Rudolfinum was bare but for the black, shining grand, with the elegant neoclassical backdrop that looks somewhat like an ancient Roman temple towering behind. It was a treat to finally see the Rudolfinum in its purpose as a temple to fine music. It was built some 150 years ago in 1884 and has bounced back and forth in its purpose. Though built by a Czech bank, much of the Rudolfinum’s architecture centered around Classical and German art, with the statues being of musicians who had never even stepped foot in Prague. This brought a lot of notoriety among the Czech locals, but it didn’t stop the Philharmonic from making its home there, along with the Kusntverein fur Bohmen(the Fine Arts Society). Because of that though, finally a Czech artist would be brought to light in the theatre, as this became Dvorak’s home theatre and the stage adopted his name. After the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the birth of the short-lived First Republic, the theatre was repurposed into the chamber of parliament, where the building was somewhat ruined from its original stature – politics indeed usually has such an effect. It was finally the Nazis who liberated it from the dull life of politics and returned it to its original German-inspired purpose and it became again a hall of the arts. They repurposed it back to a concert hall, along with a renovation improving the acoustics, and they added another smaller concert hall to the structure. See the Czech book Mendelssohn is on the Roof by Jiri Weil for a nice adventure story on all that. The Communists generally left it the same, though they added a big red star outside in the garden and renamed the square, "Army Square" or something equally as intriguing. When the Czech Republic became a democracy again, they did a final restoration of the building, bringing it back into full glory.


Monday, November 2, 2015

on the death of a king and the birth of legends

Neuschwanstein peaking from the morning mists
In the middle of a continent that was torn apart by war and itching for more, one sundered by revolutions and dangerous waves of idealism lighting the fires of chaos in the open ovens of taverns and salons, there was one king who held himself quite aloft from everything. While Bismarck was dumping millions of marks into the development of his military and the modernization of his riflemen to make his infantry supreme, another German leader was much more concerned with the development of the arts – and indeed, to show an excellent example of the ultimate triumph of the arts over warmongering and Realpolitik, there lived one mad Bavarian king, Ludwig II. Everybody knows the things that Ludwig touched and held high, whether it’s from the original Disney castle perched high in the Bavarian Alps, or Richard Wagner, the man of his obsession who otherwise would have fallen along with the heaps of other obscure authors, poets, and musicians of that period. And let’s not forget Bavarian culture as a whole, made powerful, momentous, and memorable because of the efforts of that one man, who instead of buying new needle point rifles for his army created armies of musicians to go out and win the world through the heavenly sound of horsehair drifting across catgut.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Fussen and something like Disneyland

Fussen's main street
From Schwandorf, we made it to Fussen, that summer home of the medieval bishops of Augsburg, so close near where the kings of Bavaria would make their fairy tale residences, though admittedly, it seems from what’s left behind, uptight religious folk weren’t quite as awesome as kings who had their heads in Wagnerian clouds.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

on the road to Fussen, breasts and Schweindorf!

Schwandorf town square
I chose Schwandorf because I knew that logistics late in the night in Munich might be a bit difficult during Oktoberfest. Every hostel and hotel in the city had been booked a year before, and the same was true in most of the cities with direct connections to the beer festival. A quick note on Oktoberfest: you can reserve spots in tents, but you've got to make those reservations a year in advance, especially if you're planning on going during a weekend. If you're planning a visit during the week, then stop by early and you'll likely get in the tent. But besides the tents, there are loads of other stuff, like beer gardens, carnival rides and bratwurst vendors galore, not to mention the ever-present boob show from the tightly knotted dirndls. Fun for everyone, truly. Though my dad wasn't feeling it, so he preferred to skip it, at least on the way into Germany, and we didn't really have so much time anyway.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

a short stop in Plzen

At the Plzen old town square
The first stop on our tour from Prague to Fussen was the Czech town of Plzen. We chose Plzen as an extra place to spend the day while we waited for my wife to join us. Also, the Bayern Pass, which gets us a great discount from two to five travelers, starts its area of effect from there, so it was the perfect spot. The Bayern Pass is easy to get - you can either download a pass from the Deutsche Bahn app on any Android or Apple phone, or follow the link above. You pay with your card and download the ticket. You can print it or just use your phone. If you don't plan on stopping in Plzen, you can just buy a ticket to Plzen for that train, then continue your journey with your already downloaded/printed Bayern Pass without ever getting off the train.